Why do you think Red Pepper readers should prioritise getting involved in the People’s Assembly?
It’s unacceptable that half a decade since the financial crisis – a crisis hijacked very ably by the right – we still don’t have a broad national movement against austerity. That’s not to say we haven’t had lots of very important struggles – the student protests were the catalyst for so much, the waves of struggles we’ve seen come together to fight the coalition, giving people confidence in fighting back, and then the Occupy protests.
But it’s still very disparate. If you don’t have a permanent coherent movement then things fizzle out. So it’s essential to have the trade unions centrally involved. They’re uniquely placed as the biggest mass democratic force in the country representing millions of people from bin collectors to call‑centre workers, teachers and nurses – the pillars of our society. They can help kick start a broad movement to link in with the disabled people’s protests or the tax evasion protests, and help build the mass national movement against austerity that we’re sorely lacking. The anti-austerity voice is missing from British politics due to the unwillingness or inability of the Labour leadership to present a coherent case.
Both. What’s interesting is just how broad this is. It involves Unite, Unison, the RMT and other unions, but it also involves Labour activists and MPs and Green Party people, community groups, unemployed people – it really is the ‘we’re all in it together coalition’. Unions will be paying for delegates to come. I’ve been talking to the Unite community groups, who are helping to organise the unemployed, amongst others, and they’ll be sending a coach. It’s really important to mobilise the previously unorganised, the biggest party in the country, the ‘yelling-at-the-TV party’, who are deprived of any meaningful vote.
We don’t get social change through anger alone. We need hope. I want the People’s Assembly to help mobilise people who at the moment feel no sense of political hope, are exasperated about the failure of the Labour leadership to offer any coherent alternative, might actually want to be involved in building a very broad movement.
People might say, ‘Well, Owen, the Labour leadership have themselves signed up to all sorts of reactionary pro-austerity policies, like supporting the Tory de facto cut to the pay of millions of public sector workers, for example, so why are they welcome?’ But the difference is Labour’s link to the union memberships, so at least there’s the capacity for workers to be represented.
As we know, working class women are being disproportionately hammered by the cuts, whether as public sector workers, who are more likely to be women, or benefit claimants, who are more likely to be women. That is the logic of the cuts, which represent a backwards step in the emancipation of women. We need the women’s groups.
How do you relate this language of ‘building’ or ‘creating’ a movement to the task of supporting and reinforcing, linking up what’s already there?
We just want to be a forum, a coalition of lots of struggles but also stitching them together and providing somewhere for people to join up with the general movement. Not wishing to override or displace other groups, far from it. Bringing them more closely together helps them become more powerful than they currently are.
Stop the War was dominated from the beginning by the Socialist Workers Party, who at that time were by far the biggest group on the far left, and had thousands of activists who could be mobilised to dominate key decision‑making. There isn’t an equivalent with the People’s Assembly. You might point out some individuals still involved, but the fact is this is something driven above all by the trade unions. There isn’t any group with the resources or personnel to dominate this at all.
There is a provisional Steering Committee with representatives of lots of different groups. I really wouldn’t have time for anything I thought could be turned into a front for any Leninist sect. That would be self‑defeating and it would just drive people away. We’re not talking about the leadership of a party here. It’s mid-way between a coalition and a franchise, I guess. The structures do have to be decentralised enough for particular groups to be able to go away and do things locally.
We can’t just have an event modelled on platform speakers lecturing you. We’ve all heard powerful speeches against austerity, and of course there’ll be a place for that, but there also needs to be an opportunity for grassroots groups to share their stories. But it has to be a launch pad, to enable local groups to get set up across the country. Because one of the things I’ve been doing – with others like Mark Steel – is to give talks with the aim of setting up local groups, like in Nottingham with the trades council, Manchester, Bristol.
The idea is after 22 June to have a lot more local groups set up who are prepared to take direct action. We need to ramp up the level of peaceful civil disobedience across the country, and link this up with the unions, who of course will come up with their own programme of actions and strikes. On the day we need workshops where people who have no experience of political activism or organising can come along and find out how they can get involved in these struggles.
I get a little bit exasperated by some groups on the left, who as soon as you show a bit of initiative, or any ideas, will respond with crossed arms and chin-stroking: ‘This isn’t exactly what I want, or how I want it, so therefore it’s shit.’ And the reason this frustrates me – the world-weary ‘seen-this-all-before’ attitude – is that when I go round the country, there is such a desperation for a real alternative, and when I’ve told them about the People’s Assembly they say, ‘Well, thank God you’re finally doing something, why weren’t you doing this ages ago?’ Which is a completely different response to that of the slightly ‘mardy’ left!
Where people feel their lives are being trashed and have lots of anger and a lot of despair – like when I went to Derby for a meeting with benefit claimants and unemployed workers groups – they just wanted to get something up and running, make something happen and be part of a broader movement. So this won’t be perfect, won’t be the best thing that’s ever happened – there will be problems with it. But we’ve got a responsibility to make it work.
Before this I’d feel a bit despairing. I’d leave a meeting saying okay, we got 200 people together but we’d all just go back home after getting it all off our chests. Where do people imagine a movement is going to come from? It’s like waiting for the Messiah. Will it just miraculously appear spontaneously from the grassroots? I think it was Lenin who said ‘sometimes history needs a push’.
The People’s Assembly is on Saturday 22 June at Central Hall Westminster, London. www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’