The opening of the meeting was relaxed and created a positive attitude. Several speakers took to the stand and made some good speeches. Although all of the speakers were telling us what we already knew.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, addressed the assembly. She asked everyone to stand and linked arms in a show of solidarity. I thought for a minute she wanted us to do the hokey Cokey. Myself and my comrades thought this was a bit cynical so we never budged.
She then went on to berate Osborne and the coalition. She expressed the thought to us that it’s a class war – as if we didn’t know. She said the TUC will back the teacher strike to the hilt. She finished off by quoting Jack Jones “we will move mountains” but one thing Frances never mentioned was a general strike. I wonder why.
A Unite spokesman announced that there was a bus going around the country to support rallies. No wonder you can’t get a bus when you want one! This austerity bus tour, the TUC council majority decided, was to replace the question of a general strike.
Comedian Mark Steel took the stand and gave a humorous and cynical account of why we were in this mess. “It’s the poor who caused the problem not the rich that’s why they’re taking the money from the poor and not the rich”. His attack on this government and previous Labour governments connected with the feeling in the conference as sometimes comedic speeches only can.
The poet Stephen Morris Burke reached out to the assembly with a poem about the struggle. It was received with great applause.
We were invited to choose workshops during most of the day. We had a particular interest in a workshop about local authorities and the cuts affecting local councils.
Various speakers told of the struggles they are facing as activists and trade unionists. This is all too familiar to our union and community activists.
The most vocal of all was Matt Wrack, General secretary of the fighters’ union, FBU, gave a great speech on the savage cuts in the fire service. He said if the Labour Party will not reverse the cuts then they must not be put into power.
Keep our NHS public
This workshop was well attended and speaker after speaker gave accounts of savage cuts in their region. It was also explained that the costs of PFI that is crippling the NHS. More and more of these activists are blaming the Labour Party for their past mistakes.
PCS, Public and Commercial Services Union, had many fine speakers who talked about the struggle that their members now face. They also talked about the fight against racism and homophobia. General Secretary of PCS, Mark Serwotka talked about Labour stepping aside to allow a different political party takeover.
The assembly congregated into the great Hall for the climax of the meeting. Len McCluskey took to the stand and slated politicians from all parties. He did not mention Ed Miliband at all, he gave the usual rhetoric, but was then heckled by members of the assembly.
He mentioned the word strike several times but when he was asked to name the day for the general strike from the floor he turned to Mark Serwotka and said “I will leave that to Mark”. This did not go down well with many in the audience.
Ken Loach called for a new party to represent the working class in this country in one workshop. I agree with Ken. But Ken was not on the platform for the final speeches. I wonder why.
The People’s Assembly called for a “national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity on November 5th”.
The organisation is supported by Unite, Unison, NUT, CWU, PCS, FBU, NUJ and many campaigning and political groups. The main question is this, will the unions and others now start to campaign for a general strike on 5 November?
If civil disobedience means anything it has to include the fight for co-ordinated strike action. At the moment these unions are taking or planning to take strike action in the autumn.
Strike action can be co-ordinated for 5 November. If the will is there this can be achieved. It is the only way to unify our struggles.
* A Unite shop steward at Broadgreen Hospital, Liverpool