Report from the seminar held in Glasgow March 29th
Chair welcomed all and thanked UNITE for the use of their premises asked that delegates stand for a minutes silence to remember and respect Bob Crow and Tony Benn. At the end of this remarked that although they will be missed their legacies would live on and our meeting was part of this.
Minutes of PA Steering Committee 15/02/14 were presented to the meeting and moved as correct by Vicky Grandon and seconded by Tam Kirby
Report of the launch of the PA in Scotland has been circulated by the STUC and also details of the fringe meeting at STUC Congress in Dundee. STUC have also given the PA an opportunity to make a bucket collection at congress.
Chair highlighted to delegates that details of a variety of forthcoming meetings/demos along with a report on the National launch of the PA in London which Raymond Mennie will speak too were in their delegate packs.
People’s Assembly Delegates meeting – London 15th March report by Tam Kirby & Raymond Mennie
There were over 600 delegates from all over the UK present. Most left parties, Unions, Trades Councils and anti-austerity campaign groups were in attendance. At present the PA is supported by 12 of the main Trades Unions. As well as all the local PA’s, there are also The Students Assembly, The Woman’s Assembly and now Labour Members Assembly.
Even though there were representatives from The Green Party, SWP, SP, CPB, Left Unity, Labour CfS etc all were united in fighting the austerity agenda and uniting within the People’s Assembly movement utilising the People’s Charter as the basis for the ongoing campaign.
The conference agreed a new structure for the People's Assembly UK body. This will be made up of a representative from each national signatory organisation, and a representative from each local group.
The agenda for the first meeting of this body is not yet set. There is a lot to discuss though, such as the outcome of the national conference, how to take the resolves forward, agreeing on a financial structure based on the two motions that were voted through at conference, as well as the national demo on 21 June.
To ensure the body of the Assembly is democratic and representative of all local groups, please ensure that a delegate from your group participates.
Please register your delegate here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/assembly-meeting-local-groups-national-organisations-tickets-11199872119
90 motions had been received. Similar motions had been bundled into groups of motions with supplements and amendments. The motions had been organised in this way to stimulate debate and to provide the focus for future national and local actions.
Most Motions were passed virtually unanimously throughout the day. The only really contentious motion was on the funding model for the People’s Assembly with counter views of paid membership and voluntary contributions.
This has been remitted to the first meeting of the “Assembly”
It was also highlighted that we need to mobilize for the Demo/Festival on 21st June. Support all industrial action by Unions at local and national levels.
All new Groups need to contact the People’s Assembly website www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk
There they will get their own blog and events page that they can update.
Contributions followed from the floor on the report of the London launch and their hopes for the PA in Scotland.
Jackson Culliane on whether there had been any discussion on the Transatlantic Trade Agreement and the threat it posed in introducing American privateers into the UK via Europe also what links were being formed with other European anti austerity groups.
Dougie Molloy spoke of the need for left unity in the face of austerity.
Jim Main reported that GTUC will be launching the Glasgow PA on June 25th and the need for the PA to be as broad and inclusive as possible and also the importance of including a positive anti-racist message in the face of immigrants being blamed for the need for cuts.
Vicky Grandon spoke of the need to connect with people who we don’t usually have contact with especially women, suggesting Gala days ,Fetes , having family Friendly political events , using the CO-OP…………………..there was agreement from others from the floor with regard to this.
Phil McGarry pointed out that London has May Day on 1st of May and that RMT would support this happening elsewhere starting with Glasgow.
He also pointed out the missed opportunities for big demonstrations at Conservative and Lib Dem conferences. Were Scotland to vote YES he hoped that Scots would have an opportunity to vote to leave the EU especially in light of the austerity being imposed across Europe by the Troika. He was also concerned about EU inspired attacks on the railway industry with day and night services being separated along with Northern Isles ferries being hived off with no protection for workers despite the Scottish Parliament being able to do this.
Scot Nicholson spoke of the need for a 21st May Day a festival that would bring together all strands of the left.
Tommy Morrison told that they had wide support for the Clydebank PA including the CAB and that the launch of Clydebank PA will take place on the 24th of April.
Keir McKechnie felt there was room for a Scottish demo on the same day as the London one and this could help unite the left from both the YES and NO camps against austerity.
Nan Wilson was disappointed in the TU turnout at the anti tory Edinburgh demo not enough TU banners and they ended up kettled with only a few dedicated folk getting to the tory conference ,the demo ended up just a rally away from everyone.
Raj Singh Mall spoke about the anti-fracking movement was part of the movement and should be supported especially those in the Falkirk/Airth area where it’s being proposed.
Bobby Brennan told how the UNITE retired members met on the first Thursday of each month and were keen to get involved in activity they will be on the Trades Council May Day demo this year.
Statement on the aims and objectives of the PA along with the six points of the Peoples Charter were presented to the meeting moved by Pat Egan with Tommy Morrison seconding, the meeting accepted these unanimously
Phil McGarry set the scene for the group sessions hoping that the deliberations would lead to practical suggestions on how to mobilise for and extend the influence of the PA.
With PAs already established in Fife, Dundee and Kilmarnock under the auspices of the Trades Councils and Clydebank and Glasgow TUCs launching PAs soon this is a model that should be repeated across the country. We support the STUC “there is a better way” campaign and this could help make the link with local PAs and TU branches
One thing was sure regardless of the outcome of the referendum was that austerity would still be on the ruling classes agenda and we had to ensure that those against it were as organised as those implementing it.
He hoped that this would assist us in our deliberations in the breakout sessions.
Group One Fair Economy for a Fairer Britain – More and Better Jobs.
Chair: Arthur West Scribe: Keith Stoddart
We opened the group with introductions and what our hopes were for the PA, what we could do with the PA and what we would need to launch PAs in our own areas.
The group was made up of trade unionists and members of political parties most of whom were active in communities. We recognized that this was not a typical group and that the days where trade unionists were the community and tenant association leaders were not most people’s experience anymore with local group’s fragmented or non existent.
We needed to connect with those people who were most under attack. Especially those least likely to have contact with the movement. We acknowledged that we met at a time where the movement was not at its strongest with working people being distrustful of politicians, facing wage freezes, zero hour contracts, youth unemployment, and generally despairing of any change or improvement in their situations.
While we could respond with the need for publicly owned banks, progressive taxation, the building of houses by the unemployed building workers we were not making the connection.
This needs us to move beyond the committed and include those most affected and was vital if we were to challenge the austerity agenda being foisted on us all.
How do we make our arguments populist? It was felt that the following would/could help promote this.
· In any demonstrations/rally ensure that those most affected are in the fore front, this is happening on this year’s Glasgow Mayday along with asking participants to bring donations for Food banks not as “charity” but as practical “solidarity”.
· Making the campaign for the living wage central to all our campaigning.
· Ensure that our representatives are aware of the need to link procurement of public contracts with providing jobs and apprenticeships paying at least the living wage.
· Ensure local business and employers are part of this pressure on elected members.
Highlighting that the EUs stability treaty would preclude this happening and that Osborne’s programme to reduce the “deficit” by 2018 by 0.5% “coincidently” is similar to what will become EU law in 2018.
· Need to alert folk about where austerity is coming from and its hidden agenda to destroy the public sector and the Trade Unions.
· Publicise that although public sector cuts so far are £650k a further £1m still to come and the extent of job losses.
· Linking housing shortages and the availability of unemployed building workers as a campaigning tool.
· Linking unemployed underemployed and the working poor through the PA to demonstrate “we are all in this together”
· Develop counter propaganda to challenge assumptions about welfare especially those held by politicians in both in Edinburgh and Westminster.
· Privatisation is not popular we can capitalise on this in localities
· Listen more to communities and talk less establish what we can do to help existing groups.
· Bringing in to trades council orbits local anti-cuts, anti-bedroom tax activists as part of PAs
· Rents rising by 15% in private sector possible campaigning around this if appropriate.
· Link tax avoidance to the cuts agenda and job losses [PCS materials]
Having Co-ordinated National Themed Days/Actions on Tax, Welfare, Rents, Banks, Utility bills, etc.
· All of the above to be collected in to a leaflet/pamphlets for use by local PAs.
· A group of speakers on these issues to be made available to address local PAs and other groups meetings on behalf of the PA
Group Two Decent Homes for All – Saving & Improving Services
Chair: Tam Morrison Scribe: Tam Kirby
Decent Homes for all:
We started with a discussion on the Bedroom Tax. We feel this needs to be tackled as a priority until it is removed from the statute books. Ester McVey has stated that it is not intended to save money.
• It attacks the very poorest in our communities, both in and out of work
• Highlights the lack of council/social housing that is available
• That these are family homes, not just houses
• It is a community issue and is forcing the breakup of local communities
• It is de-humanising individuals and the poor
Since its introduction only 6% of those affected have downsized.
Labours commitment to a benefit cap and their intention of continuing with the current level of benefit cuts, calls into question their commitment to removing the Tax.
Total number of social housing has declined over the last year, whilst rents have continued to increase well above inflation.
In the private sector rents are on average 40% higher than in public/social housing. This has a direct effect on the housing benefit bill. Call for a cap on rents. Need to remove the right to buy from council properties, as more and more of these ex council houses are owned by the private sector and rented back.
We need to fight for:
• A proper focus on the need for council house building
• Build more energy efficient/green council houses
• This will create jobs, apprenticeships etc
• Make connections with housing charities
• Utilise change.org, 38 degrees etc e-petitions
Saving and improving services:
We need to highlight the total job losses in the public sector. Approx. 10% over the past year. This equates to thousands of job losses. If this was factories or industry there would be mass campaigns against the job losses.
We need to dispel the myth that all public services are inefficient and that private companies provide more efficient and cheaper services. Private services only ever serve the shareholders and generally drive down wages and conditions.
We need stronger councillors in local government, who are held accountable. There is a need to reduce the powers the managers within councils wield and move this back to the workers and elected representatives.
Edinburgh council workers and unions have started a Pride in our public services campaign.
• To regain control from the managers
• To promote the positive aspects of the public services
• Highlight what these public services provide
• More engagement and involvement with the community
This can be used by all groups throughout the country.
We ended with the situation of the 21st century soup kitchens (food banks), that are direct result of the various austerity measures, i.e. Bedroom Tax, welfare reduction, job losses, reduced wages etc. This needs to be at the forefront of any future campaigns. We need to remove the need for these soup kitchens. We need to break away from the current views of the “deserving poor and the undeserving poor”, perpetuated by the condems and the media. This is purely divide and conquer and nothing else. The real causes need to be tackled.
Group Three Fairness & Justice and Better Future
Chair: Vicky Grandon Scribe: Mike Cowley
Group 3 were anxious to edit elements of their allocated Charter demands to take account of contemporary developments and Labour movement concerns. I have highlighted those changes, and of course these are only suggested changes subject to approval by supporters.
We did not spend time on the critical question of campaigning and organisational priorities, though our Group was clear that a clear direction of travel should be a priority of the Organising Committee.
‘Fairness and Justice’
Free heating and transport: this was seen to be winnable because of the clear economic benefits, i.e. short and long term health savings.
Current free travel for pensioners expires in 2016, and currently excludes rail, is under constant threat of repeal, and often where there are a lack of buses and routes the benefits are compromised.
Protect pensions: Public ownership of utilities was seen as a priority, as was rises in pensions (which should as a matter of course be linked to RPI) and wages.
Child Poverty: child benefits, crèches, nurseries, tax credits – all were essential in civilised societies and ought to be affordable, accessible and time-flexible. A race to the bottom was undermining universal provision, better wages and conditions.
Colleague from the care sector made it clear that the above would not resolve poverty; its causes are multi-faceted and include substance abuse, literacy and mental health issues. We require ‘joined up services,’ of which Sure-start was an imperfect but useful template.
Local democracy has been hollowed out and its reinvigoration would improve democratic oversight of spending choices and access to resources in the first instance.
Clear aim: we support universal child-care for instance, but it’s not the only solution; a holistic approach sensitive to the multiple causes of poverty needs to be thought through and implemented with community support.
Equal Pay: gender pay gap around £1,700 per annum. ‘Living wage’ for all demanded, linked to theme of universality.
Problem is also a segregated and gendered labour market; structures of labour movement need to be made more responsive to this question, as does its culture. Battle for legal protection re equal pay has been won, but we need to prosecute the law more forcefully.
Unions must also be vigilant of assumptions based on gender equality issues. Some but not all are aware of their responsibilities in this regard.
End Racism/Discrimination: Suggested new slogan here; ‘Challenging racism and discrimination and promoting equality in education, health, housing and jobs for all.’
This was to reflect members concerns about the sometimes divisive consequences of liberation campaigns. However necessary, we must also attempt to supplement such solidarity initiatives with demands for access to basic human rights such as education. This is what unites all humanity.
Austerity requires scapegoats, and immigrants have been the target; far right in continental Europe have provided us with fair warning.
We are going backwards in many respects, losing ground on issues of equality. Crucial to guard against complacency despite victories over the decades. Struggle should be prosecuted in workplaces, communities, political terrain. Some trade union lecturers are being told by national officers to avoid contentious issues such as asylum or immigration when holding anti-racist awareness and training.
No Scapegoating of Migrant Workers: more sophisticated Right have used public scepticism of political correctness to attack anti racists.
Invest in Young People - Youth, Community Centres and Apprenticeships for All: ‘Give Youth a Chance!’
Restore and Extend Trade Union Rights: ‘freedom to fight the crisis!’
‘Stronger unions = Stronger communities.’ This slogan was suggested as a means of linking labour movement freedoms with higher equality issues as documented in data collated in the ‘Spirit Level’ and elsewhere.
Secure and Sustainable Future for All: no more illegal wars – ‘Win the War at Home!’
Retraining/diversifications should be a priority for the STUC/TUC. Technology should be put to civilian not military use.
Climate change threatens us all; changing course is incompatible with neo liberal economics.
‘Promoting Industrial Policy and Democracy, and Confronting the Global Debt Economy.’
The above demand we thought articulated many of the concerns of ‘Securing a Sustainable Future for All’ section of the Charter. Industrial policy – rebuilding our manufacturing base, democratic decision making in workplaces both on a local and national basis was deemed to be winnable and essential to a fair distribution of power and wealth.
Addendum's: members were anxious finally to add demands to original Charter: there is a clear ‘democratic deficit’ both in the political and economic fields.
‘Access to Participation, Transparency and Accountability’ we thought usefully summarised these concerns, as did ‘Access to Justice for all,’ particularly given the cuts to legal aid.
Discussion/contributions with full group after report backs.
Chair welcomed comrades from the Save Charlie Reid Centre Campaign who had been meeting in the building and offered apologies for confusion over the starting time of the morning session. After the individual groups scribes reported back he asked for contributions, questions and comments from the floor.
Tom Kirby was of the view that we had the basis of a campaign with private sector rents 40% higher than social rented housing. The amount of money going into private landlord’s pockets from the public purse was a scandal that should be highlighted along with an average 15% rise in private rents.
Jennifer McCarry announced the launch of Glasgow PA in Adelaide’s on the 26th of June and asked that participants in the May Day march bring donations for food banks.
Jim Main said the time had come to put the heat on elected members over their failure to oppose and mitigate against the cuts. The PA was a big tent that could bring in folk who had not been involved previously. Need for local meetings on local issues.
Margaret Gallagher highlighted the lack of local democracy with boards and ALEOs replacing services previously under the control of elected members over whom we had some influence.
Tom Kirby suggested we invite councillors to all our meetings so they could experience the anger in localities.
Vicky Grandon felt we should highlight that if there was money for war then it should available for a war on poverty. She also thought we should promote alternative socially useful jobs for those highly skilled workers currently in the arms industry.
Elinor McKenzie was concerned about the absence of young people and students in the fight against austerity and we needed to find a point of contact with them.
Nan Wilson wanted us to expose and end the need for food banks which Tom Kirby felt they should be called soup kitchens and not gentrified.
Jackson Culliane was of the view that more need to be done to alert people of the dangers coming from the EU and the transatlantic treaties which would have serious implications for the NHS and also the anti-austerity and anti-privatisation campaigns.
Phil McGarry thanked those who gave feedback and also those who contributed to the full group discussion.
It was obvious that folk were keen to fight back a fight back that was no longer a choice but a necessity in the face of the attacks by the ruling class. He agreed we should look at publishing a leaflet or booklet to promote the PA, but felt the real fight was to get on to the door steps and argue our case. If we did this we could become a force to be reckoned with. It was time to challenge our elected members and ask them which side and whose side are they on and if they are not following a working class agenda they should expect no favours from us.
Balance of £2620 as a result of £50 from the POA and a further £211 by way of sponsorship from UNITE which the chair thanked Jackson Culliane for organising.
One invoice outstanding for STUC fringe meeting leaflets.
It was agreed that the position of the steering committee had to be formalised now that the PA in Scotland was growing. Raymond Mennie had earlier spoken about how constitutional matters had been discussed at the London meeting and he and Tom Kirby agreed to draw up for the next meeting proposals of how best to proceed.
Chair agreed to speak at the launch of Clydebank PA on 24th of April and in Glasgow on the 10th of May.
Meeting finished at 2.35pm with a vote of thanks to the chair.
Next Meeting 26th of April subsequently changed to Saturday the 24th of May at 10.30am to be held in the PCS Offices (1st Floor) at John Smith House 145-165 West Regent Street Glasgow