Lambeth Save Our Services launches People’s Assembly

Posted: May 23, 2011 by lambethsaveourservices in Meeting, Press release
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John McDonnell
Stuart King reports on the May 21 Lambeth Peoples Assembly (with thanks to information from World to Win reporters)

Over 130 people came on a hot spring day to the first formal meeting of the Lambeth Peoples Assembly held in the Town Hall. As Ruth Cashman the first speaker pointed out, the first assembly had taken place when we occupied the council chamber in Lambeth the night they passed the cuts budget.

On the day a wide range of trade unionists and people from local organisations, including disability campaigners, librarians, pensioners, transport and health workers, students and lecturers gathered to establish the Assembly as a focal point for the struggle against the cuts.

Ruth Cashman, a Librarian and Unison member, explained the series of vicious cuts being pushed through by Lambeth, resulting in park rangers being sacked, crucial Library staff being made redundant and school crossing patrols cut, putting children’s lives at risk. Hundreds of redundancies were being pushed through across the council at a time of growing unemployment.

Speaker from UNITE
Starting a theme that ran throughout the day Ruth said that the Labour councillors were carrying out the coalitions dirty work and trying to blame the Tories for the fact that they were too cowardly to stand up and fight with their own communities.

John McDonnell, MP told the Assembly: 
“There has been nothing resembling the current cuts since the 1930s, a time when recession turned into a full-blown Depression. Then people said, ‘Never Again’ and hence the welfare state was set up, but now this is being axed.”

He noted that Britain was one of the richest countries in the world, and yet in his own constituency some people forced off disability benefits, often by simply making a mistake on a form, were now having to rely on food packages to survive.

“It is important to share and compare experiences and decide on what actions to take,” he said. “It is crucial to visualise the kind of society that we aspire to.” He called for a build-up of actions to bring down the government.

Kingsley Abrams
Lambeth councillor Kingsley Abrams was cheered as the only Labour councillor in Lambeth not to vote for the cuts. As punishment, the Labour Party had suspended him for six months, now seemly reduced to three due to pressure from the new national leadership of UNITE.

Sarah Tomlinson of the Lambeth National Union of Teachers explained how changes to teachers pensions meant paying much more in, while working longer, into your late sixties. She also reported on a struggle against a planned local “free school” backed by Tory education minister Michael Gove, which would take more resources from Lambeth’s underfunded secondary schools.

Arwen, RMTRMT member and train driver Arwyn Jones, from Morden depot, spoke of his victimisation and summary dismissal after a strike on the Northern Line Underground. While the threat of strike action had led to the re-instatement of a sacked colleague, London transport had reneged on a promise on his case and now the RMT was balloting again for strike action.

London Metropolitan University

A student from London Metropolitan University, Eshe Asante, reported on the dramatic cuts in their university courses that had resulted in a student occupation and strike action at the University. Whole departments were threatened with closure. She and other students were furious that courses in Caribbean and Latin American culture and history were being closed down and a unique archive was being destroyed.

Workshops

Five different workshops and the plenary sessions came up with many different ideas to take the struggle forward, these included setting up a Lambeth defend the NHS group, direct actions such as occupying a high street bank and turning it into a doctor’s surgery, proposed by local members of UK uncut, and turning Windrush Square into a focus of anti cuts activity and fun on June 30 when teachers, colleges, librarians and are all out on strike and students and pupils have the day free.

Education Working Group

Organising communities

In the discussion devoted to “organising communities under attack”, Ellen Lebethe from the Lambeth Older People’s Alliance spoke on behalf of thousands of elderly citizens who rely heavily on day centres for social contact. They would soon be taking to the streets, she said. Sean McGovern from Lambeth Pan Disability Forum outlined how the governments attacks on disability claimants were depriving the most vulnerable in society of the means to lead decent lives and threatening to literally kill some people with disabilities off as a result of these cuts.

Richard Farnos from Queers Against the Cuts, said that gay and lesbian people were often disproportionately dependent on services and GPs for their health needs. Disabled people were being demonised. Communities should not be divided to “fight for the crumbs from the table”, he said.

Tenant Union Speaker

Going forward

In the final session Gill George, of the Unite union’s health sector, said “The harsh reality is that our health is determined by whether we are rich or poor,” recent research showed that people from poor working class areas lived a whole decade less than those from affluent backgrounds. She said that £20bn of cuts meant up to 50% cuts in hospitals were in the offing. Cameron’s health advisor Mark Britnell, also head of health for KPMG accountants, had warned that “no mercy will be shown to the NHS”.

Former Lambeth council leader Ted Knight, who led an historic fight against Thatcher’s government when the authority refused to make a cuts budget in 1984, said people were resisting the cuts and would “do whatever it takes to win”.

The reason for the Coalition was the economic crisis which resulted from the collapse of the banks and the huge budget deficit. After the last election, top civil servants and the Bank of England had warned that unless a government was formed quickly, and started cutting public sector jobs and living standards, the money markets would strike against Britain.

People's Assembly

“We are facing a reactionary government that has no mandate,” he said. “No one voted for a Coalition of the Tories and Lib-Dems. No one voted for the spending cuts that Cameron and Clegg have imposed. But they are ideologically-driven by the crisis of capitalism. When the election produced no results, it was the state that imposed the coalition, to make cuts. And let’s not forget that Lambeth is Labour controlled. Labour leaders are not standing against the government – all they want is slower cuts,” Knight said.

Working people were denied a voice at local and national level. That’s why the building of a People’s Assembly that linked up with others around the country was vital.

The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and other countries were an inspiration, he said. So too was the occupation of squares throughout Spain by young unemployed.

“Assemblies can give people a chance to discuss the alternatives – not just to the cuts but to capitalism itself. Because the crisis is not going away – it’s going to get worse. Another banking crash could well be around the corner if Greece defaults on its debts.”

That would plunge the global economy into an outright slump worse than what happened in the 1930s. “Capitalism had a ‘solution’ then – fascism and war. Let’s not allow that to happen again,” he added.

The assembly unanimously adopted a declaration committing the Assembly to fight all cuts, supporting all workers actions in this struggle and agreeing to establish the Assembly as an ongoing forum of struggle. Activists and trade unionists left the first Lambeth Peoples Assembly inspired to renew their efforts to defeat the cuts in Lambeth and strengthened by the contacts and organisation made during a very successful day.

For the full declaration see: http://lambethsaveourservices.org/ (coming soon). More photos from the day are also available.

Black Smock Band

Feedback from the event will be available soon, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

The next planning meeting is on Thursday 2nd June 6:30pm, in the Vida Walsh centre in Brixton. See our calendar for all our events.

You can also get regular updates and get involved with the campaign using our email lists.

For world to win photo/reportage see: http://www.aworldtowin.net/frontline/LambethPeoplesAssembly.html

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Comments
  1. […] Lambeth Save Our Services launches People’s Assembly […]

  2. Seán McGovern says:

    While agreeing with the general thrust of Stuart King’s report of the People’s Assembly I must point out that Anita Wright (Lambeth NUT) – Lambeth TUC made a very valuable contribution which is ignored in the report.

    Hopefully, this was an oversight and can be rectified by the author.

    Seán McGovern

    Vice Chair of Lambeth TUC

  3. Stuart says:

    Hi John,

    My report did not cover a lot of the floor speakers. As I was chairing the first session my mind was on the order of debate rather than the speakers, but I thought everyone from the floor spoke well including Anita.

    My report was very dependent on notes made by a reporter(s) from World To Win plus my memory of contributions. It was also governed by length. So my apologies to all the 12 or more floor speakers that were “ignored” in the report.

    John is of course welcome to put on the web his account of Anita’s contribution.

    Stuart