There follow the minutes of our November meeting. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 2 December at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 4 November 2015
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- New campaign, Stand Up to Racism
- Report on Take Back Manchester, 3–7 October
- Delegates and motion for People's Assembly Conference 2015
- Planning a response to the new County Council cuts
- Planning action for Hands Off Our Tax Credits, 24 November
- Joining a second Cambridge Left Forum, late November
- New campaign, Cambridge Health Emergency
- Statement on the student demonstration
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting and collection
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Ally, Dan, Emma, Hilary (acting chair), Jon, Martin B., Maud (treasurer), Mike, Neil (secretary), Owen, Richard M., Steve, and Zareen. Names may have been changed.
The meeting agreed to bring forward the former item 12, 'New campaign, Stand Up to Racism', which would now be item 6. Otherwise it accepted the agenda which had been circulated.
Lucy and Nicki had sent their apologies.
The minutes were approved and there were no matters arising.
Neil reported that the Cambridge People's Assembly (CPA) had 227 subscribers to its mailing list (unchanged from last month), while 791 Twitter users followed it (last month 758) and 544 Facebook users liked it (522). It had 27 members (26).
Maud advised that she had gathered 150 new e-mail addresses from people who had signed the group's petition against TTIP and had wanted to be kept informed. The meeting welcomed this, and Neil would include them in future communications.
Maud reported a balance of £128 and explained a written financial report she circulated, with the group's accounts for the last six months above budgets for two recent events: the national demonstration in Manchester on 4 October, and the meeting against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal in Cambridge on 7 October.
Ticket sales for the group's coach to Manchester had raised £455 and a collection on the coach £20, against the coach hire cost of £1,050, to give a loss for that event of £575. Contributions from the joint hosts of the TTIP meeting and a collection there had together raised £315, against the venue hire and publicity costs of £425.20, to give a loss for that event of £110.20 which would be shared with the other host organizations.
Zareen introduced this new campaign. She remembered that in March 2013, rallies had been called across the world to coincide with the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. She had chaired one in Glasgow and it had been very positive: a celebration, in contrast to her work in Unite Against Fascism which was focused on countering racist and fascist activity.
The need to challenge racism had only grown in the two years since. Leading up to the general election in 2015, there had been a sharp increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric from politicians. Stand Up to Racism was meant to bring together campaigns against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of racist bigotry, and to allow us better to counter racism unconnected to fascism: Zareen gave the example of the misconceived Prevent programme, introduced under recent governments with the aim of countering terrorist radicalization but now being extended to Muslim schoolchildren.
The campaign had been launched in Cambridge on Monday 2 November. The local honorary president was Richard Howitt MEP; the launch meeting had received a message from Daniel Zeichner MP, and the support of local Muslim organizations and trade unions. Zareen also noted a forthcoming conference on Islamophobia, at the P21 Gallery on Chalton Street in London on 12 December.
The meeting thanked Zareen for her introduction.
Neil reported first on the CPA's organizational efforts for the national demonstration at the Conservative Party conference. The group had publicized the coach it had hired for Sunday 4 October by its usual means of flyers (distributed at its budget protest in July and at Jeremy Corbyn's Cambridge speech in September), social media, and its mailing list. On paper it had filled all 49 coach seats; in the event, with unforeseen absences and arrivals, it transported 42 people. Neil thanked the absent Tom for his help as a second steward, especially when it came to gathering passengers for the return journey.
Steve turned to the experience and political significance of the demonstration. He reported that the week as a whole had realized the national office's highest expectations. The nights had included comedy events and music events with a clear political dimension, while in the days various groups took control. The aim was to shift the focus from the conference centre, to the streets and the people harmed by the Conservative government's policies. Steve had organized the 'Wall of Sound' demonstration for the NHS on 6 October, which involved hundreds of people marching on a Tuesday afternoon alongside the 38 Degrees campaign's ambulance, banging pots and pans and sounding sirens. Every day a senior Conservative politician had had to complain from the podium about what was happening outside, and under the pressure the party's leader David Cameron had been forced into a wild denunciation of the new, anti-austerity Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in his closing speech.
Neil advised that the conference would be held on Saturday 5 December. The CPA could send ten delegates and one motion. Steve clarified that affiliated organizations could send two delegates only. The last date for the submission of motions was 21 November.
Maud regretted that local groups' motions to last year's conference seemed to have had little effect on national policy.
Owen believed there might be motions to relax the People's Assembly's constitution on the matter of work with political parties. Now that the Labour Party was moving to join the Green Party on an anti-austerity position, where did the People's Assembly fit in? Jon thought that the recent developments within Labour were the most important subject at hand. The CPA's motion could welcome the appearance of the Momentum network meant to continue Jeremy Corbyn's successful leadership campaign, for example.
Richard observed that housing and the government's Trade Union Bill were two major focuses of local action. Steve added the NHS as another (and urged that any draft should include a concrete proposal to make it stand out from other motions on the same subject).
The meeting agreed to circulate and vote on drafts on the CPA discussion list.
As for delegates, Neil would circulate a call on the CPA mailing list. Richard observed that it would be preferable for any who could to attend as delegates of affiliated organizations. Jon believed he would be able to secure two delegates from his union, the Cambridgeshire National Union of Teachers.
Dan, Neil, Richard, and Steve volunteered as the first CPA delegates.
Jon emphasized that Cambridgeshire County Council was now having to make cuts which would have a severe effect on people in the county. The provision it made for Cambridgeshire residents was going to be drastically cut, and narrowed to those whose needs were greatest. Others' needs would not be met. Jon referred the meeting to a recent spread in the local newspaper (Jon Vale, '£41m cutbacks will "devastate lives and put children at risk" ', Cambridge News, 27 October 2015 – not the same Jon). There was now supposedly some kind of consultation process before the council finally agreed the cuts at a meeting on 16 February 2016.
This was a serious attack: along with the withdrawal of services, there would be job cuts in the council and perhaps in the companies that worked for it. Jon suggested the CPA should use a twofold approach. First, it should make clear that the cuts were the responsibility of central government; but second, the county council should not be able to make its cuts without opposition. The CPA should initiate a campaign with an view to organizing an expression of public anger before the council meeting.
Steve suggested the CPA should build towards something similar to that earlier achieved by the Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts campaign: a day at Shire Hall with speakers and workshops. The proposal to raise the rate of council tax showed that councillors were already themselves concerned about the effect of these cuts. The CPA could get people together for a summit. Richard agreed it was important that there should be a protest outside the council's February meeting.
This item would be continued in the next meeting.
Steve advised the meeting that the action on 24 November (the day before the chancellor's autumn statement) was planned for London. The national office was happy for local groups to organize rallies against the statement at the weekend, on Saturday 21 November.
Maud suggested that it would be useful to link the rally to the county council's cuts. Steve agreed that the rally should bring together the very people with whom the CPA would want to plan action against the cuts. Ally added that knowing the way the county council worked, the decisions of its February meeting would have been decided long before, so it was as well to start planning with others soon. The meeting considered the Friends' Meeting House on Jesus Lane, the Castle Street Methodist Church, and the Maypole pub's upper room as venues for a meeting after the rally.
The meeting agreed to hold a rally against the autumn statement for 12 midday on Saturday 21 November. As speakers, Steve would invite Daniel Zeichner MP; Neil would invite a representative of the Cambridge Green Party, and Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire and a prominent Conservative critic of the proposed cuts to tax credits.
Neil explained that one of the chairs from the first Cambridge Left Forum had asked if the CPA would be willing to support a second forum on local activism, perhaps in late November. She had suggested that it could be a collaboration between the CPA, the new Momentum campaign, and possibly other organizations like the Green Party.
There was a discussion of the Cambridge Left Forum. To some members it seemed partly to duplicate the purposes of the CPA, although Mike said he did not remember the CPA recently organizing any broad forums of the same kind. Maud stressed that to remark a duplication was not to say one group should disappear, only that co-ordination was needed. Jon thought there was a role for the CPA but also for a more discursive form. There were many things the divided Left would have to get over if its constituents were going to work effectively together, and the Cambridge Left Forum could be useful in this.
The meeting considered whether to suggest the meeting after the 21 November rally could be a Cambridge Left Forum, but decided against it. However the discussion ended with a reaffirmation that the CPA would work with any organization that opposed austerity.
Neil reported that a new campaign had been launched to defend the local hospitals Addenbrooke's and the Rosie, after their parent NHS trust, Cambridge University Hospitals, had been placed in special measures by the regulator Monitor. Its first meeting had agreed on three demands.
- No financially-driven cuts to services.
- No privatization.
- Full funding of services.
Its next meeting would be held on Tuesday 17 November, at 7.30 p.m. at Alex Wood Hall. Neil gave an address for the campaign's secretary.
Neil suggested that the CPA should issue a statement in support of the student demonstration in London that day, and read a draft he had prepared. Richard and Owen remarked that it should cite recent effective student campaigns in South Africa and Germany. The meeting agreed that with this improvement, the statement could be published in the group's name on the CPA blog.
Richard announced that Cambridge Unite Community was organizing a March for Affordable Homes in Cambridge, to meet on Regent Terrace (off Parker's Piece) at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday 14 November.
Martin announced that Unite the Resistance would hold its 2015 conference at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, at 11 a.m. on Saturday 14 November.
Steve announced that a Labour Assembly Against Austerity would be held at the Institute of Education, Bedford Way, London, at 10 a.m. on Saturday 14 November.
Hilary asked whether the CPA could host a web page for Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public (KONP). Maud advised that this would not be possible, because the CPA's blog was itself part of the national People's Assembly website. Neil added that the CPA would gladly post any material sent by KONP.
Martin asked whether the CPA had booked a stall at the Mill Road Winter Fair. It had not. Steve suggested that it might be possible to share with another friendly organization.
The next meeting would be held at the River Lane Centre at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 2 December.