On Saturday, 4,000 people gathered in Westminster Central Hall, London, to organize against austerity. Organisers are now creating Britain's largest movement against government policy since the Stop The War coalition led two million protesters to march through London in 2003 against the war in Iraq.

The People's Assembly, a broad coalition of unions and leftist political groups, has spent the past several months preparing itself for a campaign to force David Cameron's austerity program into the spotlight, and to resist it in every city. They had their largest gathering yet on Saturday, when over 4,000 people met in central London to discuss the dismantling of the welfare state and how to protect it from the conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Several bruising coalition policies have been particularly punishing to poor workers, the disabled, and the unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed have been forced into the controversial 'Workfare' program, which forces an unemployed person to work for their weekly benefit (the equivalent of a single day's pay at minimum wage) or face having it cut. This policy has been to the immense benefit of dozens large employers such as Tesco and Asda, who have fired thousands of staff and replaced them with the unconsenting Workfare participants because it circumvents the legal restraint to pay a minimum wage, thus creating more unemployed and undermining the rights of all workers.

Meanwhile government contractors Atos have taken taxpayer money to find thousands of severely disabled unemployed people 'fit for work' without the assessment of qualified medical professionals, and weekly harassment to prove to officials in person that they have not miraculously been cured in the intervening seven days. Another highly controversial policy has been the 'bedroom tax,' which although not a formal tax penalizes social housing residents with charges worth over $1000 a year for having a spare room in their home. The policy, which will force thousands of families to become homeless, is an attempt by the government to force 660,000 working-age tenants into single occupancy residencies. There are currently 86,000 families in direct and urgent need to occupy a one-bedroom house under the new rules, with more to follow, when there are only 33,000 such residences available.

Leaders of Britain's most powerful unions leading left figures, who have been expressing increasing frustration at the Labour party, have spoken at the People's Assembly in London and other cities to give a voice to members of the British public outside of the electoral system, which many consider to be broken. The People's Assembly has organized events and set up campaign groups in several cities across the country, after author and columnist Owen Jones teamed up with comedian and fellow columnist Mark Steel went on the road to boost local campaigns and set up People's Assemblies in most of the UK's major cities. Contributions came in from local campaigners and chosen representative speakers, while Jones and Steel gave rousing speeches to help define what the People's Assembly seeks to achieve.

Owen Jones began by pointing out that “there are 45 people chasing each job,” a fact that disputes the government's rationale regarding Workfare that unemployment is caused by laziness. “We're here for the half a million people who are dependent on the only booming industry in this country: food banks. We're here for supermarket workers and call centre workers, lying in bed at night, thinking 'I have to choose between heating my home and feeding my kids.' We're here for disabled people stripped of the support they desperately need.” Jones called for full nationalization of the debt-ridden banks that caused the financial crash, called for tax evaders to be punished, and ended his speech with: “Let's build a new Britain. Not a Britain for bankers and bully-boys...we'll build a Britain in the interests of those who toil and struggle.”

Mark Steel's speech took a different tone, filled with a calculated sarcasm that targeted the absurdity of Cameron's austerity. To much laughter, Steel said “the government is running the country with this idea that there is so much debt now, debt, debt, debt, we've got to get all the debt back, and there's clearly only one group that's got all the money that we could get the debt back from, and it's the poor.” He added, “I've never studied any economics but it seems to me that in mainstream economics now, the first lesson seems to be that the poor are richer than the rich. And not only that, they're the ones that caused the banking crisis!” On the specific cruelties of the government's logic, Steel said “it just makes perfect sense that these bastards who've been robbing us have their trolleys taken off them, and they have their schools shut down, and that they can't have a bedroom that happens to be on the end of their house.”

The draft statement of the People's Assembly reads that “alternatives exist” and states that “privatization can be reversed and common ownership embraced. A living wage can begin to combat poverty. Strong trade unions can help redistribute profit. The vast wealth held by corporations and the trillions held by the super rich in tax havens can be tapped. We are fighting for an alternative future for this generation and for those that come after us.” This statement reads as a renewed call for the old spirit of Labour's union roots, to challenge the neoliberal project that has presided over four decades of decreased wages, extortionate house prices and rent, the destruction of productive industries and the ever-increasing enslavement of the economy to a volatile and insatiable banking industry.

America's left, which has experienced over four decades the loss of the Democrat party to Wall Street and the security industrial complex, could very well understand the British left, who was betrayed not once but twice. Tony Blair struck the first blow by abolishing Clause IV, the famed clause of the Labour party's 1918 manifesto that sought “to secure for the workers...the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” Ever since then Labour has been seen as a neoliberal centrist party, with party grandees trotting out phrases like “we are all Thatcherites now.”

The second betrayal came in 2010, when the liberal Democrat party stormed ahead in a general election between unreconstructed Thatcherite conservatives and ideologically neutered New Labour stooges. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, made numerous election promises such as the abolition of university tuition fees, the cutting of Value Added Tax (VAT) and the protection of the National Health Service (NHS). He also campaigned vigorously on behalf of citizens' civil liberties concerns. But after joining the government, Clegg has instead helped the conservatives to triple tuition fees, raise VAT to 20% and privatize the NHS. Furthermore he has helped back up the neoliberal policy of austerity, an agenda which would seriously falter were he to withdraw his support. Nick Clegg causes more anger to many on the left than the conservatives, who are presumed to carry out their right-wing agenda.

After Saturday's event, future plans for civil disobedience were discussed and agreed upon by the members of the People's Assembly. Alongside local struggles against cuts and privatizations, it has been suggested that there be a protest of the Conservative party conference in September, as well as “a day of civil disobedience” on November 5 (historically, Guy Fawkes Day). As to their intentions in the long term, Mark Steel's speech ended with hopeful imagination that “future generations will be able to look back on austerity and the period of austerity and think 'what the bloody hell did those maniacs think they were doing?'”