There follow the minutes of our September meeting, including a discussion on supporting action by junior doctors and a report on the recent meeting of the Assembly body. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Monday 10 October (not the usual first Wednesday) at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 7 September 2016
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of the minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Report on Assembly meeting, 3 September
- Demonstration at the Conservative conference, 2 October
- Library reservation fee campaign
- Statement on allegations of antisemitism in Labour
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting and collection
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Faraz, Hilary, Jenny, Martin B., Neil, and Richard M. Names may have been changed.
Two days earlier, the junior doctors of the British Medical Association (BMA) had cancelled the all-out strike planned for the following week. Hilary believed this was a good tactic to maintain public support. There had been two junior doctors at the Assembly meeting she had attended before the strike was cancelled (see item 6 below), who had put their campaign in context: the government's victory against the doctors would mean attacks on other health workers. The doctors wanted people to build support for the strikes in their organizations and communities to counter the distortions of the media.
Neil asked whether there was a danger that once the argument that the junior doctors were responsible for inconvenience and risk to patients was accepted, it would be difficult to defend the strikes planned later in the year. Jenny believed the doctors had only conceded that the first strike was called without enough notice, which would not be an issue for the later strikes.
Faraz reflected that the Conservatives' long attacks on the working class were moving on to the middle class. He noted that pharmacists were also now discussing strike action, in response to funding cuts announced late last year.
Jenny observed there was no question that the Cambridge People's Assembly (CPA) should support the junior doctors: the question was how, beyond visiting their picket lines. Neil recalled that a series of hostile and ill-informed letters had been printed in the local newspaper, and suggested that the CPA could respond. The meeting agreed that Neil as secretary should prepare a letter. Richard showed the meeting a petition being used by the Suffolk People's Assembly and suggested the CPA could adopt it.
Richard believed it had been a mistake to call off the strike: it showed the doctors' weakness. If the government wanted to stop the strike, it could withdraw the new junior doctors' contract. The doctors should not accept responsibility.
The meeting agreed with Martin's suggestion that it should discuss how to improve the CPA's stalls, which in the end was done under item 7 below. It was agreed that if there was time, a discussion of a statement on allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party could be discussed under item 9, in place of an update from The Cambridge Commons, none of whose members were available.
Bill, Maud, Nicki, and Stuart had sent their apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes. Martin advised that he had not yet been able to liaise with the Cambridge and District Trades Council (see item 9 in the minutes for August), but would do when it next met on 21 September. There were no other matters arising.
Neil reported 245 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (last month 253), while 912 Twitter users followed it (910), and 594 Facebook users liked it (598).
On behalf of Nicki, Neil reported a bank balance of £428.83 and a PayPal balance of £22.50. Income last month was an individual donation of £200, a collection at the meeting of £28.80, and (through PayPal) coach ticket revenue of £22.50. (The latter item was after PayPal fees, but before Eventbrite fees.) Expenditure last month was the CPA's regular £5 donation to the national office.
The CPA could expect to be invoiced £22.50 next month for venue hire in July, August, and September. It owed Cambridge Stand Up to Racism an amount to be confirmed, estimated at £130, for the hire of a joint coach in July.
Hilary reported on the meeting in London that she had attended as the CPA's delegate.
The People's Assembly (PA) national secretary Sam Fairbairn had given a report on the current situation. He believed that a crisis had been coming long before the EU membership referendum, one building in our politics and communities for years. Now it was having a destabilizing effect on political parties, as expressed on the Left in the support for Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, alongside new waves of industrial action. On the Right, the referendum result had forced the resignation of the prime minister David Cameron, replaced by Theresa May.
Sam had reminded the Assembly meeting that May had been at the heart of both Cameron's austerity governments, and as prime minister had selected a still more rightwing cabinet. Her government might slow the pace of austerity to try to avoid another recession (for Sam, a tacit admission that the policy did indeed damage the economy) but would not end austerity. The Conservatives still wanted to shrink the state, support the banks at others' expense, and continue wage freezes and privatizations. The PA needed to build a broad movement around an alternative platform. Hilary reported the central slogans affirmed by the meeting:
- Invest, don't cut
- Nationalize services
- Defend workers' rights
- No racist scapegoating
Elsewhere in the meeting local groups had reported on their activities, which Hilary found broadly similar to those of the Cambridge group: action against library cuts, health cuts, and racism, for example. Many groups were concerned by the destruction of social care. Some had the frustration of trying to work in areas that were Conservative strongholds, which the CPA was spared at least.
Sam had acknowledged that the national office needed to communicate more with local groups. He had reported that it was preparing a handbook on how to set up local PAs, ready for a push to set up new ones after the end of the Labour leadership election.
Neil had booked the hire of a wheelchair-accessible, 48-seater coach, created an Eventbrite page to deal with passenger booking, and circulated a first notice on the mailing list. He advised the meeting that a Facebook event was needed – it had been most effective in publicizing past coaches – and so he would contact Maud and Steve as the CPA's Facebook administrators. The meeting reminded Neil to contact local union branches to seek passengers and funds.
The meeting agreed to hold a stall to publicize the coach. Faraz, Hilary, Martin, and Neil would be able to staff a stall outside the Grafton Centre on Sunday 18 October. Where the CPA's banner had previously been used as a tablecloth, Faraz would bring stands so that it could be hung behind the stall, where it would be readily legible. Hilary would bring posters and a block of leaflets, distributed at the Assembly meeting; Martin would bring several clipboards; Neil would bring a coach sign-up sheet and the petition against library reservation fees in many copies.
Jenny had submitted four requests on the origins of the unfair policy of library reservation fees to Cambridgeshire County Council under the Freedom of Information Act, and Neil had prepared an accompanying press release. Neil urged that the CPA had to seek more signatures to its petition in public places, outside libraries and on the streets. The meeting agreed this was needed. Apart from the 18 October stall, efforts could be organized later through the group or undertaken immediately by individuals.
A discussion was referred to the next meeting.
Richard reported on the Burston School Strike rally, held on 4 September near Diss in Norfolk. He explained that an annual rally had been held for at least ten years in commemoration of the longest strike in British history, beginning in 1914 and lasting 25 years! (Parents and pupils had boycotted the village school, and founded their own, after its managers sacked two activist teachers.) It had become an occasion for the labour movement in the east to meet, and in the last two years Jeremy Corbyn had spoken at the rallies, which now attracted large crowds of one or two thousand people. Richard thought Corbyn's clear and visible stance against austerity was helpful to the PA.
Martin announced that Stand Up to Racism would hold its annual conference at Friends' Meeting House in King's Cross, London, on Saturday 8 October, and Stop the War Coalition at the TUC Congress Centre the same day.
Martin advised that the CPA should book a stall at the Mill Road Winter Fair. The meeting asked Neil to do so.
Faraz was concerned about the condition of England as it moved to the political Right. Two alarming signs were the increasing number of deaths in prison, and the fact that suicide was the most likely cause of death among young men. Richard believed the media was a major problem. He hoped that the PA could start to counter its influence (perhaps to develop its own media).
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 5 October, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre. (Note: this was later altered to Monday 10 October.)