Building on the National People’s Assembly, launched in London in 2010, the People’s Assembly Scotland will bring together unions, trade union councils and local and national campaigning groups to fight the austerity driven policies of the UK Government.
Chairing the launch, Phil McGarry of the RMT said that the situation has gone from bad to worse, with the biggest impact of austerity on the poorest and most vulnerable, with cuts to benefits, pay restraint, and cost of living rises plunging more and more people into poverty with a stark choice to “eat or heat”.
“According to the Joseph Rowntree Trust, 47 million people are now living below the poverty line, whilst 115 senior bankers are each worth £3 million this year alone,” slammed Phil.
The People’s Assembly Scotland will fight for the demands of the People’s Charter; a fair economy, more and better jobs, decent homes for all, protection of public services, fairness and justice and a secure and sustainable future for all.
“Fair demands for a fair society,” said Phil, “And achievable if there is the political will.”
Andrew Murray, of UNITE told those gathered that we are defending values achieved by struggle that are under the most sustained assault in the living memory of most of us, including the biggest drop in in-work living standards since the 1930s.
“We are living through an exercise in class power by the ruling class,” he said, “We need to work with all those affected towards an alternative society.”
A lot of something different
STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith pledged the support of the STUC General
Council for the People’s Assembly, “which fits very well with the Better Way Campaign.”
He warned, “We are not looking for a little more of the same, we are looking for a lot of something different,” condemning the UK Government’s vilification of poor people and adding that foodbanks in the 21st Century is a scandal by itself.
Despite the recent comments by Cameron and Osborne, the data shows that even by its own measures, austerity has failed. “Now we need to convince people that there is a credible alternative,” said Grahame.
He also called for the removal of all anti-trade union legislation and the re-establishment of collective bargaining.
Fight and don’t give in
In a rousing, sometimes funny, sometimes angry speech, Ricky Tomlinson, actor
and one of the Shrewsbury 24, slammed UK government cuts and the impact they
have had across the UK. He painted a
stark picture of life dependent on foodbanks, cuts to the NHS, unemployment,
poverty and homelessness.
“There are thousands of skilled workers out of work and thousands needing homes, and loads of brown belt spaces. What’s wrong with this government?” he challenged, angrily.
He thanked trade unions and activists for all the support they have given the Shrewsbury 24 campaign over the years, and said that they are hoping that they are now getting to the point where the Serious Case Review Body will review the convictions.
“Everything we’ve gained over the years has been clawed back. That’s what they do. That’s what we’ve got to fight, but we’re not going to give in,” said Ricky. “That’s what we need in this campaign against the cuts too,” he warned, calling for demonstrations on the same day in every city across the UK.
Kevin McHugh of the PCS also poured scorn on the Government’s claims of economic recovery.
“Where is the recovery for the extra 1million people in poverty? For those needing foodbanks to eat? For those out of work whose benefits have been cut? For those in work whose wages have been cut drastically in real terms?”
He condemned the union busting which is being visited on the PCS and warned that if the Government gets away with it then they will do it to other unions. “We must stand together and fight it,” said Kevin.
Building justified anger
UNISON’s John Stevenson asked why we still don’t have mass anger at this
“Our movement warned austerity would make the economy worse, not better and we were right. We were right when we said this was not about the economy, it was about ideology – an ideology that hates public services and the welfare state. An ideology of planned poverty and a low wage, low skill economy.
“This is the longest real wage pay squeeze since 1870. For the first time we have more in-work poverty than out of work poverty, while top earners continue to amass obscene wealth.
“In the last four years the wealth of Britain’s 1000 richest people has soared by a staggering £190billion to £449 billion.
“No, the country is not broke, it’s just that the money is in the wrong place.”
However, there are signs that “as the excesses of this government get more extreme, people are beginning to rumble them,” and union members are beginning to “find the beginnings of that confidence to stand up against the attacks. More than that – to reclaim their dignity.”
“That is the purpose of the People’s Assembly,” said John, “to involve and engage, inform and educate, but most of all to organise.
“Organising I hope to build justified anger, then the will and the confidence to do something about it.”
The launch continued into the afternoon with contributions from Elaine Smith and Christina McKelvie, MSPs, Katy Clark, MP, Anita Wright, Women's Assembly against Austerity, Cat Boyd, Coalition of Resistance and Raymond Mennie, Dundee and Fife People's Assembly Groups.