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.
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.
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.
RMT 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.