Hundreds of people took to the streets of Birmingham today to celebrate the trade union movement and demonstrate against the cuts.
Mayday is the traditional workers holiday and every year Birmingham Trades Union Council (BTUC) organise a celebration. For the last 10 years, this has taken place inside, but this year working with Birmingham Against the Cuts, BTUC decided that it was time to get back onto the streets because of the savage cuts that are being implemented by the ConDem coalitions both nationally and locally.
The march gathered at Birmingham Cathedral, with banners on display from the Trades Council, Birmingham Against the Cuts, CROSSBrum, Save the Blood Service, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Resistance, Respect and others. There was also a group of protestors dressed in white in solidarity with the 145 people arrested for peacefully protesting in Fortnum and Mason on March 26th.
The march left the cathedral and went around the city centre to regather in Chamberlain Square for stalls, speakers and music – and this time we had a soundsystem so everyone could hear what was said!
David Hughes, the President of BTUC, introduced the day saying
We are returning to an era of massive cuts, massive unemployment and massive social deprivation
and giving a short background to some of the cuts and the trade union movement in Birmingham.
The Clarion Singers followed this, with stirring performances of “power in the union” and “Are we going to take it lying down?”
Graeme Horn, UNISON council wokers branch secretary spoke about the labour movement in Birmingham and reflected on past struggles against Apartheid, deportion and other wider issues that the trade union movement in Birmingham had been involved in
Mayday is a day to celebrate the fights of trade unions for workers rights and to express solidarity with workers struggles around the world
before moving on to the upcoming struggle that UNISON will be waging against the council, who are seeking to make changes to terms and conditions that will see already low paid workers, such as home carers, losing as much as 1/3rd of their pay. UNISON will be balloting through May for strike action, which if the ballot is succesful we are told will be planned to co-ordinate with other unions for a huge strike on the 30th June – we will keep you up to date on any developments there.
PCS are one of the other unions balloting for strike action on June 30th – and indeed their workers in the EHRC will be on strike on the 4th and 11th May. Sian Ruddick was there to talk about the attacks on the civil service:
We are facing attacks on our jobs, pay, pensions and services … it was the fault of the greedy bankers but we are paying for it … the sick, disabled and poorly paid”
She was followed by Albert Bore, the leader of the Labour party group in Birmingham City Council, who attacked the cuts being made by the ConDem coalition, saying that the loss of thousands of full time jobs from the council would be a disaster. He said the coalition were treating the people of Birmingham very badly and that the loss of 2 judicial reviews showed this. Thanking everyone for coming out he said:
We need more demonstrations like this to stop the Lib Dems and Tories
Eleanor from Disabled People Against the Cuts also talked about the judicial reviews, which mean that 11,000 adults in Birmingham should not have vital care withdrawn from them, and informed us that another case is forthcoming to do with housing benefit. She argued passionately that everyone needs to stand and fight together and that all workers needed to help defend disabled people from cuts which are affecting disabled people severely:
At a local level disabled people are already losing funding for care and support and together with the closure of day centres many are becoming isolated in their own homes. Social care is not free for the majority of disabled people either
With the recent attacks on disabled claimants in the press, she went on to explain what DPAC and other groups are doing – there will be a national week of action against benefit cuts and against ATOS from the 9th may (with two events in Birmingham on the 12th and 13th).
Of those tested by ATOS and found fit for work 70% who have representation and 40 % without any representation have the decision overturned on appeal, although it can take up to 12 months to reach a tribunal hearing because there are so many cases wrongly assessed.
So when you hear the papers saying how many disabled people are found fit work work, remember that the vast majority of them are in fact found to be unable to work.
Vez Kirkpatrick, a health care assistant and UNISON member spoke about the NHS, saying that the budget is increasing very slightly, but not in line with the rising costs of drugs and the additional costs produced by a population that is living for longer. She talked about how the government released news on Friday, no doubt designed to coincide with the royal wedding, that the NHS will have to find an additional 50% in efficiency savings, and how this actually means the loss of 50,000 jobs.
There will be 1,600 job cuts – 20% of staff – at the Heart of England trust, and 17% of jobs will be lost at University Hospital Birmingham – causing delays and cancellations in routine procedures, which can include things vital to quality of life such as hip replacements.
In summing up, Vez said that people need to work against the health bill currently passing through parliament and that Save the NHS West Midlands – a regional campaign group – has been set up and will launch shortly.
This bill is opposed by anyone who knows anything about health – the BMA, Doctors, Nurses, other unions in the health service, as well as user groups. Even the Lib Dems oppose the health bill
And warned that
If we make these reforms then the NHS will no longer be available to everyone in the way it is now
Speakers from the Troops Out Movement, Stop the War Coalition and Unite Against Fascism spoke about issues which the trade union movement has been involved in, with Stuart Richardson from Stop the War pointing out the extreme costs of war – each cruise missile costs £700,000 – and how even though there’s no money for services for vulnerable people, there is always money for a war somewhere.
The final two speakers were Charlie Friel, who spoke about the Connexions Strike coming up next week, and Doug Morgan from NUT who spoke about their forthcoming ballot for industrial action, which we hope will result in a strike on June 30th, co-ordinated nationally with ATL, PCS and Unite (health) and locally with Unison (council branch).
All in all a good day. With thanks to Pete Jackson from Right to Work for getting these pictures up quickly, more photos to come I’m sure, keep an eye on our facebook page, and I’ll also add links to this post, and probably more photos – or I might just make a new post on Monday or Tuesday just with photos from the event.