Supporters of Louise Harrison have called a protest in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, on Saturday 27 January.
Louise is a domestic violence worker and campaigner in the town. She has fought to defend South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (SYWA), which faces closure after the council refused to continue to fund it.
However, Louise has been contacted by the trustees who run the service to inform her that her contract may not be renewed.
The trustees are Labour Party members and the council is Labour-run.
Louise told Socialist Worker, “Austerity has caused domestic violence workers to lose their jobs, and many are paid part time for full time hours.
“Shockingly we start 2018 with this murdering Tory government pulling guaranteed housing benefit for refuges.
“Women trying to flee domestic abuse are hampered by cuts to legal aid, benefits, wages, housing and mental health services.
“As part of the women's lives matter group I have campaigned tirelessly for over five years in Doncaster about domestic violence against women.
“I and others have fought to save women's aid twice in two years. I am threatened with the prospect of losing my contract at SWYA, even though I have built the organisation from the ground and raised thousands of pounds.
“With my trade union and trade unionists from across Britain, we are asking the trustees of SYWA to guarantee my employment and to support women’s aid. Grassroots solidarity is the only way women will have their voices heard.”
The attack on Louise has sparked widespread anger and high profile figures are backing the campaign to defend her.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell had previously spoken out in support of the struggle to defend SYWA, calling the campaign an “inspiration”.
He said of the campaign to defend Louise, “I send my support and solidarity to this campaign and petition initiative in support of Louise.”
Simon Murch is a national executive committee member of the NUT section of the NEU in South Yorkshire. He told Socialist Worker, “Sheffield National Education Union, and the NEU across South Yorkshire, have been staunch supporters of South Yorkshire Women’s Aid and its campaigns to secure funding over the last two years.
“We recognise this service, the only one of its kind left in South Yorkshire, would not exist without Louise Harrison. Her commitment and tenacity in fighting austerity is without equal and women of South Yorkshire deserve, and need, such a champion.
“Because of her public campaign to get Doncaster Council to agree funding for the service to continue the trustees of SYWA have decided to attack Louise. This foolhardy and spiteful action will have the opposite of its desired effect as her support goes from strength to strength. As trade unionists we stand shoulder to shoulder with Louise Harrison and the campaign and the very people who depend on this service. Solidarity.”
President of the Bfawu union, Ian Hodson, is one of many who will speak at the protest on 27 January. In a statement he said, “The campaign Louise has run in relation to SYWA has been incredible. Where many women's centres have closed down, Louise has brought the valuable work that these centres do to a wider population.
“Society needs campaigners like Louise and I believe Louise deserves credit for the work she has done and that we need to ensure that the campaign succeeds.”
The TUC’s women’s campaigner of the year, Jean Rogers, is also speaking along with Roger Hutt from Care UK and children’s author and national library campaigner Alan Gibbons.
Alan told Socialist Worker, "Lou Harrison's contract must be renewed. She has made a huge contribution in South Yorkshire, helping the victims of domestic violence. As a rank and file Labour Party member I agree with John McDonnell that Lou should remain in post."
Maxine Bowler from Sheffield TUC will also speak along with other trade union representatives and women who have used the SYWA service. Other speakers include representatives of Disabled People Against Cuts, Women’s Lives Matter, hospital campaigners and a Durham teaching assistant.
Laura Miles from the UCU national executive committee will also speak. “It’s important for local trade union organisations to show active support and solidarity. It’s also a national issue. What happens here has implications for women’s services up and down the country.”
The attack on Louise is a disgrace. She has previously led a successful campaign to save Women’s Aid in South Yorkshire, and has recently helped to raise thousands of pounds from trade union groups to keep the service going.
The campaign has drawn up a letter for trade union branches appealing for support. It encourages supporters to contact the trustees for SYWA asking them to “immediately reconsider their action against Louise Harrison” and to share a statement in support of Louise.
Every activist should get behind the campaign to defend Louise - an attack on her is an attack on us all.
What you can do
Join the protest in solidarity with Louise - Saturday 27 January, 12 noon, Mansion House, Doncaster
Download a solidarity statement to pass in your union group or campaigning organisation at http://bit.ly/2D19X9s
Sign a petition to support Louise at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stand-up-for-louise-harrison-south-yorkshire-women-s-aid
Contact mayor Ros Jones at Doncaster Council to protest about the treatment of Louise at [email protected]