Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going