DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party
By Alex Snowden
The People’s Assembly was quite simply the biggest political meeting I’ve attended in 20 years of activity on the Left. That’s important: numbers matter. Only something on that scale can do what we are trying to do here: to build a coherent, broad and unified mass movement to end austerity. Anything less simply won’t suffice.
The atmosphere was electric. This was something more than the Big Event effect: it reflected a genuine and powerful feeling that it really mattered, that we are doing something important, and that we are on the move.It is long, long overdue, but now we on the left are rising to the challenge. This marks a new chapter in left renewal as well as a desperately needed lift for the whole anti-cuts movement.
The two central messages of the statement endorsed by the final session are that we say No Cuts – not simply some cuts, or urging that cuts happen more slowly – and we will do everything possible to overcome divisions and build practical solidarity. This commitment to unity was manifested in everything about the event itself. The point is to establish common ground, build on it, and not get distracted by ancient grudges or trivial differences.
We are shaping a movement with a high level of politics. I was in the ‘Welfare not Warfare’ session, for example, and comments which made connections between issues drew a warm response. Speeches from both platform and floor were – in that session and elsewhere – radical, political and enlightening.
Next stepsThe vital next step is building local and regional Assemblies within a national framework. This is how the People’s Assembly will be embedded in local areas while sustaining a clear focus on confronting central government with a coherent national movement. In the north east we’ve already started organising a regional People’s Assembly for 14 September in Newcastle. It can be a regional version of the national event and a lift to our mobilising capacity.
We need to replicate the great strengths of the 22 June event in our planning for the regional People’s Assembly. For example, the balance between ‘plenary sessions’ (with everyone together) and workshops was just right on 22 June. A great deal of time was given over to workshop discussions, while the benefits of rallies with prominent and popular speakers was obvious to anyone attending the opening and closing plenaries. Above all, it was clear that this was not about a day of listening to speeches, but a forum for discussion and exchange – and a launch pad for action and mobilisation.
But the regional Assembly is just one, admittedly crucial, step in a process. The bigger it is, the bigger and more effective the movement we build. It’s not merely about a one-day event, but an on-going programme of action and a permanent coalition of all those fighting the cuts.
The 14 September regional People’s Assembly will be most successful if it is linked to organisation and action at local level. That means meetings and new groups in areas like Gateshead, Sunderland, Ashington, Durham and Middlesbrough, not merely regional events. It’s great that Durham has a major public meeting (with Owen Jones) on Friday 12 July, launching a new Durham People’s Assembly.More generally, the action to emerge from the People’s Assembly nationally is tremendously promising. We’ve waited a long time for a national NHS demonstration and now we’ve got one – on 29 September at Tory Conference in Manchester. This can be huge. We are working with trade unions to organise transport and mobilise large numbers from our region.
The NHS protest will, in turn, feed into a day of civil disobedience, appropriately timed for 5 November. If such action is directly linked to the growth of local groups – as forums for discussion and co-ordination – then we could be looking at a higher level of mobilisation on a sustained basis, not merely the occasional peaks we’ve had so far.
The next big step is the regional People’s Assembly. If we make it a great success – a north-east England equivalent of the breakthrough national event – it will open up much greater possibilities for co-ordinated action. We have work to do, we will do it together, and we will keep at it until we win.