There is more need for an anti-austerity movement, rooted in communities and workplaces, than ever before,
writes STEVE SWEENEY
THIS weekend’s demonstration will see tens of thousands from across the country descend on Manchester in protest at the Tory Party conference.
Many will be on buses provided by local People’s Assembly groups, trades councils or trade union regions and branches.
There will be anti-war groups, anti-racist campaigners, housing activists, health workers, environmentalists and those fighting to defend the NHS on the march, all united against the Tory government and the politics of austerity.
The People’s Assembly was established in 2013, three years into a coalition government which sought to stabilise the post-crash economy in favour of the bankers and billionaires, raising the rate of profit at the expense of the working class.
Its aim was, and remains, simply to defeat austerity. It brings together a range of progressive organisations and trade unions in a non-politically aligned broad front that has helped shift the narrative on austerity.
The notion that “we are all in it together” has now been destroyed and the work of the People’s Assembly helped to create the ground for the “anti-Establishment” mood that has seen dramatic changes in British politics.
It was a mood that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party as people rejected the politics of austerity and austerity-lite on offer from mainstream politicians.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has proclaimed correctly that austerity is a political choice while the continued and deeply unpopular public-sector cuts are creating a crisis around Prime Minister Theresa May that could see another general election in the not too distant future.
Some may hold the view that the movement being built around Jeremy Corbyn means that there is less need for an anti-austerity movement. This would be a mistake.
Corbyn’s Labour has positioned itself as an anti-austerity party and at the recent general election picked up its biggest vote share since 1945, defying the critics to end May’s majority.
There is a real prospect of a deeply divided Conservative Party ditching the hapless May and being forced into another general election as its unstable coalition with the reactionary DUP looks increasingly fragile.
Her recent attempts to extol the virtues of free-market neoliberalism fell flat — it is this system that has created poverty, the rise in the use of foodbanks, a housing crisis, the public-sector pay cap and the privatisation of the NHS.
But in order for Corbyn to win — and also to hold on to power — the existing people’s movement needs to grow. A radical Corbyn-led government would face hostility from all quarters and an attempt by the Establishment to remove him — including via a coup — is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Without the development and strengthening of the movement, Corbyn remains vulnerable — a strong Labour Party and Momentum is important, but it will not be enough on its own as vested interests both inside and outside the party go on the offensive.
Unity is absolutely vital. One of the most important fronts in such a movement are the trade unions.
They are an integral part of the People’s Assembly — Unite, Unison, PCS, CWU, NUT, RMT and UCU are among those affiliated at national level, along with many more local and regional branches.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was correct when she said at the People’s Assembly founding conference that “we are facing a class war.” We know that unless we defeat those who are attacking us, they will inflict a defeat on us.
We have witnessed workers fighting back in previously unorganised workplaces. The recent McDonald’s strike by BFAWU members blew away the myth that trade unions cannot organise among a precarious workforce.
Similarly the work of Bectu at the Picturehouse cinema chain, GMB among Uber drivers and Unite organising outsourced cleaning and security staff across four London hospitals shows that despite counterclaims, trade unions — with just over six million members — remain a vital force in Britain.
March saw the biggest ever demonstration for the National Health Service, with a quarter of a million people taking to the streets of London, bringing together trade unions and local health campaigners from across the country.
The People’s Assembly exists not to cut across the work of existing campaigns on the NHS, housing or education, but to bring them together in the fight against our common enemy.
People’s Assemblies in towns and cities across Britain, linking trade union struggles with those campaigning against all aspects of austerity and drawing in the many thousands of new Labour Party supporters are the key to winning the next election.
But they will do more than this. The People’s Assemblies will raise the class consciousness of the people so they are ready for everything the vested interests of big capital will inevitably throw at a Corbyn-led government.
The link with the trade union movement is crucial. Working with People’s Assemblies is part of most major trade unions’ national policy and forms part of the trades councils’ programme of work.
And it is by working together that People’s Assemblies across the country are able to build a sustained, dayin day-out movement at local level, deeply rooted in communities and workplaces.
The rise in trade union struggle as seen at McDonald’s and elsewhere, along with big demonstrations over pay and in defence of the NHS, shows that there is the basis for building a mass movement aimed at electing, maintaining and also pushing an anti-austerity government.
For this to happen — and to succeed — trade unions must be involved in their local People’s Assemblies, sending representatives to their committees and encouraging involvement from their membership.
If one doesn’t exist in a locality then trades councils should seize the initiative and set one up.
Building the People’s Assembly in our towns, cities and neighbourhoods is an essential task for our class and it is through locally built and sustained groups, driving deep into local communities, that we can fight and defeat austerity.
Steve Sweeney is a Morning Star journalist and member of the People’s Assembly National Committee. He writes in a personal capacity and can be contacted via Twitter @SweeneySteve.