Up to 300 anti-cuts protesters occupied Lambeth town hall in south London today (Wednesday) – the day councillors were set to vote through a disastrous cuts budget.
The protesters stormed the council meeting just after 7pm, chanting 'No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts' and 'That's not what democracy looks like – this is what democracy looks like.'
The campaigners, including many council workers, then held a “people's council” in the chamber in Brixton. They took over the meeting, elected their own chair and discussed opposition to the cuts.
One worker said, 'This is a small echo of what's happening around the world. Power to the people!'
Many protesters talked about how the occupation of the town hall in Wisconsin, USA, has inspired their action.
Council workers, teachers, nurses, transport workers and parents joined the occupation. The cuts will make up to 1,000 workers redundant.
Craig Johnson from the RMT transport union's executive committee spoke to the occupiers. He said, 'The RMT is with you in the struggle to defend education, public services and children's services. Councillors should vote down cuts.'
'I used to be a Labour councillor,' he added, 'and I refused to pay the poll tax. We brought down Thatcher. We can bring down this government.'
Tim O'Dell, a Unison rep who works in libraries, was loudly cheered when he spoke about their planned strike ballot.
A student from University College London also addressed the occupiers. 'We've shown tonight how to take the fight forward,' the student said. 'We're saying we will refuse to let this happen.'
There were many children inside the occupation, protesting over cuts that will hit services they rely on.
One child who spoke said, “Why are they shutting our playground? Are we meant to just be on the streets?”
Andrew Smith, a parent, added, 'The council's got to listen to us. What's the price of our children's future?
'We'll keep coming back and we won't give up.'
The occupation continued until just before 9pm before taking a democratic decision to leave. The protesters then marched out.
Councillors from all parties had long since skulked off to vote through the cuts in another room of the town hall.
The Labour Party has a clear majority on the council, with 43 councillors out of 63, but they have been determined to vote through the vicious cuts.
Pete Robbins, Labour councillor for Lambeth's Larkhall ward, even wrote on Twitter, 'Real shame that a vocal minority of idiots mean an important meeting will be held in private.'
Matthew Bennett, Labour councillor for Gipsy Hill ward, called the protesters 'nuts'.
If the councillors had stayed, they could have listened to the park ranger who said, 'There are ten of us to look after 64 parks in Lambeth. Now they want to cut us altogether.
'I've worked in parks for 31 years. I'm already struggling to pay the mortgage – my pay goes in a day.
'I could be homeless and I have a 5 year old boy.'
And they would have heard Violet, a worker at the 1 o'clock childcare clubs in Lambeth that the councillors want to cut. 'If they close the 1 o'clock clubs how many parents will have anywhere to go for free?' she said.
'The councillors have a choice.'