A packed Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference on 22nd October heard stirring calls from Labour front-benchers for economic policies that improve the lives of working class people and cut inequality.
Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP, pointed out that we were living in difficult times but also times that presented a big opportunity. The mass influx of new members, enthused by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, gave Labour an opportunity to speak to many more voters on important issues such as employment rights, housing and equalities. Labour was now clearly established as an anti-austerity party that would stand against stagnation, the long continuous fall in living standards, and the loss of hope among many young people. Diane warned that the Tories and their supporters in the media would try to deflect the anger and resentment at austerity towards racism, Islamophobia and hostility to The Other. Under Corbyn, Labour would stand up for migrants and focus on the damage Tory economic policies are doing to Britain.
Professor Ozlem Onaran from Greenwich University gave a very useful presentation on the effects of financialisation on the UK economy. There has been a trend in Britain away from long term planning and co-operation with the work force to prioritising speculation and paying dividends to share holders. A chronic lack of investment had led to falling productivity and greater levels of inequality. Falling union density in most workplaces had led to wages declining as a share of GDP. This was a trend across the developed world but was more pronounced in Britain.
Former Derby MP, Chris Williamson, pointed out that growing inequality is a choice by those with power. Financial institutions make greater profits out of poverty by risky lending, payday loans and credit cards. The richest states on the planet were busy working out ways of exploiting the very poorest and socialists must work together to offer a better alternative.
JC4PM social media co-ordinator, Marsha-Jane Thompson, outlined the importance of new forms of social media in putting across our message and pointed out the way important campaigns and the voices of women are often ignored by the mainstream media. Catherine West MP, who won Hornsey & Wood Green in 2015 and now has the biggest membership CLP in the country, spoke about the impact of in-work poverty and the cuts on young people. Food and housing costs are rising and constituents often have to beg for support just to get by. A Labour government could make a real difference to people’s lives by implementing progressive policies.
Roger McKenzie from Unison spoke about campaigns against low pay and the struggle of teaching assistants in Durham and Derbyshire who are on strike against Labour councils who are trying to cut their pay by 25%. Too many employers were trying to impose new terms and conditions on their workforces and trade unions must be willing to support their members whole heartedly when they are forced to take action to defend their incomes. Roger also spoke out against the rise in racism since the Brexit vote.
Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, closed the conference by setting out how Labour’s policy had changed from ‘austerity-lite’ to full opposition to austerity. A Corbyn-led Labour government would implement a package of measures, through the planned National Investment Bank, to ensure investment in the economy and growth. This growth would be used to implement policies for greater equality and to eradicate poverty. The Tories had failed in their own terms to grow the economy and eliminate the deficit and had overseen a shameful rise in poverty and reliance on foodbanks and benefit sanctions. Labour would transform the British economy into one that lifts living standards and benefits workers.
The 1-day conference was a great success, giving activists the arguments to support Labour’s new approach to economic policy.
The next LAAA event, planned for 29th November in Parliament, will hear from MPs Richard Burgon and Cat Smith, on the Tories plans to cut living standards and Labour’s response to the Autumn Statement.
Report by John Stewart, Hackney North and Stoke Newington CLP
Originally published in Labour Briefing