Newport in South Wales is a city already facing up to the bleak consequences of Tory cuts. Two weeks ago, the government announced the closure of the Passport Office there with the loss of 300 jobs.
This would have a devastating effect on the city and the surrounding area, which have already suffered from the vicious policies of the last Tory government—and New Labour’s failure to reverse them.
But the Tories’ Passport Office plans are facing resistance. The workers’ PCS union organised a members’ meeting as soon as they heard the announcement. Angry staff called for a demonstration at this meeting.
That protest saw 700 people march through the town centre last Saturday, which showed the anger in the city and the breadth of support for the campaign to keep the office open.
The massacre of heavy industry, such as steel, saw thousands in the Newport area cast onto the dole. Many of the remaining decent jobs in the area are in the public sector.
A number of major shops, have recently announced their decision to leave their town centre sites, adding to the feeling of decline.
There is deep dismay among the Passport Office workers and the people of Newport—but also a fiery determination to fight the plans. The PCS is now threatening hard-hitting strike action in defence of the jobs.
Worker Lynda Bell said, “I was off sick with stress after all the worry when I heard about the closure. I am devastated, and now on anti-depressants.
“I could lose my house. My husband is disabled so he can’t work. I don’t know where to turn next.
“My daughter also works at the office, where she is a union rep. The same things are happening to a lot of families.
According to Pam Joliffe. “This is a deprived area and workers like us generate business for cafes and the shops. There are already lots of derelict shops.
“Newport is going to end up a ghost town and it’s a disgrace. The government doesn’t give a damn.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” added Tina Whittaker. “If people don’t stand up now to support us, it’ll be their jobs next. When things like this happen you can either accept it or do something about it, which is what we’re going to do.”
Emma Barne, a 16-year old whose mother works at the office, joined the protest with her friends Eacicia Redman and Leah Shackleton.
“It’s not just my mum’s job,” said Emma. “The office is one of the main parts of Newport, and the only one in Wales. People work really hard there and why should they lose their jobs?
“The government is taking more and more away. We need more protests to make it see that it’s doing the wrong thing.”
Many people on the protest saw the Tories’ wider intent.
“All public services are under attack,” said Roy McCabe, a UCU lecturers’ union member who lives just outside Newport. “This is only the beginning of what’s going to happen in the next two to three years,
“The working man and woman is going to end up unemployed. I like what they’re doing in France against the attacks and we’re going to have to do the same at some point.”
“There is no intelligent debate going on about cuts,” said Dave Sharp, a PCS member who lives in Newport.
“There is an alternative. There are taxes to be collected. It angers me that David Cameron stands there and says the country needs you and then sacks public sector workers who are serving the country,
“They want to freeze wages and stamp on pensions, How much more do they want? Why don’t they get Phillip Green or Lord Ashcroft to pay their dues.
“This is the first demonstration I’ve attended since the London protest against the poll tax in 1990, which ended in the Trafalgar Square riot. We’ve got to make a stand at some point.”
The Tories plans threaten many more jobs across Britain, as they also want to close 34 interview offices. It will take protests, direct action and concerted strikes to beat them.
‘We have a huge level of support’
The demonstration was the first step in stopping the closure of the office. It boosted workers’ confidence to fight.
“The turn out was fantastic,” Ben Rapier, the PCS group organiser who works in Newport, told Socialist Worker. “We have had a huge level of support from colleagues from other passport offices, other trade unionists and the people of Newport.”
Every political party supports the campaign. Labour MPs and a Plaid Cymru AM spoke at the rally as did Alex Gordon, the president of the RMT transport union.
The pressure is such that the local Tory-Liberal Democrat council has had to say it opposes the closure.
Council leader Matthew Evans was the only speaker to be heckled on the day.
Alan Brown, the PCS group secretary in the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), told the rally, “We will not rest until we get this decision overturned. These are our public services and we will not let them cut them.
“The union’s group executive committee in the IPS have took the decision to engage with the 90 day consultation. But if that is not going to mean no job cuts, we will take industrial action across the passport service.”
The Right to Work campaign meeting 6pm, Thursday 21 October, King’s Hotel, Newport city centre to bring people together to discuss the fight.