Please find below the minutes of our March meeting. Our next meeting will be held in early April.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 4 March 2015
- Minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Election of a chair
- No TTIP campaign: (i) Petition update, including leafleting on 7 February; (ii) Report on two recent Cambridge meetings, 13 and 27 February; (iii) Next action in Cambridge; (iv) National Gathering on TTIP in Manchester, 21 March
- NHS campaigns: (i) Hinchingbrooke Hospital demo in Huntingdon (Hands Off Hinchingbrooke, People's March for the NHS), 28 March; (ii) People's Convention for the NHS, 11 April; (iii) Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill 2015
- Education Question Time (NUT and UCU unions), 11 March
- Election Question Time (Cambridge Amnesty in association with the CPA and Cambridge branches of Oxfam, Freedom from Torture, Global Justice Now), 14 April
- People's Question Time in Cambridge proposal
- People's Assembly National Demonstration in London, 20 June
- Cambridge Commons, a new local organization
- Women's Day activity around 8 March
- Feminist film screening, now separate from Women's Day, April or later
- Event on housing
- Event on economics
- Other business
- Next meeting
The venue was the CB2 Bistro basement, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan (acting chair), Emma, Hilary, Kamila, Martin B., Neil (minute taker), Richard W., Sean, Simon, Stuart, and Thomas. Apologies were received from Maud and Olivier. Names may have been changed.
The meeting agreed to discuss targeted action on the Living Wage, to be proposed by Richard B., and a new campaign against the County Council's proposals for library services, under item 18 as other business. It also agreed to refer the election of a permanent chair under item 5 to the next monthly meeting.
The minutes were approved and there were no matters arising.
In Maud's absence, Neil reported some figures. (Note: Maud had supplied a written report, but it was not seen in time for the meeting.) The Cambridge People's Assembly (CPA) had 169 subscribers to its mailing list (unchanged from last month), while 295 Facebook users liked it (last month 284) and 557 Twitter members followed it (last month 544). Having introduced formal membership in January, the CPA now had 14 members (last month 13).
Neil reported a balance of £258.49. He asked the meeting to note
- the receipt of membership fees of £2 (note: Neil mistakenly said £6) and a donation of £8 in response to an appeal circulated on the mailing list,
- the receipt of a donation of £11 in a collection at the February meeting,
- the monthly gift of £5 to the central People's Assembly organization.
The item had been referred to the next meeting under item 1.
i. Petition update, including leafleting on 7 February
On Saturday 7 February in Market Square the CPA had distributed leaflets against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal, and sought signatories to its petition calling on the City Council to pass a motion against the deal. Neil reported that the web version of the petition had 143 signatures, but he did not know how many more signatures in person the CPA had collected. The meeting considered the situation on the assumption that the CPA had collected something over 150 signatures. (Note: Maud's report contained full information. The CPA had collected around 50 signatures in Market Square, to add to around 45 collected at its December TTIP event and the 143 collected on the web, making a total of around 235.)
ii. Report on two recent Cambridge meetings, 13 and 27 February
No one present had been able to attend the Labour Party meeting on TTIP on Friday 13 February.
Hilary gave a report on the Friday 27 February 'TTIP summit' organized by the Hansard Society, which she dismissed as a propaganda exercise. The platform was weighted in favour of TTIP and the floor was designed into polite attention: those who attended were sat at small tables with water jugs! There was no space to seriously challenge what was said.
The speakers assured the floor that there was no need for an exemption for the NHS – Allie Renison from the Institute of Directors at least clarified their premises, declaring (in Hilary's words) that 'the NHS is privatized and that's that' – and patronized the US workers who apparently think TTIP might lead to a levelling-up of their rights, presumably in line with the 'European social model' whose coffin the deal is meant to nail shut. They were able to cite an impressive percentage of people who, stopped in the street and asked whether they were concerned about Investor–State Dispute Settlement, said that they were not. (This is the TTIP mechanism by which corporations may sue states for enacting inconvenient laws, as was no doubt carefully explained.)
The summit had left Hilary feeling glum. She believed citizens were being treated with contempt and doubted that the anti-TTIP movement would be able to stop the negotiations. Neil and Dan protested, Dan stressing the disruptive possibilities of local activism.
iii. Next action in Cambridge
The meeting felt that the CPA's petition did not yet have enough signatures to be presented to the City Council. Dan suggested circulating the petition on the 38 Degrees website, Kamila on Change.org, Simon on SumOfUs and Avaaz. Neil would look into these possibilities.
Dan suggested that the CPA could try to raise awareness of the tactic of petitioning local councils (it was itself following the example of cities such as Brighton and Hove, Oxford, and Southampton). Stuart suggested twinning with other European cities in opposition to TTIP. These ideas could be put on the agenda for the next meeting.
iv. National Gathering on TTIP in Manchester, 21 March
The meeting noted this date.
i. Hinchingbrooke Hospital demo in Huntingdon (Hands Off Hinchingbrooke, People's March for the NHS), 28 March
Hilary advised the meeting that it was uncertain whether this demonstration would go ahead.
ii. People's Convention for the NHS, 11 April
Hilary reported the latest news about this conference. The conference might be preceded with a march; there would be workshops on the Private Finance Initiative funding model introduced under New Labour, on the decline of mental health services, and on the Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
iii. Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill 2015
Hilary and Neil introduced this campaign, chaired by the public health doctor Allyson Pollock, which seeks to organize public pressure on general election candidates to commit themselves to support for the NHS Reinstatement Bill, which would 'fully restore the NHS as an accountable public service by reversing 25 years of marketization, by abolishing the purchaser-provider split, ending contracting and re-establishing public bodies and public services accountable to local communities.'
Hilary noted that Allyson Pollock would be speaking in Cambridge on Monday 16 March at a Green Party event on the NHS, at 6 p.m. at the Friends' Meeting House, Jesus Lane.
Neil explained that this would be an event on the model of the BBC programme, with a panel composed of teachers and educationalists, and told the meeting that Paula (a member of the NUT and friend to the CPA) had encouraged the CPA to send a question. The meeting discussed what this should be.
Neil's suggestion was that the CPA should ask about the connection between the coalition government's education reforms and its austerity policies, which he believed lay in the continued retrenchment of elite power. Stuart suggested it should challenge an exam system in which many are intended to fail, to the detriment of those pupils' self-belief; Simon too was concerned about exams. Richard B. suggested the CPA should ask whether school league tables were an appropriate way to evaluate educational outcomes. Sean suggested a question about the shocking gap that rapidly opens between the educational achievements of pupils from poorer and richer families: even initially higher-achieving pupils from poorer families tend to be overtaken by initially lower-achieving pupils from richer families.
The meeting agreed Sean's idea was the most promising. He and Neil would discuss the final wording by e-mail.
9. Election Question Time (Cambridge Amnesty in association with the CPA and Cambridge branches of Oxfam, Freedom from Torture, Global Justice Now), 14 April
Neil reported that the Cambridge City Amnesty International Group was keeping close control of the organization of this event and would meet all expenses – which suited the CPA well enough.
A People's Question Time in Oxford on Sunday 29 March having been cancelled because of the local organizer's illness, Cambridge had been invited to host the event instead. Maud had immediately (11 February) circulated a notice on the discussion list asking for volunteers to organize an event. Olivier had offered to enquire about Homerton College as a venue, and Dan had offered to work on publicity.
In the meeting there was some uncertainty about the date. Neil believed the CPA would have to work towards the same date as that of the cancelled event, meaning time was very short. The meeting agreed to continue organizational efforts on the CPA discussion list. As not all present were subscribers, Neil promised to publish the discussion list address on the CPA blog that night.
The meeting noted this date and agreed to discuss the arrangement of transport at the next meeting. The CPA had provided a popular free coach to the 2014 national demonstration.
Stuart introduced the Cambridge Commons (TCC), which had been launched as a branch of the Equality Trust, but quickly sought to become 'more Cambridge-y' and extend its concerns by incorporating local action for Compass and Unlock Democracy. It now hoped to come under the umbrella of the CPA.
TCC planned a 'social justice hustings' for 16 April with the Labour, Green, and Liberal Democrat candidates, and a 'fairness review' on Cambridge (housing would be a major theme) was almost finished. TCC welcomed the City Council's anti-poverty strategy but was concerned about how much could actually be done given the constraints on local government under austerity. It encouraged people to write for its website on issues like housing and education.
TCC also planned a conference on 6 June, Ruling Britannia, which would try to advance a more positive view of the public realm, including the NHS and the BBC, and would consider the possibilities of e-democracy. There would be an Open Space where Cambridge issues could be discussed, in which any group could take part. There would also be a tour given by the local historian and street sweeper Allan Brigham, ending in a pub.
The meeting voted to allow TCC to affiliate to the CPA.
Richard B. noted the Mill Road Women social history event being held from 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Saturday 7 March, at St Barnabas Hall on Mill Road. There would be presentations, performances of monologues and music, and participation.
Neil explained that Paula was organizing a film screening (Made in Dagenham) and discussion on the theme of equal pay. Originally it had been hoped this could be the CPA's Women's Day contribution, but the group had been unable to offer a co-organizer, while Paula now wished to postpone the event until after the Easter holiday. The CPA would help publicize the event when a new date was confirmed.
Stuart mentioned that TCC would be glad to collaborate on a housing event, and had some expert contacts who could give the event depth. Otherwise the discussion was deferred to a later meeting.
The discussion was deferred to a later meeting.
Martin B. mentioned that there would be a national demonstration called by Stand Up to Racism in London on Saturday 21 March, UN Anti-Racism Day. Coach transport from Cambridge was offered by Unite Against Fascism, leaving from Queens' Road at 10 a.m., at a cost of £7 (waged), £5 (unwaged), or £2 (concessions).
Simon mentioned that there would be a demonstration against climate change, Time To Act, in London on Saturday 7 March. Free coach transport from Cambridge was offered by Cambridge University Students' Union, leaving from Queens' Road. It was also time to act on the A14 road scheme: objections had to be registered before 12 March.
Hilary mentioned that there would be an election hustings held by the environmental groups Cambridge Carbon Footprint and Transition Cambridge at Lab 003, Anglia Ruskin University, on Friday 20 March.
Richard B. noted that while the department store John Lewis boasts of its equitable treatment of employees, its outsourced cleaners are paid less than the Living Wage, and a campaign based around an online petition has gained wide support. Protest action was planned in London for Saturday 21 March. Could the campaign be extended to Cambridge? It would raise awareness about outsourcing and exploitation. The meeting welcomed the idea.
Emma introduced a small group formed to oppose the County Council's newly-published proposals for library services, which would face cuts amounting to one-third of their budget over the next two years. The proposals spoke in jolly tones about a reality of fewer buildings, fewer resources, and fewer staff: services would rely instead on volunteers.
The proposals threatened the maintenance of an adequate library service. In some areas people had the leisure to volunteer, in others they did not. The benefits of library buildings included the access they offered to information technology and their status as a neutral meeting place, but the cuts would make them less accessible to many people.
The meeting agreed that the CPA had to help. Neil remarked that the CPA could produce and distribute leaflets, and publish information on its blog. Stuart suggested that writers and intellectuals should be involved: there were enough of them in Cambridge! Richard B. too had contacts that could be useful. The campaign would be further discussed at the next meeting.
It was agreed that the next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 1 April. Hilary had already booked the basement room. (Note: this date is to be changed, as the CPA was later invited to participate in another event on the same day.)