Sunday, 24 June 2012

Building a mass movement against austerity and privatisation

Romayne Phoenix, from the Green Party and Chair of the Coalition of  Resistance, launched last week's rally with panache and demonstrated that the Green Party, alone of the Westminster parties, is prepared to question the current ideological attack on the welfare state that is being made under the guise of deficit reduction.

Len McCluskey urged the coming together of trades unions, community organisations, churches, students and pensioners in one movement to oppose the privatisation of the NHS that is happening in front of our eyes. He urged a combination of industrial action and civil disobedience and said that the London Olympics were a legitimate target for protest.  He told the audience that People Power can bring down governments and tyrants: "Don't despair, don't let the media debilitate us, have faith in our values of truth and justice".

Mary Cross, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, said that the destruction of the welfare state is the destruction of peoples' lives and reminded that audience that anyone can become disabled through accidents or illness. Mary said that 1 in 4 families with disabled children are unable to afford to heat their homes and drew attention to the rise in hate crimes against disabled people. People under 65 leaving hospital after a stroke were being immediately assessed for fitness to work. Cuts in housing benefits were making disabled people homeless. She claimed that these attacks amounted to crimes against humanity.

Salma Yaqoob in a passionate speech drew attention to the Guardian's reports on working  families being one bill away from disaster and said that although the government did not like being told this, that they had launched a class way, and were all about  'divide and rule'. With only 10-15% of cuts made so far this was the first generation since WW2 who would be worse off than the generation before them.  Declaring that solidarity does matter she said that it was people who gave each other strength. She said, "If we do our job well we will expose austerity as a poison, just as we exposed the lies used to launch the war in Iraq".  Supporting a Financial Transaction Tax of 0.5% she said that this "would not turn the rich out of their homes" but would raise £30bn to challenge the 'need' for cuts.

A delegation from the Coalition of Resistance, which included Romayne Phoenix,  had recently visited Greece and the events there resonated throughout the rally. Vassilis Fouskas, from Syriza, was received enthusiastically. He  spoke about the conditions for left success in challenging austerity in which bail outs were really a  'bonanza for bankers'.  He said that the social devastation and poverty now hitting Greece was familiar to the people of the global South and Eastern Europe. The only original factor was that it was being applied to a country of the EU. There had been 17 general strikes in Greece over the last two years and hundreds of demonstrations and occupations. The Greek people had rejected the guilt inducing mantra of 'lazy south' stereotypes and formed alliances. Without this mobilisation the break through from the left could not have happened. Their experience led people to realise that what was needed was a proper political alternative.Syriza had become the only credible alternative on the left, present in organisations but respecting their autonomy and unifying the anti-austerity movement. Solidarity was an essential requisite for success.

In his concluding speech, Tony Benn said that he had learned a lot from the previous speakers, "What we have been doing is part of a national education campaign". He defended public expenditure saying that it was vital for democracy and transferred "power from the market to the polling station". Coalition policies were reopening battles we fought and won over centuries and that imposition of policies on Greece and the Egyptian military takeover showed that all over the world the issue was an attack on the peoples' democratic rights. What was happening was the imposition of poverty and we needed to take inspiration from previous vociferous campaigners such as the Miners Women's Support Groups.  He said that 87 he was more encouraged to go into battle now than at any other time in his life.

I enjoyed the meeting but feel strongly that although it is important to mobilise for the TUC's October 20th action that even more important is to bring together all the various groups and individuals affected by austerity, most of whom are not in trade unions.  One day TUC actions often end up in an anti-climax the day after, 'Was that it? What now?' October 20th should be a medium term marker on the way to the longer term goal of building an alternative economic and social strategy supported by people across the social spectrum.

You can see videos of the above speeches and those from other speakers HERE

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