People's Assembly: time to build a serious fight

Submitted by AWL on 19 March, 2014 - 3:07

About 450 - 500 people attended the People's Assembly Delegate conference in London on 15 March.

A report by a first time delegate.

Culture

Every moving of a motion, supplement, or amendment attracted a large amount of applause, and by the end, this had become rather tedious. Especially as “in the interests of time” speeches were very limited and serious or protracted debate was very scarce with no taking motions in parts from the floor.

The chair and conference arrangements committee actively encouraged this rapturousness and it took up a considerable amount of time.This gave the event a very self congratulatory manner. This atmosphere in my view was what gave the event the the status of a talking shop above being a serious political meeting about the fight against austerity. 

Motions were being moved by groups like CPGB, Stop the War, Counterfire, DPAC, Student Assembly, Woman's Assembly Keep NHS Public, Green Party, Trade Union Projects i.e. Unite Communities, PCS Secretary and various people's assemblies and anti cuts alliances. 

The Socialist Workers' Party were out in force with two stands outside

Talking to people, I suspect that this was a new thing for a reasonable proportion of the delegates. A contingent of the audience would be radical left, but the majority fell into kind of social-democratic territory.

Motions and controversies:

The main motions of contest were:

1. Funding
Amendment 2.3 (passed) which argued against a membership scheme, and the speech of the mover specifically called for getting funding from unions as a priority. This conflicts with the main motion and will have to be resolved somehow.

2. Grangemouth
Amendment 6.3 (From Bristol PA), which suggested that we should “learn the lessons of Grangemouth” and appeared to be calling for more militancy from the bureaucracy was strongly denounced by a speaker from Unite who interpreted it as a wholesale attack on their union and spoke very defensively and rousingly. The amendment fell by about two-thirds. 

3. Decentralization and consensus
Amendment 1.6 encouraging the PA to adopt “Occupy”-type decision making was thankfully voted down by a considerable majority.

On the whole I found myself voting through numerous weakly written but well intended motions, for example an “immigrants are welcome here” motion, but with no call to open the borders.
The main attempt to specifically bring socialism on the agenda was a hackneyed one by someone from Left Unity who made an argument against a CP motion (4.1), pointing to the broader picture of whether we are looking where we are going.

Someone from Milton Keynes, got through a great motion about direct action on the waterways by a boat-dwellers organisation. This was the only motion that gave any mention to overthrowing anything or anybody.

Action dates coming up:
5 April: Day of action against the Bedroom Tax 
May Day events 
21 June: People's Assembly National Demonstration 
31 August: NATO protest, Cardiff 
28 September: Tory Party Conference 
18 October: TUC National Demonstration 

Other things of note are:
Stop the War's Lindsey German said the Ukraine situation was "all about NATO expansion". Sigh.

Student Assembly rep (also an National Union of Students rep) appeared to conflate the successes of NUS with what were actually successes of National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. I may have not been listening well enough but this is certainly how it appeared.

Democracy: 
Hard to say too much about this without closer inspection but I will note that I suspect the motion on Grangemouth was heavily influenced by emotivity of the appeal and amplified by the culture of excessive applause. I also put my name down to speak against 1.6 (adopt Occupy style decision-making), but this job just happened to land in the lap of one of their familiar faces: Romayne Pheonix; soI wonder how random that selection was.

Conclusion:
While the day left a fair amount to be desired, there does seem an opportunity to make calculated interventions over issues of democracy as well as to push for a refinement of the People’s Assembly programme to a sharper class-struggle agenda. At the very least, creating a series of calculated interventions could orient the assembly to become a more focused and disciplined environment that eschews the temptation for self congratulation through constant applause.

There is a contingent of organised far left groupings that could be aligned with, and a selection of newer activists who would gain valuable experience from the degree of involvement that an enhancement in democratic proceedings would bring. The first changes in structure we should call for are:

1) end clapping of every single motion, amendment and supplements to save time
2) Use the extra time allow for amendments to be thoroughly debated, more speeches for and against, and take motions in parts where there is no clear majority.

We need to move towards a culture of critical debate and calculated action if we are to use this chance to cultivate a force that can seriously challenge the neo-liberal consensus that is wrecking our future. Sooner or later we have to get over the fact that there are people in the same room with similar opinions to us, and organisers should help maximize this opportunity by setting the tone in a manner that befits an organization seeking to radically alter the balance of class forces. Let’s save the pats on the back for the pub, and get to work – before it’s too late.

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