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SINCE the People’s Assembly Scotland (PAS) last met for an annual general meeting, much has changed in the political landscape at Scottish, municipal, UK and international levels.
What has not changed is the unrelenting attacks on working people and their families’ living standards.
Cuts are implemented at local level because of the Scottish government’s inadequate allocation of funds that would allow councils to both provide appropriate services and protect jobs.
Every day we see the unemployed and those suffering from disability as well as people with caring responsibilities having to face the iniquitous maze of Department of Work and Pensions regulations, with sanctions and demonisation of benefit claimants accompanying the introduction of universal credit.
Many of those “fortunate” enough to be in work find themselves in zero-hours contracts, trapped in the gig economy on minimum wages, with tips either not being handed over or regarded as part of their income.
All of this has led to the PAS developing and changing the way we campaign and organise against all the above.
When the PAS was established in 2014, it was with the following key demands:
- A Fairer Economy
- More and Better Jobs
- High Standard Homes for All
- Protect and Improve Public Services
- For Fairness and Justice
- For a Secure and Sustainable Future.
These are still our core principles and they are no less relevant today, encompassing the areas of most concern to working families.
Since we launched, in many respects, the impact of austerity has only worsened and yet our resolve to fight for a better future has increased.
As a body with affiliates that include the SNP trade union group and the Labour Party Campaign for Socialism, in addition to the major trade unions, trades councils and community groups, the PAS can correctly identify itself as the broadest representative organisation in the country.
When first established, much of the public work was around large-scale public rallies such as those we held in Glasgow’s George Square in conjunction with the STUC.
Now our focus is on building more locally based groups and producing materials that these groups can use to debate with those seeking elected positions.
These materials allow local groups to identify those most likely to stand up for working people and record their commitment to do so should they later renege on any guarantees they offer their electors.
Prior to elections, be they for local councils, Holyrood or Westminster, we have produced “manifestos” in conjunction with affiliates offering both alternatives to cuts and support to those willing to provide leadership and stand up for working people.
These were sent to every councillor, MSP and MP in Scotland. This proved fruitful, with PAS local groups being invited to address councils on our proposals to produce parallel budgets illustrating the real need for services combined with local economic impact statements on the true cost of job losses to their constituents.
We provided concrete direction for councils such as refinancing the debt book by taking advantage of low interest rates.
Even when unsuccessful in getting them to change course, rallies and demonstrations were held outside budget meetings which strengthened local groups and forced councillors to try to explain the reasons for the cuts and why they were reluctant to fight back.
Local authority trade unions made use of both the information and figures contained in our documents to challenge assertions by elected members that there was no alternative to further cuts.
One unintended consequence of this was West Dunbartonshire Council’s decision to end facility time for trade union shop stewards on the basis that “they did not engage positively with the budget process.”
What the trade unionists did do was say they opposed the cuts in an SNP minority council that had a surplus and no economic reason to make cuts.
Ironically this was announced the day before an STUC joint statement with the Scottish government stating that workers will only be able to combat unfair practices if they stand together and join a trade union.
Developing and strengthening local People’s Assemblies was aided by the film I, Daniel Blake, which was shown in over 80 locations.
This raised the PAS profile and raised a huge amount for local foodbanks, but the most significant development was after a showing at Drumchapel in Glasgow where the question was asked, “What if Daniel lived here?” leading to the publication of a booklet on how to find your way through universal credit and details of how to appeal decisions.
Our revised document In Place of Austerity was launched last month by Tam Kirby from Fife People’s Assembly. A very appropriate choice as Fife epitomises all that a local PA should be, with regular leafleting outside jobcentres offering advice and support for claimants and regular campaigning alongside trade unionists against bank closures and unfair working conditions in the likes of Sports Direct.
As well as this, Fife PA regularly works with councillors and shows the true effect of their decision-making on the poorest in society.
By far the most active local group in the country, they have even taken on the multinationals and succeeded in shutting down the Dunfermline Amazon distribution centre on two occasions in protests against zero-hours contracts and the very poor working conditions for the mostly migrant workers.
People’s Assemblies led by local TUCs are the basis for restoring the links between the unions and local communities, galvanising support for both through struggle and next week’s STUC in Aviemore is an opportunity for the movement to mobilise in support of the People’s Assembly in its fight against austerity. Join the union. Join the People’s Assembly.
Keith Stoddart is secretary of the People’s Assembly Scotland steering committee.
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