Monday, June 17, 2013

People's Assemblies can move beyond resistance

The powerful response to the call for the People’s Assembly against Austerity on June 22 confirms that the build-up of opposition to the ConDem cuts is reaching boiling point, presenting a unique opportunity to move beyond resistance.

Over 3,000 people have registered for the Assembly, many with the support of the major trade unions.

Clearly, people welcome the fact that the Assembly brings together all those fighting against austerity. The support of key figures like Tony Benn, Owen Jones and Ken Loach has helped boost attendance.

What is crucial is the perspective for and beyond the Assembly. The draft statement is absolutely explicit about the intended direction of travel, declaring: “We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.”

The statement insists that the government’s austerity programme is not “necessary” and that the “banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources”.

To that end, there is a call for a national demonstration and civil disobedience towards the end of the year, the building of local Assemblies and a recall of the national Assembly in 2014.

In practice, the central demand is based on the notion that this most reactionary of governments is for turning and, if not, that Labour is an alternative. Both are utterly misguided.

The ConDems are cutting not simply because they are viciously anti-working class (which they are) but in response to an historic crisis of the financial and economic system, aka capitalism. The dreaded “C” word does not get a mention once in the draft statement, however, which is a major weakness.

Its exclusion leads to the idea of restoring the status quo of the welfare state through taxing the corporations as the main policy idea. With key analysts forecasting another global crash, such a policy does not begin to match the gravity of the situation we face.

As to installing a government that will “abandon austerity”, the implication is that this is Labour. But Ed Miliband’s party, which is taking shape as New Labour Mk II, intends to continue with austerity and cuts and every day incorporates another ConDem policy.

So Owen Jones’ view that “there is a battle to be won in compelling the party to fight for working people” is based on faith rather than judgement. Unions like Unite which bankrolled Miliband’s election have put the pressure on already – and come away empty handed.

The central issue is the fact that the system is broken – economically and politically. A semblance of democracy is rapidly being replaced by an authoritarian, surveillance, security state as the leaks about the US/UK spy network reveals.

A minimal amount time has been found for discussing this crisis of democracy. Yet it is the key to our future. A World to Win and others have campaigned for a network of People’s Assemblies since August 2006.

We and others in Occupy and the Agreement of the People for the 21st Century see People’s Assemblies as integral to a strategy for moving beyond resistance towards a real democratic political and economic system in place of the façade we have today.

Permanent People’s Assemblies should
-         be inclusive, inviting all sections of the community to be part of their work
-         discuss in depth why there is a global economic crisis
-         draw up, with the help of experts, alternatives to austerity/cuts that go beyond the profit system
-         discuss how to introduce democracy throughout society - in ownership and control of workplaces, land, etc
-         debate the crisis of democracy, where our voices/votes count for very little
-         consider alternative forms of democratic government and self-rule throughout the UK 
-         consider plans to deal with the eco-crisis

People’s Assemblies should not develop into talking shops but rival centres of power to a system that has lost its legitimacy and the right to rule over us. That’s the big challenge and we call on others to help us campaign for this at on Saturday.

Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz

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