Wigan PierWigan – the name is full of resonance. Little did we know that our meeting place, Sunshine House, was close to the old tripe shop where writer George Orwell penned his book The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937.

But Real Democracy Movement supporters who converged on the town from all around the UK weren’t looking back to the Hungry Thirties. At a teach/learn-in 24 November, they pursued a different goal: making sense of the slippery concept of neoliberalism. And, above all, exploring how a different future could be born.

The event opened with an overview of recent changes in the multiple crises of neoliberal capitalism. Even Dr Who was now concerned about working conditions in an automated future.

Paul Feldman gave a lightning introduction to the change from its neoliberal to the current illiberal form. What could real democracy look like?  How could potential threats to a Corbyn government be thwarted?

Dan McMahon explained that precarity and inequality were the “new normal” in the “punk” gig economy. He raised questions about the nature of work itself and how work could look in a Utopian society.

IWW Couriers union organiser Chris Fear contributed via video-link. He said that in October, couriers came out on the first ever national strike of gig economy workers in the UK. Deliveroo, Uber Eats, McDonalds and TGI couriers took action around the country. Chris said organisers had met with difficulties at first, but after changing their tactics in the light of the precarious conditions faced by couriers, the union grew dramatically.

After lunch in Sunshine House’s café, the meeting heard greetings from Mark Zobov, of Ukraine’s Social-Political Coalition for Democracy:

“Supporters of real democracy from the post-Soviet space are pleased to welcome you and wish you successful work on the forum! We are confident that the ideas of real democracy will triumph over the entire planet Earth and that peoples will take power into their own hands. They will set tasks for governments and monitor their implementation in such a way as to harmonise social relations and provide everyone with equal opportunities for a happy life, and self-realisation for their own and universal benefit. In order to speed up the global process of achieving real democracy, we appeal to you to initiate the creation of the International of Real Democracy or the International Movement for Real Democracy, turning this initiative on behalf of your forum to all the peoples of the world.”

Introductions by Corinna Lotz and Dan McMahon sparked a discussion about identity, culture and ideology. They drew attention to the power of Big Media and Big Tech. At the same time there is a vibrant, grassroots counter-culture. Along with the UK’s “other” history this could become a beacon for a positive vision to pull the rug out from underneath rightwing populism.

Ecosystem engineering and permaculture expert Ben DeVries demonstrated his efficient, low-cost method for rapid re-foresting.  The urgency of action against climate change was illustrated by Penny Cole, building on her contribution to Times Up for Neoliberalism. She called for a link up with Extinction Rebellion’s call for a people’s convention on Climate Change.

Proposals and actions arising from the working groups are under preparation. Watch this space!

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