Minutes of the February CPA meeting

There follow the minutes of our February meeting, including a report from Calais on migrants in France. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 1 March at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.


Cambridge People's Assembly, 1 February 2017

Report. Migrants in France after the Calais camp clearance

  1. Agreement of the agenda
  2. Apologies for absence
  3. Approval of the minutes and matters arising
  4. Secretary's report
  5. Treasurer's report
  6. Action for the NHS, including 4 March national demonstration
  7. Library reservation charge campaign
  8. I, Daniel Blake screening
  9. County council budget
  10. Pharmacy cuts
  11. Other business
  12. Next meeting

The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan, Faraz, Hilary, Jenny, Lucy, Neil (secretary), and Richard M. (chair), and for their report Fleur and Paula. Names may have been changed.

The report, which was given before the business of the meeting, is presented here afterwards.

1. Agreement of the agenda

Richard suggested discussing recent demonstrations against the new US president Donald Trump with the other business under item 11. Otherwise the meeting accepted the agenda Neil had circulated.

2. Apologies for absence

Martin, Maud, and Nicki (treasurer) had sent their apologies.

3. Approval of the minutes and matters arising

The meeting approved the minutes and there were no matters arising.

4. Secretary's report

Neil reported 246 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (no change from last month), while 943 Twitter users followed it (939 last month) and 598 Facebook users liked it (594).

5. Treasurer's report

On behalf of Nicki, Neil reported a bank balance of £760.76 and a PayPal balance of £47.30. Income last month was trade union donations towards the cost of coach hire amounting to £500, coach ticket revenue of £47.30 (after PayPal fees of £2.70), and a collection of £14.50. Expenditure last month was £5 on the group's regular donation to the national office.

6. Action for the NHS, including 4 March national demonstration

Neil had booked a wheelchair-accessible coach with 47 seats for Saturday 4 March, and set up an Eventbrite page for people to book seats. Eight people had so far done so. Neil had drafted a motion which the Cambridge and District Trade Council had circulated, and Cambridgeshire NUT, PCS Eastern, UNISON Cambridge Acute Hospitals, and Unite London and Eastern had promised contributions to the cost of coach hire.

These unexpected funds had led Neil to propose on the CPA's online discussion list that it should lower the prices agreed in last month's meeting. His suggestion had been that all seats should be free, but the consensus had been that they should be £5 for those who had a wage and free for others. Neil had updated the Eventbrite page accordingly.

The meeting considered how to publicize the coach. Jenny pointed out that there would be an opportunity at the screening of I, Daniel Blake being organized for 14 February by Cambridge Unite Community with the collaboration of Cambridge Area Momentum and the CPA; Dan, that there would be another at a Camboaters event which the CPA had been invited to support. The meeting also decided to organize a street stall for 25 February through its e-mail discussion list. Neil would organize a stock of leaflets for use on these occasions.

Neil added that he had finished drafting a response to the Cambridge and Peterborough Sustainability and Transformation Plan published in November. He would ask a few CPA supporters and allies with close knowledge of the NHS to read the text before the group published it.

7. Library reservation charge campaign

Neil had begun organizing the direct action he had outlined in the last meeting, but too few activists had so far volunteered for them to name a date and time. Hilary suggested that Neil should remind those he had approached.

8. I, Daniel Blake screening

Neil reported that shortly after Cambridge Area Momentum (CAM) and the CPA had agreed to collaborate on a screening, they had learned that a third organization, Cambridge Unite Community, was planning the same thing.

Unite Community was further along with its plans, already having a date and venue for the screening, but had kindly invited the others to become co-sponsors of what would remain a Unite event. Neil as secretary had accepted after online discussion within the CPA.

CAM and the CPA would share the venue hire cost and would help with publicity.

9. County council budget

The meeting accepted that with everything else in hand, the CPA did not have the resources to protest on the street the austerity budget on which Cambridgeshire County Council would vote on 14 February. It would however issue a statement. Richard observed that it should restate the People's Assembly's agreed policy that councils should prepare budgets based on local needs, to raise awareness of the shortfall in central government funding.

10. Pharmacy cuts

As time was short, this item was omitted.

11. Other business

Richard noted two recent demonstrations against the racist politics of the new US president Donald Trump. Cambridge Stand Up to Racism had held a demo in Market Square on Saturday 21 January, the day after Trump's inauguration, where Neil had given a speech as CPA secretary (he had discussed Trump's racist populism and distinguished a populism of the Left). The group's banner had also been prominent in the report of the Cambridge News.

Another demonstration had taken place on Monday 30 January, after Trump's announcement of a version of the Muslim travel ban he had promised in his election campaign. This hadn't been organized by any group, but suggested by a couple of people on social media. Their idea materialized as an evening demonstration of several hundred people outside Great St Mary's Church, drawing many students and a wide range of speakers.

12. Next meeting

The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 1 March, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.

Report. Migrants in France after the Calais camp clearance

Fleur and Paula reported on their visit to Calais on 19 December with a group of other members of the National Union of Teachers, for the day of action for migrants called by Stand Up to Racism. The visit had only been confirmed 24 hours before it took place, but Fleur's appeal for aid had produced enough in that short time to pack her car full. She and Paula had set off at 4 a.m. to join a convoy of around 60 people.

Fleur told how on arrival at the Care4Calais warehouse near the site of the former camp known by residents as the Jungle, a team of volunteers had stripped her car of aid 'before I'd even put on my hi-vis jacket'. Her family were set to work sorting donated coats. The camp really was on the beach: behind the barbed wire fence were the dunes, and Dover could be seen just 22 miles away. But there was no one living there now. Volunteers had talked to Fleur and Paula about the savagery of the camp's clearance in October 2016, ordered by President Hollande a few months before he was to announce whether he would stand for re-election in 2017.

The camp residents had been taken to 160 reception centres (centres d'acceuil et orientation) across France, which might be community centres or unused buildings. The Care4Calais volunteers had tried to keep in contact with as many as possible of those transported to the reception centres. It estimated that half of them were in places that were warm and safe; the others, not. Care4Calais volunteers began travelling to the centres, taking the people there needed materials (including warm clothing for those in the Alps) and giving advice.

Those moved to the centres and registered as asylum seekers had a month to decide whether they wanted to apply for asylum in France. Any who did not would be deported. Yet many of them did not want to stay in France; they wanted, still, to come to Britain. They might be from former British colonies, or (perhaps for the same reason) have family already in Britain. This meant that people were leaving the centres and travelling back towards Paris, on the way to the northern coast.

Some of those who had escaped registration had formed small secret camps, where they were in an even worse situation than in the Calais camp, where they at least had running water and some food. The French police were raiding and closing down these camps, confiscating materials and registering the people living there. This had opened an effective race between the police and the Care4Calais volunteers to find the secret camps.

By clearing the Calais camp and separating those who lived there, the French government had destroyed the solidarity that had grown up among them, as well as the availability of a strong focus for media and public attention (to the equal advantage of the British government). Paula stressed the twin messages from Care4Calais: that it was important for people to maintain concrete links with refugees and other migrants in France through aid and voluntary work, but equally important for them to make a political argument for allowing people to come to live in Britain.

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