There follow the minutes of our June meeting. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 6 July at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 1 June 2016
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of last month's minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Convoy to Calais, 18 June
- Education campaign
- Library service cuts and charges
- Statement in support of the Labour Party against alleged antisemitism
- Strawberry Fair
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan, Hilary (acting chair), Jenny, Neil (secretary), Nicki (treasurer), and Owen. Names may have been changed.
Neil noted that by request he had added a new item 9, on a statement against the allegations of widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party, to the agenda he had previously circulated. The meeting agreed to replace item 10, on priorities for the rest of the year, with a discussion of the forthcoming Strawberry Fair. Otherwise it accepted the agenda as prepared.
Ally, Martin B., Maud, and Mick had sent their apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes. (Note: Neil later realized that under item 11 in the minutes for May he had mistaken the source of a proposed motion, discussed in the present meeting under item 9. It should have been the Free Speech on Israel campaign.)
Neil noted that the industrial action by the junior doctors of the British Medical Association (BMA) against the government's unsafe, unfair new junior contract (see item 8 in the minutes for May) had succeeded in bringing the government back to negotiations. Over eight days in the middle of May the two parties had negotiated a new contract, on which BMA members would vote this month.
Owen recalled the familiar result in industrial disputes, in which a union's leadership settles for a bad deal when its members are still willing to fight. (No one present had been able to study the new contract, but Owen and others had seen concerns raised.) Owen suggested that this was the time for friendly groups like the Cambridge People's Assembly (CPA) to show solidarity, and urge junior doctors to vote against the new contract if necessary.
The meeting agreed to form a small working group to study the new contract and develop a position for the CPA, electing Neil and Owen in the first place. It assumed this work would have to be done quickly.
Neil reported 253 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (last month 254), while 886 Twitter users followed it (880) and 594 Facebook users liked it (590).
Nicki reported a bank balance of £124.57. The collection at the May meeting had raised £26.14 (the last four months' collections had raised a total of £74.31, not yet paid in to the group's bank account). The group had spent £5 on its monthly donation to the national People's Assembly, and would soon have to spend £7.50 on the hire of its meeting venue.
Neil reported that he and others present had been among 25 or so who attended a planning meeting for the Cambridge section of the joint Convoy to Calais on 24 May (see item 10 in the minutes for May). That meeting had agreed to use an Eventbrite page to register drivers and passengers, and had asked Neil to set one up under the CPA account, which he had done immediately.
The Cambridge and District Trades Council and Stand Up to Racism would collect donations of money and goods for the convoy on their stalls at Strawberry Fair, and Stand Up to Racism again at a stall in Market Square on 11 June; the Trades Council would collect money donations by bank transfer. The convoy organizers would be able to buy goods at wholesale prices thanks to the support of a local supermarket.
Neil reported that he had attended a meeting of 20 or so people on 10 May to initiate a broad local campaign against the government's education policy (see item 7 in the minutes for May). Its central concerns were to oppose standard assessment tests (SATs) and 'high stakes' testing and to argue for democratic control of education, proper funding of education, and evidence-based policy. The campaign was now planning a public meeting on 20 June to reach out to those wanting to know more, as well as a petition and a leaflet. It had later chosen a name, which would be Action Together for Schools and Education.
Earlier (under item 3) the present meeting had noted a partial retreat by the government in education policy. Whereas it had planned to force all schools in England to convert to academies outside local authority control by 2022, now schools rated 'good' or 'outstanding' would not be forced. However the meeting agreed that this left the overall shape and goal of the government's policy unchanged, and a broad campaign against it no less urgent.
Neil noted that last month the group had agreed to prepare information for the web on the latest round of library cuts and charges (see item 6 in the minutes for May). It had now published a blog post on the £1 reservation charge which would be introduced on 13 June ('Drop the Unfair Library Charges', 29 May). The article pointed out that library users who could not easily reach urban libraries but reserved books to collect at their local ones would, in effect, no longer have access to a free public library service. It stressed the disproportionate effect also on pensioners, jobseekers, adult students, immigrants studying for the Life in the UK test, and people with mental health conditions.
Nicki reminded the meeting about the effect on disabled people. A small library might have 40 audiobooks, but there were hundreds around the county. Placing reservations was the only way to get any serious reading done.
Neil outlined how he thought a campaign could develop, beginning with a petition. Dan suggested also producing something shorter than the blog post that could be spread online and go viral, a meme. The meeting agreed with both ideas. Jenny suggested involving councillors, Nicki the Green Party.
Owen noted that some groups on the Left believed that false allegations of antisemitism had been aimed first at Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party, then more widely, in advance of the local elections in May. Some in Labour did not like Corbyn's position on Israel (or anything else) and wanted to destabilize him.
Was this a matter for the People's Assembly? Owen argued that its fortunes were tied to those of Corbyn's Labour Party. If one part of the anti-austerity movement was defeated, it affected all the others. Corbyn's fall as Labour leader would close down the political space for opposition to austerity.
At the last meeting Owen had asked the CPA to consider passing a motion originating with the Free Speech On Israel campaign (see item 11 in the minutes for May, and for the text, the motion passed by the Bolton West Constituency Labour Party and others among Free Speech on Israel's model motion and variations). Neil as secretary had circulated the text on the group's discussion list, but believing the question to have been settled there, had not later circulated it with the agenda for the present meeting on the group's mailing list: he apologized for the confusion. The meeting agreed with Owen that the text should be finally discussed at the next one.
Dan wondered if such a statement might distract from the CPA's purpose of fighting austerity. Owen recalled that days after his election as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn had spoken at the People's Assembly's demonstration in Manchester: this was just one example of the support and publicity he had given the campaign. A statement by the CPA would be a gesture of solidarity in return.
Neil read the text aloud. He and Nicki were concerned that it played down the genuinely antisemitic nature of some of the central incidents exploited in the dispute. Neil suggested that the CPA could develop its own text, although he recognized that this could detract from the force of the gesture.
Owen stressed that if the smear campaign worked, the Left could forget any chance of a Corbyn victory in 2020. For the CPA to support Corbyn now was therefore a strategic and tactical question, and the choice was as stark as support or silence. Neil disagreed: the words it used in support were as important.
The discussion would be continued at the next meeting.
The meeting agreed that the CPA would not hold a stall of its own, but that anyone who was able to attend Strawberry Fair should help out on another publicizing the Convoy to Calais on 18 June.
Owen reported on the two-day national strike by the University and College Union (UCU) on 25 and 26 May, addressing pay (over the last five years pay in higher education had fallen by 14.5 per cent in real terms), casualization, and the gender pay gap. (Owen recalled a picket line chant: 'What do we want? Gender equality! When do we want it? 1970!') There had been good support and pickets at Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin sites. The dispute continued, for now with a work-to-contract action.
Nicki suggested that the next meeting should discuss improving the group's visual presence with leaflets, display boards, and photos. Jenny agreed: its stall at the recent #JC4PM concert had looked sparse. Owen thought the national office should be able to help.
Owen suggested that something that might draw more people to the monthly meetings might be a more political focus, with 15 minutes set aside at the beginning to talk about a current issue. The meeting agreed to try this, and Dan suggested the library cuts and charges as a first subject.
Nicki checked that the group was able to use the venue's kitchen. She offered to bring things to make hot drinks to the next meeting.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 6 July, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.