An impressively large and enthusiastic People’s Assembly met in central London on June 22nd. Among the 4000 delegates were many SWAN supporters, whether representing the London group or from other organisations so it will be interesting to see what ideas we can bring back into social work and SWAN.
The plenary sessions were rousing affairs. Owen Jones talked of the ‘fear’ and ‘anger’ stalking the land, and that now was the time for ‘hope’ and Mark Serwotka, from the PCS, argued that ‘it’s time we stopped fighting with one hand tied behind our back and socked it to these viscous bastards’. It was heartening that this radical talk was matched by Frances O’Grady, the new TUC general secretary, who described the Government as declaring ‘class war’ and pledging to fight as hard for ‘our people’ as the Condems do for theirs. The test, of course, will be on whether we can hold trade union leaders to their bold words.
The Assembly also impressed with its range of workshops, such as ‘tactics for the anti-austerity movement’, ‘climate change’, ‘re-unionising the UK’, ‘welfare not warfare’ and ‘defending the welfare state’. SWAN got a plug at the latter with a contribution from the floor emphasising the impact of austerity not just in terms of benefit cuts, important as these are, but also acted out in increases in the numbers of children coming into care and of people being sectioned and explaining that SWAN brings together practitioners, students, service users and academics: a model, perhaps, of the way that this campaign sees itself as progressing. The call for People’s Assemblies in towns and cities across the country may well invigorate the anti-cuts committees and other groups already in existence and encourage new initiatives. There is also the commitment from the Assembly to support the already planned strikes of teachers and the PCS and to call for a national demonstration in support of the NHS, at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on September 29th 2013.
I came to the Assembly both glad it was happening and sad that it had taken so long to organise on this scale and so far into the cuts. While at the Assembly I missed the international dimension, there were few references to the world wide resistance to austerity, and curious about how the Assembly will respond to strongly expressed calls from Ken Loach and others for a political alternative to Labour. But overall I left excited at the prospects the Assembly holds to continue and strengthen the fight against austerity.