Suffolk People’s Assembly Against Austerity. A Report.
The Suffolk People’s Assembly held a very successful meeting on Tuesday night.
Around 150 people crammed into the Co-op Education Centre in Fore Street to hear speakers on “It’s Time to Fight Back’.
People came from Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, and Hadleigh as well as Ipswich and its surroundings.
As the trade union UNITE noted, “The assembly intends to act as a focal point for a general campaign against the tide of austerity that is hitting the 728,000 people living in this predominately rural county. “
The meeting was organised by trade unionists, and a range of campaigners from across the county. Many had been active in the Suffolk Coalition for Public Services which had held large demonstrations against the cuts in the region.
There were banners from Ipswich and District Trades Council, UNITE, the NUT, the GMB and Disabled People Against Cuts.
Graham White, Suffolk county secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) led off the meeting. he talked of the privatisation of education and the attacks by the Education Minister, Michael Gove, on teachers Graham called for support for the coming joint NUT/NASUWT strike action.
Teresa McKay, Secretary of Ipswich Trades Council, talked of the way austerity and poverty hit us, particularly women. She backed the Living Wage campaign, and a one-day national protest general strike to oppose government policies.
David Ellesemere, Leader of Ipswich Council Labour Group, began by dissecting the disaster created by the Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s economic policies. He cited, Winston Churchill to back the argument that low wages ended up by making everybody worse off.
David made the Living Wage,calculated as the salary needed for a decent standard of living without tax credits, * the centrepiece of his speech.
He observed that the state was now subsidising bad employers by refusing to introduce this standard. He said that Ipswich Borough Council had brought the Living Wage, and banned zero hour contracts for their employees. A Suffolk Living Wage Campaign would bring pressure on those companies which refused “A fair day’s pay for a fair day;s work”.
Ipswich Borough Council was proud to announce that it had begun building Council Houses, for the first time in many years.
The Council had, so far, resisted cuts – though the Coalition was now set to introduce centrally imposed reductions in Ipswich spending.
David’s speech, which took a clear anti-austerity stand, was well received.
Dianne Holland, Assistant General Secretary of UNITE, spoke of the broader effects of austerity. We needed an alternative that could grip people’s imaginations and inspire opposition, Unity, People sticking together, was what we need.
Owen Jones, the keynote speaker, made just such an inspiring speech.
He talked of the politics of hope, opposed to the Government’s efforts to create fear and envy, setting the working poor against the unemployed, the healthy against the disabled, and the stigmatising of migrant workers.
Owen slammed the disability ‘testing’ firm, ATOS, one of many of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’, the bedroom tax, and the fact that people now had to be fed by Food Banks.
Many people react to the decline in living standards and policies designed to foment division, with frustration and anger.
Hope, he said, was as essential to life.
In place of the Government’s politics of hatred Owen offered plans for public housing, for decent wages not tax credits, and for welfare. It was a scandal that rents were so high that the Housing Benefits were going into landlords’ pockets, without helping solve the housing crisis. In their place rent controls and a massive programme of public sector housing were needed instead. Banks, bailed out during the financial disasters of the last few years, should be brought under public control and used to promote investment. tax avoidance should be stemmed.
The movement, he observed, had a knack for division, into rival Judean Fronts.
But now we were working together towards common goals.
Owen’s speech ended with a standing ovation from the audience.
There was ample time for debate.
There was concern that over the weekend a ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ live music charity event at The Steamboat Tavern on the Waterfront had cancelled by organisers after threats from the English Defence League. Around 11 members of the EDL had turned up. **
Members of the audience raised issues such the cuts in education locally, Labour Party Policy, the NHS’s use of agency workers. Concerns about the Labour Party’s policies in these areas, and over squatting, were raised. Women from the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) called for people to support their campaign against the service’s sell-off.
One speaker, indicating how the politics of division could be fought, said that the local UNITE had recently recruited a substantial number of Eastern European Haulage drivers.
Sandy Martin Leader of the Labour Group on Suffolk County Council noted that unlike Ipswich Borough, the Tory-run County employed people on zero-hour contracts. Its privatised services, such as Home-care service exploited workers still further.
After the Assembly people remarked on how heartening they had found the meeting.
Serious follow ups are planned.
The Suffolk Living Wage Campaign will be organised in the coming weeks.
People will be out on the September the 29th NHS demo outside the Tory Conference in Manchester, and the November the 5th Day of Action.
Tuesday was a springboard for a much wider campaign against austerity in Suffolk.
Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting at the Coop Education Centre Ipswich, on September 17th 2003 resolves to:-
* Oppose the Austerity policies being carried out by the Coalition government and develop political and economic alternatives to them.
* Defend public Services that are accessible to all, including Education, the NHS and Public Housing.
* Oppose the privatisation of public services and industries
* Support progressive taxation to fund these services, directed in particular at those companies which make large profits in the UK, but are domiciled in overseas tax havens.
* Organise practical solidarity with those taking action against the Cuts, including trade unionists, students, tenants, claimants, community groups and trades union councils within the County.
* Oppose Laws which limit the right to protest or strike and the blacklisting of trade unionists.
* Support a “Living Wage”.
* Develop local and national links with other organisations supporting these aims.
* Participate in the national organisation and activities of the “People’s Assembly”, including:- The demonstration at the Tory Party Conference on Sunday September 29th
The day of action called by the People’s Assembly on November 5th, on which we will organise an activity based on the Living Wage Campaign.
* Organise regular monthly Forums to organise the future activities of Suffolk Peoples Assembly, the first of which will be on October 24th, to plan the Living Wage Activity.
* currently £7.45 an hour outside London, compared with the national minimum wage of £6.19.
“We hope to encourage employers across Suffolk to eventually adopt the ‘living wage’ as the norm.”
** “…a Suffolk police spokesman said “intelligence” had been received which “suggested there may be disruption” at the event.
The spokesman said staff at the pub took the decision to cancel the gig.
In a statement, the spokesman said: “Police in Ipswich were made aware of an event taking place at The Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich on Sunday September 15 – Love Music, Hate Racism.
“The Ipswich Central Safer Neighbourhood Team sergeant visited the licensee at the premises to make them aware that intelligence had been received which suggested there may be disruption at the event and to ensure appropriate measures had been put in place.
”The licensee had heard similar information and had already made the decision not to hold the event at the premises that day.
“Suffolk police has a duty to inform event organisers and hosts of any potential issues and disruption which could take place.
“Suffolk police has a duty of care to the public and never seek to cancel events but look at ways to ensure they can go ahead with minimal disruption and harm to the public.
“Any related offences that may have been committed will be investigated by police and appropriate action will be taken where necessary.” Ipswich Star.