People's Assemblies Network

18 October 2014
by pa-webgroup
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The Scottish Referendum

Despite ‘No’ vote, Scottish referendum advances struggle for real democracy

The momentum of Scotland’s independence movement, although thwarted on this occasion by an unholy ConDemLab alliance and its corporate-financial sponsors, has nevertheless driven the UK state into a profound constitutional crisis.

There is a clear potential for rapid and explosive change around the UK – both in a dangerous, nationalist direction and in a positive way, creating opportunities for revolutionary, democratic change.

We should reject the emphasis on process that the Tories and Labour prefer. Rearranging the deckchairs on the SS Westminster simply won’t do. It’s not how we are governed  but why we are ruled by an undemocratic corporatocracy, where real power lies and how it can be transferred into the hands of ordinary people that are the real issues.

A roadmap to real democracy needs to be drawn up by assemblies and meetings throughout the UK, building on the gains of the Scottish referendum campaign. The political system has lost the right to rule over us because it has no democratic legitimacy. There is a global crisis of existing state systems, which the referendum reflected. This can and should be made to work to our advantage.

The 1707 union of Scotland and England is effectively a dead duck despite the “No” vote, while leading Tory commentators say David Cameron’s proposals to limit the power of Scottish MPs at Westminster rips up the constitutional settlement of 1688, which is a keystone of the present state system.

Naturally, the Tories and Labour want to keep real people away from constitutional change while they manoeuvre for narrow party advantage in the run-up to the 2015 general election. But the Scottish experience shows that the genie is out of the bottle.

The 45% Yes vote was made in spite of massive intimidation by the media and the state broadcaster, aka the BBC, big business, banks, the military, the Spanish prime minister, president Obama and the UK political establishment. A massive, last-minute ConDemLab bribe offering greater devolution was needed to swing the vote.

In some ways the wholesale effort to ensure the No vote has turned into its opposite; now people in England are expecting the very promises offered to the Scots, rashly made and impossible to keep. The defeat for the Scots may well turn out to be a victory for all. Clearly, the future of democracy in both countries is inter-related as never before.

The phenomenal 84.5% turnout, the largest in the UK since universal suffrage in 1918, reflected the thousands of meetings, small and large, up and down Scotland where ordinary people found their voice which they are denied by conventional politics.

People are not at all indifferent to being politically active when they feel that the result will affect them and that they have a role to play. This was especially true among younger voters. In fact, virtually every age group up to 55 voted Yes. As a result, Scotland will never be the same – and nor will England, Wales and the north of Ireland where there are calls for a referendum on a united Ireland.

Robin McAlpine, director of the Common Weal, has described how the political class was shocked at the content and conduct of local meetings where ordinary people set the agenda:

Simple rage at the sense society is not being run in their interests dominates these meetings. A woman with osteoporosis forced to work over 100 hours a week, a housing estate whose community centre and park are being sold to housing developers, a village without a single public transport link, a woman in her early 30s incandescent that she feels forced to choose between her career and children because of the cost of childcare.

As to the plan for greater devolution, McAlpine is dismissive, declaring:

Trust has fundamentally broken down and the elite will not give the masses what they want – which is real power. In my opinion, the clock is now ticking on an even angrier reaction from the Scottish people.

If a majority for independence was lost, it was the responsibility of Labour principally together with the SNP’s inability to answer key questions because of its own commitment to a Scottish version of the UK’s market economy.

Labour came out against self-determination for Scotland because, ultimately, it is a party of the UK state that puts the “defence of the realm” ahead of democracy. Labour is no threat to the ruling classes and they know it. Naturally, another consideration was the large body of Labour MPs who come to Westminster from Scottish constituencies which would have ended with independence.

Labourites would rather identify with Ukip, the Orange Lodge and the Tory Party who constitute a far more poisonous form of nationalism than that expressed by the SNP, infected as they are with an imperial past and the global corporate present. One result was the Unionist-led violence in Glasgow after the referendum.

Despite the No vote, Labour’s grip on Scottish workers is doomed. Forty per cent of Labour’s traditional voters crossed to the Yes camp. Glasgow and Dundee both had Yes majorities. The party itself effectively spit. Labour for Independence gathered substantial support and meets as a campaign next month to consider its future and could well go its own way.

Labour in Scotland, as shown by Glasgow City Council, is predominantly right wing and its MPs have consistently been to the right of those in England. Scotland’s Labour MPs helped Tony Blair win the tight vote on the introduction of foundation trusts, which then paved the way for privatisation within the NHS. What will be the point in sending them down to London in future? Good question!

What was on offer from the SNP was a watered down self-determination, still keeping NATO and the monarchy intact, plus terminal confusion over currency. If Yes had boldly stated opposition to the kind of banks that were threatening to leave Scotland, and offered a Scottish currency, it might have been a different story – then at least we would have been having the right conversation.

The truth is that the SNP were trying to tell Scots that everything would be OK in an independent capitalist Scotland at a time of global recession and the renewed threat of a further financial meltdown.

Cameron has launched a high-risk plan to save his own political future and appease the right wing in his own party by outflanking both Labour and Ukip. As the astute Tory commentator Peter Oborne notes:

So the Prime Minister has saved his skin. But he has only done so by ripping up the British Constitution, which is a very unconservative thing to do. Yesterday’s announcement raises some massive questions. Will there be an English First minister to match the Scottish First Minister? If so, what is the role of the Prime Minister? What is the role of the House of Lords? Will it be possible to govern Britain with two classes of MP? What about the English regions? Can a Scottish politician be British Chancellor? Mr Cameron’s reforms amount to the most profound change to the British Constitution since the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

But Oborne is also wise enough to know that some in-house Westminster manoeuvres will not work, admitting:

The success of the SNP campaign has proved yet again that our traditional political structures are failing and that ancient forms of authority no longer prevail. We need to discover a new kind of public language and political architecture.

He acknowledges that Cameron fears a wider involvement in the process because “it would spiral far out of their control”. Exactly the point, which is reinforced by Helena Kennedy QC, who chaired the Power inquiry. That exposed deep disaffection with the political system. She says:

My fear is that the establishment will use constitutional change simply to fix the status quo. The fix that the masters of the universe and many of our politicians want is one that leaves the same people in charge to do the same things.

There is no need for some long and deadly, great and good royal commission, but if you want people to really consider the consequences of changes you need to give them a genuine opportunity to participate. You can do that with deliberative polls, where people meet and hear the arguments and express their views. You can do it with people’s juries, where there are challenging questions and alternatives and a commitment to following through on the results. People should be able to organise around the issues in their own communities.

Instead, we are back to top-down control. This is not about doing things differently but about Westminster designing change to head off at the pass something deeper and more democratic. In the bars at party conferences they will be asking themselves: how can we control this and get the outcome we want?

Kennedy is right in more ways than one. What has emerged in Scotland and is finding its way into the rest of the UK, is actually a struggle for power between the people and the present state rulers, a desire for a democratic form of politics in place of the existing, shambolic excuse of a democracy.

This cannot be reconciled by a process-driven exercise which essentially leaves the status quo intact. A bit of home rule for Scotland and a little extra for England will not even begin to solve the issues raised by the referendum. The mainstream parties will never get this because they are an integral part of state rule. They are beyond convincing and the state itself is beyond reform, subsumed into corporate-driven globalisation.

Power, real decision-making power and control over resources, is either left in the hands of the present state that is capitalist and undemocratic by nature or there is a concerted struggle for its transfer. That will involve creating entirely new forms of democratic rule that take us beyond the self-apparent limits of parliamentary representation.

In other words, we need a fundamentally new constitutional settlement that is republican and revolutionary, that enshrines social as well as individual rights, that extends democracy into the workplace, respects our place in nature, and is the foundation for an end to the profit system.

Agreements of the People, in the spirit of the draft constitution set out by the Levellers in 1647, drawn up in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland should be our aim.

How could we achieve this transformation? Certainly not without dismantling the present state system and putting something far more democratic in its place. How can we mobilise people independently of the state to take change into their own hands? Not without direct participation of every section of the population in the process.

The Agreement of the People campaign is launching an initiative which could take up where Scotland has, for the moment, left off. It is proposing Assemblies for Democracy in different parts of the UK are organised to discuss what kind of democratic future we should aspire to and how to achieve it.

These could lead to people-led Conventions on the Constitution that draw up detailed proposals for a real democracy. Instead of submitting the proposals to state politicians and institutions who have lost legitimacy in the eyes of many, they would become the basis of mobilising ordinary people to make the change for themselves.

If we do that, the momentum that we saw in the Scottish referendum campaign can be sustained and carried forward.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
22 September 2014

Re-posted from the A World to Win blog

 

 

- See more at: http://www.aworldtowin.net/blog/Scottish-referendum-advances-struggle-for-real-democracy.html#sthash.xvj5SlL3.dpuf

14 August 2014
by pa-webgroup
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Europe from Below – Call to Assembly in Brussels Sept 26/27

Call for building together a transnational space of initiative for a
Europe from below, through, against and beyond current Europe

We, as Blockupy international coordinating group, met in Berlin on
June 21st, to discuss the outcomes of the May of Solidarity and the
future perspectives. During the days of mobilization actions were
various and rich, and we valued positively that many have been
organized from outside the May of Solidarity process. We also agreed
that, though the Blockupy process is focused on mobilizing towards the
opening of the new ECB building in Frankfurt (now scheduled for early
2015), an autonomous political initiative cannot be simply bounded to
the dates established by the institutional agenda: we need a larger
social and political perspective. The postponing of Turin EU summit on
“youth employment”, on the other hand, has left many without a common
space to gather, act and discuss. The message of May of Solidarity
across Europe – “Solidarity beyond borders, building democracy from
below!” – found much resonance, but a strong transnational movement is
still to come and we know that no one, beginning with us, could
consider themselves to be sufficient.

We also know we are not alone in our attempts to link struggles across
borders and to create a transnational resistance. We openly
acknowledge our limits, and we recognize that different networks
across the European space are facing that similar limits and
contradictions. We do think it is time to turn this situation into a
political opportunity. We therefore propose an open meeting to
collectively examine the current phase and to strategically discuss
our practices and our proposals to build a transnational space of
initiative for a Europe from below, through, against and beyond
current Europe.

The Europe of the ruling classes might be itself in crisis again and
again; it might be in continuous reorganization. However, what were
before more nationally disparate austerity and saving programmes are
being consolidated into the new status quo of the EU. This is the
reality behind the rhetoric of the European governments claiming that
the moment to go beyond austerity has come. Of course,
“post-austerity” does not mean “benefits for all” or real changes for
the better! Moreover, as a governing logic it is not “new”: austerity
and privatization have been reality in Eastern Europe for
twenty-something years now. Rather, we are facing a new phase
characterized by the attempt to stabilize the social effects of
austerity policies with transnational policy based on creating and
exploiting different spaces. This is the logic of new processes of
precarization and re-organization of exploitation taking place on a
transnational scale, exemplified not least in the “Youth Guarantee”
programme of labour governance, which are linked to the positioning of
the EU within global value chains and to financial flows that go
beyond the institutional borders of the European Union.

In this way, Europe is becoming a space of transit and accumulation
crisscrossed by differences, unbalances, regional and zonal dynamics.
Mobility inside and across these spaces is thus becoming a crucial
element, as the governments of Europe are managing welfare policies
and the Schengen regime in order to exploit those movements practiced
by people both with and without European passports who together make
up the living labour force.

These novelties are the political problem we have to face together in
order to understand what to do next, how, and especially with whom to
make Europe a space for transnational politics of radical change, also
in so far as today the national space is more than ever too narrow. As
the outcomes of the recent European elections show, it is not only
that the national space is functional to racist and right wing
solutions to the crisis, it is also that within the national space it
is impossible to counter the power of global capitalism.

In every respect a strong transnational movement is still to come. Of
course the development of such movement will depend on the struggles
taking place in daily life rooted in the social dimension, but they
also depend on our ways to develop a common space – for strategizing
and for finding common spaces of struggles. While an increase of
networking has taken place in the past years, we still have not found
the practices to translate separate struggles into a transnational
movement. Our proposal to meet comes from a genuine desire to openly
discuss together, in a practical way, how to turn the variety of
networks and present agendas into a political opportunity for social
movements to fight together and to build counter narratives,
cooperation and lively shared practices of struggle.

As Blockupy International coalition, we will mobilize towards the
opening of the new ECB building – symbolically experiencing a common
transnational space of struggle in the streets and in a very real way
blocking production and circulation in Frankfurt, the financial
capital of continental Europe. However, we have to ask ourselves
whether we are able to re-organize and diffusely tackle the heart of
the new regime of exploitation, which was built on the austerity
policies in the last years.

Therefore we propose to take that new phase of European post-austerity
policy seriously. To fight against it, we have much to learn from each
other. We know the current social relationships are based on debt and
competitiveness on the one hand; precarity and working poor as the
general condition of labour, institutional racism and a
re-nationalization of citizenship on the other hand. It is also
characterized by the attack on wages and incomes, on commons and
welfare systems and the consequent restriction of the spaces for
democracy. We know we must learn from experiences in places where
austerity has long been the way of life, and thus we especially extend
this invitation to our friends in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

Starting from here, we propose to meet up and discuss about what we
can do in order to produce an autonomous initiative at the
transnational level, which tackles this relevant issue of
post-austerity Europe posing few questions:

How can we frame our heterogeneous struggles within and against the
newly consolidated governmental regime based on the status quo of
austerity and its enforcing institutions?
Starting from the conditions of precarity of living and working, the
issue of mobility, of Europe as space of transit and accumulation, how
we can set our own agenda of mobilization for the upcoming months?
How can we think of powerful, transnational social and political
practices to address the new conditions of labour and life, building
the possibilities to powerfully organize inside of them and to
effectively strike against them?
In which ways we can connect the different activities, practices,
meeting points in and as a common process that could become an
orienting shared “road map”?

We believe it’s time to develop a powerful practical perspective, time
to think about how to act together and how to build the strength we
need to overturn the table. We also think that we must approach
together the political problem of a transnational, Europe-wide strike
around these different issues, how to organize it and how to really
hurt the new exploitation regime.

For these reasons, we invite all groups interested in a radical change
perspective to meet in the evening of the 26th and have meeting all
day on 27th September in Brussels for an open discussion which,
starting from these inputs, can lead us to one or more days of common
action and to build together a larger moment of analysis, exchange and
political proposals towards a transnational space of movement, towards
an autumn of struggles and some shared medium-term perspectives – in
solidarity beyond borders.

Feel free to forward this invitation to other networks, groups,
organisations. Technical details will follow, please write to
international@blockupy-frankfurt.org for info and if you interested in
coming to Brussels.

13 August 2014
by pa-webgroup
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UK Quakers’ 2000 Statement on Palestine

Quakers 2000 (consensus -driven)  Statement on Palestine

Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath. As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:

· Palestine to be recognised as a nation state

· An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides

· A comprehensive arms embargo

· An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza

· Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners

· The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions.

The Yearly Meeting heard that this week that Quakers were invited to meet Foreign Office ministers on the crisis. Teresa Parker, programme manager for Israel and Palestine for Quakers in Britain, was among representatives from faith and secular agencies who went to share views and experience of the region.

A key motivation for Yearly Meeting is valuing all life. The Yearly Meeting statement says:
“As we among other Nobel Peace Laureates have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised.’ Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take… We long for – and will work for – a time when the fear experienced on all sides is replaced by a sense of security.”

The Yearly Meeting statement in full reads:
A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain at their Yearly Meeting in Bath, 8 August 2014

“ At this time of sombre anniversaries, as we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the anniversaries of nuclear bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we find our Quaker testimonies to peace and equality again compel us to speak out.

“The hostilities in Gaza are the latest eruption of the deep and long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Root causes of this conflict, including the structural violence of occupation, must be addressed. Such violence damages all the people of the region. The present time, with its faltering ceasefires and talks, is a time of both crisis and opportunity.

“From our long-standing Quaker experience of working on this issue in Palestine, Israel and Britain, and from listening to the testimony of Quakers in Ramallah, we are convinced that the UK Government has a real role to play. A starting place would be for the UK to recognise Palestine as a nation state on the same basis as it recognises Israel. We note that 134 states have already recognised the State of Palestine. The UK Government should also play its part in creating a real opportunity for peace by drawing groups such as Hamas into the political process and thus away from violent resistance to the occupation. We have seen around the world how those once labelled as terrorists can come to be recognised for their statesmanship. It is our view that freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners would help Palestine to develop as a flourishing economic, political and civil society.

“The international community remains complicit in the conflict for as long as it fails to make full use of the mechanisms provided by international law, to hold all parties to account for their actions. Under international law, at all times, all parties should distinguish between civilians and combatants, though as Quakers we place equal value on every human life. The Israeli Government’s ongoing blockade of Gaza and its apparent collective punishment of the people must end, as must indiscriminate fire by all sides.

“Amid the present crisis, we are reminded that the people of the West Bank, living under Israeli occupation face restrictions on movement; loss of land and water; demolitions; the continuing building of settlements; detention without trial and violence by settlers and the Israeli military. Such suffering often sows seeds of future violence.

“The anniversary of World War I reminds us how easily militarised societies can slide into armed conflict and become blind to the alternatives to war. At such times, the international community has a responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict. We join others in asking for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups. Quakers in Britain ask the UK Government to take a lead on this by halting arms exports to Israel.

“As we, among other Nobel Peace Laureates, have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised’. Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take, but an essential one.

“Quakers in Britain feel called to act alongside others to address the roots of violence. We continue to uphold Quakers in the region and those working nonviolently for peace and human rights within Israel and Palestine. Quakers will continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as we oppose all forms of prejudice. We long for – and will work for – a time when the deep fear experienced on all sides is replaced by security and a just peace.

Signed
Chris Skidmore
Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

Quakers in Britain send human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza. On behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups. EAPPI uses the standards of human rights and international law to work for an end to the occupation and for a just peace with security and dignity for all.

Ends
Notes to editors

· 134 nations have already recognised the State of Palestine (source: Palestinian Mission UK).

· The Nobel Peace Laureates’ statement is here http://www.quaker.org.uk/news/nobel-peace-laureates-call-real-peace-between-israelis-and-palestinians

26 June 2014
by pa-webgroup
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A Charter for Democracy – Spain

A Charter for Democracy

guardared

Movimiento por la Democracia

Whatever happened to the 15-M Movement? Where did Occupy go? Three years after the groundbreaking revolutionary ruptures of 2011, violent repression and media invisibility have relegated these thriving movements to a grey area. The perception seems to shift between mainstream derision and niche-group interest. Occupy’s roots have spread out and sprouted a multitude of initiatives, though perhaps the source inspiration is not always publicly recognized. But in Spain, the popular experience of austerity – the murderous palliative prescribed as a cure for the crisis – and the resulting political movements in reaction have been giving the lie to the mainstream narrative that 15-M is a “has been”.

The movement undeniably lives. Its form has been mutated, re-imagined, distributed, and coalesced into a multitude of initiatives and hacks to the system. We live here, we see it every day. These initiatives are not as easily seen, defined – or, for that matter, targeted – as a physical occupation may be; yet they permeate the hegemony, creating new possibilities and spaces. You need only look at the recent EU Parliamentary election results to see how Spanish voters have reacted to austerity and debt – and how that reaction contrasted strongly with that of some other European nations. One of the most important evolutions of 15-M is undoubtedly the “Movimiento por la Democracia” (Movement for Democracy).

Unsurprisingly, the Movement is hard to define. It clearly targets the political arena without desiring to become a political party itself. Their “Charter for Democracy” is an inspiring, thorough text on what politics should be. It proposes a politics for the people: squarely grounded in environmental realities and social justice, based on the Commons, defended from corporate interests and neo-liberal dictates. The Charter was written collectively through nearly 30 different workshops throughout Spain held over the span of a year, with the collaboration of some 200 individuals.

As Movimiento por la Democracia expresses, “It isn’t finished. We don’t want it to be finished; we want it to be a living document, in a constant state of discussion and production. We think it’s a good summary of the main demands the citizenry has put on the table over the last few years – our needs and desires. Now we need your help. The Charter can only make sense when shared widely, so it can stir extensive debate. If you find it interesting, we ask you to share it on Social Media, send it by email or get it into people’s hands in a thousand different ways. We ask you to comment on it, debate it, refute and if you like it, make it yours”.

To that end, we’re proud to present the Charter for Democracy in English for the first time, complete with its beautiful original illustrations by Clismón. Our role in this translation was something like post-production. We took the time to bring it together, polish and clarify it, to do service to the volunteer labor that went into the translation (see below for full credits). It’s serious reading, and essential reading for anyone passionate about true democracy and commons-based governance. As they say, please read it and, if you want to, make it yours.

Carta_por_la_Democracia_1pag-1red

A CHARTER FOR DEMOCRACY

This Charter was born of a deep malaise: lack of prospects, mass unemployment, cuts in social rights and benefits, evictions, political and financial corruption, dismantling of public services. It was drafted in reaction to the social majority’s growing lack of confidence in the promises of a political system devoid of legitimacy and the ability to listen.

The two-party system, widespread corruption, the financial dictatorship imposed by austerity policies and the destruction of public goods have dealt the final blow to a democracy long suffering from its own limits. These limits were already present in the 1978 Constitution. They can be summarized as a political framework that neither protects society from the concentration of power in the hands of the financial groups, nor from the consolidation of a non-representative political class. This political framework has established a system which is hardly open to citizen participation, and unable to construct a new system of collective rights for our protection and common development. This is evident in the fact that, despite some very significant public demonstrations, the demands of the vast majority of the population have repeatedly been ignored.

Faced with this institutional stonewalling and the growing separation between the rulers and the ruled, it seems there’s only one way out: a deep expansion of democracy based on citizen control over political and economic power. Surely, since what’s left of democracy is constantly shrinking and attempts at internal reform would only mean repeating the same mistakes, we must take a chance on changing the rules of the game – a democratic change, geared toward returning to society the effective decision-making ability over all which concerns it.

Chaos and dictatorship are not the only alternatives to the current democracy. A democracy created among all people is possible – a democracy not reduced to merely voting, but founded on participation, citizen control and equal rights.

This Charter emerged from the desire to contribute to this process of democratization. In this sense, it contributes from a place of joy, from the energy of citizen mobilizations, from politics happening outside political parties, speaking in first person plural and trying to build a life worth living for everyone. No doubt the impetus is democracy itself. People have the ability to invent other forms of governing themselves and living together. This text was created with the assurance that today’s struggles are the basis of the coming democracy.

As this is a proposal of democratization, this Charter is presented as an unfinished, long-term construction project, openly inviting anyone to participate. This charter isn’t meant to be a political program or an exhaustive catalogue of rights, nor does it pretend to be a static State model. Given our investment in democratization, it simply points towards the basic, necessary elements needed to reconstruct a new institutional model that is open to the collective needs, proposals and capacity for self-governance that has recently found its voice throughout streets, squares and networks. Seen this way, the participative, deliberative process we yearn for matters as much as its content, which should always be a faithful reflection of the proposals and aspirations of the citizenry.

In essence, this Charter calls for opening a new process of debate, leading to a political and economic restructuring to guarantee life, dignity and democracy. It’s presented here as a contribution towards establishing a new social contract, a process of democratic reform in which the people — the “anyones”— are the true protagonists.

It’s time for the citizens to appropriate public institutions and resources, in order to ensure their defense, control and fair distribution. In the public squares and networks, we’ve learned something simple and conclusive which will forever change our way of being in the world. We’ve learned that yes, we can.

más-que-una-casa-poster_red

Rights and Guarantees

A democracy worthy of the name requires universal recognition of a wide constellation of rights related to all areas of public life and social reproduction. The decline in access to benefits and social services, the plundering by the financial dictatorship, and the dismantling of public welfare systems by austerity policies in recent decades have all significantly undermined the means of effectively exercising these rights. Similarly, access to many of these rights is conditional upon nationality and employment status, which has ended up producing major exclusion. Moreover, the subordinate nature of social rights in the current Constitution has not allowed sufficient development of certain fundamental issues such as housing, employment and income.

In short, both the inherent limits of the current system and the impotence of the Spanish political regime in protecting the most basic of rights are strong enough reasons for the creation of a new institutional system of rights and guarantees that enable caring, the development of our lives, and access to political life.

This Charter puts forward a common starting point for defining a new system of rights. Today, these rights have arisen from the demands and struggles of society itself, and expressed through its multiple forms of organization and participation; as such they are the highest expression of the act of democracy.

These rights redefine social relations, the production and distribution of wealth, and relations between nation-states according to a concept of the human being as a subject with the right to autonomy, but still in deep interdependence with the common space s/he inhabits. To this extent, these rights oppose being characterized as merely individual attributions. These rights must be recognized from both a universal as well as a singular dimension.

In order to guarantee these rights, we require an institutional framework that recognizes and promotes access to an active and democratic political life, and the recognition of the right to collective and direct participation as a real opportunity for the expression of the citizens’ desire to decide on everything which significantly affects the community. This framework should also be fully inclusive; one that accepts that we live in a global world, and acknowledges people’s right to migrate and/or settle where they see fit, in order to live life fully. A framework that could safeguard a life – our own – which, being interdependent, requires protection. This would comprise institutions specifically designed to ensure social reproduction, while neither delegating care labor to particular social groups nor permitting the privatization of that labor. A framework which also guarantees and extends all the rights already recognized in existing frameworks, constitutions and declarations of human rights, and which also recognizes the environment wherein life takes place as a rights-holder that should be carefully defended. This framework must, in the end, recognize society as a source of rights, therefore it must be considered open and under constant construction.

The basic principles which inspire a new, robust Bill of Rights with a guarantee of institutional means are:

  • Universality. All residents will have the same consideration and access to resources that guarantee the effective exercise of their rights.
  • Singularity: Recognizing that there are realities, forms of organization and a diversity of needs, different types of rights must be taken into account, including specific forms of recognition as well as human resources and economic requirements, to the extent that we must preserve such diversity.
  • No regression. Public authorities are not entitled, once these rights are recognized, to interpret them restrictively or to reduce them.
  • Equality. Given that all rights — civil, political and social — are fundamental to the development of people’s lives, the relationship among them must be protected and cared for with the same constitutional and legal guarantees.
  • Multi-institutional and democratic guarantee. Rights should not only be guaranteed by jurisdictional means but also through citizen participation and extra‑institutional organisms created by the persons entitled to the rights themselves. The social participation in the recognition, extension and guarantee of rights through the institutions of direct election and citizen intervention procedures must be explicitly admitted.
  • Financial sufficiency. The development of these rights must be ensured with the necessary economic means. These means will be provided by fiscal reform measures established in the following paragraphs of this Charter.

Finally, it is understood that a subject of rights is also a subject of responsibilities, insofar as she or he is part of a community built around a common project. These responsibilities extend to the environment we inhabit, and include accepting the responsibility to care for it, protect it and enable its reproduction, and in doing so, our own. Such responsibility involves all citizens, but is distributed according to the differences of wealth and ability.Carta_por_la_Democracia_1pag-12red (1)

Political Democracy

The crisis has shown that the decisions of the political class are increasingly controlled by financial interests, and therefore, that democratic Government is conditioned by private enterprise. This situation has lasting repercussions, having provoked a major crisis of legitimacy and representation, aggravated by a state of continued corruption and underscoring the serious lack of existing democratic control.

In any case, the limits of the political system are not recent; rather, they’re structural. These problems can be summed up as: bipartisanship; one-party government in most autonomous communities; difficulty creating new political options; media monopolies; and, especially, the enormous legal difficulties in reforming a Constitution which, moreover, has never been approved by most of the current population.

This is compounded by the fact that political parties – the major players in political life – have turned into a self-serving class, primarily geared towards its own propagation. Without a doubt, institutional obstacles to direct participation hamper the imagination and formation of a political framework founded upon the direct involvement of ordinary people in public affairs..

The decline of the current democracy manifests itself in neglecting the demands of different sectors of society, thus magnifying the distance between legislated policies and what the people say they need. This growing gap between the rulers and the ruled results in the democratic deficit of a system that has prioritized governability over representation and respect for minorities.

The limits of the current democratic system cannot be resolved from the same position from which they arose. Therefore, in order to establish a true democracy, an overhaul is needed.

This Charter advocates a form of democracy capable of returning decision-making power concerning the fundamental aspects of life back to the population. A democracy based on participation in social and political life, one which enables joint decisions on how we want to live. It is, therefore, a wager on a new political agreement built in an open way and with the active participation of citizens. A new agreement based on the recognition of society’s capacity to organize, create institutions, and self-govern.

The construction of this democracy requires a series of agile, effective, and transparent mechanisms articulated on different levels and geared towards both deepening direct participation and the control of delegation, via representation, as deemed appropriate.

Some actions that could give shape to a new democratic political system are as follows:

1. Democratization of public authorities

  • Control of representation. Revocable mandates by a social majority and absolute transparency both in public accounts and the actions of the various organs of Government. Tightening of controls and penalties related to corruption, and the development of independent supervisory authorities with competence over different public institutions. Economic and temporal limits on political appointments: salary caps; an incompatibility regime before, during and after the appointment; and effective limits on the duration of the mandate.
  • Democratization of the internal functioning of the parties. Transparency in party financing, clearly democratic internal statutes, and autonomy of the vote of representatives to ensure the internal plurality of organizations.
  • Reform of the electoral representation system. Removing privileges accorded to parties in the assignation of representatives; modification of lists system; eliminating minimum quota of proportionality; mechanisms of recognition and respect of minorities, as well as balance between the different territories.
  • These mechanisms for democratization, openness and citizen control will be extended to other areas of collective representation, such as social and labor organizations, as well as the media, given their relevance in public life.

2. Recognition and extension of the ways of participation and direct democracy

  • Recognition and expansion of direct democracy tools, such as popular legislative initiatives, referendums and virtual tools of participation.
  • Recognition of citizen control instruments in all areas of the main branches of government, as well as on public accounts. The recognition of such instruments requires transparency laws and the development of flexible mechanisms for public hearing. Recognition of other social organizations acting as control mechanisms or political representatives.
  • Developing mechanisms for collective deliberation: Favoring the development of methodologies for democratic deliberation, both virtual and analog, that promote shared decision making. These mechanisms will be essential in the development of new legislations and their budgets.
  • Extension of the mechanisms enabling direct participation at all administrative levels, and management of public goods and common assets such as school boards, health councils, labor councils as well as local, regional and inter-regional councils.

3. Recognition of popular constituent power as the ultimate source of the constitution and the powers of the State

  • Promotion of a model of open constitutionalism which allows reformation of constitutional standards from below, prevents foreseeable constitutional stonewalling, enables citizen reform initiatives and promotes permanent deliberation.
  • The autonomous, independent forging of institutions for the self-regulation and development of rightsgenerated by the social structure itself will be recognized and favored.

A mature political democracy will not only allow for the real and effective separation of the different powers of the state, but also for direct citizen control of the latter. According to this charter, the judiciary, state police, and security forces will also be subject to the same requisites of transparency, democratization and citizen control. Its ranking heads shall not be chosen by political representatives but directly by the citizenry itself.

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Economic Democracy

A democratic society cannot be conceived without the guarantee of the necessary material support for the development of a dignified and politically active life. A democratic society without a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be conceived.

The high unemployment figures, the widespread insecurity, the spiral of evictions, the debt slavery condemning a large part of the population, the privatization of public services, the enormous concentration of wealth and the subordination of public economies to banking interests all point in the opposite direction: inequality and economic subordination of the many (99%) to a few (1%).

The current democracy as well as the constitutional guarantees on which it is based have been completely ineffective in avoiding this situation. None of the mechanisms set out in the Constitution of 1978 – social rights, labor rights, public initiatives in the economic sphere and the subordination of the wealth to the social interest, among others – have been able to protect society from economic and financial interests. Neo-liberal policies have prevailed above any other criteria, including the common good. This despoilment is most evident now, in the midst of the crisis.

This Charter intends to recover the social resources which have been privatized and concentrated into a few hands, in order to make them available for a real democratic process. Thus, the framework proposed by austerity politics will not be accepted. Never before has there been so much wealth, but rarely has this been distributed so poorly and under such undemocratic and unfair criteria. Therefore, a full review of the functions of economic policies is required, in order to prioritize of the welfare of the population over private, financial and corporate profit. A real, and not just formal, recognition that the laws of the market must always be subsumed to the social functions of the economy is essential.

With the aim of promoting economic democracy, this charter considers five basic pillars:

1. Financial democracy

Financial wealth will be considered as a common resource, upon which the citizenship must have the capacity and ability to influence. “Who regulates are the people, not the market” is the maxim that inspired this point. To do so, procedures will be established for democratic decision making on the debt contracted during recent years, as well as on financial and real estate assets in public hands derived from the restructuring of financial markets and the banking sector. To this end, the following measures are proposed:

  • Citizen Debt Audit. This proposal allows distinction between those debts which are legitimate and those which are not. This audit will be articulated as a social process of democratic and financial education, whereby citizens may acquire greater capacity for decision making and control over the financial economy.
  • Creation of public utility institutions, with financial and real estate assets resulting from successive restructuring. These institutions, under strict democratic control, will serve the promotion of economic equality and social development.

2. Tax reform

The object of the reform entails the promotion of a broad redistribution of expenditures and benefits, so that a formal equality is also a guaranteed real material equitability with access to common and public goods.

  • Major proposals: the restoration of the principles of proportionality and escalation for both labor income and corporate profits; the implementation of new taxes on financial transactions and higher taxes on capital income; the decrease of indirect and consumption taxes, and prosecution of tax fraud. Tax reform will be based on a criteria of equality and equal tax treatment, as well as territorial solidarity.

3. Common and public goods

Privatization processes have shown that public administrations have not protected public resources against attempts at appropriation by private interests. The social recovery of these goods, as well as the democratization of their management, must guarantee their accessibility by the population as a whole.

  • All goods and basic infrastructure needed for the reproduction of life, political participation and the normal function of the economy will have the status of public-common goods. These public-common goods shall include: education, health, housing, security, transportation, information, and justice; important natural resources including water, atmosphere, soil, oceans, coasts, rivers and riverbanks, forests and natural areas of ecological and aesthetic importance; and major roads, highways, interchanges, railway infrastructure, ports, and the like.
  • Strategic resources and sectors of the economy, such as communications, energy, or mineral resources, will be reverted to a condition of public–common resources. The administration of those resources will be subject to a strict public and democratic control.  This will effectively reverse the tendency towards privatization that has been promoted in the last decades.
  • Public-common assets shall neither be alienated nor sold by public administrations. Being public-common property, they are considered the property of all persons residing in the Spanish State.
  • Public-common assets shall be managed in a democratic way, regulated and governed both by mechanisms of citizen participation and expert communities required for each case.

4. Promotion of the Social Economy and Democracy in Economic Relations

This Charter promotes citizen participation in business-related decision-making processes, especially in matters which could be crucial to the common interest. In addition, economic activity will be subordinated to criteria of integral profitability, i.e. social, environmental and economic.

  • It encourages the development of a new business model based on the principles of the social economy, cooperativism, and respect for the environment.
  • All companies should progressively organize around the following principles: equity, respect for the environment, transparency, and sustainable development. Equally, controls over wage distribution in companies will be observed, forestalling the present model of speculative accumulation and extravagant salaries, while rigorously vetoing the increase of precarious labor.
  • The fundamental principles of labor rights will be observed: the right to work freely or in exchange for just compensation; the protection of workers in situations of dependence; the right to rest and to retire; the right to autonomy and to dignified lives independent of wage labor, along with the right to strike, to form unions and to freely associate and assemble.

5. The expansion of social protection, the recognition of common resources, and the right to a dignified life

Our current system of Social Security is principally funded by income tax contributions and is only inclusive according to criteria of national legal identity. In a globalised context, where employment is scarce and non-remunerated work is seen as essential to the production of wealth, migration has become an elemental necessity for an impoverished population. As such, the prior bases of our system of social protection have proven to be increasingly inefficient and less inclusive.

An expansion of the pension system to comply with just and sufficient standards is required. Another requirement is an expansion of the support mechanisms and infrastructures for collective caretaking, which presently falls almost exclusively on families (particularly, women). Child-rearing duties are a collective responsibility with the following two requirements: the necessary budgetary development and allocation, and the creation of common infrastructures.

The production of non-GDP quantified wealth (in areas such as research, study, cultural, informational or communicative production) shall also be acknowledged through mechanisms for the recognition of all such non-remunerated wealth (such as a Basic Income), along with the creation of all the necessary infrastructures for the development of such mechanisms.

This new system of guarantees will be financed by the proposed measures for fiscal reform, especially through the taxation of financial profit and its circulation, while also reducing the proportion of income tax.

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Territorial Democracy

The current financial and economic crisis has shown the weakening of democracy at every level, as well as the fragility of territorial wealth-sharing mechanisms. The dictates of financial governance through austerity policies have established an extraordinary geography of inequality, plunging some countries and regions into the economic and social abyss.

The result is an important territorial split opening up both at the European level and in the Spanish state. In Europe, the absence of democratic intervention mechanisms and the crisis of sovereign debt have created a growing rift between a protected center and an increasingly impoverished periphery. In the Spanish state, the heavy indebtedness of municipalities and regions is leading to the dismantling of social protection systems and the sale of many public goods.

Both cases show a growing loss of territorial solidarity and the legitimacy of government institutions. This threatens a collapse that can only be addressed through a complete institutional reorganization based on democracy and territorial stewardship.

This charter invites discussion for a new territorial agreement at all levels, based on a radically democratic model. It is based on the assumption that decisions about the management of resources and services should be developed at the minimum level of the territorial unit, and forms of the distribution of wealth must be organized within the larger Commons to ensure equity between the territories.

In this way, it is intended to minimize the inequalities between them, compensating for the inequalities generated by models of territorial jurisdiction.

The new territorial agreement model shall be the result of democratic consultation and cooperation among the various territorial units. It should acknowledge the widest possible plurality, and build itself up from its residents’ right to democratically decide on their belonging or not to the different territorial units.

Territorial Democracy will be based on the following principles.

  • Joint responsibility and equality. Membership in the political association involves the acceptance of certain rules and communal constitutions, as well as the acceptance of a taxation system and a communal budget sufficient to correct social and territorial inequality. The new tax system shall be based on progressiveness and fiscal equity.
  • Subsidiarity. The management of resources and services as well as decisions on matters of public interest must be reduced to the minimum territorial unit in which it is most accessible to those residents responsible for such management or decisions. All services that can be better managed at smaller territorial scales will be managed at this level.
  • Financial autonomy and sufficiency. Each territorial unit must have an appropriate budget for the provision of those services for which it is responsible. This budget will be autonomously administered by the democratically managed citizen organisms established for this purpose. Moreover, this budget will not only be guaranteed by its binding resources, but additionally by territorial compensation mechanisms established at different territorial scales. Autonomy in the management of said budget does not exempt those territorial units from the provision of certain services and fiscal obligations to the supra-territorial treasury.

The institutional development of the different territorial scales will be carried out starting from the following principles:

1. Deepening of political democracy: self-government

  • To reclaim and develop all areas of participation and decision at every scale, building on the aforementioned formulas: the democratization of public powers and the extension of citizen participation and direct democracy mechanisms.
  • In accordance with the subsidiarity principle there shall be an inclination, whenever the scale of the processes and resources involved allows, toward developing local and direct democracy at a scale closest to the people, i.e., local governments and towns.
  • The democratic re-founding process is proposed not only at the Spanish State level, but also for the rest of the territorial scales.

2. Acknowledgement of the different scales and territorial realities and solidarity among them

  • The forms of political union which may result from these democratization processes shall take as their aim the rejection of the current forms of territorial competition, as well as wealth redistribution at all levels; from the supra state levels, to those which are immediate to people, such as townships.
  • European Union. The establishment of real fiscal, budgetary and banking cohesion directed at the practical elimination of the growing economic and social inequalities between countries, as well as of the controlling interests of the financial sector.
  • The Spanish State, the current autonomous communities and whichever territorial entities that shall arise from the territorial constitution processes. The principle of fiscal equity shall be accepted, the existence of a joint budget, and the wealth redistribution according to the equitable methods of the territorial distribution.
  • Municipalities. Financing and budgets, besides being subject to strict citizen control, will be guaranteed by distributive mechanisms accorded at the highest scales (regional, state-level and European Union) so as not to be dependent on property and land speculation.

3. The European scale of the process

  • In the European sphere, a new constitution shall guarantee all the fundamental rights for every part of the Union, the political participation possibilities, the share-out conditions and the distribution of wealth, and a thoroughly democratic political structure.
  • In the case that these minimums would not be guaranteed by the European Union, the various comprising territories could develop new territorial alliances from their own constituent political processes, in order to guarantee the previously mentioned principles and therefore their own collective survival.

*

15 April 2014
by pa-webgroup
1 Comment

A vital initiative – but is it a People’s Assembly?

A vital initiative – but is it a People’s Assembly?

 As a new organisation you need to know where you stand and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity Recall Conference was about voting on a structure and policy to move on.

At the start of the day tributes were paid to Tony Benn and Bob Crow, not only very respected left wing leaders but also original signatories to the People’s Assembly founding letter. The conference had started with a minute of applause and their campaigning spirit and dedication was remembered throughout the day. I think it’s fair to say that the conference felt that a fitting tribute to them both would be to carry on campaigning for the issues that we believe in.

Much of the conference involved the process of passing motions, which will now become the basis on which the Peoples Assembly works, structurally and financially, the campaigns it supports, and the actions it takes. These were organized into Aims, Structure and Actions.

There was agreement the vast majority of the Action motions, which formed the largest part of the motions document, so these were largely not debated, but were proposed with supporting speeches, with none against. The breadth of the issues covered demonstrated clearly the far-reaching affects of the austerity agenda and there was a strong feeling of solidarity for the motions, campaigns and the groups leading them.  

It must have been no mean feat for the organising committee to pull together the 90 motions on 10 themes sent from around the country into something coherent. There was a main motion on each theme with any number of supplements to the main motion, giving more detail to the main theme. A few motions had amendments however, which contained proposals that were contradictory to the main motion.

I do not fully understand how the main motions were drawn up and how it was decided what should constitute a main motion, but listing the motions as such gave more weight to the main motion over the amendments and supplements. The amendments I felt particularly were therefore somewhat sidelined. A number of the main motions were also proposed by “the People’s Assemblies Signatories”, it was not clear who these actually were in this context and by doing this I feel further weight was given to these motions.

This design did not cause a problem on the Actions motions, as all but one contained no amendments and were therefore not contentious. However the Structural and Finance motions did contain amendments, and it was obvious from the debate that opinion was not as clear-cut and that delegates had differing views. This is where I felt the influence of the Conference Organising Group (or whoever had drawn up the motions document) and also the top table on the stage in the room, pushing for the main motion. Thus then, that a top down structure had already evolved.

This was important to me because I had written one of the proposals that had been classed as an amendment, a Participatory Democracy Motion, which had been submitted through Manchester People’s Assembly. This motion, sought to install a decentralized structure alongside calling on the People’s Assembly to exercises participatory practices and to set up a working group to look into how this could be achieved. I felt that there was an opportunity, as we structured a new organization, to lead the way in democratic process.

The motion didn’t get passed but did receive a good show of support. There seemed to be a genuine openness to where the participatory motion came from, from the person speaking to the main motion and the speech against it (from a Green Party and steering group member). The latter was almost apologetic, using the argument that now is not the time to change the structure and in a year it might be. I suspect it won’t be then though, I anticipate the argument will be put that it’s too close to a General Election to reorganise our structure. So while I felt sympathy for the ideals of the motion there was not the desire to take participatory democracy further within the PAAA. In other words the motion came up against an entrenched way of doing things.

The following debate on finance bore out the reason why I feel that participatory methods are more democratic and can ultimately foster deeper co-operation and understanding. They also demonstrated, I feel, the top down structure which is already in place.

The main finance motion focused on the flow and use of money raised within the central organisation, while the amendments spoke of the importance of both national and local groups, with one calling for a percentage of finances to be channeled to local groups.  The main motion also called for a membership scheme with a sliding fee scale for individuals, groups and Unions.

The debate on the proposed flow of funds caused friction between local PAAA groups and national committee. I felt that the ‘signatories’ came across as considering the central organization as more important than the local groups, and lacking an understanding of the challenges local assemblies face.

When it looked like the amendments were well supported & would pass, someone from the top table, rather grumpily, stated that this would mean the main motion would need to be rewritten. This caused someone to shout from behind me from the floor ‘that’s democracy’ – which of course it was!

One amendment was rescinded by the proposer when a steering group member promised to take on board its sentiments, the other passed, meaning that there is currently no agreed financial structure in place.

Using participatory practices, workshopping these motions with interested people from assemblies across the UK, when drawing them up, could have fostered a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges at local and national level and perhaps preempted this friction. Yes it would have taken more time and effort to collaborate, but it could also have resulted in closer working relationships between central and regional People’s Assemblies.The People’s Assembly Against Austerity therefore, does not function how I understand a true assembly of the people would function, which would be to exercise participatory democracy. It’s structure feels like a traditional trade union or party model, a tried and tested structure – yes, but a mirror of the structure of government in this country which people feel so disenfranchised from and which has allowed the implementation of an austerity agenda which no one voted for and which so many oppose.

A People’s Assembly to me is a movement of individuals, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is more a grouping of already existing organizations. It is vital that we bring new people into the political debate and into actions, to hear the voices of individuals who are not already within a union or campaign group. We need to create an open and welcoming space where everyone feels encouraged to contribute and where everyone feels their voice is heard. To do this we need to try more than replicating a structure that is letting us down.

I believe that a networked structure where the centre facilitates the development of connections, solutions and actions between the local assemblies, but does not dictate the agenda, is the way forward. What I feel makes a true People’s Assembly is that ideas and solutions come from the network to the centre, rather than visa versa. While the motions were submitted from the network of assemblies, they were compiled by the centre and elements given weight by the centre. The centre is also calling for actions, rather than the network, which has resulted in the next two National Actions being London based.

I left the conference feeling that, as local People’s Assemblies Against Austerity, we will need to work extra hard to ensure that our regional voices are heard – which is what we have always had to do to take part in the political process. I also can’t help feeling that an opportunity has been missed to break new ground in organizing democratically.

That said, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is a much needed organization. There is a need for an umbrella to bring together all the groups campaigning against the austerity agenda and the damage it is causing to society and people. We need to work side-by-side, to share ideas, experiences and skills, and it was encouraging to see so many groups intent on doing so.

Mich Manchester

(I write this as an individual and not as a representative of any organization or movement.)

15 April 2014
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

Brussels May 15th – Surround the Egmont Palace

“…This May 15, Europe’s biggest businesses have invited our political leaders (Karel de Gucht, Didier Reynders, Guy Verhofstadt, Kris Peeters etc.) to the Egmont palace for the ‘European Business Summit’. The organisers of this great lobbying jamboree have stated their goal: to influence European leaders a few days before the elections.

The ‘Transatlantic Partnership’ (TTIP**) will be at the heart of the debate. Negotiated away from democratic scrutiny, refusing to meet those who oppose it, Karel de Gucht’s ears are open exclusively to big business, who see this treaty as an unmissable opportunity to increase their power within the EU.

We won’t let them!

This May 15, from 8am, Surround the Egmont Palace!”

15 April 2014
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

21 June PAAA Movement National Demo – London

The People's Assembly Against Austerity

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity

National Demonstration and Free Festival 
Saturday 21 June 2014

No More Austerity | Demand the Alternative 
Assemble 1pm, BBC HQ, Portland Place, London W1 1AA
March to Parliament

Speakers and performers include:

russell-brand.jpg FrancescaMartinez.jpg
Russell Brand
Comedian
Francesca Martinez
Comedian
owen-jones.jpg christine_blower.jpg
Owen Jones
Journalist
Christine Blower 
National Union of Teachers
 jeremy_corbyn.jpg  sam_fairbairn.jpg
Jeremy Corbyn MP
 
Sam Fairbairn
People’s Assembly
 
stephen_morrison_burke.jpg  kate_sm.jpg
 Stephen Morrison Burke

National Poetry Slam Champion
Kate Smurthwaite
Comedian 
sean_taylor_copy.jpg  More to be 
announced…
 
 Sean Taylor
Singer / songwriter
 


Coaches are being organised from across the country. Get in touch with your local People’s Assembly group for details: click here.

Order Publicity

01WEB_leaflet.jpgWe don’t just want you to come to the demo. We want this demonstration to be a show of strength against this government and it’s austerity policies. That means we need everyone to get out on the streets and talk to the public, get friends, family and colleges to come and get organised in every area across the country. 

We have printed thousands of leaflets, posters and stickers. 

Order online now – click here. (or you can arrange to pick some up from the office)

Spread the word on social media - invite your friends on Facebook

Support from across the movement

People representing organisations from across the movement have been sending in quotes on why they’re supporting the demonstration. See quotes from Len McCluskey, Owen Jones, Kate Smurthwaite, Frances O’Grady, Lee Hall and more: click here
Please share widely.

19 February 2014
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

Bosnia Uprising

‘Death to nationalism’ is message of Bosnia uprising

A feature of revolutionary times is when people’s movements decide to take matters into their own hands and throw up new forms of democracy. That’s what we are witnessing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where people of all ages – from teenagers to the very old – are engaging in an experiment in self-government.

The first people’s uprising of 2014 began in Tuzla, north-east Bosnia, an impoverished industrial city of 200,000 on February 4. The town has an unemployment rate of 55%, the highest in the country, while youth unemployment runs at 63%.

As the city administration handed in its resignation, a revolutionary organisational body called the “plenum” made its appearance. The idea of plenums quickly spread around the country, as one website explained:

All over Bosnia, protesters are organising ‘plenums’, places where people can gather and try to formulate their demands. The participants are defining their rules, moderating the plenums by themselves, and, after summing up, sending their demands to cantonal assembles.

In doing so they are shattering the clichéd image of a former Yugoslavia entirely riven by ethnic and religious conflicts. And the plenums revive a hidden but powerful aspect of former Yugoslavia’s history, hitherto buried under nationalist propaganda and image-making. As Mate Kapović writes:

The most impressive and symbolic picture of the first few days of the rebellion was the one depicting a burning government building in Tuzla, the city where it all began, with the graffiti ‘death to nationalism’ written on it. Since nationalism has long been a favourite refuge of the country’s political elites, who used it to justify their political and economic oppression, this was indeed a powerful message.

The legacy of the Dayton Agreement, imposed by Nato and Bosnia’s presidents in December 1995, were, as the campaigning movement Bosanski Kongres says, “enormous labyrinths of government bureaucracy, with parliaments, prime ministers and presidents for each and every entity, canton and district”. Consequently, an impoverished population of under four million people was burdened by taxation to support a bloated bureaucracy.

Following the February 4 street protests, this dysfunctional state has gone into meltdown. Prime ministers in the cantons of Bosnia and Herzegovina handed in their resignations, but not before sending out security forces to brutally beat up demonstrators.

Bosnia protest

Given the historic former ties with neighbouring Croatia and Serbia, corrupt political elites throughout former Yugoslavia are terrified that the “Bosnia revolution” could spread. Solidarity demonstrations were held in Serbia, for example. 

The Balkan spring was heralded three years ago, at the height of the Arab spring and global occupy movements by Facebook protests. What has made Bosnia special – then and now – is that, as Kapović notes, “it was the first time that openly anti-capitalist messages were displayed in any of the post-Yugoslav countries”.

Until now, the image projected by the media about Bosnia-Herzogovina has been dominated by cruel ethnic and religious conflicts which have undoubtedly shaped its history. It was in Srebrenica that some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered by Serb forces in July 1995, despite being under UN protection.  
 
It was the assassination of Habsburg scion Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that sparked the outbreak of World War I a century ago. Today, the same area of the world can send a different kind of signal. Plenums of the kind being developed in Tuzla and elsewhere look back to the experiences of soviets in pre and post-1917 revolutionary Russia, the post-war Yugoslav and Hungarian workers’ councils, and more recently, the Occupy movements that swept the world in 2011-2012.

Plenums, like people’s assemblies, offer democratic forms of decision-making, ownership and control in place of top-down, capitalist state bureaucracy. Thus the people of this small but crucial state can be a real inspiration everywhere.  

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
17 February 2014

Bosnia

- See more at: http://www.aworldtowin.net/blog/death-to-nationalism-is-message.html#sthash.zpDUmXBB.dpuf

5 February 2014
by pa-webgroup
2 Comments

Message from Kenya

BUNGE LA MWANANCHI-KENYA PEOPLE`S ASSEMBLY

“Setting the Agenda for the Nation from under a bougainvillea tree”

In a park, Jee Van Jee gardens, in the heart of Nairobi, members of Bunge la Mwananchi, which means “the people’s parliament” in Swahili, meet routinely/almost religiously every day. Four benches placed in the cool shade of bougainvillea trees form the physical base and indeed the cradle of the parliament, or Bunge, as it is more colloquially known. Each day, heated debates about topical issues concerning Kenyan politics and the occasional scandal take place.

The daily gatherings –Kikao/Assembly of people, are public debating forums, open to all ethnic, genders, occupations, and party affiliations. The movement can be traced to and reconnected to pre-colonial resistance movements, colonial liberation movements and post colonial struggle movements but more specifically the sittings in Jee Van Jee gardens started in early 1990s, during the clamor for multi-party politics. After the repeal of section 2(A) of the constitution in 1990, the one party era was brought to an end and multi-party politics was ushered into Kenya. The new found freedom and space gave birth to Bunge La Mwananchi which basically was a peasantry formation of those who came to rest in the gardens after engaging in demonstrations against the despotic KANU/Moi regime then. From the onset the movement fought hard for inclusive Kenya and by virtue of this inclusivity, Bunge la Mwananchi transgresses many of the boundaries that routinely frame Kenyan politics.

The cradle of the movement is Jee Van Jee gardens, a prehistoric garden that was donated to the people of Nairobi by an Indian contractor, Alibai Mullah Jee Van Jee. The contractor hated oppression and although he was rich, he could not stand colonial oppression and saw that it was not right to discriminate Africans and other races by the colonial regime who even barred them from entering the city centre. So he gave the garden voluntarily and in defiance of the colonial policy of not allowing Africans into the city centre. We reconnect with the spirit of resistance to oppression whether by a Whiteman or a Blackman.

Bunge la Mwananchi is one of the most vocal grassroots organizations in Nairobi and across the country has managed to establish Peoples Assemblies across every major town in all 47 counties across the country and defines itself as a social movement. There is no formal membership required and the movement is made up of whoever chooses to be part of it. Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of people whose sustained presence and practice has permitted for them to be regarded as essential members, and it is from these people that a ceremonial ”leader” is always chosen every two years when the movement goes to the altar of the ballot to choose its leaders in accordance with the tenets of democracy.

Bunge la Mwananchi is a grand idea/ideology build on the theory of people’s power and self-organizing and also a prominent front for articulating grassroots people agenda by giving them voice and visibility. It has created spectra of grassroots people’s platforms for amplifying grassroots people’s power to decide on the struggles they engage in or issues they face so as to improve their living conditions. 

The main goal of the movement is to transform the lives of the many ordinary poor Kenyans by redefining the agenda and body politic of the nation. This is achieved by making claim to article 1 of the constitution which states that; All sovereign authority belong to the people of Kenya….and through this constitutional provision the movement further makes claim to the Bill of rights …The Right to freedom of expression and the Right to freedom of Assembly to create discussion/debate platforms or spaces where Kenyans can come together regularly to dialogue around their “real life challenges”, investigate their interconnection to government or global policies and political accountability; and consolidate their power to push for change. 

Bunge La Mwananchi has established presence, platform networks and goodwill among ordinary Kenyans in all the regions of Kenya especially in major towns. In the last general election held on 4th March 2013 the movement made serious foray managed to make spectacular presence in the political scene hitherto going against the grain or political waves in various regions by fielding members on fringe party tickets but emerging with commendable victory. We now have members of Parliament and several members of County Assemblies and our members who belong to professional cadres have also been absorbed into various county executive positions.
The movement has risen from humble beginnings but has made great strides but much is still ahead as we seek to radically transform the politics of the country. The leadership of the country over the last half a century is filled up with a menu of failed leadership and economic plundering of the nation. Political patronage fuelled by the twin evil of bribe and tribe has taken this great nation that is a powerhouse in East Africa to the dogs but we shall not sit and watch. 

We seek to dismantle the tribe chieftain order that has been build by selfish and failed leadership and offer a new vibrant generation of leaders who have been grown on the seed beds of struggles for change and reforms. Leaders who shall lead not from the platform build for them by their father or grandfathers, tribal kinsmen or those who bribe their way into power because of ill gotten wealth but people who have a conviction of mind and heart to serve all Kenyans irrespective of party or tribe. We wish to spread the wings of democracy across every village in Kenya and break the chains of the tribal chieftain order so that Kenyans from all corners can enjoy and feel the fruits of a truly democratic society.

Mr. Kiptoo John
President 
Bunge La Mwananchi
+254 704 540 144

30 January 2014
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

The Troika Party

 

Neoliberalism erodes democracy and people’s sovereignty: this is the defiant message from the pan-European Troika Party, an irony-steeped political party that has announced its run for the European Union parliamentary elections in May 2014. The party’s slogans include, “Vote for us and you will never have to vote again!” and “Democracy is not competitive!”

Set to formally launch in January 2014, the Troika Party aims to become a rallying point across the continent against the current economic direction forced by austerity policies. “The campaign is a tool to raise awareness and dismantle the current neoliberal narrative, unpacking Troika’s role in European decision making,” one of the Troika Party’s organizers, Emma Avilés, told Occupy.com.

From Madrid, Avilés works on collective projects within the 15M movement, formerly dubbed by the media as the Indignados. “There is not a focus on who to vote [for] or not voting,” she added. “We aim at people rethinking the concept of democracy.”

The party takes its name from the trio alliance – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which has determined the bailout and austerity packages imposed on southern European countries in recent years, widely seen as devastating those nations’ social programs in favor of rescuing the banks that gambled away and indebted their economies.

Due to the bailouts, Greece is regarded to be suffering the worst humanitarian disaster in peacetime Europe. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are all suffering severely, too. The bailouts encapsulate northern Europe’s reaction to the financial crisis – a demand for belt-tightening austerity measures that include public service cuts, workers’ rights reductions and slashed wages – all of which are deepening already entrenched economic inequality. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports that austerity has caused Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis in 60 years.

As strategy goes, the Troika Party looks to build on the “Can’t pay, won’t pay” slogan which calls into legitimacy the dominant narrative of the international debt crisis: that countries are expected to pay back to the financial industry the debts that banks and corrupt, irresponsible governments were responsible for incurring. The Troika Party points out that the countries cannot afford to pay off these debts, even if they were legitimate.

“There is a big difference between understanding the crisis as something inevitable and our fault, then accepting austerity measures, the loss of rights and the undermining of democracy,” continued Avilés. “On the other hand, we want people to read it in a different light: the crisis as a ‘scam’ with specific actors that move the strings and benefit from it.”

The current, neoliberal economic structure is widely blamed as the key factor behind the Eurozone debt crisis –a contention forwarded inan academic paper by economists at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, which addresses how the Eurozone’s financial architecture is “protecting the interests of financial capital” and “facilitating the dominance of Germany at the expense of the Eurozone.”

In the fallout of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that spread to Europe, the scholars say investors saw Greece as an easy target and suggest the European Central Bank should have stopped “speculators playing destabilizing games.” Furthermore, the paper catalogues the ways austerity is causing poverty and recession in Europe’s peripheral countries – meaning the debts are even less likely to be repaid.

“Short-selling,” they contend, is one mechanism that deepened Greece’s troubles greatly. In times of crisis, speculators can short-sell financial assets and deepen a crisis by fueling panic and financial hysteria. This is done simply by borrowing assets, immediately selling them for a high price, then buying back those assets at a lower price. Looking at Greece’s crisis, now in its fifth year, the Financial Timesreports it was not only hedge funds that were responsible, but banks, insurance and pension companies which profited greatly as Greece’s debts escalated.

The Greek Credit Default Market is a key example. It was in the interests of the holders of these financial assets for Greece to default, as a default meant they got paid out. This credit default market’s value rose sharply in the run-up to Greece’s default. Worse still, from the perspective of the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe in Greece, the impacts of the credit default market created more panic sharpening the crisis.

A dominant power creates consent by shaping what people think of as “common sense,” according to the political philosopher Antonio Gramsci. In turn, Gramsci suggested that hierarchies can be challenged by undermining their myths. The notion of redefining common sense is core to the Troika Party’s platform. Alongside providing a hub for analysis, the party aims to challenge the messages that underpin neoliberalism itself.

“All around Europe we are hammered with tailored messages that are becoming mantras we unconsciously repeat, hiding the real truth about the direction Europe is taking and its consequences,” suggested Avilés. “Instead, we want to point at how Europe is walking towards a non-democratic model where finance and economic power have more say that citizens.”

The campaign aims to push serious economic and political messages in a fun and engaging way. “It will use satire, sarcasm and humor to dismantle the neoliberal narrative, backed up with visual tools and ‘everyday language’ to explain to Europeans what is really happening behind the curtains,” she said.

“This type of campaigning will play a key role in bringing political messages to sectors of the population that are not yet politicized, contributing to the multi-level European struggle against the ‘E.U. crisis regime’.”

The Troika Party says it wants to challenge the stereotype that southern Europeans caused the crisis because they are lazy and that the southern countries spent too much on public services. The inspiration for the pan-European party came from Spain, where a version of it has already been active. It was later put forward at a convergence of members from different social and political movements who met in Amsterdam in October.

“Everyone is invited” is another slogan for the campaign, which seeks to create events, actions, reports and media that can be shared online. Party organizers purposefully left lots of space for campaigns and platforms to be tailored to each country.

The potential breadth of targets reach beyond the bailouts and austerity; the group highlights examples like the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, and the Competitiveness Pact which could be included as points of opposition in the platform.

“On a global level there are movements fighting against austerity measures, illegitimate debt, questionable bailouts, privatizations, loss of labor, civil and human rights or attacks on natural resources, which this campaign might reach out to,” Avilés added. “We need to recover the true spirit of citizens as political actors.”

- See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/young-europeans-against-austerity-launch-troika-party-run-2014#sthash.qrgHEePm.dpuf

Article kindly reposted from Occupy.com 

20 January 2014
by pa-webgroup
1 Comment

Manchester PA Endorses Participatory Democracy Resolution

The following motion was drafted by an Occupier in Manchester and was accepted by the Manchester Peoples Assembly and will be taken forward into the Peoples Assembly against Austerity National Conference on March 15th 2014.   

MOTION TITLE: The People’s Assembly should exercise participatory democracy

 ZONE: Structure

 This conference notes:

  1. The turn out in the 2010 UK general election was 65.1%.
  2. Manchester Central had the lowest turnout at 44.31%.

 This conference believes:

 People feel increasing disenfranchised from our political system where they feel their vote does not count & their voice is not heard.

  1. People feel that politicians do not make decisions in the interest and well being of the people and the planet. Instead protecting the wealth and power of their friends and corporations.
  2. The current centralized ‘system’ is undemocratic and a major factor in how those in power are able to operate.
  3. There is an alternative, participatory democracy. The case for this is based a new way of doing politics as exemplified by Occupy & 15M.
  4. The People’s Assembly has an opportunity to lead by example and use it as a way to strengthen and grow the movement and foster a wider engagement with politics.

 This conference resolves:

 To work towards incorporating participatory democracy and consensus decision-making across the PAAA.

  1. To work towards a decentralized structure.
  2. To establish a working group to look at the implementation of participatory democracy across the PAAA.

 

12 January 2014
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

African Asylum Seekers in Israel

Hi all,

Don’t know if you’ve been following news from Israel in the past few weeks, but something historical is happening. 60,000 African asylum seekers (mostly from Eritrea and Sudan) have declared a general strike and are holding mass rallies in all major cities to protest the government’s recent change in policies, which intends to put them in remote detention centers in the desert to keep them away from major cities. Hundreds of asylum seekers already imprisoned in these detention centers are on their 7th day of a hunger strike.

The rallies are reported about in all the major newspapers and TV channels of the country. This is the first time the issue of African asylum seekers has reached the mainstream media, especially giving voice to the asylum seekers themselves and not just Israeli politicians talking about them.
 
This is the largest uprise of asylum seekers in Israel’s history is definitely an event on a worldwide scale.

The refugees have issued a call for action for solidarity actions by the international community on January 22nd in front of Israeli embassies. The call is available here. I also attach the full text at the bottom of the email.
 
Photographs from the rallies:
http://www.activestills.org/theme.php?cat=58

News stories in the international media:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/world/middleeast/africans-continue-to-protest-in-israel.html?_r=0
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/01/israel-illegal-immigration-refugees-african-workers-strike.html
http://mg.co.za/article/2014-01-10-israel-breaking-law-with-asylum-detentions-says-un
http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.567606

(if you intend to organize an action in your city and wish to coordinate with the Israeli protesters, contactfreedom4refugees@gmail.com).

Call for action for the international community (source)

African political asylum seekers in Israel struggle for freedom and refugee rights – CALL FOR ACTION

International community : we urge you to advocate that Israel stop our imprisonment and starts respecting refugee rights! Israel’s latest policy of arbitrary detention for endless time without trial continues to humiliate our community. We are turning to you for help and asking you to mobilize towards demonstrations at Israeli Embassies on 22 of January 2014.

In the last few weeks, a range of unprecedented policy changes towards African asylum seekers and refugees have caused us to take drastic measures to display our discontent, frustration and fear.

About 50,000 African asylum seekers and refugees live in Israel. We have fled persecution, forced military conscription, dictatorship, civil wars and genocide. Instead of being treated as refugees by the government of Israel, we have been treated as criminals.

The Israeli government members have called us a “cancer”, propagating we are “infiltrators” that have come to seek employment. The Israeli Government’s ongoing incitement and hate speech towards us has lead to racial violence and hate crimes against our community.

On December 11, 2013 the government of Israel passed a new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration law, in response to the recent High Court of Justice (HCJ) decision that overturned previous amendments to the law. In its decision, the Court called the law “a grave and disproportionate abuse of the right to personal freedom” and against Israel’s basic laws.The new amendments allow for one year of closed detention followed by indefinite detention without judicial review

Inspectors from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) have begun to arrest and detain hundreds of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv. In the last week of December 2013, PIBA announced its plan to require thousands of asylum seekers and refugees to register at Holot within 30 days. Despite assurances given by the Ministry of Interior that families would not be separated, tens of men with wives and children have been summoned. Panic has spread among the asylum seekers community in Israel, as immigration authorities have increasingly limited the ability to renew visas, leaving people vulnerable to losing their jobs and being arrested.

In the past two weeks, thousands of African asylum seekers and refugees took to the street in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to march for freedom, to oppose arrests, imprisonment and the disregard for refugee rights. We are now organizing a three day strike from 5 to 7 January 2014. On 6 January we march to the offices of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, The African Union, The European Union, USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden to deliver our message calling on the international community to pressure Israel to stop its policy of detention and deportation and instead to call on israel to recognise us as refugees and respect our human rights

Specifically, we demand the Government of Israel to:

1. Cancel the new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law; stop all arrests; and release all asylum seekers and refugees from prisons.

2. Start respecting the rights of refugees, including social rights, health and welfare benefits.

3. Check individual asylum claims in a fair and transparent way.

We demand the UNHCR takes responsibility. Specifically:

1. Hold Israel accountable to adhere to the refugee commission.

2. Monitor our asylum request process from start to finish, in a transparent and fair way adhering to international standards.

———————————————————————–

We stand in unity and solidarity with our fellow communities of African Asylum Seekers and refugees struggling for their human rights in Europe and across the world.

Our common plight as refugees must be addressed by a joint struggle and demand for all countries to respect human rights and the UN Refugee Commission.

We call the international civil society to support our demands and pressure the Israeli Government to stop its inhumane policies and respect our human rights as refugees

What can you do to help?

- Hold demonstrations and direct actions at Israeli embassies and consulate offices in Europe, Canada, USA and around the world on the 22 of January 2014.

- Send a letter to the Israeli Embassy or consulate in your area to demand Israel stops its policies of detention and deportation, recognizes us as refugees and respects our human rights.

- Send a letter to the UNHCR demanding accountability and responsibility for Israel’s fulfillment of our rights as refugees.

- Share our story and raise awareness to the struggle of African political asylum seekers in Israel. follow us on: Twitter @ Freedom4Refugee and Facebook @ Freedom4Refugees in Israel- International Solidarity

If you are organizing a demonstration or direct action, please notify us @ freedom4refugees@gmail.com

Thank you for your support.

Kind Regards,

African Asylum Seekers Community in Israel

8 January 2014
by pa-webgroup
1 Comment

October Call to Action

Reclaiming the Power

The decision of the Occupy in London General Assembly to organise a mass action, an event for democracy in the vicinity of Parliament, has the potential to ignite a movement for democratic change in this country. The practice of democracy has always played an important, if not a central, part in the Occupy movement. We will campaign for a genuine democratic government free from corporate influence.

We would like to invite all the movements that have been resisting the cuts to get involved. This event could comprise a huge peoples assembly for democracy in Parliament Square and should include a statement of demands. This should be the outcome of a democratic forum and, it should be open to amendment, modification, or addition, inspired by the Chartists six points, it could include a list of straightforward demands such as

End the revolving door between big business and government
Remove the Remembrancer from Parliament
For the right of electors to recall their MP and all elected representatives by petition
Stop MPs and Lords voting on any bills in which they have a financial interest
Ban all commercial confidentiality clauses in government contracts
MPs and ministers to be paid no more than the national average wage

The problem with Parliament

How is it possible that a government can make major policy decisions, such as privatise the NHS, triple tuition fees, or introduce the Bedroom Tax without any mandate from the voters? None of these policies were put before the voting public by the governing parties. In the case of tuition fees, it was the clear breaking of a promise by the Liberals. How did they get away with it?

The answer must lie, in large part, in the nature of representative parliamentary democracy. The imposition of austerity in Britain has no mandate from the voters. But the democratic legitimacy of austerity is often overlooked by campaigners and commentators. Austerity is not the sole or even the main problem. The problem is a parliamentary democracy that has allowed the government to get away with the largest assault on our individual and collective well being since the Second World War. Parliament is the source of the government’s strength and legitimacy. It allowed the party leaders, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, to stitch up an austerity program which has no democratic mandate. One can argue that coalition governments are sometimes inevitable. But if that is the case, it is even more important that our MPs and Lords hold the government to account, acting as a democratic check on what the government does. Our MPs, irrespective of whether their party is in the governing coalition or not, should be there to defend us from the government; in is they have failed us.

The usual response from the defenders of the status quo is that an MP can always be voted out in a general election. But this state of affairs is highly unsatisfactory. It highlights one of the key problems with the representative system of parliamentary democracy. Some decisions Parliament makes are irreversible, such as voting for war. In the case of the NHS, the contracts signs with private companies are protected by clauses which would make the government liable for untold sums. This would it make prohibitively expensive for any government promising to reverse the privatisation. Added to that, the EU is supporting a secret trade deal with North America which would put such decisions in the hands of unaccountable arbitration panels, which could strike down any law made in a national parliament.

MPs are elected on the basis of the promises they (and their party) make to the voting public. But once these promises are broken there is little in the way of redress. Once elected, the party leader is free to ignore the promises he or she make to the voters. Why do the vast majority of MPs put loyalty to their party leaders ahead of the promises they make to their electors? Maybe because the decision to enter Parliament for most MPs is a career decision. Voting against the decisions of the party leader can be a very bad career move.

Not like us

MPs today are increasingly unlike the people they represent. This is particularly true for government ministers. They have more in common with each other than the people they represent. They are drawn from an increasingly narrow social spectrum. MPs are much more likely to have a relative who has served as a politician. They are more likely to be from better off backgrounds. Too many have limited experience of work outside the Westminster Village. The current cabinet (and shadow cabinet) fits this mould. Most of the cabinet were educated at public schools and the leaders of all three main parties, including Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor, went to Oxford. Most worked as ministerial aides, party researchers or as lobbyists. And they see themselves as different from the people they represent. While most people have seen their wages stagnate since the recession, MPs awarded themselves an 11% pay rise. Only ten MPs saw fit to oppose the increase.

Are we all in this together? Appears not, as far as many MPs are concerned. The expenses scandal revealed a sense of entitlement from our elected representatives that is completely divorced from the realities of their constituents struggling to pay the rent, the fuel bills or feed their families.

One of the quickest routes to a peerage is to become a donor to one of the main political parties. The going rate seems to be about £1.4 million. And many peers are former MPs who have served their time in the House of Commons. The furious response from many conservative MPs at the planned cap on the number of peers, which Cameron soon dropped, would indicate that the Lords is seen as a reward for putting the interests of the party leader above anything else.

People power versus the lobby

The privatisation of the NHS went through despite an enormous campaign of letter writing, petitioning and demonstrations, from individuals, trades unions, national campaigning groups, and local hospital campaigns. This mass campaign had public opinion on its side. But this effort was more than matched by the lobbying power of the health insurance industry and management consultants who stood to gain from privatisation. The vastly greater lobbying resources of corporations can make government MPs immune to the democratic pressure of such mass campaigns.

Added to this is the direct and indirect financial interests of Lords and MPs who stood to gain from NHS privatisation. One hundred and forty five Lords and seventy MPs have declared recent or present financialconnections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare. The fact that they must declare these interests does not make it any more acceptable. Privatisation is also beneficial to the later career prospects of politicians. Those who were involved in steering complex privatisation legislation can look forward to careers as non executive directors in the industries they have privatised, or as consultants to the merchant banks who invest in such industries. Alternatively, they can trade on their political contacts and join a private hedge fund, such as the Carlyle Group, its business model is based on “access capitalism”.

The recent lobbying and transparency act will further reduce our ability to hold MPs to account at election time; and it will do nothing to curtail the influence big business has on Parliament and government.

The tendency for Parliament to ignore mass movements is not unique to the current Coalition. On 15th February 2003 it is estimated two million people demonstrated in London against Tony Blair’s plan to invade Iraq. Parliament chose to ignore the largest demonstration in British history and support Blair’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq. How many of those MPs would have voted for the invasion if they knew they could be subject to an immediate recall by their electors organised through such a mass movement?

In a victory for the mass grassroots campaign against airport expansion, the incoming Coalition government promised not to support new runways in the south east. This was in contrast to the outgoing Labour government. The campaigners against a third runway at Heathrow might have thought they had finally killed of the third runway. But not long after the election, the PR and lobbying machine of the air travel industry moved into action trying to swing the debate in favour of airport expansion. It did not take long for the government to execute the quickest U-turn possible with an “independent” commission on airport expansion, its brief was skewed in favour of expansion. It remains to be seen what choice the voter opposed to expansion will have if all the main parties end up supporting this supposedly independent commission. It remains to be seen how successful big business will be in bypassing democracy. It is a strategy based on the war of attrition, it hopes to gradually wear down campaigners.

Lobbying beyond lobbying

Very often big business does not even need to bother with lobbying. Lord Browne, is a governmentadvisor to the Cabinet Office on business matters. He is also chairman of Cuadrilla, one of the main companies involved in Fracking in the UK. Some of the advisors at the Department of Energy and Climate Change are drafting key government policies on the electricity “capacity market” are seconded from companies running gas fired power stations. Or we have examples like Lord Blencathra, who is offering “consultancy services” to the Cayman Islands government, presumably to preserve its status as a tax haven.

Britain’s most powerful rotten borough

One of the achievements of the Occupy movement in London was to shine a spotlight on the highly undemocratic influence the City of London has on the UK Parliament and government. The City of London Corporation is the UK’s last remaining rotten borough; its lobbying power is institutionalised in the office of the Remembrancer. He is present in both the House of Commons and the Lords. With a budget of £3.5 million and and staff of six lawyers, his role is to ensure that no legislation threatens the privileges of the City. From this position he has direct access to all government ministers and officials involved in shaping any legislation which interests the City.

In 2008 City’s banks threatened to shut down the UK banking system if the government did not bail them out. This crisis presented the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown with the greatest opportunity to reform the City, but he blinked first and, in a panic, he shouldered UK tax payers with £500 billion of liabilities. The bailout was hailed as a great example of Browne’s leadership. He did this without any approval from Parliament. But he could have nationalised the failing banks without compensation and limited the guarantees on deposits. During the banking crisis, there was no talk of austerity from the elites who benefited from this enormous transfer of wealth from the rich to poor. But once the banking system was safely bailed out the demand for austerity from the same elites became deafening.

Whitehall centralisation = corporate power grab

The shift in the balance of power in favour of big business is also present at the local level. In the Government’s drive to expand the fracking industry, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles has made it much more difficult for local communities to object to fracking applications in their area. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove can remove elected school governors and hand over control of schools to business. And this power grab from big business is manifest all over the planning system. Whether it’s the local pub being turned into a supermarket or the proliferation of betting shops on our high street. There is little local communities can do to resist these developments through the democratic process. In addition, Parliament has recently granted the health secretary the power to close hospitals without any community consultation.

Commercial confidentiality

In the case where local communities are resisting developer land grabs, or privatisation, they are often hamstrung by the commercial confidentiality clauses our elected representatives are allowed to sign with big business. This has become a major issue for campaigners resisting corporated led “regeneration” plans like the Heygate Estate. A similar problems surrounds the Private-Public Partnership deals in the public sector.

Passive, atomised and misinformed – is how they want us

Given the state of our democracy it should not be surprising that increasing numbers of people are so disenchanted with our system of democracy that they are no longer bothering to vote as Russell Brand has pointed out. Our media and political system has conspired to create a parliamentary democracy which represents an increasingly narrow spectrum of opinion. Those of us who question the need for austerity are effectively disenfranchised when the main parties all accept this narrative.

Why the government has (and it must be stressed – thus far) been able to get away with it is another question. Passive, atomised and misinformed is not the state we are in but the way the government would like us to be. Our ability to resist has been reduced as a result of a transfer of power that has taken place over the past thirty years. This transfer of power has occurred at all levels of government and in all spheres of our life. Our power to resist both individually and collectively has been reduced.

The public have been badly mis-informed. The BBC described NHS privatisation as a “bill to give power to GPs”. The government and the media have tried hard to play one section of society suffering from austerity against another; demonising families on benefits, or whipping up a wave of hysteria about Bulgarian or Romanian immigrants. Nobody elected Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, yet people like him have power over us. The consequences of a hostile media campaign targeting any minority group can threaten someone’s physical security.

Local democracy has been emasculated as more power has been centralised in Whitehall. The recent cuts in Legal Aid disempower us because they take away our ability to protect our rights through the courts and to fight miscarriages of justice. Would the Birmingham Six have been able to establish their innocence without Legal Aid? Would we have been able to uncover the extent of police spying or corporate collusion if climate activists had not been able to defend themselves with Legal Aid?

The best way for working people to defend their conditions of employment is through a trade union. But legislation introduced since the 80s has reduced the power of trade unions to defend their members. Added to that is the huge defeats inflicted on the unions in the 80s weighs down a like a collective nightmare on the trade union movement.

And the democracy of the street, that is, our ability to protest has been whittled down as successive laws restricting public assembly have been introduced. The police have become better at containing protest through tactics such as kettling. The main objective of the police is not to “facilitate” protest but to defeat protest through a strategy of demoralisation and fear. This was clearly evident with the student protests of late 2010.

The current laws on protest makes the kind of protest witnessed recently at the Maidan in Kiev illegal if repeated in Parliament Square. How can it be that in the Ukraine the right to protest is better protected than at the “Mother of Parliaments”?

In conclusion

Our political system is increasingly unable to deal with the consequences of a social crisis it helped to create. We are facing record homelessness, while many more struggle to keep a roof over their heads, record numbers are relying on food banks to feed their families and records numbers are facing fuel poverty as energy prices rise eight time faster than wages. Since it is probably safe to assume that nobody voted to be made homeless, hungry or unemployed. It appears that the majority are not able to use the democratic process to improve, let alone protect, the basic necessities of life. Our sense of powerlessness mirrors in an opposite way the increasing power big business has over our lives. It is time we took mass action to stop this.

It was our forebears, the Levellers who first raised the demand for universal suffrage, the Chartist and the Suffragettes fought to extend the franchise by reducing the property qualification and giving women the vote. Little could they imagine the extent to which corporate power has subverted the vote for which they fought so bravely and sacrificed so much. Any movement campaigning for genuine democracy should draw inspiration from them and learn from their experience.

We want to bring alive a movement that is able to take action over the institutions that have power over us. The late Tony Benn had five questions of power. We need to demand answers from them

1. What power do you have?
2. Where did you get it from?
3. To whom are you accountable?
4. In whose interest do you exercise it?
5. How can we get rid of you?

Of these the fifth is most important. The late Tony Benn noted that those with power do not like democracy and that is why every generation must struggle to win and keep it.

Get involved!
democracyactionwg@lists.riseup.net

re-posted from http://occupylondon.org.uk/a-call-to-action-the-case-for-action-for-democracy/

28 December 2013
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

Review of Global Protests

Dear friends

In case this escaped your attention, we reviewed 843 protests occurring between January 2006 and July 2013 in 87 countries covering over 90% of world population. The paper focuses on: (i) major grievances driving world protests (ii) who is demonstrating, what protest methods they use, and who are they opposed to (iii) achievements and repression of social movements in the short term, and (iv) the main policy demands of world demonstrators. The paper calls for policy-makers to listen, whether messages are articulate or communicate only through frustration and violence.

The paper, published last September by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Office, is available here:

http://policydialogue.org/files/publications/World_Protests_2006-2013-Final.pdf

The executive summary:

http://policydialogue.org/files/publications/World_Protests_2006-2013_Executive_Summary.pdf

 We encourage distribution through websites and blogs; the executive summary and paper may be distributed without alteration with an attribution statement about the authors and their institutions and a clickable link to the original.

Best regards,

Isabel Ortiz, Sara Burke, Mohamed Berrada and Hernan Cortes

 

30 November 2013
by pa-webgroup
0 comments

UK Invitation to draw up the alternative – Peoples Charter EC

Dear Comrades and Friends
There has been a lot of interest in the Dec 7 meeting convened by the
Peoples Charter, to be held under the banner of the Peoples Assembly,
and designed to pull together a common statement on economic and
social reform to counter austerity.

Here are a brief list of points summing up the original Peoples
Charter and we invite you to send in anything which will aid the
discussion and that you would like circulated for this important
meeting.

Sincerely

The Peoples Charter EC

 
Proposed Agenda for the meeting is:  
 
(i) What initiative is about (Peoples Charter, PAAA and how to create a ‘social and economic alternative to austerity’ agenda in the run up to the Spring 2014 Re-call Conference) 
(ii) Brief introductions – why we are all there and what we are campaigning for 
(iii) Main discussion: how to make this the start of an open democratic process of working together to achieve a common, alternative agenda
 
Expectation is there will be a decent trade union rep turn out to the meeting (via the Peoples Charter network) and also a range of individuals and groups from the wider social movements.  The meeting process is quite open and it will be facilitated in a relatively participatory way. Also, the meeting is not a final closure on what’s going to be in the alternative (or out) – it is just the beginning of a process. This is why the main discussion for the session will be on the ‘how’ of what we are trying to do in terms of process, and a chance to begin getting to know one another (rather than being a big discussion on everyone’s proposed political content. However, we do want to hear about the content you would like to propose)
 
Therefore you are invited to submit short paper proposals for the austerity alternative, and these will be circulated prior to the meeting to all those. These could be on any topic from process to internationalism to Europe to tax to constitution to use of digital tech to surveillance to media ownership .. and so on
 
For more information or to send any contributions /suggestions please mail crdlondon@gmail.com 
 
You can read the existing Peoples Charter here