Report on the People's Assembly conference

There follows a report from the Cambridge delegation on the resolutions of the People's Assembly National Conference 2015.


The Cambridge People's Assembly sent us, Richard and Neil, as its delegates to the People's Assembly National Conference 2015 on Saturday 5 December, joining two or three hundred others at Friends' House in King's Cross, London. The range of motions before the conference showed a keen attention to the points of suffering, contradiction, and struggle under the coalition and now Conservative governments' austerity policies.

  1. The NHS and education
  2. The approach to local government
  3. Nothing about us, without us: disability and mental health
  4. Other priorities: housing, antiracism, TTIP, the EU
  5. Next steps: situation and strategy
  6. Finance report

1. The NHS and education (Session 1)

The Cambridge group's motion on the NHS (see text), drafted by member Steve and introduced by Neil, was passed unanimously in the first session of the conference. It noted the recent shock of the city's renowned Addenbrooke's and Rosie hospitals being placed in special measures by the regulator due to staff shortages and a projected £64m deficit, and called for a campaign and demonstration for a fully funded NHS, uniting junior doctors and other health workers with community campaigns and informed by the successes of the Stop the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Sell-Off campaign.

Also passed in the first session were a complementary motion from the Dewsbury group in support of the NHS Reinstatement Bill (see text), and three motions on education from affiliated organizations (see texts), resolving to campaign for the restoration of further education funding, to support the several current campaigns of the Student Assembly, and to campaign (against the government's preference for sponsored academies and grammar schools) for comprehensive education and the National Education Service proposed by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

2. The approach to local government (Session 2)

All the motions in the first session had been passed unanimously or with a handful of abstentions, and this was the pattern throughout the day. Only two motions put before the conference raised any dissent, and the most contentious one was heard in the second session.

The Cardiff group's motion (see text) called for the People's Assembly to launch an immediate campaign for local government authorities to refuse to set legal budgets implementing cuts, and to set instead budgets based on estimates of actual needs. (A more cautious motion from the Southampton group (see text) had already been passed, which, noting that 'no single council has the ability to stand alone against cuts', had resolved to convene a meeting of local authorities to create 'joint platforms from which councils can stand together'.) The People's Assembly Committee member Fred LePlat spoke against the Cardiff motion in the regretful belief that it was impracticable, but the motion was carried after all by a large majority. This was also the only motion to split the Cambridge delegation: Richard voted for it, seeing the policy as a useful means to put pressure on Labour and Green councillors, and Neil voted against.

3. Nothing about us, without us: disability and mental health (Session 2)

The second session also passed three motions on disability and mental health (see texts), including an important one from the Black Country group under the famous slogan, 'Nothing about us, without us', arguing that although disabled people and their organizations were 'at the forefront of ... anti-austerity campaigns', 'many disabled campaigners feel marginalized within or excluded from meetings and events'. Introducing the motion, Bob Williams-Findlay had to remark that the several wheelchair users attending the conference had been forced to park their chairs in the narrow aisles, blocking the way for others to the former's embarrassment. (The seating was reorganized in the lunch break to provide spaces for wheelchairs in the front row.) The motion noted a new campaign by disabled campaigners challenging non-inclusive practices, Operation Invisible, and resolved on a number of actions to support their participation in the People's Assembly.

4. Other priorities: housing, antiracism, TTIP, the EU (Session 3)

Three motions from local groups (see texts) passed in the diverse next session stressed that housing demands and opposition to the government's Housing and Planning Bill, which would open new lines of attack on the stock of affordable housing, had to be a priority for the People's Assembly. A motion from the affiliated Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (see text) reaffirmed opposition to the futile Trident nuclear weapons system and its £100bn replacement as another. Motions from the Swindon and Sheffield groups (see texts) resolved on action in solidarity with the victims of racism: refugees, other immigrants, and Muslims (although Islam is a religion, the words, imagery, and feelings mobilized against Muslims today belong unmistakably to racism).

The Cambridge group put the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal on the conference agenda last year, so we were glad to vote for motions from the affiliated organizations War On Want and Barnet Trades Unions Council (see texts) which reaffirmed the danger posed to workers' rights, product standards, environmental protection, and even democratic government in European Union countries by TTIP (in negotiation with the United States) and the parallel Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (with Canada), and committed the People's Assembly to renewed agitation against these deals.

A motion from the Doncaster group (see text) sought to address the forthcoming 'in or out' referendum on Britain's European Union membership. Recognizing that supporters of the People's Assembly were divided on the question, the motion proposed campaigning against the threats to workers associated with both options. We found this idea confused and voted in a small minority against it.

5. Next steps: situation and strategy (Session 3)

A long motion composited from those sent by the People's Assembly Committee and the Birmingham, Manchester, Merseyside, and York groups (see text) outlined the present situation: the Conservatives' narrow victory in May's general election on a platform of continued austerity, and the strong public reaction which included two large People's Assembly demonstrations (in London in June, in Manchester in October) and the election of the anti-austerity candidate Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party.

Introducing the motion, the national secretary Sam Fairbairn argued that the role of the People's Assembly had never been more important: it would be the broad movement that kept Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell in place. He proposed a major demonstration in the first half of the year, suggesting that the combination of Jeremy Corbyn at the head of the parliamentary opposition and a mass movement on the streets was most likely to 'create a political crisis' (the phrase also used in the motion) 'from which the government can't recover'.

6. Finance report (Session 3)

The national treasurer Nick McCarthy gave a concise report, ending on the need for a financial appeal. Of the tens of thousands of supporters of the People's Assembly, fewer than 700 made regular financial contributions. Only 20 per cent of the campaign's income came from regular donations, but 40 per cent of its expenditure was on regular costs such as the wages of its three staff. 'This leaves us extremely vulnerable ... [and] also means that planning the further development of the PA is very difficult.'

The 2014 conference had passed some inconsistent finance motions, and Nick's report also covered their later discussion by the representative Assembly body. Its most important decision was that there should be no membership fee for the national People's Assembly, although supporters should be encouraged to make a regular contribution.

N.K.

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