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Right to Work protest at the Tory Party conference as it happens

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Issue 2221
On the march in Birmingham
On the march in Birmingham

Socialist Worker will be providing news and pictures of the protest at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham today (see below). Please check regularly for the latest from our team of reporters and photographers.

If you are in Birmingham or travelling to the protest, you are welcome to send your own reports and pictures to reports@

Report: 4.23pm Today’s march against the Tory Party conference saw 7,000 people protest against the government’s program of cuts.

At the final rally, Mark Serwotka PCS union general secretary said, “On behalf of the PCS I congratulate Right to Work on this demonstration.

‘There are some at the TUC who say we can’t have a demo as no one will come. But if thousands of people will come to Birmingham, on a Sunday, in the rain, how many thousands could the TUC get if it mobilised?

‘The TUC is organising a protest against the cuts in March, and we have to make sure there are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets that day.

‘We all have to stand together—and if you live in London get to the RMT and TSSA tube picket lines tomorrow.”

UCU president Alan Whitaker said, We’re facing the biggest onslaught we’ve seen to education. We’ve already had £1.2 billion cuts to higher education and there is more to come.

“We in the UCU stand with you all, because this is worth fighting for.”

Other speakers at the rally included Dave Nellist, socialist councillor from Coventry, leading activist in Greek general strikes Dina Garane, , Portuguese Left Bloc MP Jorge Duarte Costa, Suzanne Jefferies chair of the Campaign against Climate Change trade union group, president of the NUJ Pete Murray and Chris Bambery from Right to Work.

The march was notable for the range and composition of workplace delegations. The exuberant student delegations added to the great atmosphere despite the weather.

The list of banners of organisations there was impressive:

CWU banners on the protest include: Harrow and district, Burslem, London Division, North/North West London, Wolverhampton, Oldham & Rochdale, Mount Pleasant, East London Postal, South Central No. 1, the South East regional committee and Eastern No. 4

Others included the PCS national and South Wales banners, POA national banner. South Yorkshire FBU

Unison banners included Birmingham local government, Birmingham council social services, Portsmouth, Leeds local government, Ashfield, Bath north east, Southend, Sheffield local government, Sheffield Northern general hospital, Cambridgeshire Health, Manchester Mental health, Plymouth local government, Bristol local government, Hull local government, Wolverhampton, London Fire Brigade, Telford, Glasgow City, Ealing, Manchester Metropolitan, City of Edinburgh, Plymouth women in Unison, Somerset County, Bolton metropolitan, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Dundee, Barnet.

UCU banners included the national banner and Chesterfield College, Nottingham Trent, York, Birmingham, Barnsley, Midlands region, and Kings College.

Nut branch banners included South Gloucestershire, Ealing, Islington, Birmingham, Camden, Sandwell, Bolton, and Southwark.

Nottingham and Mansfield Trades Council, Wolverhampton Trades Council, Preston Trades Council, Lancaster Trades Council, Manchester Trades Council, Plymouth Trades Council, Peterborough Trades Council, Medway Trades Council, Shropshire Trades Council, Telford Trades Council, North Staffs, and Brent Trades Council.

GMB banners included Birmingham, West Midlands Region, Wellington 309, Sheffield, and Hull Number 1.

Unite banners included Bristol health, Scottish housing, and Fujitsu Manchester.

NUS banners from Scotland and Liverpool and large numbers of college contingents. Stop the War coalition delegations came from Hove, Bristol, Norwich, Lewisham. NUJ national and South Yorkshire banners

There were RMT and Tessa delegations and delegations and banners from Keep our NHS public, Defend Council Housing, Indian Workers association (GB), Autistic Rights movement, Birmingham Clarion singers, Disability Rights, West Midlands Pensioners convention, Whittington Hospital campaign, Plymouth claimants union, Kilburn unemployed workers, Liverpool socialist singers, and Mosely and Kingsheath Labour Party.

Report: 3pmThe march has arrived at the final rallying point. The Right to Work Campaign who initiated the demonstration have issued a call for a united response to the Tory Cuts. The leaflet is available here » Right to Work leaflet

Report: 2.26pmWorkers from Connexions have held an impromptu protest outside their company offices as the march went past.

One lively part of the demo is made up of the contingents of students joined the demo from around the country. Some 50 came from Manchester university.

Essex university students Oliver, Nathan, Max, James and Nathan spoke to SW. Nathan said, ‘Term hasn’t started yet but 11 people have come from our university along with workers and trade unionists from around Colchester.’

‘Don’t forget the people from Clacton Labour Party.’ added Max.

Oliver said, ‘They’ve already made six redundancies at the student union. At the same time they’re doing an expensive refit to the bar.

‘It looks to me like they want to attract more students at the same time as they cut what we’re being offered.

‘The cuts at Essex will be announced after the spending review, but we’ve already been told there will be cuts in admin jobs.

‘The real cuts haven’t started yet but people are already losing patience.’

Manchester student Jamie explained to Socialist Worker that the Combined Studies department had been closed at the end of the last academic year. ‘That means students can no longer study courses like History & English or French & Politics.

‘This term the university authorities have already said they aim to find another £9 million this year.’

Kieran and Paolo come from Westminster Kingsway in London. Kieran said, ‘I’m here because I’m not happy to be pushed into debt. I’m not just angry about cuts to students. It’s also benefits and services and destroying other countries.’

Paolo said, ‘People where we live are angry. But sometimes it’s not for the right reasons. They take it out on each other instead of attacking our real enemies. The cuts affect the majority and want to see the majority on the streets against them.’

Report: 2.18pm As the march moves through Birmingham there are reports of Tory delegates scuttling away to get out of the way of the oncoming crowd who are chanting ‘We hate Tories.’

The rally at the start of the demonstration fired up the marches. The crowd was addressed by trade unionists, Labour party members and activists.

Chris Bambery from the Right to Work campaign said, “We need to go from here and start saying that if in Greece, if in France, if in Spain they can have a general strike against cuts and austerity, then we can have a general strike here in Britain.”

Jeremy Corbyn, left wing Labour MP said, “This is the time to mobilise, organise and defend the welfare state—to stand for a society base on the needs of everyone not the needs of a few.”

Linda Burnip is a disabilities campaigner. She told the crowd, “We have evidence that disabled people are killing themselves because of the cuts. Cameron and Osborne say living on benefits is a lifestyle choice—but disabled people know different.”

Labour MP John McDonnell showed his anger at the cuts, saying, “I’ve got a warning for the Tories—if you come for us, we will come for you, with protests, strikes, occupations, civil disobedience and direct action. This is no time to stand on the sidelines.”

Salma Yaqoob is the leader of the Respect party and a councillor in Birmingham. “I’m here to give a warning—we have extremists in our midst, extremists who want to destroy our British way of life. They want to take our jobs and our homes. Of course, I’m talking about the Tories!

“We have to tell them, ‘no, you will not get away with it’”, she said.

Jane Loftus is the president of the CWU union. Addressing the gathered crowd she said, “We will deliver solidarity to all trade unionists and workers in struggle. With solidarity, we can win.”

Judith Orr from the Socialist Workers Party said, “I don’t care about their deficit—what I care about is pensions, benefits and jobs.

‘In the SWP we believe it’s important to talk about we’re for, not just what we’re against.

“Even in boom times there is still poverty for millions. But we have the ability to build a different kind of society—a socialist society.”

As the crowd prepared to move off, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union said, “What a fantastic turnout! It’s great to see so many of you here today.

“Politicians of all parties, including Labour, told us that cuts were inevitable. It’s lies. The PCS is proud to say that there shouldn’t be a single job lost, or a single penny out of public spending.

“But Osborne, that millionaire posh boy, will carry on with his plans—so the question is who is going to stop him?

“If you’re prepared to fight, make some noise!”

At that point the crowd irrupted with sound, as protesters clapped and cheered and blew whistles and vuvuzelas.

Report: 1.24pmThe march has set off.

It is led by PCS and NUJ union banners, alongside a group fighting for disabled rights and the Birmingham Unison banner. Hundreds of workplace delegations are giving the demonstration an electric and angry mood despite the pouring rain. The loud march is hearing chants of ‘Tory scum out of Brum’.

Lola Smith works for Connexions in Nuneaton in Warwickshire. She has been sacked and on the 17 December she will be out of a job.

She said, “We have 6,000 young people drop into our office every year. We help young people with all sorts of things—including CVs and applying for jobs, benefits advice, help with homelessness, sexual health advice, pregnancy help and advice on drug issues.

“They gave us a budget and in the cuts they took some of it away. It will mean young people will have nowhere to go.

Lola’s co-worker Kate Anderton, has worked for Connexions for eight years.

She said, “They have announced 100 redundancies in Coventry and Warwickshire. They have sacked all the support staff—which are also the lowest paid. All of the One Stop Shops will be closing at the end of October.

“The cuts are coming very quickly. 16 to 19 year olds aren’t covered by social services so now they’ve got nothing.”

Report: 12.53pm As the march prepares to set off Stuart Richards, a GMB organiser in the west midlands, told Socialist Worker, ‘There are a fair few here from my union region as 50 percent of our members are in the public sector. The Tories claim that the private sector will take over the things that the public sector is doing but the private sector has been decimated round here so we’ll be hit hardest. We’re looking for a united front to tackle the cuts. One that will target the Tory government.’

Lynn Richards, a GMB rep in a school, said, ‘The Tories are trying to get rid of school jobs. They’re cutting the school standards board, which has been dealing with equal pay and conditions for support staff. We need unity against the cuts.’

Marie Tozer from the Bath and north east Somerset Unison branch, told Socialist Worker, ‘We have to break the law to get what we need. The last time I was in court was for not paying the poll tax. We won’t get anywhere by being soft. The Tories have made a mistake because the cuts will hit everybody. I think you will see groups of people coming out on strike you never though would.’

Richard Gurney, Bath north east Somerset Unison branch chair, said, ‘The government White Paper is ending the NHS in all but name. It is one rule for them and one for us. We have build a poll of attraction that cuts are not inevitable. The TUC was a good start, but have to build on the ground.’

Report: 12.50pmAround 100 CWU postal union members have come to the demonstration. Among them are senior union activists, including the president of the union, Jane Loftus.

Preparing to march on the Tories is Angie Mulcahy, the area processing rep from the threatened Bow Locks mail centre in east London.

She told Socialist Worker, “Management are trying to create a climate of panic and fear amongst postal workers. In London they want to close two mail centres. But we are planning a fightback—and it starts with this demo.

“The big turnout from the CWU shows the level of attack we are facing. The cuts will affect everyone. The CWU should support workers fighting back, and we expect the same solidarity in return.”

Also in the CWU block is Gareth Eales, deputy branch secretary of Northamptonshire Amal CWU. He said, “The privatisation of Royal Mail is a massive threat, but we are also here to stand shoulder to shoulder with other trade unionists facing cuts and privatisation.

“This protest is a great start—we’re going to need more of this kind of action. I’m disappointed the new leader of the Labour party has distanced himself from supporting strikes—we’re going to need strikes to defend jobs and services.”

CWU banners on the protest include: Harrow and district, Burslem, London Division, North/North West London, Wolverhampton, Oldham & Rochdale, Mount Pleasant, East London Postal, South Central No. 1 and the South East regional committee.

Report: 12.25pmThousands of activists are gathering in the centre of Birmingham to rage against the Tories’ plans to slash public spending. These cuts will have a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Joe Morgan is the Birmingham and West Midlands regional secretary of the GMB union and a Labour party member. He is on the protest today and told Socialist Worker, “This is just the start of the cuts and the fight against them.

“In Birmingham we’ve had 26,000 redundancy notices in the council. The council is riding on the back of the coalition government.

“We had a mass meeting last Thursday and said there’s only one way to fight—and that is to strike. I think industrial action is inevitable. I was at the TUC when Brendan Barber said we need united action, I hope he means it this time.’

John Griffin is the Unison union’s convener at Connexions careers services.

“We face 40 percent cuts to our service in Birmingham.

“Our members are determined to do something about it—we are going to campaign and have a strike ballot.

“We have had a fantastic response from the community. That’s because people understand that it’s not just our jobs being stolen but also the jobs of young people.

“3,000 have signed our petition so far and we have had two days of mass leafleting.

Mike Adamson is the branch secretary of Hull city Unison and a member of the Labour Party. He said, ‘What I’m most worried about is a return to the 1980s. I started work in 1979—the year Thatcher was elected. There was total social deprivation.

“Today cities in the north and north east rely on government funded jobs. But the Tories want to take away our livelihoods. We brought a coach from Hull, a coalition of different people, from Labour, Connaught workers, all sorts of people. That’s what we need to beat the cuts.’

Charlie Tranter, GMB rep from Wellington in the north west said, ‘I worked in Local government through the dark days of Thatcher, yet now with the coalition it could be even worse. Enough is enough, its time to fight and for workers to believe we can beat the coalition.’

Report: 11.25amCath Collins, a Unison union member working in NHS told Socialist Worker, ‘I joined the Labour Party after the Tories got in, but I’ve never been in a political party before. I was horrified, I remember Thatcher. I dread to think what the Tories will do to benefits.

“They try and make out that everyone on benefit is on the make – but have they ever lived on £60 a week? I voted for Ed Miliband, I dont know why he’s so scared of being called Red Ed as I think underneath he’s more left. He tried to please everyone in his speech. I liked some of it but when he attacked strikes I thought, you were elected with union votes!

“I think we’ll need more demonstrations – people need to stand up and not do as they’re told. Sometimes I feel lucky to have a job but then I think why should I? What did I do to cause the crisis?’

And more news from the coaches, some of whom are now arriving in Birmingham. Still on route, there are three coaches making their way from Glasgow to Birmingham this morning. They left at 6.30 am, and are carrying students, trade unionists and their banners, Labour party members, unemployed workers and community activists.

Liam Simpson, a student at the University of the West of Scotland told Socialist Worker, “I’ve seen how unemployment and the cuts effect people first hand. My dad has been unemployed for over two years now. He doesn’t get any support for the state and my parents really struggle for money.

“The cuts the Tories are making are savage, and are disproportionately hitting working class people.

“It’s important that students get their voices heard—the cuts will effect our education now and our chances in the future.”

Over 270 activists are travelling from Sheffield, Burnley and Doncaster to rage outside the Tory party conference. The breadth of opposition to the cuts is represented on the coaches. The delegations include over 50 students from across Sheffield.

Antony Egan is from Sheffield university and on the Labour student’s committee. He told Socialist Worker, “I’m in opposition to what the Conservatives are doing and think it’s important to express our disapproval to the cuts.

“I’m not sure that demonstrations and so on will stop the cuts from happening, but they’re important to show the Conservatives that they do not have the popular support they claim to have.”

Report: 10.45am Thousands of trade unionists and activists are heading for the Tory party conference.

The protest Initiated by the Right to Work campaign, is a focus for all the anger people feel against the government.

It’s backed by the PCS, NUJ, UCU, CWU and Aslef unions as well as the National Union of Students.

The first coach left Belfast yesterday and now buses from around the country are on route to the demonstration which assembles 12 noon, at Lionel Street, Birmingham B3 1AG

For instance, the coach from Tower Hamlets in east London included a group from Tower Hamlets Unison, which voted to support the protest. Members of the NUT, RMT and NUJ union members are also onboard.

Six students from a 6th form college said that as well as general cuts they were worried about cuts in Education Maintenance Allowance. Nathan said he had been elected to the Youth Parliament, but it had no budget.

Kelvin a Unite union member told Socialist Worker, ‘If the Tories try to use salami tactics to attack different sections of workers as they did on the 1980s. This time we need a generalised fightback.’

Chris Kelly, a NUT member, made a speech on the coach from Southwark, south London, ‘This week we saw 100,000 marching in Brussels, including British trade unionists. In Spain flying pickets closed workplaces as part of a general strike there. We want today to be a springboard for the same sorts of action here. We will tell the Tories that we wont put up with cuts and austerity. And we also need to send a message to the TUC – the action talked about at TUC congress needs to happen, and needs to happen soon.’

Tony Anthrobus, joint branch secretary for the Unite union at King’s College Hospital (KCH) in London told Socialist Worker, ‘The government is making cuts for making cuts’ sake. That’s what the Tories are all about, they make the poor poorer and create a lot of suffering. But during the election they covered up what they planned to do. At KCH they have started using contract workers. We’ve seen cuts in pay, changes to conditions and a spate of allegations of bullying and harassment.

“Plans for more cuts and privatisation in the NHS is a disaster waiting to happen. Clegg and Cameron have never been in charge of anything in their lives. We have millionaires running the country. All the action we’re taking should be coordinated. We shouldn’t have one organisation doing one thing and others doing something else. On this coach we’ve got teachers, hospital workers, care workers – all going to Birmingham together against the Tories. This is how it should be.’

Assembling for the protest
Assembling for the protest
Connexions workers protest outside their offices
Connexions workers protest outside their offices

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