“The pandemic showed a raft of truths about our society. It was not the billionaires who kept our society functioning; it was the key workers, the health care workers, the truck drivers, rescue services and the shop workers.”Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary
By Sam Browse, Arise Festival
Last Saturday 10th December hundreds gathered in Conway Hall for the Arise Festival Conference ‘Solidarity Struggle Socialism’.
The day started with a discussion of ‘Britain and the world in turmoil – understanding the crisis, winning a better future’, and began with a rousing call of defiance from Jon Trickett. Addressing the packed main hall he said “when I have constituents who can’t afford to turn on the gas and the energy companies make billions, you know it’s time to fight back!” John McDonnell joined him in calling for a coordinated action to fight the Tories with Laura Smith setting the tone for the day: ‘socialists have the ideas and the solutions – and we must never stop screaming and shouting about them!’
Meanwhile in the Bertrand Russell room just down the hall, Hilary Schan, of Momentum, led discussion on one of the priority issues of the day – the right to food. Carl Walker, the Deputy leader of Worthing Council, told the session that ‘hunger is a political choice. The trauma from it is a political choice. The discourse of strivers and skivers creates relentless shame and worry’.
The session was followed by a standing room only debate on the economic alternatives to austerity 2.0, with Mick Burke (Socialist Economic Bulletin) and Professor Özlem Onaran of the University of Greenwich. Professor Onaran told the crowd ‘it’s totally correct to call for public sector pay and benefits increases at the rate of inflation. It’s a myth that this is the driver of inflation. It’s a profiteering crisis. The solution is price controls on energy, rents & food’.
Back in the main hall, participants asked questions of Dr Tony O’Brien (Keep our NHS Public), Johnbosco Nwogbo (We Own It), and Holly Turner (NHS Workers Say No!) on how best to defend our NHS from privatisation. O’Brien highlighted Tory lies on building new hospitals, creating new beds, recruiting new staff, and that the pay process is independent – ‘and they lied about the health and social care act. It’s made privatisation worse!’
The discussion took on global dimensions in the Bertrand Russell room, as Lindsay German (Stop the War), Kate Hudson (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), Heidi Chow (Debt Justice Campaign), Hugh Lanning (Labour and Palestine) and Rodrigo Toneto (the youth wing of the Brazilian Workers Party) came together to discuss what an ethical foreign policy would look like. German said that ‘while Rishi Sunak poses with new £20 million fighter planes they say they can’t afford pay rises for nurses. What would you rather your money spent on?’
Chow added, “54 countries are now in debt crisis diverting resources away from healthcare and education. The UK needs an ethical foreign policy and to champion debt cancellation. We must unite our movements to fight for a fair global economy.”
In the main hall, the debate had moved on to housing. Joined by Nabeela Mowlana (Young Labour); Eileen Short (Defend Council Housing) and Liz Cabeza (ACORN Haringey); Emma Dent Coad argued that “there is no major plan to deal with the crisis in housing safety” and that “we need to de-financialise housing and see decent, warm homes for all as a target to achieve and a right for all.”
As lunchtime came, hungry conference participants discussed their plans for taking the fight to the Tories while circulating among stalls representing a plethora of campaigns and organisations – Labour Outlook, the Morning Star, Young Labour, Cuba Solidarity, the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Left Book Club, Labour Land Campaign, Defend Council Housing, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour Briefing, Keep our NHS public, and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.
After the break, the debate continued with a discussion in the main hall with Momentum’s Hilary Schan, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s Rachel Garnham, and the author, Steve Howell, chaired by Richard Price of Labour Briefing, entitled ‘What’s next for the Labour Left?’ They rallied the room, with Schan arguing that ‘there are more organised socialists in the Labour Party than ever before – and a generation of socialists across the movement inspired by left ideas. Let’s build that movement!’
Down the hall, John Hendy KC, Mike Jackson (The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign) and Chantelle Lunt (Black Lives Matter and Kill the Bill) were discussing how we best defend our right to resist the Tory’s onslaught on people and planet. John Hendy told the room “the working class is facing the biggest catastrophe since the 1930s. People can’t keep warm, they’re hungry. That’s why people are striking. What’s the Government’s response to this? Criminalising protest and collective union action.”
They were followed with a session on one of the existential crises of our time – the climate emergency – featuring Asad Rehman (War on Want), Shaun Davies (Just Stop Oil trade union group) and Heidi Chow. Rehman was clear: “The message from COP27 is there’s no credible path to 1.5 degrees. Meanwhile, rich countries plant climate bombs: new coal, oil and gas. We must weave together our climate and working class movements. We’re fighting for nothing less than our planet.”
In the other room, we heard Zita Holbourne (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts) and Chantelle Lunt lead debate on how best to fight racism and the scapegoating of migrants.
Lunt argued that “the UK was never a “white” country… My city [Liverpool] was built from the work of migrants… When communities come together and resist deportations – there’s a power in that. We need to stand together, unify and resist!”
The final rally of the day featured contributions from across the left, labour and trade union movement, including Louise Regan (NEU), Sarah Woolley (BFAWU), Ben Chacko (Morning Star), John Finucane MP (Sinn Fein), Alex Gordon (RMT), Jess Barnard (Labour NEC), Matt Wrack (FBU), Mick Whelan (ASLEF), Nabeela Mowlana (Young Labour), Richard Burgon MP, and Holly Turner (NHS Workers Say No).
Matt Wrack told the crowd that “the pandemic showed a raft of truths about our society. It was not the billionaires who kept our society functioning; it was the key workers, the health care workers, the truck drivers, rescue services and the shop workers.”
Whelan continued: “We are not doing anyone in, we just want someone to listen – to listen to those struggling to heat their homes, to listen to those struggling and using food banks. While Tory MPs and their friend in business make themselves richer.”
Paraphrasing Pablo Neruda, Nabeela Mowlana provided a fitting quote to sum up the mood in the room, and of the whole day: “The Tories know even if they cut all the flowers, they can’t stop the coming of spring!”
Over the year ahead, the Arise – A Festival of Left Ideas team looks forward to continue bringing together left and anti-Tory resistance movements, and organising a wide-range of online and in-person events as part of building the fightback against the ruling-class offensive.
- You can follow Arise Festival on Facebook and twitter, and see what events they have coming up here; listen tp the Arise Festival podcast on Spotify; and watch all online events on YouTube.
- Support Arise Festival by donating to the 2022 fundraiser and major events bringing the left together like these can continue into the new year year and beyond.