Newcastle cuts: the fight is on

Over the next three years Newcastle City Council will slash £100m from its budget, devastating working-class communities with service cuts and job losses. The proposed closure of 11 out of 18 libraries and the abolition of the arts budget have drawn huge opposition. Youth services across the city are to be destroyed: the entire play service is to be cut and only two youth workers are to be retained. Four out of seven leisure centres in the city are to go. Bin collections will become fortnightly. It is a ruthless onslaught on the working class. James Bell reports.

The city’s Labour council refuses to challenge the government’s cuts programme. Council leader Nick Forbes has repeatedly complained that he is in an ‘impossible situation’ and that he intends to ‘continue lobbying central government’. However, without a single councillor in the city taking an anti-cuts position, this will be an empty promise. He is more concerned about preserving his position than about the impact these cuts will have on the city he claims to represent.

 

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Glasgow Against Atos campaign

On 14 January 2013, a small victory for all those who have been fighting Atos: the Co-op will terminate the contract it has with the company to provide occupational health services to its 82,000 employees. With the current contract set to expire in March, pickets took place outside the Co-op’s flagship stores across Britain demanding that Atos be ruled out of the bidding process. The Co-op has now confirmed that the Atos contract will not be renewed. Glasgow Against Atos has been picketing other stores and companies with Atos contracts as well the company itself. The Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau has received 24,000 complaints against Atos’s decisions in work capability assessments for disabled benefit claimants. 80% of people who challenge their initial fit-for-work verdict win their cases against the company.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

 

 

 

In all your decadence, people die...

‘I never thought when my daughters grew up and moved away from home that I might face eviction and homelessness. I didn’t expect the unemployed would be resented by the working/’striving’ members of their community for having their curtains closed after 8am. When I became angry about the treatment of the poorest, most vulnerable people in society and decided to protest I never dreamed I would be arrested for dressing in a costume and having a toy gun from the pound shop. Yet this has all happened.

 

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Hunt announces closure of services at Lewisham A&E. The fight goes on! - Jan 2013

Despite the mass opposition of local people who use and need the hospital, despite a recent 25,000 strong march and rally, despite months of vibrant campaigning and strong statements from leading health care workers within the hospital, on Thursday 31 January, Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, revealed the fate of Lewisham Hospital in south east London - announcing the closure of significant services in the A&E department, intensive care, maternity and children service.

 

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Fighting the Cuts in Newcastle - Arthur's Hill Day of Action 2 February 2013

On 2 February more than 200 people took part in a day of action against cuts to community services in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle. The protests were in response to the Labour Council budget proposals which, if voted through, would see the closure of the community library, the local swimming pool and the axing of the entire play service, which currently provides open access provision for hundreds of children in the area. The event was organised by Save Our Services, a campaign focused on young people’s services, Save Moorside Library group, and local working class children with support from youth and play workers.

 

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Can’t pay Won’t pay

The ConDem assault on the working class is accelerating as the government senses there is no widespread resistance. An all-out offensive on welfare benefits is accompanying the third round of cuts to local services. Not a single Labour council has stood up to the government. The trade unions have colluded with the Labour Party to prevent any struggle from taking place. Deepening poverty is evident in the explosion of food banks across the country and the demand that they attempt to meet. Resistance has to start now across local communities, and has to be organised and led by those who are in the frontline facing the relentless attacks of the ruling class. Robert Clough reports.

 

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The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign starts 2013 in fighting mood

The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign (CSHC) plans to broaden our campaign for housing for the Counihan family and against cuts and evictions in Brent in 2013. In November 2012 we won our first victory in our battle with Brent Labour council, who have been forced to reinstate the Housing Benefit which Brent withdrew from the family when they declared them ‘intentionally homeless’ in April 2012.

 

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Save Newcastle Libraries occupy the council chamber – 5 December 2012

On the evening of 5 December over 150 anti-cuts activists from Save Newcastle Libraries marched on Newcastle's Civic Centre and occupied the council chamber where the full council was due to meet to discuss the proposed 2013-2016 budget, that would see the closure of 11 libraries, 100% cuts to cultural organisations and devastating cuts to play, youth and elderly services. Assembling outside the Laing Art Gallery and City Library, both of which will be impacted by the proposed cuts, the activists ensured their voice was heard loud and clear by marching through the Civic Centre's front doors and demanding that councillors refuse to pass a cuts budget. People decided to hold their own meeting inside the Council chambers, discussing the impact of the cuts in our communities and calling for motions against the budget. Though we invited the councillors to meet with us, they decided to move their meeting to another room behind closed doors, whilst some remained outside and attempted to justify implementing the cuts, arguing that their hands are tied, quibbling over numbers whilst supporting a death sentence for Newcastle's most vulnerable. We demand that the Labour Council refuse to be the executioners for the ConDem government. The vibrant protest tonight put the Council on notice that if they implement this budget, the ensuing devastation and resistance will make Newcastle upon Tyne ungovernable.

 

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Deepening poverty for the working class

The recent publication of the final report from the Commission on Living Standards, Gaining from growth, presents a detailed analysis of how the mass of the working class has suffered under the current crisis. It also shows, however, that downward pressure on working class living standards has existed for years, and has only been offset by a large increase in the number of women working in two-parent households, and by the system of working tax credits. With more women now facing unemployment, particularly if they work in the public sector, and eligibility for working tax credits being reduced, the outlook for many working class households is a rapid decline in real income. Jack Edwards reports.

The report looks at those who are on low to middle incomes, defining this group as working-age people living in households with incomes below the median but above the bottom 10%. However, it sets their situation within a context of growing inequality. From 1955 to 2001, incomes rose on average by 2.7% each year. From 2001 to 2011, however, this had collapsed to 0.6%. The ruling class has, meanwhile, grown richer: between 1997 and 2010 real income for the top 5% of earners increased by 29%, while for the top 1%, it rose by 56%. In 1979 the top 1% of earners had an income three times the average; by 2010 it had risen to 5.6 times. Share in total income for the top 20% of earners had reached 44% by 2011, more than the combined share of the bottom 60%.

 

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Defend Newcastle libraries – fight all cuts!

Newcastle Labour council has just announced savage cuts of £90m to the city’s budget with the loss of over 1,300 jobs. Ten out of 18 public libraries are to be shut; the council arts team will disappear along with all but two workers in the Youth Service; the city swimming pool is to be shut and the council will divest itself of responsibility for four out of seven leisure centres. Bin collections will become fortnightly. In the expectation of resistance, Labour will set up a ‘new unit to tackle anti-social behaviour and environmental crime with greater emphasis on prevention’. City council leader Nick Forbes says that he ‘will not let up on lobbying government’ – despite previous admissions that ‘residents [...] will have to do more for themselves and expect less from the council’.

 

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Save Friern Barnet library!

Friern Barnet library is a small, community library in north London. In April 2012 Barnet Council closed it. The community tried everything to keep it open with demonstrations outside the library, cycle rallies and more, but sadly in vain. Once the library shut in April, Barnet Council removed all the books and left the building closed. In September, activists from the Occupy London movement went into Friern Barnet library and re-opened it to the community. The library has had over 8,000 books donated and is currently run by local volunteers.

Friern Barnet library was opened in 1934 by the Carnegie Trust. Friern Barnet residents have been using it ever since; for a sense of community, for books, CDs, DVDs, to use the computers and more. Friern Barnet library today is the only communal building in the district.

 

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Glasgow Against Atos campaign established

Since June 2012 FRFI has worked alongside other campaigns in Glasgow to oppose the vicious Work Capability Assessments Atos carries out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. As well as organising public meetings against the cuts we have held a picket of the Atos testing centre on Cadogan Street in Glasgow city centre at the end of every month.

To unite the opposition to Atos and the cuts in Glasgow, FRFI, the Black Triangle disability rights campaign, the Save the Accord Centre and supporters of the Irish Republican group the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, as well as independent anti cuts activists, have formed Glasgow Against Atos (GAA). The campaign’s launch meeting on 10 October was addressed by FRFI, the Save the Accord Centre campaign, Black Triangle campaign activist John McArdle and a campaigner whose husband is suffering the disability cutbacks. We held a rolling picket on 26 October in Glasgow City Centre, targeting the Co-operative bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland for their complicity with the cuts, as well as the offices of the Atos-sponsored 2014 Commonwealth Games. After distributing hundreds of leaflets we returned to the Atos testing centre and distributed assessment advice sheets to claimants.

 

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No to One Barnet!

One Barnet is a scheme Barnet Council is trying to introduce which involves gambling with £1bn of taxpayers’ money. The Tory council wants to hand 70% of our services over to private outsourcing companies. These services will include planning, highways, cemeteries and crematoria, trading standards, environmental health, council tax collection, the council’s IT, human resources, finance departments and more. Although it is claimed One Barnet will save the council money if it proceeds, it will cost Barnet residents more for public services such as cremations and burials. It is an experiment, one which other councils are seeking to follow, but one which people are worried will end up as catastrophic failure.

 

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Class War On All Fronts

The government’s autumn statement on 5 December 2012 will mark a vicious extension to its assault on the working class. Having announced in March 2012 that it would seek to cut a further £10bn from state welfare on top of the £18bn already planned, the measures it is now considering include:

  • Stopping Housing Benefit for under-25s, affecting 385,000 people;
  • Limiting child-related benefits for unemployed people to their first two children, affecting 310,000 families;
  • Freezing benefits for two years from April 2013.

This is a savage attack, coming as it does on top of the third round of council cuts, cuts in housing benefit for those in social housing, and the introduction of the Welfare Benefits Act, all effective from April 2013. Robert Clough reports.

Council cuts

Throughout the country councils are now finalising plans for a third year of cuts in jobs and services. The average cut for the three years is £160 per head in the 50 worst-hit councils where the average child poverty rate is around a third. 43 of these are run by Labour. The 50 least-affected councils will suffer a total cut of £16 per head. 42 of them are Tory and on average have a 10% child poverty rate. It is the poorest councils which are being hit worst by the 28% cut in central government support over the three-year period. As each year passes the impact of the cuts grows more severe: Sure Start services reduced to nothing, libraries and day centres closed, charges for meals on wheels going up and up, respite care facilities slashed. However rich or poor the council, it is the working class, and working class women in particular, who bear the brunt both in terms of service cuts and job losses.

 

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Stand with DPAC!

As the deadly attack on disability benefits continues, with several thousand sick and/or disabled people a year dying within six weeks of having their entitlement to benefits stopped, the need for unity in action of all against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos is vital. No one would disagree with this, but it begs the question, on what basis and in whose interests? This has become a burning political question given that a clear division has emerged between sections of Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC), which has been organising militant direct actions, and the union primarily organising within DWP and Atos, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS). The issue is, should the fight against Work Capability Assessments, against Atos and the DWP, be led by those who suffer the consequences, or by the union organising those who are implementing the cuts?

 

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Hands off George Square!

The Glasgow Defence Campaign (GDC) has set up a new campaign in opposition to Glasgow City Council’s latest efforts to cleanse the city of anything resembling active opposition to its corrupt rule. Announcing a £15m redevelopment of George Square, Labour council leader Gordon Matheson trumpeted: ‘I want to give the people of Glasgow the square they deserve.’ The suited gangsters of the local Labour party have shown repeatedly what they think the people of Glasgow deserve – corruption, the selling-off of public services and deepening inequality.

 

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Brent Council have reinstated Housing Benefit for the Counihan Family – 26 Nov 2012

The Counihan- Family Campaign (CSFC) has won the first victory in its battle with Brent Labour Council. On 26 November the council was forced to reinstate the Counihans’ Housing Benefit, in the face of a militant campaign in support of the family in Kilburn and beyond.

Brent Council withdrew Housing Benefit (HB) from the family when they declared they has made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ in April 2012. Brent had refused to take any responsibility for the family, although Isabel and the 5 children were all born and raised in Brent, and Anthony is a bus driver working at Cricklewood Garage. 

 

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TUC demobilising opposition to austerity – 20 Oct 2012

On 20 October, up to 100,000 people marched through central London in the TUC’s March for the Alternative. The protest was no more than half the size of the demonstration the TUC called in March 2011, a protest which was accompanied by widespread direct action including the occupation of Fortnum and Masons. The TUC had worked hard to prevent any repetition, cooperating closely with the Metropolitan Police in its control centre, and beforehand, handing over the names of known activists presumably in the hope that they would be subject to preventative arrest. As a consequence, there was only one instance of direct action, when members of Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC) blockaded Hyde Park corner for a short time, swiftly supported by an FRFI contingent. This year’s event had hardly any mention in the following day’s press. The calls for the TUC to organise a general strike that are being made by organisations of the social democratic opportunist left merely cover up for trade union inaction and opposition to independent action by those who do want to fight, particularly disabled people.

 

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War on the working class

During the three months to June 2012 the British economy contracted by 0.5%, with manufacturing falling by 0.9%. Now deep in a double-dip recession, the economy is currently smaller than it was in May 2010, and 4.3% below the early 2008 peak. Only Italy of the world’s leading G8 capitalist economies is performing worse. At the beginning of September, the OECD slashed an earlier forecast of 0.5% growth for 2012 to a 0.7% contraction. In November 2011 it had predicted 0.9% growth. Robert Clough reports

 

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End war on welfare! Take action against Atos!

Picket of Atos office in Glasgow

Atos is a gigantic French multinational firm specialising in the provision of management and IT services, boasting annual revenue of €85bn and 74,000 employees in 48 countries. In Britain, more than £3bn worth of public services have been outsourced to Atos across ten government departments.

 

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Austerity in Britain: undermining resistance

With 80% of the Coalition’s proposed public sector spending cuts yet to be implemented, the 20% that are in place are causing misery for millions of working class people. Tens of thousands are being evicted from homes across the country as housing benefit caps are implemented making their existing accommodation unaffordable. Raising the threshold for eligibility for Working Tax Credit from 16 hours to 24 hours work per week will cost 200,000 of the poorest families up to £3,900 a year. Council services for the disabled, for children and the elderly have been slashed; overall 400,000 public sector jobs have disappeared over the past two years. Median household incomes have fallen by 6.4% over the last two years and will fall by 0.6% this coming year, 1.5% for the poorest 20% of the population (Institute for Fiscal Studies, IFS). Robert Clough reports.

 

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Fight the Cuts

Fight the Cuts

The ruling class has unleashed a ruthless ideological assault on the working class. It has resurrected the Victorian distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor with a vengeance. Its purpose is to divide the working class in order to make it pay as a whole for Britain’s ballooning national debt, and its principal weapon is the Welfare Reform Bill currently going through parliament. Amongst the many vicious proposals in this Bill is one to cap total household benefits at £500 per week, £26,000 a year, no matter how many children there may be. Their populist argument is that people on benefits should not get more than this, approximately the median individual wage. Yet, if this becomes law, tens of thousands of people will be forced out of their homes in London and other high-cost areas simply because the housing benefit they receive will come close to the new limit, leaving nothing for them to live on, particularly if they are disabled. It will also mean that when people lose their jobs, they stand a good chance of being made homeless and their children forced to move school as well. It is a new form of social cleansing. Robert Clough reports.

 

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Public sector pensions: trade unions start to capitulate

Public sector pensions:  trade unions start to capitulate

A week, Prime Minister Harold Wilson once cynically declared, is a long time in politics. It took little more than a week for TUC leaders to prepare the ground for selling out over public sector pensions following the huge strike on 30 November. Trade union leaders first agreed to postpone any further discussion of action until 10 December, and then agreed to a TUC drive to hold separate negotiations on the different NHS, local government employee, teacher and civil service pension schemes.

 

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OccupyLSX: resistance and the City

bwd  Set 1/2  fwd

As we go to press, the City of London Corporation is applying for a court order to evict OccupyLSX from its camp opposite the entrance to Paternoster Square by St Paul’s Cathedral. A press campaign against the occupation is now in full flow: ‘Junkie health hazard at St Paul’s’ screamed the London Evening Standard headline on 23 November. It shows the extent to which the Occupy protest has unnerved the ruling class since it set up camps in cities across the country on 15 October following the example of Occupy Wall Street in the US. Having worked hard to transfer blame for the crisis on to excessive public spending, the ruling class now faced a movement which pinned responsibility firmly back where it belonged: on to the banks and the financial sector. Barnaby Mitchel and Tom Vincent report.

 

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Millions on strike against pension cuts: what next?

As we go to press, millions of public sector workers are preparing to strike and demonstrate on 30 November against the ConDem Coalition’s attack on their pensions. Many of them will also be asking what next? Ballots of GMB, Unison, Unite and other trade unions have shown large majorities in favour of industrial action. Yet there is no indication from trade union leaders as to what further action they will be calling for. With unfulfilled union promises of a spring of discontent, then of a summer of discontent, and then of an autumn of discontent, are there any real signs that they are now going to organise a winter of discontent? TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told us back in March that the ‘phoney war is over’; all we will have seen by December, nearly nine months after that declaration, are two public sector one-day strikes. This is not going to strike fear into the ruling class.

 

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N30 in Newcastle

newcastle_n30_1

In Newcastleupon Tyne FRFI supporters joined the 22 picket lines across the city from the early morning. A key picket line was held at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) Hospital including staff from RCN, Unison, GMB and UNITE unions. Nurses, physiotherapists, support workers, administrators and porters stood shoulder to shoulder, protesting against the attacks on NHS pensions and the privatisation of the NHS. Linda Hobson, critical care nurse at the RVI informed us ‘We shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the banking crisis with a 50% increase in our contribution rates, and none of that extra money going back into the pension scheme. In critical care we work 12 and a half hour rotational night and day shifts. It's hard.  To expect us to do these shifts at the age of 67 just seems unfair.’

FRFI supporters also joined UCU pickets at Durham University with ‘Durham Defend Higher Education’ who have been campaigning locally to take action against public funding cuts to higher education and privatisation.

 

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Royal Holloway University occupation – 2 Dec 2011

Royal Holloway UniversityOn Wednesday 30 November, students, at Royal Holloway University of London, including supporters of ‘Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!’, occupied the administrative centre of the university in solidarity with the N30 strikes and in protest against budget cuts being imposed by the university management.

Throughout the year there has been dialogue between the local UCU branch and the senior management over the planned redundancies of 22 members of teaching staff and a major restructuring of various courses, including the removal of Italian as a course and major attacks on the Classics and Philosophy Department.

 

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Electricians Protest against Balfour Beatty and Join LSX Occupation - 19 Oct 2011

This week Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! again supported the electricians taking principled unofficial action against the companies trying to pull out of the JIB pay and conditions agreement.

On the morning of Wednesday 18 October, we were outside Balfour Beatty's site at Blackfriars, with over 200 electricians and mounting a picketline at the staff entrances. This included blocking the lorry entrance on the bridge. A large placard marked 'closed' was held up at the main entrance and attempts were made to stop workers entering, explaining that this was a picket line. The police escorted people in if they made it through the crowd. Those going in got jeered. Many of them then stood on the building above looking out at the demonstration and the electricians spoke to them urging them to join the demonstration.

 

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Support the electricians! Down with deskilling and privatisation!

Wednesday 12 October, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! joined London electricians and supporters' for the weekly demonstration against the construction companies who are planning to withdraw from the Electrical and Mechanical National Working Agreements (JIB, Joint Industry Board) to drive down conditions and pay. The demonstrators met at the Tate Modern site in Southwark and marched over the bridge to Blackfriars to the Balfour Beatty site, occupying the road outside St Paul's cathedral and keeping the police on their toes.

 

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Victory for Democratic Rights as HSBC3 Exonerated!

The convictions of Mark Pearson and Patrick Reay - who were arrested for protesting against public sector cuts and tax dodging banks and companies in December 2010 - were overturned on Wednesday 28 September 2011 after a two day appeal at Newcastle Crown Court. The success of the appeal is a victory for the democratic right to protest in Newcastle and shows that it is always worthwhile challenging political policing.

hsbc_3

Stop Political Policing!

The arrests and charges of the HSBC 3 were politically motivated, designed to intimidate protesters, and restrict future protests against the cuts and austerity measures.  As John Pilger said in his solidarity statement, ‘The arrests of Patrick, Mark and Toby starkly represent the most disturbing trend in Britain — the rise of an openly political police... At worst, the police can kill with impunity, it seems, and increasingly they arrest and prosecute arbitrarily those whose dissent which marks the line between democracy and a state of fear and compliance’.

 

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Real resistance not empty gestures

The working class faces massive attacks on its jobs, its living standards and its services. What is needed is resistance on the same scale: a militant movement based not just on those sections of the working class whose jobs and pensions are at risk, but including all those whose benefits are being slashed and who are losing the vital public services on which they depend. In the face of this challenge, the response of the trade unions has been woefully inadequate for all their fiery talk. In the run-up to the 26 March TUC demonstration against the ConDem government cuts, General Secretary Brendan Barber spoke of the ‘end of the Phoney War’. At the demonstration itself, Unite’s Len McCluskey declared: ‘We’re not prepared to stand idly by and let them dismantle our society… This is only the start. We need a plan of resistance including coordinated strike action,’ while Communication Workers’ Union leader Billy Hayes said: ‘We will be defined not by what we say from this platform but by what we do. If we have to fight, so be it.’

 

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