In addition they managed to wheel out the venerable Tony Benn, one of the last of the generation of Labour lefts that managed to make the Labour Party unelectable in the 1980's along with one or two of the modern types like Owen Jones. Nonetheless the event remained the kind of attraction such events really boil down to, an assembly of the remains of the Trotskyist left and others that populate the fringes of British political life.
There certainly was the usual fare on sale outside the hall with a virtually deserted SWP stall, the shrill sellers of some obscure rag called Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism plus the usual suspects, though one group the Alliance for Workers Liberty was missing, preferring to have its own event in the dark recesses of the University of London. Probably for the best as the rest of the comrades tend to treat them as some kind of pariahs.
Meanwhile the Assembly was entreated to speeches proposing a course of action against "austerity" which included the following statement which caught my eye in particular as it contains a reference to my own union the PCS:
We support all current industrial actions by the unions. We encourage and will help to organise the maximum solidarity action with the PCS and teaching union members taking strike action the week after the People’s Assembly, as well as with other action by unions planned for the autumn.
Of course, the "Dear Leader" of PCS, Mark Serwotka was there to promote his (and that of the Socialist Party) agenda, but this assembly comes at a time when the PCS dispute has to all intents and purposes come to an end. The reason? Simply put the strike campaign failed to garner enough support from PCS members to warrant a further strike which was "pencilled in for next week".
The National Executive have down graded this to a "day of action" in which activists and members are expected to make 15 minute protests at lunchtime waving little red cards with messages on them. Sounds quite Maoist to me, but then Serwotka has built a bit of a "cult of the personality" around him.
Truth is that even at its' height the strikes never had the participation of more than a third of PCS membership, and during the weeks of regional and departmental action was certainly far less than even that, with some areas having quite derisory and humiliatingly low turnouts.
Meanwhile the blog A Very Public Sociologist tells us that John Rees of Counterfire said:
when the PA meets again in the winter he wants to see the thousands attending not in their capacity as individuals but as delegates representing hundreds of thousands of people active against the cuts.
Wishful thinking methinks. The whole assembly failed to gain much media attention and was probably ignored by the majority of people who act as union reps around the country, most of whom would probably prefer a visit to the dentists than sit in a hall of "wild eyed loons" most of whom haven't realised the world has moved on somewhat from the days of the Bolshevik coup.
The problem with these rallies is that they attract the wrong people. It was hardly a "Peoples Assembly", more of a "Activists Assembly", and these came from a somewhat limited milieu themselves. The title of the Assembly was illusory to say the least.
There is a need for a new movement to take on the arising struggles against unfair Government policies, but its' going to have be far more open, pluralistic and geared to recognising that people are individuals and not just some amorphous "class" that the outdated Marxists like to classify everyone in.
The current left is actually part of the problem, and only when they are finally consigned to the dustbin of history can we hope for a renewal of ideas and movements to build a more rational world.