An alternative to austerity is growing in Merseyside

Clara Saraiva shares the experiences of an anti-austerity conference bringing together grassroots activists across Merseyside.

Photo: Clara Saraiva

Photo: Clara Saraiva

100 people took part in the “No Austerity Conference” February 14 in Liverpool, with participation from representatives from trade unions, community organisations, leftist parties. The conference was conceived in November 2014, following the victory against the attempt at closure of 11 libraries by the local Labour Council.

The victory came out of a broad campaign that collected over 20,000 signatures, organised two demonstrations and was growing week by week. The activists gathered massive community support. So the next logical step to fight the deepening austerity attack was to bring together community activists and rank and file trade unionists in a conference organised by Liverpool Against The Cuts.

The conference opened with Juliet Edgar and Martin Ralph representing respectively the community organisations “Reclaim” and “Old Swan Against The Cuts”. Filmmaker Ken Loach, of Left Unity, sent a message of solidarity saying “This conference, and campaigns like it, are absolutely vital.” International greetings were recived from Belgium Rail Workers, Solidaires from France, No Austerity from Italy and CSP Conlutas from Brazil.

In opening the conference, Martin Ralph (OSAC) made it clear on what it was about:

We have had enough of speeches for holidays and fine days. We want some action. We have had enough of the talk of general strike, when the top leaders know they will do everything to stop a general strike. But bureaucracies try to keep us apart, many are actively trying to stop the strikes and struggle, and we say: let them begin! Raise your voices, build the struggle, fight government and council austerity policies. Local disputes win because they took to the streets, they win because the rank and file controlled with the local leadership. Conferences like this can and must help build from these successes. The working class put Syriza into power by organising several general strikes in Greece, and those workers now will carry the fight forward with European solidarity.

The Conference was an example of how we can unite the struggles against austerity with the community and the working class. As well as community organisations local trade union branches from Unite, UCU and FBU supported the conference and even helped financially.

Photo: @noausterityliv

Photo: @noausterityliv

The organizing committee had three main aims, on which the conference was built:

 

  • Rank and file democracy: Building the conference had the active participation of anyone that wanted to be part of it and who was an activist. The organizing committee meetings were open, and 15 to 20 people attended each meeting. The decisions were made by the majority after extensive discussions. Workers democracy combined with the trade unionists and community groups made the Conference a very lively event, where everybody felt comfortable to give their opinion and work together, that also respected political differences.
  • Direct action: Everyone agreed that the Conference, as a consequence of a real struggle against the libraries closure, and before, against the bedroom tax, would only mean something if the plan to defeat the cuts was approved to take to the streets. So one of the main decisions was the call for a demonstration against austerity in April, i.e. during the elections. It was clearly understood that we should believe in our own strength, and not place hope in any government, but only in our independent struggle and democratic organisation.
  • Programme to fight: all the discussions in the Conference had a common goal, that was to build a programme that the working class and the community should fight for. Everybody participated actively and therefore the result was a collective work. The aim was to build a “positive programme”, with inspiration from the Greece resistance against Troika, that shows hope from struggle and the possibility we can win. So, the only negative word was in the first point “No to Austerity”, and after lot of discussion the following programme was approved:

 

 

 

  • Free, high quality public and council services – owned by the people, for the people. Re-nationalisation!

  • Real contracts for workers, proper permanent jobs! Minimum wage of £10/hours.

  • Restore pensioner’s and disabled people’s rights and the benefits safety net; stop sanctions!

  • For a fully comprehensive, integrated, publicly accountable and publicly provided, free at the point of delivery NHS, based on need. For fully publicly funded education and the means of education.

  • Keep our libraries council-run, properly maintained and fully staffed by trained librarians.

  • For a society that nurtures, protects and cherishes all its children! Full rights for the child.

  • Free public transport for children and students.

  • Renewable energy policy, not dependent on fossil fuels, nuclear energy and fracking!

  • Scrap Trident and nuclear weapons – use the £100bn for sustainable energy projects.

  • Equality for all people; irrespective of race, culture, sexuality, gender, age and disability. Full rights for women! Full rights for immigrants!

  • Against local increase in council tax.

  • What we win, we win by mobilising – support building local anti-austerity groups in all neighbourhoods. Work towards diversifying the movement.

  • Support all international struggles against austerity!

  • We are a society – an injury to one is an injury to all. Replant the seed of social solidarity among the young.

After the Conference, it was clear that in Merseyside an alternative is growing for the independent working class and community struggles, and even to contest the elections against austerity. There is an alternative to unify all who want to build a democratic movement, based in the rank and file, which will defend our rights to the end.

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