People's Assembly: A prelude for July 10
Saturday's protest was a small success for the PA, reports Simon Wells
Russell Brand was the poster boy, or star attraction, at the People’s Assembly demonstration on Saturday June 21 in central London. And like any star he kept the crowd waiting in anticipation.
His appearance was the final act on a baking hot June day, when thousands of people marched from the BBC’s Portland Place offices, along Regent Street and on to Parliament Square. According to the organisers, no fewer than 50,000 took part, but more sober estimates put the true figure at around half that. Nevertheless, the protest against austerity should be regarded as a success for the PA, the campaign initiated by John Rees and his Counterfire group. (Not that you would have thought anything had happened, had you relied on the mainstream media.)
There were trade union banners from Unison, the PCS and FBU, plus contingents from the left, in the shape of the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Resistance, Left Unity, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, etc, together with numerous other campaigns - from Justice for Mark Duggan to 9/11 conspiracy theorists. However, despite the large left presence, the demonstration did not feel like the usual outing for the left. The march was divided into blocks - not just those against the cuts and trade unionists, but everyone from anti-war campaigners to environmentalists.
Russell Brand, who only stayed for his brief stage appearance, said: “I’m very grateful to be involved in the People’s Assembly.” He referred to a “peaceful, effortless, joyful revolution”, which, apparently, would not be “a revolution of radical ideas”, but “the implementation of ideas we already have”. For his part, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “We will make certain that we use every tool at our disposal”, adding that he was prepared to call on his members to take part in a “general strike when that is necessary”.
When McCluskey says there could be a general strike, then everyone says there could be a general strike. But for the moment, there is smaller-scale industrial action to look forward to. As the Morning Star, the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of the People’s Assembly, reported, “Trade union leaders made it clear that Saturday’s thousands-strong march was a dress rehearsal for planned strikes on July 10 that could see millions walk out” (June 23). With a large presence at the demonstration, the National Union of Teachers was the first to call its members out. Unison, the GMB and PCS will be striking on July 10 too, but Unite has yet to decide on action.
National secretary of the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, said: “Make no mistake, these cuts are killing people and destroying cherished public services, which have served generations.” Sentiments echoes by Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas, Mark Steel, Christine Blower and all the other speakers. According to Fairbairn, “Later this autumn, we will unite with the trade union and labour movement when it holds another monster march against austerity and the Con Dems. Soon we will reach a size and influence where neither the BBC nor this austerity government will be able to ignore us.”
These ambitious statements were repeated in his report of the demonstration for the PA, headed “50,000 bring central London to a standstill”. He said: “This movement is here to stay, we’re rapidly growing in size, and we are willing to take further action until the views of the majority are represented.” In fact, “The demonstration marked the start of a new wave of resistance over the next few months.” For example, “In September, a big demonstration will take place outside the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, and on October 18 we’ll be working with the TUC to get one of the biggest demonstrations in British history in London.”1