It’s Time to Decide: The Left, Austerity, and the People’s Assembly

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 794, by Chris Nineham, April 1, 2013.

The Peoples’ Assembly will meet in London on June 22, where thousands of those opposing the Coalition’s cuts will gather to work out a strategy to defeat austerity, and by implication, the government. Waiting till a 2015 election is hardly an option. It would be to allow more irreparable damage to be done. And many people, way beyond the radical left, will be wary of assuming that an Ed Miliband government, without strong pressure from below, will do much to alleviate the collective suffering caused by austerity.  

This project has to be priority number one for socialists. It’s a standing rebuke to the left that five years into a catastrophic crisis we haven’t managed to launch a co-ordinated challenge to this rich man’s government. Now we have the opportunity, and we must take it. The left can only become relevant by showing that it can make a difference in the real world, that it can provide some hope.

Going On to the Attack:

  • There has of course already been substantial opposition to the cuts. The students moved into action first, against fees in late 2010. They were soon followed by public sector trade unionists, who organized co-ordinated strikes and marches to defend pensions in June 2011 and November 2011. Local and single issue campaigns have sprung up to defend hospitals, end attacks on people with disabilities, and to keep libraries, swimming pools and drop-in centres open. Occupy and UK Uncut have captured and lifted the mood of defiance. The TUC has called and carried off two demonstrations of a size not seen since the great anti-war demos of 2003. After a lull that lasted much of last year, opposition to the government’s plans is rising again with NHS demos growing, the bedroom tax protests taking off, and now a new round of strikes called by the NUT and the PCS.
  • Suddenly the government looks not just nasty, but fractured. Ministers have made concessions on NHS reform and the Bedroom Tax. There is talk of a leadership challenge to David Cameron. The polls have swung decisively against austerity. The Coalition is clearly vulnerable and now is a good moment to go on the offensive. But this is our central problem: until now we haven’t been able to conjure up a movement capable of a frontal assault.

The Local and the National: … //

… The ABC of the United Front: … //

… Left Organization: … //

… Popular, and Radical:

So what is the strategy? This will need discussing at the Assembly and at the scores of meetings taking place in the run up to it. But two things need to borne in mind if we are serious about winning. We will clearly need to be more militant to be effective, but we will also have to popular. In a period like the present being popular and radical is possible, but to achieve it is an art.

Anyone can get a cheer in a room full of activists for this or that demand. But the question to consider and discuss first is whether the action being proposed can actually be pulled off, and if it can, whether it will increase confidence, bring new people the movement, maintain unity and so on.

Co-ordinating strike action against austerity should be one central aim of the movement. We have, though, to be realistic about the state of trade union organization, particularly in the private sector. Recent international experience suggests that it is through the development of the wider movement that people gain the confidence to take strike action. If the assembly manages to bring the movement and organized workers, then together, the next step could be to do the same in the streets – a day that combines protest action and strike action, a day that really could express the rage that is building.

Whatever action we call, it will be of a different order because it has been launched by a body that unites the whole of the movement. It will draw on the synergy of workers and students, Occupy and the unemployed, artists and disabled people and all the other campaigns and networks committing to work and struggle together. And whatever other plans it comes up with, one aim must be to call Peoples’ Assemblies in every town and city. This in itself would be a huge step forward, allowing for local co-operation and planning, but also for ongoing national co-ordination.

The crucial next step to radical unity at the moment is to pull together all those who want to fight the government, whether they are inside or outside Labour. That means throwing ourselves in to building a real movement with real people and in the process testing our ideas – even (god forbid) modify them – in a real battle. This can open up all sorts of new possibilities. It might make a real difference to the world. It might even bring down the government. What do you say?
(full text).

(Chris Nineham is a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK and writes for where this article first appeared).


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