Report from Build the Alternative, Broaden the Struggle public meeting

Last night we held a meeting to build towards the Liberal Democrat conference demonstration on the 18th September.  A full room heard speakers talking about the anti-cuts and anti-austerity struggle that we are engaged in, around 150 attended the meeting – more than at previous ones.

Mary Pearson chaired the meeting, and cheekily used her position at the start of the meeting to say how she had traveled through Aston, and was sad to see the closed connexions office there, now being advertised for rent.  She then introduced the first speaker, the general secretary of the RMT, Bob Crow

Anyone who has heard Bob speak know that he talks from the heart and doesn’t take any prisoners, and he was on his usual form tonight.  Talking about growing up, he said he thought public services were just there:

I never realised it took an entire 70-80 years of struggle to create the welfare state until they started to dismantle it

In a theme that was also picked up by other speakers, Bob talked about soldiers returning from World War 1 and 2, demanding better conditions.  He said that after WW2, soldiers came back were no longer afraid of the bosses – they’d defeated Hitler, and could demand better conditions.  They demanded the welfare state, and they got it.  However, now they are trying to take it all away.

He talked about how if there is not enough work around, that it is wrong to be telling people to work for longer – any job being done by a 67, 68 year old is one that could be done by an 18,19 year old.  He argued that we should spread out the work, by reducing the working week without loss of pay, increasing holidays and staggering retirement (so that at say 62 you’d work 4 days a week, at 64, 2 days).

Having spoken about what is going on, he then talked about what we can do for it.  Speaking of the trade union movement he said:

If the trade union movement is dead there was a whole lot of lively corpses on the streets on March 26th

Bob said that we need a nationwide battle, that it is our duty to mobilise every group to support workers in struggle.  He said that PCS have announced they will strike over pensions in November, and called for union members to take industrial action alongside PCS, or if they couldn’t take industrial action, to support picket lines by visiting them or donating money to strike funds.

The next speaker was Mike Beal (and I hope I’ve spelt his name right!) who works for Oxford Youth Services.  He told us of the destruction of the youth services in Oxfordshire:

As of 1st September there will be no youth service in Oxford

Youth workers are being moved to a new service which will be targeted intervention, and not able to provide the same generally available services as are currently in place.

They then talked about how they balloted for industrial action and got a 93% vote in favour of it.  This ballot happened a few days before the riots, and suddenly there was a lot of media attention on them, because these services cover David Cameron’s constituency.  They said that when the media were talking to Cameron about the riots, he ignored the closure of youth services in his own constituency.

Having heard from a couple of national speakers from the platform, we turned our attention to local speakers.
Becca Kirkpatrick, who works in the Blood service was next to speak, about the NHS reform bill that has just passed in the commons, and how the fight has been demoralising, but that she had some good news.  Unison branches around the city have got together and will be calling a huge meeting of its members and the public to talk about the health bill and how it will affect people, and to learn what people’s main concerns are so they can campaign on it.  She said that they were looking at holding this in a football stadium, which is how big a meeting they think they can get together.

Following Becca, Graeme Horn from Birmingham Unison spoke about their dispute with the council over changes to pay and conditions. Graeme announced that Unison will strike on the 21st September, the last day of the Liberal Democrat conference. We have posted here about changes to the contract, and at the meeting Graeme gave three examples of pay cuts. Mrs S, currently on around £14,000/year will lost £1,780 (12%); Mrs B, on 19k, will lose £3,662.40 – as Graeme said, do you know anyone who can take a three thousand pound pay cut? His final example was someone who will lose 30% of their pay – taking a whopping £4,453.35 pay cut from a £14,621.59 salary.
In addition to pay cuts, council workers will also face changes to conditions. The new contract means that they will have to work anywhere in the city, doing any job on their pay grade, and working any hours. This means someone who took a job working weekdays in their local area could be told to work evenings and weekends on the other side of the city.
Graeme said this is a moral outrage, and called on everyone to support their council workers. He said that workers are not taking this action lightly, that many cannot really afford to lose the days pay for a strike – but that the prospect of this new contract is far worse.
Please show your support for our council workers when they strike. Hopefully Unison will be joined by GMB, Unite and UCATT members who are being balloted at the moment for industrial action.

The meeting took a break from platform speakers to take speakers from the floor. I missed some of their names.. if you recognise yourself here, please comment and I’ll add your name in.
The first speaker talked about the disgraceful state of social housing in this country, and a BBC news report from earlier that day which had shown shacks in the back gardens of housing in Newham.
The second speaker called for nationalisation, saying that there is plenty of wealth but we need to take control of it. This is a vast oversimplification of what this speaker was arguing, but I only managed to write that bit down!
Matt, a university worker, reminded us of the Lib Dem broken pledge on tuition fees, and called for everyone to join the demonstration at their conference in Birmingham on the 18th, and also to go to the Tory party conference demonstration on 2nd October in Manchester.
Stuart then spoke about how the government is able to find the money to pay for war, and mentioned the disgraceful actions of the British army in Iraq, concerning Baha Moussa
Next up was a worker from Sparkhill job centre, who said he had been pleased to hear on the radio that he would be on strike in November (PCS union).
The next person said that we should not mix our words, that we are in a class war, and we have to fight on our terms not their terms. I think he talked about how soldiers returning from World War 2 to find their families homeless squatted buildings in Mayfair, and that this caused the police a problem, as the soldiers still had their guns! (This may have been someone else – I remember the story being told, but for some reason didn’t write it down).
Liz said it is not enough to fight against cuts, we must also fight for a better society – we should not be begging for a crumb, we should demand full employment.

Following this group of speakers from the floor there were more local speakers. Charlie Friel a Unison shop steward at Connexions talked about their fight to keep a careers service for young people in Birmingham. Picking up on Mary Pearson’s reference to the Aston office, he said that the Erdington office is now a loan shark moneylending shop.
He told us that the first office to close was in Handsworth, an area with 10% unemployment, and that Erdington has one of the highest level of unemployment of any ward in the UK. Youth unemployment is 1 in 5, so they are closing services that help young people to find work.
Additionally, schools will now have to pay for careers advice services out of their own (shrinking) budget.

The attacks on Connexions are just part of a war on young people. The closure of youth services, scrapping EMA and replacing it with a smaller discretionary fund, reducing FE and HE places and increasing tuition fees

He mentioned that Connexions workers, who have staved off compulsory redundancy through strike action, are also facing the contract changes talked about by Graeme Horn, and will be on strike on the 21st September. He called for a general strike to “bring these bastards down” (and was reprimanded by our Chair, Mary, for swearing. She also revealed that Charlie swears on facebook! disgraceful ;))

Sarah Barton from the Bournville Academy Campaign followed on from Charlie, talking about their fight to stop Bournville school becoming an academy. She said that the school will become an academy on January 1st, despite a lack of consultation on the decision. The school is claiming that no decision has been made, by they have applied and been accepted for academy status. The school have said it is a choice between becoming an academy and the unknown. Sarah hopes for action from the staff who are opposed to academy status, and thanked both Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts and the Alliance Against Birmingham Academies for their support. If you are a parent at the school, you can get involved with this campaign by joining them on Digital Democracy, or on twitter (@HOBVS), or by joining their facebook group. If all these fail, do not hesitate to contact us and we’ll put you in touch.

There then followed an interlude for our treasurer, Pete, to make an appeal for funds. Birmingham Against the Cuts is funded entirely by donations, and this meeting cost over £300 to put on. If you can donate money to us, to help us to produce leaflets, run demonstrations and meetings and generally campaign, it would be greatly appreciated. You can make a one off donation by direct bank transfer, paypal or cheque or even better would be to set up a standing order for just a couple of pounds each month. Please see our donate page for full details on how to do this.

After this appeal, we returned to the platform for more national issue speakers.
Sam Brackenberry from DPAC spoke about the challenges disabled people are facing. He spoke passionately and from the heart about the situation that he and others find themselves in. He began by mentioning how the chair of ATOS – an IT consultancy company that is employed by the government to carry out “work capability assessments” (WCAs) to see if those claiming disabled benefits can work – is now on the board of the Paralympics. This appointment has incensed disability rights campaigners because of the disgraceful way in which ATOS handle WCAs. Sam told us of 5 people who had committed suicide because of the pressure and stress caused by the re-assessment process, and how many people found their benefits cut off or reduced because of a decision that would be overturned on appeal. As we have previously reported, 40% of people who appeal their decision have the decision overturned – a figure that rises to 70% if they have representation.
ATOS are paid around £100m each year to carry out WCAs. The appeals cost an additional £30m-£40m.
Sam spoke of the attack on disabled people:

All I want is a roof over my head and food in my belly but they don’t want disabled people in our community … they are decimating everything. It’s not about whether I win or lose, it’s about whether I live or die

Sam said that if his benefits get taken away, he will lose his carer and that would mean that he might as well be on the street again. Sam is in a wheelchair and has poor circulation that means that he must “put his feet up” a few times a day or his feet will bleed. He said that he would love to have a job, but that it is difficult to find an employer who is able to give him work that fits with the needs of his disability.
There is a national day of action for disability benefit claimants against ATOS on September 30th. If you would like to get involved with a demonstration in Birmingham, please contact us and we will put you in touch with activists, as Sam said:

If you don’t like these bastards, get up and do something … because by the time they are done you won’t have anything

Godfrey Webster then spoke briefly about the international and European situation, and called for people to attend the Coalition of Resistance European conference on the 1st October, before going to the Tory conference demo on the 2nd.

Our final platform speakers were Julie Sherry from Right to Work (she replaced Paul Brandon, who is ill) and Jody McIntyre
Julie spoke widely about the austerity measures, saying that the government is ideologically driven and using the recession as an opportunity to dismantle the welfare system. Speaking of the scrapping of EMA, cuts to youth services of all kinds and the hike in tuition fees, Julie said

what future is there for people of my generation and younger?

She called for everyone to fight back, and said that there were 3 things that had given her hope – the students at the end of 2010, fighting back against attacks on education, and showing that there is a huge level of politicisation amongst young people. Secondly the half million people marching for the alternative at the TUC demonstration in March – the largest ever mobilisation by trade unions. Thirdly was the mass strike on 30th June.
Julie called for an all out mobilisation for the Liberal Democrat and Tory conference marches and for strike action in November.

Jody McIntyre was our final speaker. He said he had been asked here to talk about the fightback against austerity, but that he wanted to raise the international situation as part of that, because our international policies form part of the same mindset that have brought about austerity measures, and that anti-imperialism and anti-austerity are fundamentally linked.
Jody said that we should fight back

because we refuse to accept the necessity of punishing the most vulnerable sections of society for a problem caused by the most elite sections of society

His speech linked our fight against cuts, and for a better deal for working class people in this country, to the fight against imperialism and for a better deal for people all over the world. He said our state is “driven on the plundering of resources from across the world” and that this is a mindset which needs to be challenged.

As Mary wrapped up the meeting, a blogger (@PoliticsInBrum on twitter) asked to speak, in order to bring to the attention of the meeting a conference which is being held to help organisations to maximise their profits from public sector work. This conference is open to both public and private sector organisations.

Mary finished off by thoroughly embarrassing me, thanking me for my work on the website, and I shall return the favour by thanking her for chairing this meeting fantastically, and with grace and humour.

All in all I thought this was an excellent meeting, with many speakers talking about local and national issues. My thought is that the format of this meeting – with a small number of national speakers on the platform, a selection of local speakers and a couple of slots giving sufficient time for other speakers from the floor, was a much better format that previous meetings where a slate of speakers have talked, leaving whatever time is available for people to be called from the floor.
Please do comment here with your thoughts about the meeting, and its format, and also if you wanted to speak from the floor but didn’t.

I should also say that Jack Dromey MP sent his apologies for being unable to attend the meeting as planned.
All photos from the meeting in the post are (c) Geoff Dexter-Sherbourne publications, with thanks to Geoff as always.

Now we must focus on the demonstration on the 18th September. We have leafleting sessions every morning from 7:45 am and afternoon from 4:30pm next week. These will be held in the city centre, meet at the Palisades ramp. We will also be holding stalls in the city centre, at football matches, ArtsFest and Chainmakers over the coming weekends. Please contact us at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com if you can help with these activities to get full location/time details, or just turn up to the weekday leafleting sessions

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Report from Build the Alternative, Broaden the Struggle public meeting

  1. Pingback: Birmingham Against Cuts builds support ahead of Lib Dem March on 18th September » DPAC

  2. Great detailed report of a good meeting. Just to point out I am not a nurse!! I just pack things into boxes 🙂

  3. Hi Becca,
    Thanks for correcting me, I’ve changed the article 🙂

  4. Pingback: It’s letter writing time! | Birmingham Against The Cuts

  5. Mary Pearson

    Sorry I’m late commenting here. It was a brilliant meeting – The contributions of all the speakers – local & national, platform & floor – were excellent and worthwhile. I know it’s not good to have favourites ( my A level in Catholic guilt is now overwhelming me now!) but I loved Jodi’s contribution particularly when he said “we should fight back because we refuse to accept the necessity of punishing the most vulnerable sections of society for a problem caused by the most elite sections of society”. Brilliant! Profound!
    AND Tom you do do a brilliant job AND Charlie’s swearing on facebook is outrageous! In solidarity. Mary x

  6. Mary Pearson

    Just realised I used the word Brilliant 3 times in the abouve short paragraph! I need a Thesaurus!

  7. Pingback: National Day of Action Against ATOS – Friday 30th Sept | Birmingham Against The Cuts

  8. Pingback: Birmingham – Day of Action Against ATOS – 30/9/11 « National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts

  9. Pingback: Why you should be joining the anti-ATOS day of action on Friday « Brum Protestor Rants

  10. Pingback: Photos and report from todays Action Against ATOS | Birmingham Against The Cuts

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