23 people were present from across Wales representing different anti cuts campaigns, local People Assembly groups and some parties of the left.
At the start of the meeting we were informed of the sudden and sad death of Andrew Price a socialist and trade union activist of long standing in Cardiff. Our thoughts went out to the family
1. Proposed structure of the day
The chair for the morning session Sian A put the proposed agenda that had been circulated at the meeting: this was agreed.
2. Briefing on the proposed cuts in Wales for 2015-16
Len A from the People’s Assembly RCT/Bridgend group had produced a paper which was also available on their group’s web-blog: http://pafightback.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/peoples-assembly-wales-against.html
The case was made that the Welsh Government was faced with a real terms cut in the grant from the UK government for the financial year 2015-16. Moreover, since 2008, each year a real terms cut had taken place and this was likely to be around 18% by 2018. The proposed increased spending on NHS Wales was happening at the expense of all local authorities in Wales: it was robbing Peter to pay Paul. We have little option to now say enough is enough and challenge the Tory government directly.
A general discussion took place where further questions were asked about the financial situation and additional options were suggested such as arguing that reserves and the borrowing power of local authorities should be used as an interim measure. Points were made about the role of the different parties represented in the National Assembly in relation to the cuts. It was suggested that more powers should be devolved to Wales. It was noted that PFI schemes had been discouraged in Wales although it was reported that a few existed.
A campaign against the cuts had to mobilise as many people as possible and both community organisations and trade unions were important. There was a danger that people believe there is no political alternative being offered and will find right wing organisations like UKIP filling the gap. It was proposed that the People’s Assembly could help provide an alternative that was opposed to the politics of austerity.
3. Report from the Welsh fightback experience
Powys reported how important Facebook was to organising the campaigns locally. The number engaging has declined over time and the cuts affecting children have generated campaigns with most support, often leaving those affecting older people to just go through unopposed. There is real fear among workers affected by the cuts being really worried about being seen to be campaigning.
In Cardiff successes have involved stopping a school from closing, keeping play centres open and youth clubs going. Unfortunately cuts have taken their toll with Splott pool closing. The council has encouraged private and social enterprise but these are subject to tendering and the difficulty of taking on large companies. The experience of fighting council cuts is that people directly engage in politics and it is important to generalise across campaigns arguing that one cut is a cut to all challenging any NIMBY type approaches. We should focus on the wider government of the UK and in Wales.
In RCT it was reported that day centres, paddling pools, youth service, museums, libraries arts centres and social services had all been hit. Facebook had played an important role in the campaigns and it was important to engage with the political debate about who is to blame in this media. There were two successful judicial reviews over the process of consultation which have currently stopped the cuts in nursery provision and kept one library open. Some community councils were using their funds to help support other services.
It was reported in some counties up to a third of all jobs had done and workers experiencing zero hour contract and a wage freeze. Uniting service users and workers was critical in local campaigns.
In north Wales in the Wrexham area leisure centre and a pool have been kept open through a community trust. Libraries and day centres have closed.
It was reported that the cuts have also affected all Wales provision such as the CLIC programme for young people and the services provided by the Wales Refugee Council. It was also pointed out that the UK government direct cuts through welfare and other benefits have hit Wales almost to the extent of £1billion.
It was important that local campaigns make the most vulnerable visible and link all the anti cuts campaigns together across Wales.
4. Action plan
Peter J from north Wales took over the chair for the afternoon.
A proposed plan of action had been circulated before the meeting and was available in hard copy at the meeting.
This moved and extensively discussed with amendments being propsed.
The final plan was agreed as follows and is also available on this web-blog: http://pafightback.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/peoples-assembly-wales-statement-on.html
Statement agreed at the People’s Assembly Wales conference in Cardiff 4 October 2014. (Subject to final confirmation by those present)
This conference agrees
1. To campaign for support across Wales for the public sector strike due to take place on 14 October. Leading up to the strike our action will include motions and public declarations of support from trade union and anti-cuts organisation, together with use of all media and social networking to this end. Support on the day of strike by encouraging attendance at picket lines and any demonstrations that may be organised in Wales.
2. To campaign for support across Wales for the 18 October TUC London demonstration Britain Needs a Pay Rise. In addition to public declaration all supporters of this conference will be urged to maximise attendance at the demonstration and help fill and advertise the available transport. The Wales TUC will be contacted for details.
3. To campaign for the National Assembly of Wales to vote to reject the implementation of an austerity cuts budget for 2015-16 and co-ordinate councils, NHS trusts and fire authorities to use reserves, borrowing powers and other means to save services and jobs in the short term while a campaign for more funding is built.
Such a campaign should involved action such as:
a. Mass demonstrations at the Assembly when the UK autumn statement is being made and when the Assembly votes on the 2015-16 budget.
b. Intensive lobbying of all AMs from today using the information provided and all other forms of supportive arguments that we can develop.
c. Securing support for this proposal from as many anti austerity and cuts organisations as possible across Wales.
d. Local meetings and demonstrations to argue for support together with the production of a briefing and other collectively produced arguments of support.
e. We will campaign widely using mass and social media, and available multi-media platforms, including video.
f. Linking of local and specific interest campaigns across Wales.
g. Direct action including industrial action and occupations including the development of support for these actions such workshops and legal training.
h. Launch a Wales wide petition as soon as possible after this meeting calling on National Assembly members to refuse to vote for cuts this year. An explanation and arguments for the petition to be published in support of the petition.
The wording of the petition will be:
“We call upon all the elected members of the National Assembly for Wales to vote no to the setting of a budget for Wales for 2015 – 16 that involves a real reduction in revenue or capital allocations in any of the devolved services, compared with the financial year 2014-15, and compared with the need requirements of these services.”
Discussion to also take place with 38 Degrees about how we could also ask people from outside of Wales to support the petition.
4. To state that we are only prepared to support candidates in any election who are committed to vote against austerity cuts or who have done so.
5. Name of organisation
It was agreed that the all Wales campaign should be called the People’s Assembly Wales.
6. Organisation and administration
i. It was agreed that the next meeting of the People’s Assembly Wales would be held after the campaign at the National Assembly level unless a pressing need arose in the meantime. This would be early January 2015.
ii. An email list would be established, initially composed of people at the meeting or who had given firm apologies. Then involving others when the minutes had been confirmed the agreed 38 Degrees petition was underway.
iii. A Facebook group already exists and will continue to be used and will be supplemented with a web-blog and Twitter account.
iv. Len A as secretary of People’s Assembly RCT/Bridgend would act as convenor and provide administrative support until the next expected meeting in January.
The meeting closed at 15.00.