Sunday 5 December 2010

Stoke Protests Against the Cuts

The freezing temperatures lifted briefly yesterday, but only to drizzle a light smattering of rain on the North Staffordshire metropolis. But that didn't dampen the spirits of The Potteries' first broad anti-cuts protest since the Coalition came to power. The road to the rally was, however, one fraught with every conceivable obstacle the police could contrive to place in its way.

Originally North Staffs TUC and North Staffs Against Cuts (the protest groups initiated by the trades council) had planned to march from the centre of Burslem to the centre of Hanley. This would have more or less taken the same route as the 500-strong demo in solidarity with the
Burslem 12 almost three years ago, which, if memory serves, presented zero policing issues. On this occasion, and in stark contrast to the helpful accommodation greeting last January's anti-fascist protest against the EDL's visit to Stoke, the police made plain their displeasure. Under Section 12 of the Public Order Act (which allows the police to impose conditions on processions if they "reasonably believe" there's scope for disorder, crime, and intimidation) the police initially wanted to bill the Trades Council for £1,100 policing costs before telling it a march was unacceptable. Under Section 14 of the same they threatened to serve us with a notice if we protested outside the usual venue of Hanley Town Hall. Instead we were confined to the delightful surrounds of Lichfield Street car park just opposite the bus station. I can only assume the uniformed bureaucrat making the decision saw what happened in London and feared scenes of students scaring shoppers with witty signage.

Despite the pre-match chicanery the protest was a success. About 120 people turned up to hear lots of punchy *but short* speeches and network with other anti-cuts activists, trade unionists, Trots, and the occasional Labour bod. It kicked off with a
Save Buttercups Nursery campaigner. The nursery, which is owned and subsidised by University Hospital of North Staffordshire want to close it as part of a cost-saving exercise. However, the speaker argued that hospital management hadn't even looked seriously at the alternative proposals parents had put forward. These would see it established as a going concern *without* the subsidy. It would seem the campaign has to struggle as much against bureaucratic stupidity as penny-pinching. N Staffs TUC president Jason Hill then read out a message received from local MP Tristram Hunt, who apologised for not attending but condemned the Coalition's programme and gave his backing to campaigns against the closures of threatened utilities and SureStart centres.

Local trade unionists then took turns with the mic. Colin Walton of City Unison branch gave a tub-thumping speech arguing that there are alternatives to the cuts, alternatives the Tories are simply not interested in. Jenny Harvey of the City's health branch of Unison also condemned the Tories' plans, which would lock the country into a spiral of decline. "This is not the Big Society, but the Big Business Society", she concluded. We heard from a Job Centre worker who talked about the job cuts facing her workplace, even though its use remains at historically high levels. She also talked about cuts to the HMRC workforce, which will mean many taxes will go uncollected at a time of a supposed crisis of public finance. A disabled comrade spoke about how she'd never been active before but felt she had to get stuck in as services depended on by those more vulnerable than her were threatened. A SWP-supporting student from Staffs Uni talked about the student protests and being at Millbank, but made a tool of himself by letting 'fuck' fly a couple of times. Not wise on a family-friendly event with plenty of plod in attendance, one of whom "had a word" afterwards. But nevertheless his calls for unity were welcome. Another comrade spoke with his Youth Fight for Jobs hat on about the need to link up students, young workers and the wider working class. And the event* was wrapped up by Andy Bentley of the local
Socialist Party who outlined what was happening next, beginning with a lobby outside the Civic Centre in Stoke Town this Thursday lunch time.

I thought the protest was an excellent beginning to the anti-cuts movement in Stoke. While there was some criticism of the City Council (Stoke is governed by a coalition in which Labour is the largest component) everyone present skillfully trod the tightrope of being very critical without making the Labour-trade union link
an issue that can harm unified activity. While some may have been disappointed with the numbers given the strength of protests elsewhere (for instance, where were the left-populist anti-cuts Community Voice grouping?), there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful about future prospects. Give or take, practically every usual suspect was there. So were veteran activists who've been reactivated by the cuts and the enthusiasm of the student protests. But more importantly about half were people I've never seen on any kind of action in N Staffs before, and pleasingly they ensured the TUC/NSAC stall was busy throughout the rally.

So many congratulations to the comrades who undertook the difficult and frustrating work of navigating differences within the local labour movement and dealing with the police. Saturday's rally marked an important beginning for a movement that could shape politics in Stoke-on-Trent for many years to come.

*Apologies to anyone I've missed out.


skidmarx said...

Hurrah to the Filthy Speech Movement.

Phil said...

Not really. All he did was make himself look like an arse. I doubt parents of the kids present wouldn't have been too impressed.

Neil said...

Agree with you there Phil about swearing on platforms. It should be an absolute no-no.

It really winds me up when people do it, usually under the mistaken impression it makes them seem more 'hard' and 'radical'. The SWP in particular seem to think it makes them a bit more working class although I've seen Serwotka do it on occasion. I even remember a young German comrade use the F word at the Socialism rally a few years ago, much to the visible chagrin of Taaffe who was sitting beside him. I'm told he got a severe telling off afterwards :)

The absolute worse episode I ever saw was some SWP student numptie who was speaking on the platform at some event in SOAS. He was (rightly) condemning the passivity of some SU officers but spoiled it all by saying "These people think it's their job to get into a room with management and basically suck their cocks!"

Eugh, cringe!

Phil said...

That is exactly how the comrade came across. In my experience of politics language has always been very fruity. The torrent of sweary invective Malcolm Tucker is famed for is *exactly* what it's like in the party - except we put it away in formal meetings and when we're speaking to 'normal' people. Why? Because it can alienate audiences, whether they're prone to bad language or not. But hey ho, it's the SWP, what do they know about relating to normal folk?

Mick said...

Come on Phil and Neil what makes you both experts in political action? Your are both applying authoritative [middle class, and controlling views] in your interpretations as to how good you are and therefore how bad the SWP are. Were either of you ever angry young men? Even the Poet Laureate used the F word in a poem about young people, which I have used in youth work! You both reek of elitism, the very thing these protests are supposed to be about challenging and it is the best way to split the opposition, which is just what the Coalition want you to do. I write as someone with a PHD in Trouble Making and a veteran at that. Take another look at history to see how opposition becomes fragmented and how alliances are formed. Better still scan the pages of your poncy Very Public Sociologist pages and see how often the F and other rude words are used in reader's responses to cuts articles.

Phil said...

If you think effing and blinding to an audience containing young kids is smart politics, then you're a total dumb ass.

Kevin Deegan-Hall said...

I have to agree the use of bad language shows a distinct lack of understanding of the english language and a total lack of intelligence,if you cant speak without resorting to using obsenities then dont speak at all