|16 February 2013, when over 1000 marched in Newcastle|
By Alex Snowden
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
The North East People’s Assembly is a unique event. It is not simply another anti-cuts meeting or conference. The all-day convention on Saturday 14 September will be bigger, broader and more representative than any previous anti-austerity meeting in north-east England. And it will be a platform for action, not merely an occasion for talks and discussions.
Hundreds of people – representing a wide range of campaigns, trade unions and political backgrounds – will gather at the fabulous Northern Stage, in Newcastle’s city centre, to plan the resistance to austerity. We will be sharing experiences, exchanging ideas and developing the connections that can shape a more powerful co-ordinated opposition to cuts.
The regional convention builds on the extraordinary success of the national People’s Assembly in Westminster in June. This was backed by most of the unions and a huge range of campaigning groups, attracting 4000 people on the day. Speakers included Tony Benn, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, comedians Mark Steel and Francesca Martinez, union leaders Len McCluskey, Christine Blower and Mark Serwotka, and many more. Local and regional People’s Assemblies are now developing in every part of the UK.
There has already been a wealth of campaigning activity throughout our region, responding to all sorts of issues from library closures to the bedroom tax, from NHS privatisation to cuts in youth services. This is a chance to bring it all together. The activists involved in those numerous campaigns will be there. Many of them have helped initiate the regional People’s Assembly process and are helping make this happen.
Unity is key. There are differences of opinion, some of which will no doubt find expression in the discussions on 14 September. But there is also a widespread yearning to focus on what we have in common and pursue our shared aim of stopping the austerity juggernaut. The north east has been as savagely hit as anywhere by deep cuts to public services, jobs and welfare provision. We should be on the front line of opposition to austerity.
A wide range of issues will be discussed in the plenary speeches and the various themed workshops, including education, the NHS and housing. We will hear from Owen Jones, the TUC’s new regional secretary Beth Farhat and speakers from major trade unions and campaigns. There will discussion about the impact of austerity, the alternatives to it, and the tactics which can effectively challenge it. There will be a strong creative and cultural dimension to the whole day, with some early evening entertainment as well as local artists being involved in a number of workshop sessions.
But three themes will run throughout the day and be especially important. Firstly, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternatives: invest in job creation, make the rich pay their taxes, scrap wasteful spending on war and nuclear weapons. We need to relentlessly promote the alternatives to cuts.
Secondly, we will not be divided. The Tories and their media are determined to divide those in work against those out of work, private sector against public sector, immigrants against those who grew up here. This divisive rhetoric is too often echoed by Labour leaders too. We will reaffirm unity, build solidarity, and develop practical ways of expressing opposition to racism and other forms of scapegoating.
Thirdly, we need action. It needs to be co-ordinated, it must be on a large scale, and we need to keep at it until we win. The first step will be mobilising for a huge national demonstration defending the NHS. North East People’s Assembly is already organising transport to go to Manchester on 29 September for this crucial protest.
On 5 November there will be a nationwide day of civil disobedience – in our region we want this to be the biggest day of direct action since March 2003, when school student walkouts, sit-down protests and occupations greeted the launch of war in Iraq. There are also likely to be some public sector strikes in the autumn and it is our task to create the maximum practical solidarity with them.
The North East People’s Assembly is a special opportunity and we can’t afford to waste it. It can be the most important anti-cuts gathering in our region to date, a springboard for further action (from the NHS demo onwards), and the foundation for launching local People’s Assemblies from the Tweed to the Tees. Make sure you are there, contribute to the discussions, and let everyone know it is happening.