Town hall protests reach crescendo

by Daphne Liddle

AS LOCAL authorities throughout the country meet to debate and implement the swingeing cuts being imposed by the Con-Dem Coalition, so protesters against the cuts are besieging their town halls in growing numbers.

Several town halls have been invaded by angry protesters and many councils have refused to admit the public.

A handful of Labour councillors have made principled stands by refusing to endorse the cut. In Hackney six councillors signed a joint statement against the cuts, which was published in a local tabloid paper by Hackney Unites — a diverse coalition of Hackney-based groups and individuals who have come together to challenge social exclusion and promote social justice.

Barry Buitekant, Michelle Gregory, Linda Kelly, Deniz Oguzkanli, Ian Rathbone and Patrick Vernon all said they had to speak out or their silence would be taken for agreement with the cuts.

Their statement accused the Coalition of “attacking the fabric of a civilised society” and touched on the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance, student fees, housing and health.

In Lambeth just one Labour councillor, Kingsley Abrams, had the courage and principles to make such a stand. And he was immediately suspended from the Labour group for doing so but continues to fight as an independent Labour councillor.

And last Wednesday evening while the council was deciding what cuts to make, he was standing outside with an army of angry protesters who did succeed briefly in storming the building.

He has the support of his union, Unite, and is standing for election to its executive committee.

As Lambeth council was agreeing to implement the cuts, Abrams was outside the town hall among an army of angry protesters. He quoted his former joint general secretary, Tony Woodley, who had said: “You’ve got to fight — that way you have some chance of winning. If you don’t fight you’re beaten before you start.”

Abrams said: “We can’t just roll over and let it happen”. And he spoke of Vassal ward in the heart of Brixton, which he represents, and its deprivation and desperate need for more facilities for children and the elderly — not cuts.

Meanwhile mass protests, rallies and marches go on: Cardiff (5th March), Manchester (5th March), Hampshire (9th March), Bexley and Greenwich (10th March), Northampton (12th March) and many, many more. Many places have seen several local protests and numbers taking part are growing.

There will also be a march to Labour’s Local government conference on 5th March 2011 — assemble at 11am, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, Southwark London, SE11.

They are all building pressure for the big TUC demonstration on 26th March.

But the question is what then? This movement must continue as the cuts will continue to create hardship and misery for millions. We must be planning now to organise and sustain this movement until it succeeds in throwing out this Con-Dem Coalition.