Campaigners and trade unionists met at the People’s Convention in London last Saturday to build united resistance to cuts and austerity.
Labour MP John McDonnell summed up the mood of the 800-stong event, saying, “We are about bringing this government down.
“There is no other way. They will not compromise. They are out to destroy the welfare state.
McDonnell laid down a challenge to trade union general secretaries, echoed by other speakers, demanding they, “Listen to their members and actually start showing some leadership.
“That means preparing some action.
“When we join the TUC march against the cuts on 26 March we will have to decide whether we will go home that day.”
McDonnell was cheered as he referred to the Egyptians in Tahrir Square who kept their demonstration going until their hated leader stood down.
And, in message to councils that are pushing huge job losses, he said, “Labour councillors we want to work with you—but we want you to vote against the cuts.”
The afternoon was dominated by 12 workshops, where activists decided on a range of practical policies (see column right).
The People’s Convention was initiated by the Right to Work campaign and jointly organised with the Labour Representation Committee and Disabled People Against the Cuts.
Playwright and disability rights activist, Liz Carr, insisted that no one forget how government cuts hurt people with disabilities.
She said, “We are black, white, gay and straight—but we are not scroungers, frauds, unsustainable or useless eaters. We are campaigners, brothers and sisters in arms, and equals.”
The need for direct action and increased resistance to the cuts—and building as widely as possible for the TUC demonstration on 26 March—were the central themes of the event.
Steve Hart, the regional organiser of the Unite union in the south east of England, invoked the spirit of Egypt and Tunisia in building for 26 March saying, “We need to build a united movement here that can win. Tahrir Square today, Hyde Park tomorrow.”
Chris Bambery, secretary of Right to Work, spoke about the importance of action against the government saying, “What did for Mubarak was strikes and direct action on the streets.
“We must do the same and chase the ConDems from office.”
Pete Murray, the president of the NUJ journalists’ union, closed the conference saying, “We will not let them take our libraries, jobs, target asylum seekers, take our forests or our skies.
“We are many, they are few—united we can do it.”
Debate: What should councillors do about cuts to services?
How broad can unity in the anti-cuts movement be?
That was a sharply-posed question in a debate at the convention.
Delegates considered whether councillors who opposes the cuts in principle, but who in practice votes them through, could still be part of the anti-cuts movement.
Several local councillors spoke on the difference they can make.
Charlynne Pullen, a Labour councillor in Islington, north London, argued that people voted in a Labour majority council to “protect ordinary and vulnerable people”.
But she went on to say that she would vote for a cuts package because it mean doing the least harm.
She argued that no libraries or children’s centres would be cut in the borough in the coming year.
Pullen insisted that a vote against the cuts would see local government secretary Eric Pickles take over the council—forcing through cuts and privatisation.
Preston independent socialist councillor and Socialist Workers Party member Michael Lavalette rejected this approach.
He argued that councillors had to stand up for services.
“In Lancashire a Tory authority is making the cuts.
“In what way is it nicer in Bolton or Manchester because it is Labour making them?” he asked.
“ We should oppose every single cut and every service and job lost”.
Lavalette pointed to the danger of councillors seeing themselves as seperate from the people they represent.
He said that stopping the cuts involved, “fighting cuts inside the council,” and that this should be “tied to the movement outside the council chamber”.
Dave Nellist, who is a councillor and Socialist Party member in Coventry, called for councillors to refuse to implement the cuts, invoking the spirit of past struggles in Poplar, Clay Cross, Lambeth and Liverpool.
He explained that no councillor would face imprisonment if they opposed the cuts.
Nellist said even one council refusing to make the cuts would “electrify politics”.
But unfortunately he also argued that we shouldn’t work with Labour councillors who don’t renounce all cuts.
Barry Buitenkant, a Labour councillor in Hackney, east London, reported that a group of councillors in his borough oppose the cuts.
But that they have not yet decided whether to abstain or vote against the proposal to slash budgets.
He called on anti-cuts activists to put pressure on councillors to give them the confidence to vote against.
Many speakers from the floor reiterated that it was vital for councillors to refuse to implement the cuts.
Militant campaigns will be the decisive force in deciding whether the cuts or not.
One delegate said that the Labour councillors’ “dented shield” policy only took into account this year’s cuts—while the government will be demanding new cuts year on year.
So there is no alternative but to fight.
Build action against the cuts
The convention divided into 12 workshops to propose and organise action. Topics included disability campaining, climate change, legal aid and benefits.
The proposals were voted on when the convention came back together for the closing plenary session.
Agreed proposals include:
- Taking action against every cut, supporting strikes. Holding regular local and regional anti-cuts meetings.
- For disabled people to be fully integrated in the 26 March demonstration. Build sustained action against the private health screening company, Atos. Back the 11 May protest against disability cuts.
- Invite Black Activists Rising Against Cuts to anti‑cuts meetings. Initiate action to save English as a second language (ESOL) courses.
- Arrange boycotts of the government’s new workfare programme. Organise among benefit claimants—including the possibility of occupying job centres. Unite PCS union members with claimants.
- To encourage organisations, unions and groups to distribute the million climate jobs pamphlet.
- To support migrant workers. Reject the slogan “British Jobs for British Workers”. Approach the Refugee Council for a joint delegation on 26 March and organising around refugee week.
- Build solidarity with workers taking action. Invite strikers, including striking speech and language therapists, to union branch and anti-cuts meetings.
- Build the biggest possible turnout at the 26 March demonstration by organising subsidised transport through union branches. Make the protest a launch point for a campaign for a general strike.
Support strikes, fight division
Organisers put forward a motion on fighting the cuts, which was passed unanimously.
It applauded the breadth of actions to resist the cuts—from protests to occupations and college walking outs and workers taking industrial action to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services.
The motion also backed demonstrations outside the spring conferences of all three mainstream parties.
The convention pledged to throw itself into building the 26 March demonstration. It called a weekend of action for 19 and 20 March—involving mass leafleting, street meetings and cavalcades.
The motion agreed to hold mass protests nationwide on budget day, 23 March—including a demonstration in London.
Finally, the motion reiterated that no one group can simply declare that it is the sole national campaign against the cuts, but supports the building of one national united campaign.
The full list of outcomes are available on the Right to Work website. www.righttowork.org.uk