This year’s Labour Party conference was truly a turning point in the anti-austerity movement, writes Steve Turner. That day when I introduced Jeremy Corbyn on stage at the huge People’s Assembly march in June he was greeted like a rock star- so while many of us were optimistic about how his leadership campaign would unfold over the Summer I am not sure many of us guessed how successful it would be.
Securing an election mandate of nearly 60% is of course just the start. But on Monday conference listened to a Shadow Chancellor in John McDonnell who was putting forward the clear anti-austerity arguments and the alternative to what has been happening in this country. It is something that the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, the trade union movement and many, many others have been campaigning for and have laid the ground for. We have all been arguing for the deficit to be shrunk by dynamically growing our economy, not punishing people. Economic growth through investment that delivers for all our local communities, builds homes, provides good working standards, and action to tackle low pay and the gender pay gap – in short an economic policy that delivers for society. It has rightly been described by Richard Burgon MP and others as “the speech that changed everything”.
Afterwards, in a large meeting room that was so packed many were turned away, I chaired the Labour Assembly Against Austerity – part of our wider People’s Assembly coalition – event. It was a platform for many of the new Shadow Ministers in one of the best conference fringe meetings for many years. Richard Burgon MP (Treasury), Cat Smith MP (Women and Equalities), Clive Lewis MP (Energy), Diane Abbott MP (International Development) and John McDonnell himself all spoke, alongside Owen Jones, Mark Serwotka, Katy Clark and Mark Steel. This was the People’s Assembly presence at the Labour party conference this year – hearing and seeing how Labour is being transformed by a mood of change, hope and optimism that policy in the future can be made by the communities it affects.
People left the meeting energised and committed to organising and building what my colleague Mike Hedges has rightly written is the birth of a new movement. It was of course followed up the next day with Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Leader – arguing not just for an end to austerity, but how we can build a better society. A tipping point has taken place, and now we need to rise to the challenge in supporting the new anti-austerity Labour leadership in the project to broaden out and deepen our alliances to make the whole of the anti-austerity movement stronger. The People’s Assembly and our campaigning were part of laying the foundations for what happened over the Summer and with the trade unions, such as my union Unite, we are going to continue to be at the heart of building the movement ahead.