march

Saturday’s TUC march showed unions are needed more than ever

Credit: Steve Cooke

 

Nick Clegg received an unusual York welcome on Saturday.

Over 3000 anti-austerity protesters marched for ‘A Better Way’ through York to greet the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference being held at the Barbican.

As the Deputy Prime Minister spoke in favour of his motion on immigration, hundreds stood outside the building – a building which York’s Lib Dem council closed while it was last in control of the authority – to vent their anger at the cuts to public services, privatisation and other policies which hit the poorest hardest. Needless to say, the marchers’ chants, boos and cries of ‘shame’ reflected this palpable and genuine rage.

It was rage at everything from the Lib Dem’s propping up the Conservatives in government, to the tuition fee betrayal (Clegg’s crocodile tears notwithstanding), the bedroom tax, the back-door sell-off of the NHS to private companies and – judging by the presence of university lecturers and their UCU union – the dismal state of higher education under this government, with course and department closures, real-terms pay cuts and increasing marketisation.

This was a feeling expressed by the many students on the march too – a bloc that reflected the more radical spectrum of the protest. York’s Socialist Students made an effigy of Nick Clegg himself, hanged off the city walls, alongside a ‘Welcome to Traitor’s Gate’ banner. A grim sight for delegates to behold, in a wealthy former-Lib Dem city where they probably expected a friendlier reception amid Labour authority unpopularity. No such luck.

The TUC-organised demo couldn’t have chosen its day to be more symbolic. Saturday marked International Women’s Day. That very morning, delegates were hit with headlines of ‘Osborne’s tax and benefits changes hit women almost four times harder than men’. Not the best way for the previously centre-left party to celebrate IWD. But who wouldn’t have predicted that the three-year freeze in child benefit would have hit women hardest? Or that the cut in the top rate of tax for millionaires mostly helps rich white men?

Speakers at the rally after the march were quick to point this out. All ten speakers were women – a figure that contrasts sharply with the Lib Dems current level of gender representation. The figure hasn’t been picked up upon, but those 10 northern speakers are more than the Lib Dem’s current number of female MPs in the whole of the UK – and certainly more than at the next election after a number of announcedfemale resignations . Most inspiringly, leading the march were strikers (almost entirely women) from Care UK in Doncaster – workers who have just finished a week-long strike against the company to which their jobs were recently handed over to by the council. They’re facing pay cuts of up to 50% in an attempt to boost profits – and they’re fighting back.

Thirty years on from the miners’ strike, it’s a reminder that unions still matter. In fact, the whole protest – amid hundreds of union flags and banners – served to prove that trade unions, in standing up for the hardest-hit by austerity, are actually more needed than ever in the face of the neoliberal onslaught that is this coalition government (and don’t think the austerity will end with Labour, either). Indeed, the TUC collected 52 full carrier bags of food at the demonstration for local food banks under strain from the weight of a cost of living crisis.

Saturday’s march showed that, with over six million members – the majority of whom are now women – and the ability to mobilise thousands in the cause of social justice, unions still pack a punch. But with just 13% of 16-24 year olds members of what are still the largest democratic civil society bodies, perhaps the biggest message was that our generation needs to get organised. Otherwise, the current austerity measures could be ‘permanent’, to use Cameron’s word.

On Sunday, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are planning to wave Clegg off as he leaves the city. Given the welcome he got, and the goodbye he’ll receive, he may well get the message that York – with its large student population alongside those hit by benefit cuts – isn’t such a big fan of the Lib Dems, after all.

Credit: Steve Cooke

Credit: Steve Cooke

‘March’ – a song for the TUC’s ‘A Future That Works’ Demonstration

There aren’t enough modern political songs. Especially not about this government. In a feeble aim to fill part of that massive gap I’ve written a song in support of the TUC march for A Future that Works, being held on the 20th October in London. The song is part of a project called ‘Make The March‘, which encourages artistic and musical work to promote the demonstration, as well as new talent (and of course opposition to austerity).

Five works will be picked out by comedian Josie Long and artists Bob and Roberta Smith, the most ‘shared’ of which will win £100. So if you think it’s any good, please share the song (even if you’re not keen on the song itself!). Half the dosh in the unlikely chance I win will be given to the Green Party, who I believe are the only serious political party to support a real alternative to austerity based on green jobs, fair taxation and an end to costly wars and nuclear weapons.

Anyway. Share it around by going to the Make The March page here and Tweeting/Facebook-ing it. Ignore the poor iPhone recording. It’s a small contribution to enraged-British-youth political music, but a contribution nonetheless. See you on the streets!

You can find out more about Make the March here.

Details for Transport from Cornwall to London’s March 26th Anti-Cuts Demo!

Transport from Cornwall to the first national anti-cuts march, the TUC-organised ‘March for the Alternative’ on the 26th March is now available for anyone to book. Most coach places are free or around £10. The major unions in Cornwall are sending up coaches, with NUT funding much of the transport at a subsidised rate.

Details for local transport are below:

To book your coach seat from Cornwall:

  • Alternatively, book a seat with Unison (priority to Unison members and their families): darc@unison.co.uk
  • Or call Unison to reserve a place: 01929 555900 (same as above)
  • Unite are also offering places from Cornwall: call 01202 294 333 or email bob.lanning@unitetheunion.org

To book your coach seat from Plymouth/ rest of Devon:

 

Coaches will be picking up people from stops around Cornwall and Devon.

The demonstration is set to be huge, with hundreds of coaches and trains booked nationwide already. Unison priorise places for members but still have places for those who aren’t in Unison. The role of all unions currently is to organise for the march so the Unite and PCS unions (along with the NUT) are all bringing down coaches from Cornwall. Most of the coaches are leaving early on the Saturday and coming back in the evening (NUT coaches will be leaving at 7pm), but there is the option to stay overnight with Unison and come back early in the morning from London.

More information on South West transport to the demo on the False Economy website.

Anti-Cuts Alliance meeting report – Cornwall

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance met for the second time on Wednesday in Truro to draw up further plans for how the group is to be run, and to discuss action for the next few weeks. The Alliance, as the name suggests, is drawing on a growing number of groups and individuals, including students, the Green Party, Labour, unions and workers. These groups are now working together to build the fight against the cuts.

The main topic of discussion was for the TUC demonstration on March the 26th, and Cornwall Anti-Cuts will be working with trade unions taking coaches up to allow for non-union members to go up. It is hoped that hundreds will be travelling from Cornwall to the demonstration, expected to be huge.

On a more local scale, we will be holding a street stall in Truro this Sunday (the 30th) to spread the message about the movement in the county, to gather signatures for an NHS anti-privasition petition and to explain the economic alternative to drastic spending cuts.

Structurally, it was agreed that we would become a ‘support’ based organisation, ie. we will encourage local union, party and community group branches to pass resolutions in support of the Alliance and if possible donate in order to continue vital and practical organising.

It was also agreed that the next meeting will (provisionally) be at 6:30pm at Truro Railway Club (next to the Train Station) on the 9th of February, though this is to be confirmed.

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If there was anything else discussed at the meeting you wish adding to this report please get in touch.

Campaigners Condemn Met Violence – What Really Happened on the 9th

[A version of this piece appeared in the Socialist Worker on the 13th December]

There is a lot to say about the demonstration in London on the 9th. It has been attacked by those on the right as a protest of ‘wanton violence’ – but that statement could easily describe the actions of the real culprits: the Metropolitan Police. This is what I saw happening on the march and in Parliament Square.

A small group of around 10 students from Cornwall headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that students here want their voices heard. We were part of the massive and growing movement defying the government and the Lib Dem’s broken promises.

Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting ‘go for it’, and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.

At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature. The vibe was good-natured, and though we did not get a chance to hear the speakers, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with immense energy.

The march itself was entirely peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting ‘they say cut back – we say fight back’, with people waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in without justification. Only then did some ‘violence’ break out, with flares lit and smoke-grenades thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. The protesters, meanwhile, resumed the positive vibe, with music playing and small groups sat in circles chatting.

On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get near Parliament itself but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fight back began.

Around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays bank. This was abandoned after police caught on and covered the area. Instead we resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement. It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – ‘break these walls between us’, and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off. The response from the demonstrators at the Met’s retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory.

Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.

Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone. Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning innocent school kids provide an insight into the attitude the London police have. One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place – the hole now uncovered and unsafe. Had he have fallen, it could have broken several of his bones.

But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing, talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or watched from a height the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.

There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.

Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, using insulting terms I won’t even go into here to describe me. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.

Our divided group left at around 7 to catch the minibus (which had been waiting two hours due to the prolonged kettling), shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have released a statement, saying the organisation ‘utterly condemns the violence inflicted on demonstrators by the police’ as shown by the large number of hospitalised protesters and personal accounts of what happened.

Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the ConDem government. There are more protests planned for the 13th to save EMA.

The Students Who Actually Caused Wednesday’s Unrest

In response to criticisms of the student demo in London on the 10th, someone has added a fantastic caption to an image of the actual students who really have ruined the futures of a generation of young people.

THESE are the students that ruined it for the rest. #demo2010… on Twitpic.

 
The Bullingdon Club – the elite club that Cameron was a member of during his uni days, was host to many upper-class students who went on to become Tory politicians. Boris Johnson is pictured here alongside the PM. During his days as a member, Cameron was frequently engaged in violent and riotous acts of debauchery and excess with his other privately-educated friends, smashing windows in Oxford and almost getting arrested on several occasions. This is only a few years after being nearly expelled from Eton for being involved in drug-taking and possibly dealing.

Cameron and his millionaire cabinet colleagues are the true cause of this unrest. The scale of public anger is likely to increase after hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost, those in need of a helping hand stigmatised as ‘scroungers’ in the Tory press and our services broken up and sold off to private consortia.

Paul Richards writes in Progress today that we should march now and vote later. With Lib Dem revolt seeming inevitable over the next few months, perhaps we will be voting sooner than we think.

Organised Action Should be Central in the Fight Against Fees

There is one simple lesson from history that we must remember in the light of the 10.10 NUS march: The Poll Tax riots were successful in getting the Poll Tax scrapped. As I pointed out in a letter to the West Briton this week, Liberal Democrat MPs absolutely must vote against the fee rise – but without constant pressure, both on the streets and in parliament, they will not do so. And Labour must also embrace the fight against the cuts; arguing over small technicalities relating to the details of the cuts will be self-defeating and only undermine the real fight that students and communities are putting up to defend education and other public services.

In Cornwall we must kick-start our own campaign. There have been union meetings in recent months in Truro, but these have amounted to relatively nothing in terms of action. On the other hand, yesterday’s student march must be the beginning of something broader. We cannot let our anger just fizzle away – it must, and will be, continually revitalised over the coming months as the full impact of the cuts is realised, and the fee rise plans are completely uncovered. The front page of The Socialist this week was a call to arms for students – ‘We won’t pay’.

Yesterday’s march was a manifestation of that rallying cry. How the left react to the small-scale violence of yesterday’s NUS march in London is critical to how we deal with the cuts and rise in tuition fees. The occupation of Tory HQ was indeed radical, but the smashing of a few windows and some furniture thrown does not justify the right-wing press’ outrage that seems to equate damaging property in political dissent with wide-scale carnage and murder. The actions of the few at the Millbank offices was ‘irresponsible’ as some UCU lecturers pointed out earlier – but, as they go on to say, it did much more to raise awareness of the unjust fee rises than the 50,000 others marching elsewhere in London. And no one can doubt that it must have left Tory MPs quaking in their boots – perhaps it may even persuade them to think again about what they are inflicting on this nation’s youth.

I repeat what others are saying: this is only the beginning. The beginning of a mass movement for investment, not cuts. For universal education, not elitism. And most of all – for putting people before profit.

Manchester students in occupation | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation.

Student Demo-lition, Red Pepper