We are seeing a rise in mass activism. Revolt is in the air, famers are driving their tractors through London, there are mass turnouts for Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion (XR). Combative campaigns can win real victories, and such wins can be infectious. The government’s legitimacy is shot to pieces by its incompetent and corrupt handling of Covid-19.
Yet we have no real organised opposition. Labour nationally should be leading popular outrage, not putting the brakes on action. The Johnson clique, dangerously incompetent, with self-serving deals and backhanders, should be an open goal for protest. But a Sir Starmer-led Labour is not combat-ready. With Labour’s leadership largely absent from the field, a new force – People’s Opposition – hopes to step into the gap and coordinate that necessary fight, uniting all active forces to muster into a broad non-parliamentary movement, a hub to focus solidarity. An attempt to create an effective team.
PICTURE: Korie Cull/UNSPLASH
And that fight, bizarrely, starts in Hastings. It must be something about the waters. People’s Opposition Rachel Lever says: “People say birds can’t fly sideways. Yet everybody in Hastings knows that’s exactly what gulls can do. This is an attempt to fly sideways.”
Farmers recently brought their tractors into central London. It was about the Agriculture Bill, essentially against deregulation and the lowering of food standards. They know they are going to be undercut by cheap products coming from the States and elsewhere. It’s likely that every single last man and woman of them voted Tory, yet here they are taking direct action against the government. This is action that you’d more likely expect in Paris or Athens than on the streets of London.
The Black Lives Matter protests show what an effective level of organising can achieve. You can have a mass action that is successful, or in some sense starts to be successful. The same with XR’s actions here in Hastings and nationally.
People’s Opposition will be independent of parties and free of electoral pressures or hidden agendas. A non-party umbrella movement to stand up to Johnson, in the streets and workplaces and media, to expose government lies and secrets and to demand a better way. It’s about building a movement that’s non-electoral and that is focussed on action and solidarity – creative actions.
In similar ways, and in a wide-ranging discussion with Rachel, the 1984 Miners’ Strike solidarity, Grunwick, Fleet Street, the Iraq invasion, anti-BP protests and many other actions were mentioned. People’s Opposition aspire to be the means of getting more connections between different people working in different areas.
People say birds can’t fly sideways. Yet everybody in Hastings knows that’s exactly what gulls can do. This is an attempt to fly sideways
The group want people involved in deciding priorities. With Covid, the people on the front line have got their hands full, they’re doing the job that the government should have done. People’s Opposition demand a full public enquiry with criminal charges. They argue we need a people’s indictment on the government for the 25 thousand deaths in the weeks that they delayed before the lockdown. Those people’s relatives are rightly furious and traumatised, there has been a petition and talk of a hunger strike. Rachel says, “That anger is not going away. They are people who have lost relatives. That is powerful.”
There are also the backhanders, the contracts – for example for PPE going to a confectionary company. This kind of corruption leads quite literally to people dying. The virus has shown that there’s clearly one rule for them and one rule for us, and nobody is articulating that anger that’s widespread.
People’s Opposition explain that they are rank and file activists, starting out from Hastings, spanning parties, campaigns, publications and groups connecting the issues featured in the 10-point plan, set up as a starting point. Some work locally, others on a national or international stage.
XR protest on the pier
PICTURE: Dave Young
Many have met in the Labour Party, but Hastings (and its Labour Party too) is a bit of a melting pot of different ideas and causes interacting and supporting each other’s work. Rachel explains: “A few of us have been talking since the New Year about the need for a national opposition movement to take on the Tories, which can also incorporate some of the energies spilling out from the Labour Party since its takeover and change of direction.”
She continues, “In the span of half a year, we have not seen anything else like People’s Opposition. If we do, we will happily look at joining forces. Meanwhile we welcome individuals, publications and organisations to like, share, endorse, ask questions, recommend it to their members, get in touch and think how they might use this broader platform to call up solidarity and spread their issues wider.”
The People’s Opposition approach is to have a conversation with people to see what’s helpful in practice. The focus is to get it out of parliament – this is not about ‘her majesty’s loyal opposition’; it is about the people, not the politicians. The ambition is for a national opposition that’s as powerful in its way as national government.
• Visit People’s Opposition on Facebook to find out more.
1. The right to life has no price: not the ‘economy’, not austerity, profits or financial targets.
2. Respect every human regardless of place of birth. Full redress for racist injustices. Welcome refugees irrespective of their ‘input’.
3. No deregulation of workplace, environ-mental safety and food standards.
4. Rebuild trade union and workplace power for real, secure jobs with a living wage for all. Support precarious workers challenging the gig economy in new ways.
5. A safe, healthy planet at peace. Support the UN call for a global ceasefire and world free of nuclear weapons. Divest from fossil fuels, punish eco-criminals and support those standing up to them to save their lands, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network. No return to pre-pandemic carbon usage.
6. Honour our debt to the ‘Global South’: we have over-used their resources, leaving them with rising seas and encroaching deserts.
7. Uphold, respect and extend international law for human rights, equalities and freedoms, free speech, free press and legal rights; zero tolerance of genocide and apartheid. No dealings with dictators.
8. Take back our national treasure (health service, homes, education, public land, control of services and benefits) from multinational giants. Expose and end lucrative contracts arranged by public figures for their family and business connections.
9. Truth and Justice: a public inquiry into handling of the Covid pandemic; criminal penalties for profiteering.
10. Solidarity of the People’s Opposition with those in struggle for these and related demands.
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