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Nov
2013
Saturday 2nd
posted by Morning Star in Features

BEN FOLLEY explains how the Labour Assembly Against Austerity brings together voices within Labour that are against austerity to discuss how to put on the maximum pressure for an alternative to austerity


Austerity is leading to a cost-of-living crisis and now rapidly increasing poverty. Job losses, lower benefits, holding down public sector pay and the spread of food banks across the country are all clear evidence of how the Con-Dem government's austerity agenda is continually driving living standards downwards.

This presents an urgent challenge to the Labour Party, to both fight back from opposition and attack cuts for the harm they cause but also to advocate an economic alternative that could both win the election and deliver from office.

The first challenge should be simple, but fundamental disagreements - between the majority of the party who would confront the cuts and the Labour right who let the agenda be set by the Tories - are holding back those seeking to defeat the cuts agenda.

Ed Miliband's focus on the cost-of-living crisis in terms of Labour Party conference announcements on the bedroom tax, energy prices and new housing seemed to many to represent steps towards the clearer opposition to austerity that the party needs but, despite the reshuffle, front-bench members continue to put out statements that cede to a right-wing agenda.

It was reported that Rachel Reeves, Labour's new shadow DWP secretary, outlined a "tougher than the Tories" approach in cutting the social security bill in her first interview - a line willingly circulated by the Labour press team.

Labour Party members and trade unionists alike were in despair following new spokesman Tristram Hunt's comments on academies and free schools, while within days of Labour conference voting to renationalise a privatised Royal Mail, elements of the party machine were briefing that this decision would not be implemented by a future Labour government.

One of the great myths of recent years continually perpetuated by the Blairite wing of the party - organised around bodies such as Progress - has been to claim such policies of aping the Tories are vote-winners.

The truth is the opposite. To give just one example, new polling evidence for the TUC that shows those who identify with Labour do not support attacks on social security.

Such rhetoric takes us back towards the agenda of scapegoating and division that the Tories and right-wing tabloid press thrive on.

The same people still need to learn why new Labour lost five million votes over 13 years.

As we approach the general election and the cuts bite further, more questions will therefore be asked both within the movement and by voters at large about the alternative Labour will offer should they be elected.

Ed Balls has made it clear that in his opinion we must accept the Tory spending envelope and the cuts that Osborne has set out for 2015 and 2016.

In reality, to do so would not only further immiserate those already living in enforced poverty, it would lead to dramatic falls in Labour's popularity and alienate the overwhelming majority of those who should be the Party's natural supporters.

However, if those who are opposed to austerity get organised there is undoubtedly a chance to make progress.

Where Ed Miliband has shifted his focus towards more progressive policies - for example on the bedroom tax - mass pressure from below has been a big factor.

There has been the growing pressure of local anti-cuts campaigns - whether focused on hospitals, the bedroom tax, or fire stations - which has seen Labour activists on the ground work with those outside the party over the past year.

Industrial action against the impact of austerity is beginning to increase with strikes called in schools, universities, the postal service and fire service over October and November.

These grassroots campaigns were brought together in a national body at the 4,000 strong People's Assembly in June, addressed by the likes of Frances O'Grady, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone, and with a growing national network of anti-cuts activists and activities.

Since then, dozens of regional People's assemblies have taken place across the country, bringing together thousands of activists from different campaigns and political perspectives to take on the urgent task of building a national, broad-based movement against austerity.

 

As the cuts deepen in the approach to the 2015 general election, the activity of the People's Assembly movement will become more important, building political support for action against the cuts.

Within this context, an increasing number of MPs, trade unions, councillors, local Party activists and others committed to a clear anti-austerity agenda have called a Labour Assembly Against Austerity in support of the People's Assembly movement, supported by the Morning Star, to bring together voices within Labour that are against austerity and to discuss how those who do choose to work within the Labour Party can put on the maximum pressure for an alternative to austerity.

Such an approach can both ensure that those who seek to cede to - or even on issues such as immigration, outflank - the Tories on the right are vigorously challenged and that progressive policies to solve the "cost of living" crisis identified by Ed Miliband - from ending all the cuts, to public ownership of the utilities to a progressive taxation system -are put on the agenda.

Help achieve that by building the Labour Assembly Against Austerity on November 9.

 

The Labour Assembly Against Austerity takes place from 10.00am (registration 9.15am) at Birkbeck College on Saturday November 9. Speakers include Owen Jones, Ken Livingstone, MPs Diane Abbott, Katy Clark Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Michael Meacher, trade unionists Tosh McDonald (Aslef) and Steve Turner (Unite) plus campaigners such as comedian Francesca Martinez and economist Ann Pettifor. You can register and see more information at www.labourassemblyagainstausterity.org.uk




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