From the ConLib United Kingdom government austerity programme  back in 2010 when it took the reigns of power to the latest Budget 2014 announcement only last week, this situation of “permanent austerity” has led to a backlash from various workers, minorities and special needs group against cuts. What started from a letter to the Guardian signed by such names like the Stephen Fry as well as the late Tony Benn and Bob Crow last February grew into a June 2013 meeting of minds, and finally culminated in a 700-strong conference on March 15, 2014 at Westminster.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PAAA) is an alliance of over 164 supporting organisations, including 20 unions at both the local and national level. With its inaugural conference coming so soon on the heels of the passing of both Left-wing icon Tony Benn and General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Bob Crow, the air was tinged with both sadness and anger.

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From top: Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German and RMT member Geoff Revell paying tribute to Tony Benn and Bob Crow respectively.

 

In the months leading up to this second conference, committee member Clare Solomon said the Assembly  “worked with the trade unions, campaign groups and others to mobilise for a national demonstration at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in support of our NHS on 29th September 2013.”

“Besides the national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity on November 5th, the Assembly is also planning a national demonstration in Spring 2014.”

Sam Fairbairn, national secretary of PAAA, said, “In between the financial crash and our Assembly launch last June, there were lots of anti-cuts groups, campaigns against taxes, and big trade union actions, but there was no vehicle that could bring all of these causes together on national and local levels.

“Since the launch, I think we’ve made some serious steps towards achieving stronger more cohesive anti-austerity actions. Not only are we know facing a much weaker government, its socioeconomic policies prove us right in that the financial crisis was used as an excuse to dismantle the welfare state and restructure society to benefit the rich.

“The ‘recovery’ has indicated that it is getting better for those at the top while austerity continues for us at the bottom. Even Cameron has announced the need for permanent austerity regardless of the deficit,” Fairbairn noted.

With public opinion stacking up against the Government with regards to issues such as the privatisation of the NHS and Royal Mail, he believes anti-cuts campaigners have started winning the argument.

“The recent London Tube strikes actually managed to gain majority public support, which I think is fantastic, and it indicates a potential for a growing resistance as never before,” he added.

Among the groups aligned and that have pledged their support to the People’s Assembly are Disabled People Against the Cuts, Fire Brigades Union, Stop the War Coalition, Keep our NHS Public, Rail Maritime and Transport Union, National Pensioners Convention, National Assembly of Women, Queers Against the Cuts, Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, and the British Muslim Initiative.

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Over 670 delegates and 30 observers voted and debated 90 motions throughout the full-day conference concerning a wide range of issues, such as public ownership of key industries, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the gagging laws on unions, bedroom tax, zero hour contracts, migrant workers’ rights, climate change, NHS and education.

In a mere nine months, over 100 local People’s Assemblies involving thousands of members have grown throughout the UK, and a large number of these brought forward motions on specific austerity issues affecting certain communities and areas.

The shift in public sentiment in line with the PAAA’s various causes was further bolstered on Wednesday, when the Assembly gained over 4,000 signatures in support of its People’s Budget in less than 48 hours.

In addition to 15 local level demonstrations against Osbourne’s budget throughout the country, Fairbairn, Paula Peters from Disabled People Against Cuts, and James Meadway, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, and Caroline Lucas of the Public and Commercial Services Union held rallies and delivered the alternative People’s Budget to 10 Downing Street on the 19th.

Looking forward, the PAAA and its various trade union and civil rights supporters are gearing up for the national demo on June 21, which is themed,  “The People United against Austerity, Cuts and Privatisation – and for Education, the NHS and Public Services.”

by Stephanie Augustin