Year two in Cambridge

We present an unsigned review of the work of our second year. The Cambridge group was founded at the end of June 2013.


Year two

The Cambridge People's Assembly Against Austerity entered its second year exhilarated after the 2014 national demonstration in London, days earlier on 21 June: thanks to the Cambridge and District Trades Council, the Cambridgeshire National Union of Teachers (NUT), and the Cambridge University Press Unite the Union branch, we'd been able to offer a popular free coach to the demonstration. A few weeks later on 10 July, when a million public sector workers from the NUT and other unions went out on strike, we raised our banner again at the Cambridge rally on Parker's Piece. Member Angela, mother to school-age children, took the microphone to give a message of solidarity.

The end of June also brought the victory of the astonishing Save Lifeworks campaign. The users of the Lifeworks mental health clinic had been occupying it for four months to save the clinic from permanent closure, and now at last they were offered five more years of funding. We were glad to have been able to help raise awareness of and support for the campaign when Ann bravely spoke at our Women's Day event in March, days into the occupation. Another important victory for public healthcare was won in October, when an £800m contract for community health services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, offered under the new Health and Social Care Act, was awarded to an NHS consortium over the profit-seekers Virgin Care and Care UK. The Cambridge People's Assembly had helped Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public and the other groups working in the Stop The NHS Sell-Off campaign to gather five-and-a-half thousand signatures to a petition against the private tenders, as well as supporting or hosting meetings on the campaign.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in secret negotiation between the United States and the European Union, has been a constant target of our activity. We've linked with new friends in the Cambridge branches of Global Justice Now and 38 Degrees to agitate together in the city's Market Square on four international days of action, distributing leaflets and newspapers, and in December, we held a joint public meeting of sixty people with Global Justice Cambridge. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, was a tremendous guest speaker.

In November we revived our blog in a new location on the main People's Assembly site, which provides us with an invaluable space to publish material of all kinds. As well as notices of events held by our group and others, and the minutes of our meetings, we've republished the People's Charter (not easily found online at the time) and the related motion from the 2014 People's Assembly conference, and published members' reviews of Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything and The People's Manifesto.

In January we reorganized our group, exchanging its informal first constitution for a more solid structure and introducing a small annual membership fee. We feel it's also been in the new calendar year that individuals and groups have started coming to us for support or collaboration in their campaigns, which is encouraging. (Of course we still go constantly to others for the same things and always will.) We've done our best to support recent local action on the Living Wage and the protection of public library services.

The approach of the general election caused some debate in the group. Because our hopes don't lie with politicians but with the collective action of trade union, community, and student organizations, we decided not to organize a hustings with the Cambridge candidates. We were glad however to be asked by the city's Communist Party branch to send a speaker to its hustings – member Olivier represented us – and to help publicize the events held by other friendly groups for whom the form made more sense. Otherwise we tried to support the national organization's main intervention in the election campaign with member Neil's review of The People's Manifesto, mentioned above.

Though the return of a Conservative majority government was a shock to several members, the group had fully expected to have to continue campaigning after the election and immediately began building for the 2015 national demonstration in London on 20 June, best of all with a local demonstration on 30 May. Somehow we had never previously organized a general protest against austerity but now we did, working in full co-operation with the Cambridge and District Trades Council and the student Cambridge Marxist Society. A hundred people attended the Cambridge March Against Austerity to hear a broad range of speakers before and after a lively march.

Very quickly we'd booked every seat on the free coach we were planning to send to the London demonstration. Thanks to the financial support of the Cambridge and District Trades Council and its member unions, a few of whom also donated to us directly (Cambridgeshire NUT once again, Cambridge University Unite the Union, and Cambridge UCU), we were able to keep booking seats, and in the end we transported around 160 protesters to the demonstration on three coaches. Their donations in solidarity met the remaining costs and more.

The Conservatives' election victory and the new agility shown in their emergency budget, as well now as the shadow of the defeat in Greece, mean there's no exhilaration as we enter our third year. What we draw this time from the demonstration – as from the wide enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity candidacy for Labour leadership, and elements of the realignment in Scotland – is hope.

[Corrected on 1 September.]

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  • commented 2015-09-01 17:31:54 +0100
    Thanks, now corrected!
  • commented 2015-08-31 10:00:40 +0100
    Perhaps a word for 38 Degrees? They pulled the anti-TTIP demos together.

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