Protesters gathered in Doncaster on Saturday to defend South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (SYWA) and Louise Harrison.
Louise is a campaigner who worked for SYWA until its trustees decided not to renew her contract this year. The women’s aid in Doncaster is the only one in South Yorkshire.
It faces closure due to lack of council funding.
Labour Party member Alice came from London to join the protest. “I left my husband many years ago because of domestic violence,” she told Socialist Worker. “Back then it was easier because there was council housing – there were places women could go.
“Doncaster council doesn’t want to fight Tory austerity – that’s the problem.”
The majority of the trustees of SYWA are Labour members. Many in the campaign to defend the service say they have been leant on by Labour-run Doncaster council to get rid of Louise after she fought for more funding.
GMB union member and Doncaster resident Joanne told Socialist Worker, “Lou has rocked the boat by speaking out against funding cuts. That’s how we’ve got to this position.
“But we’ve got three high-profile Labour MPs in Doncaster – Ed Miliband, Rosie Winterton and Caroline Flint.
"Two of them are women and they should be doing more for women in Doncaster. But they’re too right wing.”
Many trade union branches and TUCs sent speakers and banners to the protest – including Rotherham TUC, Sheffield TUC, Barnsley TUC, Rotherham NUT and Doncaster College UCU.
Ian Hodson, president of the Bfawu union, told the crowd that men must think about what it would mean for their mothers, sisters, daughters and nieces if they couldn’t get support to escape violence. “The council should answer to us – the working class people who elected them,” he said.
Other speakers brought solidarity greetings from the NEU, UCU and RMT unions.
Simon Murch from Sheffield TUC said it was “disgusting” that SYWA faced closure under a Labour council. “They are doing the work of the Tory government,” he said.
Speakers also denounced the decision to dismiss Louise. Jen from Disabled People Against Cuts told the crowd, “When I first met Louise Harrison I was a victim of domestic abuse. Now I’m a survivor. But the only reason I’m here is because of the dedicated people at SYWA.
”The service ran with just a £30,000 grant from the council last year. Maxine Bowler from the Unite union said, “£30,000 is nothing to them. It is a political decision not to fund SYWA.”
Activists plan to continue the campaign, and hope to raise the issue of funding for women’s aid at trade union conferences. Louise also plans to appeal against her dismissal.
Louise told Socialist Worker, “It’s brilliant to see how many people support this campaign. This isn’t just a campaign about one person or one service. It’s about the need to fight against Tory austerity to save services now.”