Building a Movement from Below: The People’s Assembly

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The People’s Assembly: Building from Below:

  • What does this really mean?
  • What are the Implications?
  • Where does Labour Stand?

By Luke Cooper on this Saturday’s People’s Assembly Against Austerity previously published here:

The People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly has resulted in a considerable bout of energetic debate on the British left, ranging from the super-supportive, to the cynically-critical, and those, on the money perhaps, who are supportively critical. But no one is seriously downplaying the size or scope of the event. With over 3,500 people set to converge on Westminster Central Hall it is clearly going to be the biggest ever gathering against austerity in Britain. It would be foolish to not see this as a big step forward in its own right. Bringing together a grand coalition of trade unionists, grassroots campaigners, socialists, Greens, pensioners, disability rights activists, and maybe a fair few regular people who want to turn their anger into action, is a big step forward for the left and shouldn’t be sniffed at.

This is a particular achievement seen in the context of divisions that have blighted the anti-cuts movement since the Tories came to power. Those of you who have not yet experienced the fractured socialist left, will be shocked to hear that campaigners against austerity have had not one, not two, but three competing anti-cuts campaigns, none of which can seriously claim to have a strong, organic relationship to grassroots organisations.

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It’s an all too familiar example of the infamous Life of Brian sketch that satirically depicts the infighting of the left. What makes that scene so farcical isn’t that people are arguing. The farce lies in how the myriad of groupuscules all have ostensibly the same ideas. In much the same way there has been barely a rizla paper to separate the competing anti-cuts campaigns politically. The People’s Assembly does create the possibility of unity, but it also poses sharply a question of how to unite in a way that maximises democracy and participation.

To kick off an argument about how to do this doesn’t mean doing yet another Life of Brian rendition. It’s not about ‘splitting’ for no good reason, or having huge rows over nothing, because debate is what the People’s Assembly should be about.

There is no shortage of things to discuss and there have been too many left wing conferences over the years when everyone says the same thing, no one dares disagree with one another, and the audience is left bored. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other constructive critics, here are three things that deserve some critical attention. The last one is the most important – what comes next and how it’s organised to maximise democratic participation – because it’s here that the opportunity to build a really powerful anti-austerity movement might be lost.

1. Unions

First off, there’s the unions. It’s excellent that the People’s Assembly has won the backing of the major public sector unions. They are an essential part of the fight against austerity. But there is no getting round the fact their existing leaderships have failed to deliver the action we need to start to the turn the tide on austerity.

When millions went on strike in November 2011 it testified to the enduring power of organised labour. But hopes that this might be a new dawn for workplace radicalism were soon dashed. The strikes were called off. And many of the union leaders who will grace the platforms of the People’s Assembly were central to delivering a rotten pension deal when there was still all to play for. The People’s Assembly will have failed the very people it is seeking to represent, if it doesn’t provide a platform for trade unionists that feel let down by leaders whose pay packets far exceed those of ordinary members and who, for this reason, don’t feel the pain of austerity.

Unison, as the biggest public sector union, has big questions to answer. Not only did it lead the retreat from the pensions fight, but, worse still, its leadership have for many years witch hunted activists out of the union on trumped up charges, with bullying, intimidation and bureaucratic measures becoming the norm. It’s a classic example of an entrenched bureaucracy not wanting an activist union and doing everything in their power to keep the membership atomised and passive.

And this at a time when the Tories are on the offensiveAs Labour MP John McDonnell has put it in admirably undiplomatic terms:

“… In order for free market policies to flourish, for wages to be held back, for privatisation to continue unopposed and for workers to be made to pay for the crisis in the economy then it is equally necessary for the organisations of the workers, our parties, our trade unions, to be made impotent. One way to do that is to clear out fighters and militants. That is what this is. Unison’s leadership are doing the bosses a favour.”

It is little wonder that many Unison activists find their blood boiling when their leaders talk the talk, as they no doubt will at the People’s Assembly, only to the very next day carrying on doing nothing to fight back. It’s right that the unions are involved, but there needs to be be a voice for the grassroots in the hall too.

2. Labour 

Secondly, the major union leaderships all have a strategy: to do everything in their power to ensure Labour wins the next election. If Labour were presenting a powerful and coherent alternative to austerity, this strategy might well look appealing. But what if – as is obviously the case – Labour have no intention of turning back the cuts and, in a stream of recent announcements, have even expressed their commitment to many of the Tory spending and welfare policies.

It’s tempting to see recent policy announcements on welfare as falling into line with Tony Blair, who back in April took a swipe at Miliband’s leadership and warned against Labour becoming a ‘party of protest’. But these announcements have been long prepared for. Labour are happy to vote against the government today, but everyday make it crystal clear they stand for austerity-lite tomorrow.

These facts pose big questions to all of us who want to see a real alternative to austerity. And its one recognised by many Labour Party supporters of the People’s Assembly. Independent columnist Owen Jones, who has gone up and down the country rallying support for Saturday’s meeting, is the first to admit that Labour has offered no alternative. He sees the Assembly as ‘giving Labour some real competition’ because ‘finally, the left is entering the ring’. Jones might sound convincing, but think it through for a moment and the logic starts to unravel.

The People’s Assembly might, hopefully, become a powerful social movement (more on which in a moment). But the Labour Party has long been unresponsive to those – remember the Iraq War when millions marched to say no to Bush and Blair’s crusade? Despite funding the party to the tune of millions, even the unions have no say over policy. But Labour is not entirely immune from pressure. Ultimately it is accountable to a working class electorate that it arrogantly takes for granted. What would start to shift Miliband and co is a party to the left of Labour eating away at their electoral support: a party doing the same to Labour as UKIP is doing to the Tories.

A debate has to take place at the assembly about Labour and the possibility of alternatives. Its one the unions aren’t keen on because it challenges the very heart of their strategy: to sit on their hands, wait for 2015 and hope for a Labour return. To go away from the Assembly having not talked about Labour, and having not had the opportunity to subject its leadership to trenchant criticism for not putting up an alternative, would be a terrible waste. This is especially so when an exciting call has been put out by filmmaker Ken Loach for a new party of the left, one that has already been signed by over 8,000 people. So, Labour has to be at the centre of the discussion. Loach, who is speaking at the Assembly, can use the platform to inspire a debate on a political alternative to the pro-austerity parties. There is far too much at stake for it to be otherwise.

3. Unity

Finally, there is the democratic deficit in how the People’s Assembly is organised that others have highlighted. A statement will be put to the Assembly that neatly side steps the first two big issues – Labour and the union leaders – and can’t be amended by conference participants.

This might seem reasonable. After all, with over 3,500 people set to turn out what if they allwanted to amend the statement? Chaos would indeed ensue.

Benefit-Justice-Campaign-BrumBut it’s not as simple as that. Imagine if the local people’s assemblies that took place all over the country had discussed the statement. Imagine too if they had been able to submit amendments that could then have been composited into the main debating points. Even then perhaps not all of them could have been taken but the most popular amendments could then have been put to a vote. The base at the bottom would have then had a genuine say about the outcome at the top.

Unfortunately, this isn’t set to happen – the statement will only be amendable by local people’s assemblies in the run up to a conference in… 2014. Not only that but it doesn’t appear that the organising group will be elected at the conference either. Despite the many workshops on excellent subjects – a refreshing difference from the day-long-rally-conference – the People’s Assembly risks being a top-down affair, when the movement we need has to be a bottom-up one.

This is intended as an entirely constructive criticism. Because at the very least it’s worth reflecting upon how this new People’s Assembly Movement – which I certainly hope is here to stay – can be organised democratically after Saturday.

A big problem with how the left in Britain does things can be summarised as ‘the cult of the next big thing’. The huge spectacle of the grand conference. The next major protest and demonstration. It is all too easy for activists on the left to jump from one thing to the next without laying down proper roots in communities.

If the People’s Assembly is to play the role that Owen Jones clearly wants it to play – a mass social movement, rooted in localities and built from the bottom up, promoting an alternative to austerity – then it needs to develop a democratic structure that grassroots groups can relate to.

There is no great mystery in how this might be organised. If the wide variety of local and national campaign groups and unions that will all be there on Saturday are able to affiliate to a People’s Assembly Movement, then they can send delegates to a conference to represent their views. The organising group can be elected by and accountable to this delegate conference. Delegation sizes can be suitably weighted from different organisations to make it appropriately democratic. Local People’s Assemblies can be convened to channel proposals into the next huge conference – which should should aim to be 10,000 strong. The People’s Assembly, with this structure, would soon be transformed from a meeting into a real movement.

It’s good that ‘building from below’ is becoming a new mantra on the left. It’s a sign of a cultural change in thinking we are only slowly coming to terms with. But it’s equally important that we start to take it more seriously. That we don’t just let it become a phrase divorced of all meaning. If the People’s Assembly kicks off a debate on what ‘building from below’ looks like in practice – as material prescriptions, and not just vague aspirations, then that will be really welcome. The People’s Assembly is already a success as a conference. The question is what comes next?

Labour Biding Time – Wisdom or Caution?

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 Labour Biding Time – Wisdom or Caution?

If we are to believe the polls, Labour has a good chance of achieving a majority at the next election.  Labour leader, Ed Miliband assures us that New Labour is history, and his Party are painfully aware that the electorate feel betrayed by The New Labour experiment.

The electorate are angry to be saddled with an extreme right-wing government, led by a Tory Party which did not get an overall majority.

The fixed term parliament is a double edged sword. It does mean that the Tories can’t decide to send a surprise Task Force off to the Falklands to boost its popularity as it did in 1982, and then call a snap election ( is it really a coincidence that it’s in the News again?) However it also means that we have to endure five full years of an extreme government which does not expect to be re-elected and so is determined to inflict as much damage on the electorate, making it doubly difficult for an incoming government.

Timing is all, many, ill-thought-out Coalition policies have had to be shelved, and it is important that Labour have the right policies and Labour don’t want to appear rushed or hasty. But lingering also gives the impression of a hesitant and fearful Party. I am sensing Labour is beginning to look stronger and more forceful in taking on the Coalition, but clear, straight talking is needed. It’s not enough to depend on the Coaltion failing, and how to counteract the government blaming the austerity and cuts on a previous government rather than the Banks? Labour must present convincing policies about how to overcome the stranglehold of the Big Six energy companies, and tax injustice.

The promise of a job guarantee for the long term unemployed on a living wage will be welcome, will lift spirits, lead to growth and recovery.

The following Big Five Policies are just a beginning, (Fabian Society), but are a good foundation on which to build.

  • A guaranteed job for everyone facing long-term unemployment, paid from falling social security rolls and some equivalent of the 1997 windfall tax on excess profits
  • A massive house building programme including a million affordable homes, funded by future rents and sales
  • Merging social care into the NHS, with health bodies commissioning community support and care, but with richer older people paying more towards the costs
  • Increased hours of free childcare to boost  employment for mothers (and some fathers), a move that might possibly pay for itself
  • High-status vocational and workplace training from 14 to pension age, with state funding for courses that boost long-term prospects in the middle of the labour market

Labour also knows it needs to reach out to the public beyond its members, and show it is listening. The “People’s Policy Forum” is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party, and it is pleasing to hear.

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It’s not enough to depend on the Coaltion failing, but how will Labour counteract the government blaming the austerity and cuts on the previous government rather than the Banks?

IPPR points out the need for Labour to re-establish its economic argument :

Labour has begun to paint a picture of what ‘One Nation Labour’, unveiled by Ed Miliband last autumn, might mean in terms of a strategic approach to running the economy that is different from both that of the current government and that of the Blair and Brown era. Economic growth, we are told, is to be achieved from the ‘middle out’ – that is, by putting more spending power in the hands of those in employment through such measures as the promotion of the living wage, enhancing the skills and thus the earning power of non-graduates, and tax cuts that benefit the less well paid.

Labour also knows it needs to reach out to the public beyond its members, and show it is listening. The “People’s Policy Forum” is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party, and it is pleasing to hear.

We will not treat the British people like fools – we want to hear what everyone has to say, says Angela Eagle.

New Statesman

This Saturday, Ed Miliband and Labour’s shadow cabinet will join nearly two thousand members of the public in Birmingham. The “People’s Policy Forum” is one of many opportunities for members of the public to shape Labour’s offer to the British people in 2015. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on the other hand have spent recent weekends addressing party faithful at spring conferences. While they are concerned with resolving internal disputes, Labour is united and looking outwards, talking to the public rather than talking to itself.

With just over two years to go until the election, people want to know what One Nation Labour offers as an alternative to this unfair and incompetent government.

This is encouraging to hear. Let us all hope that Labour biding time in formulating policies and convincing the lost voters of change is wise, and entrenched with confidence, commitment and self-belief, and not hesitation and fear about the Press – we’ve been there before.

23rd March Speech:   Ed Miliband:  One Nation Britain can prevent a lost decade

See Also:

  1. The New Statesman People’s Policy  Forum is Symbolic of a Change in the Labour Party
  2. Austerity and the Labour Party 
  3. The Fabian Society: Labour’s next State: The Big Five.
  4. IPPR Time for Labour to establish credibility 
  5. Straight Talking Labour
  6. Labour Puzzles Potential Voters about their Intent
  7. Falklands War turned Tory Fortunes

Labour Puzzles Potential Voters about their Intent

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Labour Puzzles Potential Voters about their Intent 

People everywhere reject the Bankers’ Politics of neoliberalism and look to a future of People’s Politics and a kinder and fairer society, where people matter not bankers’ vaults and spreadsheets.  People around Britain are looking for a party which really means change, and yet some are puzzled by some in the Labour Party and are hearing mixed messages from the Party. The electorate knows what the government needs to do, so why are Labour holding back? Is it the old chestnut of fear of the Press? Is Labour aiming for Aneurin Bevan’s Socialist Ideal, or will the Party settle for a Cosy Consensus?  Speak up, take courage, Labour  and push  towards a “Courageous State!”

Everyone needs a society where children can grow up in homes, attend good schools, have health care and look to full employment.

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Ed Miliband and the party must show the voters that they reject the austerity which is bringing poverty to people, and that they will be strong in opposing the parasitic, cancerous invasion of a very rich, very tiny minority of profiteers who care nothing for people’s welfare, equality or human rights.

2015 will be the biggest opportunity in seventy years for Labour, and the clock is ticking. People will come out and vote for Labour, but the electorate need convincing and it is up to Labour to speak loudly and clearly – and to present polices that will bring about real change. Many ex-Labour voters will remember how we cheered in 1997 as eighteen years of a callous,  vicious, destructive Conservative government came to an end. Many also remember how the cheering went chillingly quiet as they witnessed  a betrayal by the “New Labour”  government which continued to support a free-for-all smash-and-grab neoliberalism which Thatcher had deceptively introduced, and along with the US and Tory support led to war in Iraq. Their Party had been kidnapped.

Ed Miliband has attacked the previous Labour government and said they did not do enough for ordinary people.

He said that New Labour was “too timid in enforcing rights and responsibilities, especially at the top, and it was too sanguine about the consequences of the rampant free markets”.

He said: “By the time we left office too many of people of Britain didn’t feel as if the Labour party was open to their influence, or listening to them,” Miliband said.

“For me, the most obvious example is immigration. I bow to nobody in my celebration of the multi-ethnic, diverse nature of Britain. But high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this.

“The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election.

“We have to move on from New Labour, as well as from this Government.”

Miliband told the event in central London that if Labour wins the next general election it would have to find ways of achieving change while tackling a lingering deficit.

“One Nation Labour has learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to bring about structural change in our economy to make it work for the many, not just the few. It did not do enough to change the rules of the game that were holding our economy back.”

He said,” “We cannot have two nations divided between those who own their own homes and those who rent,” Miliband said.

“Most people who rent have responsible landlords and rental agencies. But there are too many rogue landlords and agencies either providing accommodation which is unfit or ripping off their tenants. And too many families face the doubt of a two-month notice period before being evicted.” This is very  good to hear, and is a start. It gives hope to many.

It’s not as if the country supports this government, its austerity, or ever did. The Tories knew this which is why they pushed through their first legislation for a fixed term parliament  ensuring the success of the hatchet-plan of total destruction of  the welfare state in one single term of office. In 2010, the Tories failed in their attempt to gain a majority, and many left-leaning-liberal-voters, many of them ex-Labour voters, felt doubly-betrayed as an opportunist Liberal Democrat Party propped up a government  which turned out to be even more right-wing and reactionary than Thatcher’s.

It’s not what the electorate voted for or wanted at all, so unsurprisingly  we have seen angry protests  and “Occupy”  Movements, unions taking industrial action and anger from people who have never been politically active before. Labour must stand firm against this government, and speak loudly and clearly.

The electorate also needs to believe that a future Labour government will be strong, not timid, and not buckle to the press. The electorate needs to know that Labour will bring about economic changes which will bring about a real redistribution of wealth, by tackling tax law and injustice. The electorate needs to know that it can depend on Labour bringing energy, water and transport back into democratic ownership and control.

The electorate needs to know Labour means what it says and says what it means.  Why are we receiving mixed messages from the Labour party? Why, this week have some ( exclusions here) supported the government’s Workfare programme? Quite rightly, potential voters remain puzzled about what and who Labour represents, and they will withhold their trust and confidence in a party where Blairite vestiges still remain. Stronger, clearer messages from Labour is what the electorate is hungry for. If Labour can’t do that, the voters will look elsewhere and the greatest opportunity for socialism in seventy years will be lost to theorists.  That would be a betrayal which will never, ever, be forgiven.

  • LABOUR – First and foremost, Labour must be honest about the deficit –  and  expose the lies!  Of all the lies, none is bigger than the suggestion that the national debt is the highest ever. 
  • Debt DataDeliberate confusion is created regarding the difference between national debt and deficit. Lies about privatization of the services such as NHS, education and even the police. Lies that cuts are necessary, that we are all in it together, while the rich accrue obscene wealth while trampling on the death and decay they have created. Democracy around the world is held in hostage. US lobbyists are even infiltrating the elections of police commissioners (Telegraph report)  , and many MPs hold contacts with financiers (Britain Under Siege, Think Left) . Power snatched from the people is held by the very rich and echoes the Middle Ages, a neofeudalism . The corporations control think-tanks  which decide policy, and hide their identities. Was this the intention of those who fought for the vote, for workers’ rights, and for equality?

STRAIGHT-TALKING LABOUR NEEDS TO:

Confident, courageous and compassionate, Labour must seek to pursue the policies which will change our world.

We call upon Labour to:

  1. BE TRUTHFUL ABOUT THE STRUCTURAL DEFICIT AND NATONAL DEBT.a) Structural deficit & Libor . bThe Fundamental deceit of ‘”There’s no money left.” 
  2. CONFRONT THE PARASITIC BANKING COMMUNITY Monetise or rip up the £375bn debt they’ve bought back by QE and reduce the national debt of the UK with the stroke of a key. a) Simon says: QE is the biggest confidence trick of all time  b) What is George Osborne playing at?  c) The IMF and Taking the Red Pill, Think Left 
  3. SPLIT RETAIL AND INVESTMENT BANKS PROPERLY
  4. REGAIN SOVEREIGN CONTROL OVER MONEY SUPPLY How debt leads to financial servitude 
  5. TACKLE TAX JUSTICE ONCE AND FOR ALL.
  6. WORK FOR FULL EMPLOYMENT for those that can work, maintaining a safety net for those who cannot.
  7. ENSURE A LIVING WAGE FOR ALL WORKERS
  8. FORMULATE A NEW GREEN DEAL, and EXPANSION OF RENEWABLES
  9. STOP SUBSIDIES OF FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR POWER
  10. REVERSE PRIVATISATION OF THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
  11. NATIONALISE UTILITIES, (including ENERGY  and WATER.  )
  12. NATIONALISE RAILWAYS  and REVOLUTIONISE PUBLIC TRANSPORT.
  13. BUILD HOMES FOR ALL
  14. PROVIDE AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE  – and reinstate SURESTART
  15. INTRODUCE A TRULY COMPREHENSIVE National Education Service  , and LIFELONG LEARNING
  16. PROTECT the WORK LIFE BALANCE, and ENSURE FLEXIBLE WORKING
  17. PROVIDE DIGNIFIED CARE FOR THE ELDERLY
  18. REVERSE THE CUTS ON THE VULNERABLE, SICK AND DISABLED
  19. REBUILD OUR COMMUNITIES, libraries, youth services, sports facilities, high streets and local co-ops.
  20. MAKE THE COURAGEOUS STATE  A REALITY.
  1. Aneurin Bevan’s Socialist Ideal, or the Cosy Consensus? 
  2. Richard Murphy: The Cowardly State is in Disarray, we need a Courageous Alternative
  3. Osborne and Cameron’s Big Deficit Myth
  4. Huffington Post Ed Miliband attacks New Labour – 
  5. The Fundamental Deceit of “there’s no money left”
  6. Parliament of the People
  7. Straight Talking Labour
  8. Owen Jones: Independent: Workfare Why did so many Labour MPs accept this brutal, unforgivable attack on vulnerable people?
  9. Left Futures: What was Liam Byrne playing at?

Policies Labour must adopt to address Gender Inequality.

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Women in the Uk are increasing turning to the Labour Party, aware of the hollow promises from Coalition parties (made up in 2010 MPs of 16% (Con) and 12% (LibDems), whose austerity policies have really hit women hard. If Labour are elected, there is much work to be done and it is imperative that Labour’s agenda for women is radical and Labour’s straight-talking is heard by the electorate.

Labour must fully  take on board all recommendations from the recent study from the Fawcett Society “Sex and Power in 2013, “Who Runs Britain?”

The report makes six recommendations:

–       Political parties should take immediate action to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election with a view to fielding as many women candidates from as wide a variety of backgrounds and communities as possible in winnable seats in 2015. This should include active consideration of positive action measures in selection processes.

–       In order to enable everyone concerned to develop a much better understanding of the issues, a monitoring form similar to that used in recruitment for public appointments and applications for funding should be introduced. It would be completed and submitted to returning officers by all candidates together with nomination forms at all levels of election, and the results collated and published annually. This requirement should be implemented at the 2014 English local and European elections.

–       Government should pilot a new government-wide scheme in 2014 to increase women’s presence, profile and participation in the 2015 general election and beyond. This could be done by drawing together experience from the UK and abroad which could be used to improve both the participation and the candidacy of women of all backgrounds in Britain.

–       Government, political parties and others should act to implement the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference Report published in 2010.

–       In addition to adopting the proposals for cultural change in public life contained in reports such as the Speaker’s Conference, the Councillors’ Commission, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Pathways to Politics, steps should be taken to develop a much wider set of proposals for improving the culture of both politics at all levels and the media coverage of them.

–       All organisations – public, private and third sector – should take steps to ensure that, at meetings and events, both women and men appear on platforms as speakers, and editors and broadcasters should also take responsibility for commissioning contributions from both women and men as commentators and experts. Individual citizens should be encouraged by to object to men-only platforms, panels and programmes.

Labour must also consider and implement  the following policies addressing gender inequality.

o Recognising the impact of cuts affecting women, Labour must develop policies to reverse these effects. In opposition Labour should address the issues and ensure the Coalition government is held to account for their actions.

o Implement the policy proposed by Harriet Harman that either Party Leader or Deputy Leader must be female. A balanced team of men and women make better decisions.

o Set up consultation groups in areas of deprivation inviting women to put forward suggestions, which will help improve their lives.

o Alongside the move for the Leader of the Labour Party to choose the Shadow Cabinet, it is paramount that the voice of women needs to be maintained. A minimum of 40% of the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet, should be women members; this percentage being raised to 50% over 5 years.

o Set up consultations with women within parties, workplaces, trade unions, women’s groups as to how to support them to further become involved in local decision making within local councils.

o Flexible maternity/paternity leave on full pay.

o In the workplace, ensure equal pay and conditions, including part-time workers, and a living wage to bring all low-paid workers out of poverty.

o All communities should provide good quality care and support for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill people, both helping them and relieving the burden of care from so many women.

o Continue with short listing of women candidates in selection of parliamentary candidates, until proportional and equal representation of women and men in the parliamentary Labour Party is met and maintained.

o There needs to be a reassessment of procedures and practices within local government and parliament and an investigation to ascertain how women could be included more and how they would like to become more involved in making decisions which affect them.

o Consult with women’s groups regarding issues for women, recognising women do not always engage with mainstream party political meetings, and set up workgroups with aims of addressing these issues.

o Respite for carers of one day a week to be funded.

o Playgroup Provision of free 5 hours p/w offered to every child from two years

o Nursery Education provision of free 15 hours p/w offered to every child from three years.

o Pursue universal affordable childcare policy , as proposed by Think Left.

o Amendments to the Equality Act should be reversed.

o Develop a Women’s Act that would enshrine women’s rights in policy-making and implementation.

o Increase benefit income in order to improve the lives of women living in poverty and support their families’ well-being;

o Reverse the cuts to SureStart Centres

o Women and girls must have equal access to education and training. That must include crèche facilities for parents returning to work or study, after time off to care for children. In our schools we must ensure an end to sex differentiation in the subjects offered to girl and boys.

o Improve access to education, flexible and varied methods of study and access to a life long Qualification Pathway so improving the quality of life for women and improving their employment prospects.

o Pursue an affordable housing policy so that women are not held in a poverty trap where they cannot work because of loss of housing benefits.

o Women must have the freedom to choose whether or not to have children without punishment for their choice. There must be free, safe and reliable contraception available. The access to the right to termination of pregnancy where there is agreement for two doctors should remain, within guidelines recommended by medical professionals. A woman who exercises her right to terminate her pregnancy should be offered counselling before and after the procedure. She does not do so lightly, and must be treated with respect and sensitivity.

o Safety from sexual/domestic violence. All individuals who are victimised should have access to safe rehousing if necessary.

o Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace creates misery for many women, and there should be active promotion of policies in the workplace to eradicate this.

o A 35-hour working week, and flexibility for part-time work.

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