Wednesday, 20 April 2016

99% People's Assembly Festival Ousting Austerity

A weekend of demonstration and debate

First session with James Meredith and John Weeks

Last weekend began with a demonstration of about 150,000 against austerity that rallied in Trafalgar Square.  I took the opportunity to dine in Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite Jewish deli Gaby’s in Trafalgar Square.  It was an immense celebration of joy and determination that there was another way.

A group of us went up on the train from Brighton.   In the evening there was a variety of different musicians and acts at Brighton’s Synergy centre in West Street.

The main event was on the Sunday, a day of debate and discussion from mid-day to early evening.  There was an afternoon of speakers, debate and films that debunked the various myths and explored alternative solutions to capitalism’s endemic problems. The event focused on themes such as housing, health, climate change, local cuts and national/international economics. 
At about 11.30 we were also greeted with a picket by the Brighton Against Benefit Cuts/Aufheben group.  BABC is a small group which has grown smaller since it was founded 6 years ago.

The day was introduced by Attila the Stockbroker ~ a poet/musician who is a well known fixture at demonstrations.

The first session was 'Economics of austerity and the alternatives' with John Weeks, an economics professor at SOAS who exposed the myths of mainstream economics & James Meadway, a radical economist, formerly at the Treasury and an advisor to John McDonnell.
The next session was 'London, the money laundering capital of the world' with Nick Kochan a financial and political journalist exposing financial crime and terrorist financing.  Other sessions included 'Solutions to Austerity and Bitcoin' with Dominic Frisby ~ performer, comedian, financial commentator and author and 'Murder by austerity' with Kerry Anne Mendoza ~ Editor-in-Chief of The Canary

Other sessions included 'Meet the Renegades from the makers of the Four Horsemen' with Ross Ashcroft ~ Film maker, Director and Host of the Renegade Economist; 'Free Market Global Warming' with Hannah Barker and Jonathan Neale; Hannah Barker ~ Brighton Climate Action Network, expert on climate change and its origins and Jonathan Neale ~ Author of "Stop Gobal Warming - Change the World" and Editor, "One Million Climate Jobs" Report 

The penultimate session was 'Defending the 99% Alternatives and action' with Andy Richards ~ President of Brighton Hove and District Trades Union Council.  When many people entered the Synergy Centre there was a pointless picket outside by the misnamed Brighton Benefit Campaign.  See 
Small picket at Synergy Centre by Brighton Benefits Campaign
Film Lounge was curated by Dr Lee Salte, a film maker, lecturer at Sussex university and staunch critic of austerity.  Food was provided by the Real Junk Food Projects.

I estimated that nearly a hundred people attended during the day.  It is also good to have a debate amongst radicals and socialists about the way ahead.  Some of the sessions were too short, for example  the opening session by John Weeks and James Meredith.  How to tackled austerity within capitalism.  Is it possible?  What are the pitfalls that Corbyn and McDonnell are likely to face?  Is it simply trying to manage capitalism rather than overthrow it?  These and other questions kept recurring in one form or another.

Student debate
It was noticeable that the traditional left groups, the SWP and Socialist Party didn’t seem to send their people to the event.  The Greens were also thin on the ground.  Brighton’s anarchist were also largely absent though there was an interesting debate between 4 university students representing the different political traditions from social democratic, anarchist, Trotskyite and accelarationist (the latter I’d never heard of before!).  

In the session on trade unions the question of Workfare, the issue raised by the BBC picket was raised.  Those responsible for running the Synergy centre explained the position and made it clear that no one was compelled to work there, quite the contrary, those who were working at the Centre wanted to be there.  As Andy Richards said, the question of compulsion was the main issue.  Were people being forced to work because of the threat of sanctions or were they happy to be there.  It was clear that the latter was the case.  If BBC were serious, and only one person spoke up for their position, they would have come to the conference rather than boycotting it.

Tony Greenstein 

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