Sunday, 24 July 2011
Hundreds in Brighton March Against Benefit Cuts
Brighton has been at the forefront in developing a national anti-cuts movement. Large demonstrations of two thousand last year against the cuts and a massive four thousand school students demonstration against tuition fees and another massive demonstration of over five thousand by trade unionists, primarily teachers and civil servants on June 30th shows that people are not willing to accept the cuts lying down.
Brighton has also had active groups campaigning around issues of unemployment and still has one of the few campaigning unemployed centres nationally (which the national TUC ‘forgot’ to include in their Directory alongside the South-East Region of the TUC which contains no reference at all to any unemployed centres in the region). All of the recent demonstrations have been around issues of concern to trade unionists but the trade union movement has been extremely reluctant to take up the question of benefit cuts and the so-called ‘welfare reforms’.
The TUC, having got into bed with New Labour and now Ed Miliband, has decided at the very top levels not to confront the New Labour mantra over welfare ‘reform’ and benefit cuts in particular. No one was more hostile to benefit claimants than New Labour and just shortly before the General Election in May 2010, New Labour’s Green Paper on Care proposed cutting or abolishing disability benefits in particular DLA. As a first step they proposed removing DLA for pensioners under that New Labour reincarnation of the 1930’s National Government, Andy Burnham.
Brighton Benefits Campaign decided therefore to organise a specific demonstration against benefit cuts and in particular cuts to disability benefits. Along with the newly established Brighton Disabled People Against the Cuts, which held an excellent meeting last night, we held an extremely successful demonstration, led by two people in wheelchairs.
There was a local ‘campaign’ against the demonstration on the grounds that it would disrupt shopping! Led by New Labour buddy Roger French, manager of Brighton & Hove Bus Company, he argued that 10,000 bus journeys would be disrupted! An unlikely figure that assumed 150 full buses would be held up – an absurd figure. The march began with speeches at The Level. Kevin Dale from PCS, Andy Richards from UNISON, Shona from Youth Fight for Jobs, Pip Tindall from Brighton Benefits Campaign and Tony Greenstein from Brighton Unemployed Centre all spoke and messages of support were read from the local MP Caroline Lucas and Rob Jarrett, a Green councillor.
Marching to The Steine and then turning right up to the main shopping square, we were greeted with applause, honking and massive support. A young woman in a wheelchair came out of nowhere to join the other 2 disabled people leading the march. Finally Steph Powell, another Green Party councillor gave a rousing send-off at Churchill Square before people dispersed, mainly to a local mobile phone shop at the corner of Churchill Square and Western Road which has been squatted, for coffee and cake!
There was no sign of the whingers who, having nothing to say about the cuts, focussed instead on the right to protest and demonstrate. They should know that Brighton has a long history of protest and will not give it up easily. We’ve had these battles before with the Police and we have always won the right to protest without let or hindrance. And it should be said, as someone who is one of their fiercest critics, that the Police stewarding of the march was fair and without incident although I think a number of them went off to some Uncut UK demonstration and there was certainly panic as we passed the RBS and Barclays. We also had the presence of some bowler hatted lads and lasses who I suspect weren’t genuine members of the ruling class!
All in all a good day and the beginning. As benefit cuts begin to bit, in particular housing benefit cuts, we have to be in a position to respond and also to get the message out to the trade union movement that cuts in benefits affect all workers and not just claimants.
It is also noticeable that not one member of the Labour Party participated in the demonstration. That is the best answer to those who say the Labour Party has not changed.