2015 could be the year of huge resistance and change in Britain. We just need to work hard to convince people that if they fight back they can win writes People's Assembly National Secretary Sam Fairbairn.
Austerity has failed even on it’s own terms. Government debt is higher now than it was before the recession hit, this government has borrowed more in four years than Labour did in 13. And although Britain’s economy has seen growth recently, the deficit has actually grown in the last 12 months by 10 per cent to £91 billion. That’s because earnings have fallen, pulling down tax revenues too.
Austerity has created the worst decline in living standards for most people since official records began in 1856. More of the same will drive the country straight back into recession.
The richest continue to get richer — the wealth of the 1,000 richest people in Britain has doubled since the recession hit. Corporation tax has also been cut 14 per cent since 2010.
Yet the attack on working people has accelerated. The Tories laid their cards on the table with Osborne’s Autumn Statement — a vicious, blatant and unnecessary attack on the poorest yet again — 40 per cent of Britons will lose out from tax and benefit changes. For the poorest one-fifth, that means losing £441 a year. And there’s still another 60 per cent of cuts to come.
From now right up till May, politics in Britain will be dominated by the general election. Unfortunately the left’s prospects in the election aren’t something to get too excited about. While it looks as though, at the moment, the most likely outcome is a Labour-led government in one form or another, the Labour leadership has been consistent in it’s commitment to austerity.
That means whatever the result, we will still need a campaign against austerity. 2014 was possibly the biggest year of organised resistance to austerity we’ve seen — 50,000 people on the first People’s Assembly national demonstration in June marching from the doorstep of the BBC to the doorstep of Parliament, hundreds of thousands taking co-ordinated strike action in July, over 100,000 marching for the alternative to austerity on the TUC’s Britain Needs A Payrise demonstration in October, tens of thousands taking part in the march from Jarrow to London to save the NHS, the inspirational grassroots campaigns that have sprung up like the focus E15 mums and New Era campaign over housing, 10,000 students marching for free education in November and the countless protests, rallies and demonstrations that have taken place up and down the country.
It’s no coincidence that public opinion has shifted. A poll reported in the Financial Times in November shows nearly 60 per cent of the public don’t want to see any further public spending cuts, 80 per cent in favour of a harder crackdown on tax avoidance, 79 per cent in favour of another tax on bankers bonuses, 65 per cent in favour of a mansion tax and 63 per cent a higher tax on utility companies’ profits.
We have the prospect of another financial crisis heading our way, and whatever the result of the general election a government committed to years of austerity.
The potential for an almighty confrontation between the politicians and the people is growing. That means we must build on the broad alliance we’ve built up over the last 18 months with the People’s Assembly.
Unsurprisingly there’s a growing disengagement from the politics coming out of Westminster. But it’s not that people are disengaged from politics in general.
What last year showed was that the protests, street mobilisations, big town hall meetings and demonstrations are where people feel their views are actually represented. And that means the People’s Assembly’s role in the first half of 2015 should not be to back any candidate in the election — we must maintain the cross-party unity we’ve built up when it comes to fighting austerity. Instead we should meet people where they are at and to accelerate these kind of actions in any way we can.
Just before the TUC national demonstration in October last year, the People’s Assembly organised a People’s Question Time in East London. Over 1,300 people attended — for most of them it was their first political event they’ve ever been to. It’s this kind of event we plan to roll out across the country in 2015. Already we’re planning People’s Question Times in Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Swindon and Norwich, with more to come.
These events will draw hundreds of new people into the movement and, when all you hear from the mainstream media is there’s no alternative, they’ll build the confidence to take further action.
Crucially they’ll build for a major event in the summer. Just after the election the People’s Assembly is planning a national demonstration ending in a high-profile festival of resistance in June.
That is our chance to bring together all of the inspirational campaigns that have sprung up across the country, to demonstrate that all of these are part of a bigger austerity picture and demand that whatever government wins the election they should abandon austerity policies and run the country in the interests of the majority and not just those at the top.
2015 could be the year of huge resistance and change in Britain. We just need to work hard to convince people that if they fight back they can win.