It’s been a full-on few days of action hosted by the People’s Assembly, as it should be with the Tories busy sticking knives into each other at their annual party conference as people die from their benefit cuts, sanctions, mental health cuts, NHS cuts, housing sell off and etc. That’s what my sign would have said — or some snappier version of that — had I made one. Danielle and I did a lot, though not even close to all.
Saturday night? The Dancehouse, to see much-loved Maxine Peake (OMG Maxine Peake!) and Mark Serwotka (OMG Mark Serwotka! How much do I want to be able to join PCS? Let me count the ways…), to love for the first time comedian Barbara Nice (OMG Barbara Nice!).
Sunday was the protest of the Tory conference proper. It’s kind of funny, remembering back to the first time I ever visited Manchester, on a bus up from South London to protest Tory Party Conference in 2011. I confess I was a bit unimpressed with everything but the canals and the Peak of Peveril Pub — but I was here. Doesn’t feel it could possibly have been as long as 6 years ago. We could get closer to conference then, but they are still using those silver walls. 2011:
The anti-Brexit contingent, and ‘Boris’ on a unicorn singing busily, 2016:
We headed down Castlefields way, heard Mark Serwotka again (OMG Mark Serwotka again!) speak by chance. Then we ran into Jon and the next few speakers were yawny in the way lefty men of a certain generation can be, so we took a short break for art.
Alongside us in the Museum of Science and Industry was Nikhil Chopra in the second half of his 48-hour performance art piece, performed in front of one of the engines built in Manchester, but sent to India and used during the partition. This ink drawing, a re-imagining of passage. This sleeping and camping and being in public for 48 hours — it is what refugees undergo, isn’t it, part of the horror wrapped up in horrors of this thing, being a refugee. Always in public. Always moving. Always somewhere you don’t belong. And it challenged me in watching it, the shame of being comfortable in the face of this discomfort, in the memory of this tragedy. I lowered my eyes to give privacy to this figure on the stage, then took a picture to remember the provocative nature of this intervention because after all it is ‘art’, it is a gift and a challenge thrown at us by someone who is also not here under duress. A challenge I don’t know quite how to live up to, but I hope to. Through my work around homelessness perhaps, through struggle. I don’t know if that is enough.
That left us pensive, subdued, strange to go back out into a crowd. But it fit. As in all damn marches we stood and we stood and we waited and we waited. I didn’t get many pictures, but a few. The highlights were absolutely the drums, I enjoyed myself, and then…we left them behind.
It was all right, the march. They always are.
And then we had to find food and drink and wait and wait, because we had been promised Captain Ska and Lokey, and finally they were on and finally we danced. For me this was…amazing. The power and passion and incredible words and beats. Damn.
I hurt the next morning. First time exercising since holiday, then a march and then dancing? Shit.
Still, I went to work. And then in the evening off to Manchester Cathedral to see John McDonnell speak in conversation with Gary Younge. Because I promised Danielle. To be honest, were it just me, I would have headed straight for bed with some Horlicks. But I went. And I was glad.
First we had some workers… From the strikers at McDonalds! so amazing, I remember my minimum wage fast food /Kmart days, I know just how amazing these folks are for carrying off a strike.
RMT! Strike across the North East for passenger safety!
Careworkers! She almost had me in tears.
Communications union — our postal workers! Anxiously awaiting ballot results when he spoke, but today we know the vote is to strike.
And then, John McDonnell!
I’m sad Gary Younge didn’t get to make a speech too. But ah well, McDonnell said Labour was in full support of the workers, they would re-nationalise the trains and the post, they would fully fund the NHS and support careworkers, they would implement the living wage. I never thought, to be honest, I’d ever hear anyone in a position like that of shadow vice-chancellor ever say such things. It solved all the problems expressed earlier in one sentence.
Last time I saw him speak was in 2011 (the parallels between 2011 and 2017 are only now striking me), at the People’s Assembly in Brixton that we organised as Lambeth SOS. He was a little less formal then, but sounded just the same.
I jotted down a few notes, some sound bites and I don’t even care because they were brilliant, all in response to some really good questions.I can’t swear any of these are exact quotes, so don’t quote me.
We’re not just a party we’re a movement again … if owned by the people change becomes unstoppable…
(I am a bit skeptical about whether the old left can deal with democracy and youth and people of colour and women, but, you know, I have hope).
This is not a free market but a rigged market of the 1%.
We need to wipe out UKIP.
In response to a good question about why this change is so damn long in coming and so resisted (someone yelled out Tony Blair and we all laughed because we knew it was true), he brought it on with Gramsci — the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism (also true).
Never again should we pay for their crisis.
Education is a gift from one generation to another, not a commodity.
Then he went on about a new education service, starting with sure start, a new approach that pays teachers but also respects them, support for apprenticeships, scrap tuition fees, EMA returned, debt forgiven, support for lifelong education.
And the end? I was wondering when this would come up — the focus on climate change, on developing the economy through green tech owned by workers cooperatives, on decarbonising the economy, ending fracking. It was like the Hallelujah chorus.
A brilliant night. A night of hope. We need those, I feel privileged to have enjoyed one because it has been a very long time…
Yesterday was absolutely brilliant, was it not? I was still bouncing up and down when a handful of us arrived at the Westminster Arms to toast the day with the some of the folks from the Bakerloo RMT branch. We only heard last meeting that they’d affiliated to Lambeth SOS, so it was grand to get to know some of them better. But that’s jumping ahead, so back to the beginning.
The South London feeder was a tremendous success, for all the trials and tribulations and lack of democratic process over the final route. The police reported we had 5,000 people there, so you know that we had more. I’m going to miss people from this list because there were so many groups there, so apologies! Southwark SOS, Lewisham Anticuts Alliance, BARAC, Colacor, all the South London union branches, pensioners, teachers, No Cuts for Kids…and more. Amazing.
What else did we have? The best trojan horse I have ever seen, labeled the TUC Armed Wing. Ha! It was a stallion actually, as Ali swears it was anatomically correct. I’m just sorry, as I know you are, that I can’t provide photographic proof.
I hope you caught some of the activist art on the billboards along the way, I loved the one transformed into a giant legal bust card, (you can see the one featuring David Cameron here); some one has been doing some good work!
The decision to head over Westminster Bridge rather than Blackfriars was a really good one; we had no trouble at all, and we could see the hundreds of thousands of people slowly moving towards Hyde Park.
I was holding the other end of this Colacor (Latin American Colation Against the Cuts) banner for much of the way with a companero from the Latin American Workers’ Association, and originator of my favourite chant of the day: Esto no es marcha, esto es protesta, carajo! (roughly this is not a march, it is a protest damn it). As you can see, the banner cramped our photography style just a little, so I handed the camera off to Paris for a quick shot from on high when we joined the main march:
I’m afraid I never saw Paris again. But the crush of people was glorious and I did see and dearly love the full brass band
The fire brigade from the Isle of Wight with their drum, the folks with the Robin Hood hats, the balloons and the gorgeous banners from all over the country. Most of all I just loved the beauty and immensity of it all:
This last shot I took in the late afternoon as we were leaving after a much needed rest in Hyde Park. I can’t even remember what time it was, but it must have been getting on for 5 pm and people were still streaming into Hyde Park as you can see. We thanked our stars for taking Westminster Bridge and joining the march nearer the beginning than the end. They’re saying half a million people in total but I can’t believe it wasn’t more:
I also got up to Oxford Street for a bit, getting there just too late for UK Uncut‘s action against Topshop, but I did join the revolutionary milling about for a while. Click here to read just why Topshop is a target, and why I personally was quite happy to see this:
Central London was an amazing place this weekend, almost empty but for a handful of confused shoppers, protesters, and riot police.
Just check out the nonchalance of London towards riot police! It was immensely surreal, but surely not business as usual. I don’t think it has been business as usual for a long while, I think that is something we should congratulate ourselves on.
UK Uncut went on to occupy Fortnum and Mason’s as well. Just after I had grown tired of milling about, sadly. You can read the press release here, and a very moving eyewitness account from a new activist who was there. There’s also plenty of live video footage to contradict the reports in the press of violence and mayhem. The police caused the damage, but, you know, it’s Fortnum and Mason after all. As my favourite tweet of the day says: @simonblackwell: According to police, £15,000 worth of damage inside Fortnum & Mason. Someone knocked over a jar of olives.
I know there’ll be a lot of contradictory opinions on the violence of yesterday. For myself, the violence really at issue here is that of the government against the people. It’s in every job cut and every service lost, and the job cuts run into the tens of thousands. For those of us with personal experience of the immense pain that come from lay offs and the destruction they can cause to people’s sense of self, their families, and their communities . . . there is no way to stand by and do nothing. Dismantling the welfare state is nothing if not intensely violent.
This is why we must continue to fight tooth and nail against all of it, from the sackings of RMT reps Arwyn Thomas and Eamonn Lynch (who I met last night, cheers Eamonn), to the cuts to the NHS, to our libraries and librarians, park rangers, public housing and … well, just tell me who and what isn’t getting cut.
Join us next Thursday, March 31st, 6:30 pm at the Vida Walsh Centre in Brixton to see where we go from here. I find myself deeply inspired by yesterday’s march and all of the people I marched with. So now? Now we go back to work to save our jobs and our services.
Just got back from Camden town hall, I went with the LSE contingent because it’s our University’s borough, but showing a little solidarity from Lambeth SOS as well! I have no nice words for our Labour council at all, but Camden’s Labour council had upwards of 30 policemen waiting for their constituency. They closed down the main entrance, and police lined the concrete ramp leading to the small door labeled staff entrance.
It seemed absurd when we arrived, a line of pensioners and people in wheelchairs behind a line of metal barricades across the street from the Town Hall. They had tea and biscuits, and one carried my favourite sign: ‘Age Against the Machine’ was once again in play! We yelled ‘Save Great Croft’, one of the two day centres up for the axe. In the words of Mrs Ruse, of Cromer Street, King’s Cross (taken from a Camden Gazette article): “If they closed this centre, they would be sending us all home to die. There would be nowhere else for us to go.”
They are planning to close the centre. They were voting tonight. We chanted with the small crowd, I can’t tell you how awful it was to stand next to elders in wheelchairs across the road from the hall while the police stared at us. But that’s when the main contingent showed up from Camden United Against the Cuts. They had a bus! And several hundred people and we took over the road and got rid of the barriers.
There were attempts to break through the police line, chants of ‘Whose town hall? Our town hall.’ But there were too many of them and the doorway far too defensible.
So we took Euston Road, and held it. At no point before then did I see them allow anyone from the public into the building, and I heard that not even all of the official delegations got in. At least not until we had held the road for forty minutes or more. Maybe more, it felt like more, it was ridiculously cold and damp and my feet and hands have still not recovered. Word was that the meeting had been adjourned, postponed, dragged out, who knows. But they finally did let a handful of people in, a ploy to get us off Euston Road? Text from inside said that the balconies were empty.
And then they stopped letting people in. I laughed at, and others argued with, the police. Not much else to do given their numbers and their funny array of hats. And then I was just too cold, and so I came home, though I was feeling as though I could leap a double line of policemen in a single bound if only to be warm again. But I figured that might be slightly delusional. When I left we were still holding the road.
No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts. I’m looking forward to fighting with you all until we win. Or I get so cold I can no longer move my fingers.
Occupying Lambeth Town Hall to hold a People’s Assembly is what we did on the 23rd, and extraordinary it was too! The crowd outside was so impressive, and the noise was like nothing, absolutely nothing I have ever heard before, as the cars, trucks and buses passing all slowed down, cheering and honking to show their support.
It was tricky even getting in. And so we got fed up and took democracy into our own hands. This is what it felt like as we forced our way up the stairs and into the main council chamber after they refused to even let us into the overflow room to hear our people testifying to the council:
I’m usually the one with the camera, so it is magic to have someone else catch my face (and Ali’s!) at such a moment of happiness (photo by Guy Smallman, he’s got some great pics!). I found my face featuring heavily in the Socialist Worker article, which was ironic, but I loved that so many groups were able to come together to pull off such an incredible night.
I’m late writing this up due to exhaustion and another day of protest yesterday, and you can read the full coverage from the Guardian here. We heard this article some time after midnight, sitting in the Brixton Bar and Grill and clustered around Andy as he read it off of his phone. The victory was particularly sweet as a section of Lambeth’s Labour Council was also in the Brixton Bar and Grill, we spotted them in their suits as soon as we entered the door. Celebrating one would guess. Some words were exchanged, some hilarious dancing, but no blows. I twittered that their hangover was going to be far worse than mine, and doubtless I was right. Especially since it’s a cocktail of liquor, guilt and responsibility for carrying out this unprecedented attack on the welfare state.
Not us of course, we were celebrating a victory in the good fight, and the Guardian article was just icing. What got the most cheers upon reading was this: “Demonstrators ranging from trade unionists to pensioners occupied the chamber for more than an hour, taking their seats in what they called a ‘People’s Assembly'” because Lambeth SOS is both big and diverse and it’s a shame that the council tries to brand us otherwise. My favourite though, was “Alex Bigham, a Labour councillor, said that the meeting had been moved to an assembly room after it was disrupted by ‘quite organised protesters'”. Damn straight we are ‘quite organised’. The cuts affect up to a thousand jobs, not just people’s quality of life, but their ability to live itself. This budget will devastate both workers and those who need and deserve the services that they provide.
So a brief rundown on the assembly! Ruth presided over the voting as Mayor of Lambeth, as we voted down a budget that will destroy everything we have fought to build since World War II.
We had a number of great speakers, I can’t do them justice, and am still a bit too tired to try! But these were my favourites, demanding we save adventure playgrounds (pic also by Guy Smallman):
The People’s Assembly support them unequivocally. As we did libraries, park rangers, teachers, school crossing patrols, nurses and the NHS, the RMT (who were brilliant by the way, though we could have used their heft getting up the stairs!), students who joined us from the UCL occupation, and everyone else who makes Lambeth a great place to live. This is just one more step forward, for more info on what’s coming up or how to support, go to http://lambethsaveourservices.org/.
So a quick note on why protest Barclays Banks, and just what this is all about:
- £11.6 billion: the amount of profit Barclay’s made in 2009. They paid tax on only 1% (The Guardian)
- £6.1 billion: the profit Barclay’s declared in 2010, along with a 23% rise in the average pay of its investment banking arm, Barclays Capital (The Guardian)
- £9 million: the bonus paid to Chief Exec of Barclays, Bob Diamond, this week — more than 400 nurses earn in a year. (UKuncut)
- over £100 billion: the Bank of England estimate of the subsidies and guarantees to the banking sector in 2009, which Barclays has benefited from. (The Guardian)
How can it possibly be such an uphill battle to save thousands of jobs, frontline services, and a tradition of taking care of each other, when making Barclays (and all the rest) pay their tax could pay for it all?
So we’ll see you on Wednesday, February 23rd, 6pm at Brixton Town Hall to protest as Lambeth Council votes on a budget that will cut almost every council service, anything up to 1000 council workers, and 25% of all staff.
For more info go to the Lambeth Save Our Services Website
Several hundred people gathered in front of Brixton town hall on February 7th to protest against the budget cuts.
What are they cutting?
Almost every council service, anything up to 1000 council workers, 25% of all staff, this includes:
- The entire park ranger service
- The entire school crossing patrol service which serves 24 schools
- More cuts in Children’s Services
- Libraries budget slashed – staff cut, Nettlefold hall closed, four of nine libraries under cuts consultation
- Discretionary freedom passes for adults with mental health problems
- Regeneration schemes on housing estates
- Cuts and privatisation in adult social care
- Lambeth and Lewisham Colleges to merge – massive cuts to local education
- Reduction in highway maintenance levels and potholes
- Rent rises whilst there are less staff to keep estates safe, clean and in decent state of repair
- Maintenance of the borough’s parks, cemeteries and crematoria is to be scaled back.
- Street cleaning levels reduced
- Many cultural events scrapped
- Three out of four Public toilets to close
- Noise nuisance service
- Reduction in the Faith Engagement Programme, which helps to support events such as Holocaust Memorial Day and Peace on the Streets and other community events and projects.
- And much more. For more info see the council website (400+ pages!)
There were only 90 tickets to get into city hall last night, thus limiting democracy to 90 people only. Police hovered along our entry, as we waited in line to get into Room 8:
And that’s the last illustration I’m afraid, as I was told politely that no filming or pictures were allowed inside.
Steve Reed kicked it all off by telling us all that the evening was NOT a forum, but instead a cabinet meeting, which is held in public. They had allocated an hour of comments for all the issues up for discussion, and each speaker was requested to limit their comments to 3 minutes each. Like the cuts, the more time the council gave you, the more time they took from someone else, forgetting that the time limit, like the budget, is completely arbitrary. They tried to keep it business as usual, but that’s not quite what happened; these aren’t the times for business as usual.
First we sat and listened to the councillors report back on how the cuts would affect their various areas. They thought the national government was wrong to impose these cuts, they claimed the cuts were heavier in inner city areas, and it was particularly egregious that they should be frontloaded as they were.
They emphasized that there would be even more cuts, and a lot more pain, in the years to come.
They used words such ‘unprecedented in our lifetime’, they said the national government had declared war on the welfare state. They were being forced to cut a quarter of the workforce, up to 1,000 posts. All services were being slashed, and all this in a context where things were getting steadily worse for working people in Britain.
While they emphasized they were not happy to be presenting this budget, they presented it all the same. They emphasized that given the cutting of all services, they new that people’s primary worry would be crime, so they were increasing the number of police on the street. Fewer services, more police? It appears they’ve forgotten Brixton’s history with the police, if they ever knew it.
And then it was our turn to speak, starting with the kids from the threatened adventure playgrounds and One O’Clock Clubs. “We can’t just hang around on the streets, because the streets are very dangerous,” challenged one. “Explain to us where we can go and we will go there.” requested another. The audience cheered.
They were followed by a long line of people with one consistent message (and apologies for not capturing all the details, as they are important I know!), these cuts are wrong, they are ideologically motivated, and it is your duty as our elected officials to stand up to them. Someone emphasised they should not be selling our community’s assets, but building desperately needed housing on them. Another that bankers’ bonuses and tax evasion and avoidance should be cut, not services. The council was requested to choose a side, and Jon Rogers of Lambeth Unison compared them to the Vichy government. In fact, there was a lot of historical memory in the room, given that after World War II, with a debt immensely higher than it is today, we built the NHS and the welfare state.
Everyone acknowledged the pain, despair, and anger that these cuts would bring. That once you have lost something it is almost impossible to get it back. That these cuts will impact the minority communities above all, the most vulnerable, the women and children and elderly and disabled.
The final speaker was Kingsley Abrams, labor councillor for Vassall, who had spoken out and voted against the budget. He urged his colleagues to do the same. Steve Reed then proceeded to call him a disgrace. We demanded that he apologise. The room began chanting ‘apologise, apologise!’
And that’s when the police come in. We watched one come in from one side, and another came in behind us. Two more followed him. The chanting turned to shame, we demanded that nothing further be done until the police left the room. When we asked the policeman beside us who had invited him in, he pointed at the staff person, but that was quickly denied. The police left, they apologised to us for entering, and then the staff apologised as well.
When we saw that the council were not going to seriously consider our request we left. In another little chat with the police on our way out, Inspector Dornan mentioned our ‘infantile leftist posturing’.
There was indeed a lot of posturing, but not by the members of the community. We’re just getting started in this struggle for our communties, our homes, and our lives, and looking forward to the full council meeting on February 23rd.
For more info go to the Lambeth Save Our Services Website