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Labour Assembly against Austerity takes off

LAAA photoThe Labour Assembly Against Austerity saw over 200 party activists come together to discuss the cost of living crisis being caused by coalition austerity and the need for Labour to present an inspiring alternative vision that will win the 2015 election and then go on to change people’s lives for the better.

With activists attending from around the country, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Glasgow, it is clear that opposition to austerity is widespread.

Owen Jones kicked off the Labour Assembly saying polls show a majority want radical policies to defend living standards. He set the tone when he stated those who oppose the Tories ideological attack on the public sector are are the moderate and the mainstream against the “extremists of austerity’. Steve Turner from Unite said that to win back labour’s 5 million lost votes the key issue is policies that deliver for the majority. John McDonnell MP talked about the real human impact of privatisation, bringing down living standards, through increased prices increasing beyond individuals ability to pay. Katy Clark MP emphasised the link between austerity and the cost of living crisis and said defence of living standards needs Labour to offer an economic alternative.

In the ‘Keep Our Services Public’ session, Frank Dobson MP said the privatised utilities have failed to invest sufficiently but dividend payments booming – he called for a London referendum on taking Thames Water back into public ownership, while Tosh McDonald, from ASLEF, echoed him and said it is time to speak positively about public ownership. Lucy Anderson from the National Policy Forum said Labour must seek to re-establish a form of local authority control over schools and Heather Wakefield from UNISON said that local government has been the biggest victim of the coalition’s austerity binge and that, with privatisation, huge amounts of public funds were wasted when local government contracted out public services.

In the ‘No to Scapegoating’ session, Murad Qureshi AM said the Home Office ‘Go Home’vans demonstrated Lynton Crosby’s dog-whistle politics, while NUS Black Students Officer Aaron Kiely said Labour would only lose votes in ceding to the right on immigration.

In the ‘Economic Alternatives to Austerity’ session, Michael Burke said there is no less money – austerity is transferring income from the poor to the rich. Ann Pettifor said that Labour needs to set the agenda and challenge the idea that public sector is to blame for the crisis and Michael Meacher MP urged Labour to advocate greater public control of banking. Ken Livingstone said Labour should increase public investment and we should build the best part of 250,000 homes every year for a decade and ensure they are energy efficient. With runaway prices he said one response could be to raise the minimum wage to living wage levels

In the ‘Policies to win in 2015′ plenary, Jeremy Corbyn MPurged an emergency budget if Labour is elected in 2015 to lift the minimum wage to a living wage level, and to reverse benefit cuts, the introduction of private sector rent controls and public ownership of energy. Mike Hedges from Unitesaid we must defend migrants and claimants from those who would scapegoat them. Shelly Asquith said that privatisation is destroying education from fees, to rents and the threatened sell-0ff of the student loan book.Throughout the day, working closely with the trade unions was a recurrent theme, with a session outlining the Tory agenda to weaken the unions and discussing how Labour’s response must be to strengthen our links.

Diane Abbott closed the conference saying Tories ideological goal was to shrink the public sector and smash the welfare state – Labour’s job is to oppose them and build a positive alternative.

Find out more about the Labour Assembly Against Austerity at labourassemblyagainstausterity.org.uk

5 Comments

  1. Stuart says:

    I’ve paired with a Tory who couldn’t make an arms fair, so I’m not going.

  2. Rod says:

    I get it – Labour Party members go to a meeting organised to oppose austerity. They discuss a range of alternative policies that stand no chance of being adopted by the Labour Party. But, come the general election, they’ll go out and campaign/vote for the party that is ignoring them and is set to impose the austerity they have opposed!

    It’s a funny old world.

  3. Joe M says:

    So….what actually came out of it? 200 people listened to high-profile speakers all day, then went home with the Labour Party as quasi-neoliberal as it was and still with no chance of pushing it towards socialism? The conference sounds undemocratic and unparticipatory, just as Labour is undemocratic and unparticipatory.

    A couple of hundred lefties in a room agreeing with each other all day is not going to push Labour to the left. It’s a lost cause. Sorry.

  4. swatantra says:

    Since when have you known 200 Lefties to ever agree on anything … except to agree to disagree? it wouldn’t be Labour if they agreed.
    And don’t automatically assume that all of us Lefties will actually vote on the day, although I definitely will, but a few will be conscientious objectors, because they have principles and believe Utopia is jusyt round the corner.
    The point is the gathering was useful in thrashing our some policies that might work, and how to influence the powers that be to actually listen to the voice of the people. MPs should reaklly get out a bit more. And Trade Unionists. And Fellow Travellers.

  5. Rod says:

    “how to influence the powers that be to actually listen to the voice of the people.”

    Nail on the head, Swatantra.

    The LP is only marginally democratic so there’s little hope of influencing policy through membership and attending meetings. I’d say working in various campaign groups is far more valuable – these can run effective campaigns on national* and local** issues and build networks of support among people who wouldn’t otherwise participate in conventional politics. Eventually these groups may coalesce into a new political formation, unhindered by the LP’s moribund structure and not trapped beneath Labour’s glass ceiling.

    The problem with Labour’s own Lefty sub-groups is that, when push comes to shove, they’d rather back someone like Blair than initiate real opposition.

    Just think: Blair betrayed the British armed forces by committing them to unnecessary wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Consequently many service personnel, veterans*** and countless civilians have lost their lives. I personally knew one veteran who hung himself in woods not far from my home.

    Have the Labour MPs who opposed the unnecessary wars resigned in order to force by-elections, making the question of going to war into a democratic debate? Have those who supported the wars apologised and resigned.

    They carry on regardless, drawing their £65K salary without conscience and without principle.

    Labour hopes to win an election on the grounds of popular opposition to the Coalition. And groups like Labour Assembly Against Austerity give Labour an illusory patina of the radicalism – illusory because the group will be ignored.

    * http://veteransforpeace.org.uk/2013/the-cenotaph-2013/

    ** http://www.savelewishamhospital.com/

    *** Last year 21 serving soldiers committed suicide and 29 veterans. This is set against 44 who lost their lives in Afghanistan due to consequences associated with active service, 40 of whom died in action.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23259865

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