- Created: Saturday, 19 October 2013 16:45
- Written by James Bell
On 14 September, the North East People’s Assembly Against Austerity gave centre stage to Labour Party councillors and their supporters. The organisers attempted to present the event as an alternative to the savage austerity of the coalition government. However, Labour in the northeast has been implementing the government’s cuts, with £100m of council cuts in Newcastle last year alone. James Bell reports.
In a session on the bedroom tax, David Stockdale, Labour councillor for Newcastle’s Blakelaw ward, stated: ‘I wake up every morning believing I have done all I can to oppose the bedroom tax.’ In reality he has done nothing. When challenged on his role in passing the £100m cuts budget, Stockdale had only excuses: ‘Yes, I voted for the cuts, and as a cabinet member I had to oversee library closures, but we are in a tough position. Sometimes you have to make compromises when you’re a member of a party. If we voted against the cuts what do you think would happen?’
A session entitled ‘Racism, Immigration and the Cuts’ hosted Dipu Ahad, Labour councillor for Elswick ward, as a top speaker. Ahad is the figurehead of Newcastle Unites Against the EDL, a coalition of Labour Party members, Newcastle TUC and the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), set up to oppose the English Defence League national march of 25 May. The actions of Newcastle Unites on the day set 14 anti-fascist activists, mostly FRFI supporters, up for arrest (see box). Supporters of FRFI and the Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign took Ahad’s speech as an opportunity to ask a simple question: who was the named contact person for the police during the march? Ahad responded that he had been the named contact for the police but that ‘no-one else spoke to the police at all’. He added that he ‘would not have passed information like that to the police’, as it is ‘against [his] principles’, adding that FRFI ‘would not have been excluded’ from the march.
This was an attempt to rewrite history. On 15 May FRFI received an email from Newcastle Unites, stating that ‘The organising group of Newcastle Unites discussed your behaviour at last night’s [organising] meeting and agreed unanimously not to allow you to attend either the demonstration or the public meeting’ and that ‘if you choose to ignore our decision and do turn up you will not be welcome and we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that you play no part of these activities.’ This was confirmed repeatedly on the day of the march, and in an email to Northumbria Police. In the police station, police presented the 14 arrestees with a summary of the accusations against them, which included a written statement that Newcastle Unites organisers had told the police that FRFI were not welcome on the march.
Challenged with this information, Ahad responded angrily, asking an FRFI supporter ‘have you experienced racism?’ When the supporter responded ‘yes, I’m Irish’, Ahad attempted to shut down the discussion by asking him if he had ever had a brick thrown at his head. He was backed by both Labour supporters and members of the SWP, who harassed FRFI supporters with insults, and accused them of diverting the discussion.
Local writer Lee Hall, who has been involved in campaigning against library cuts, said that ‘in order to fight back we need to start talking to each other. That is why the People’s Assembly is important. It is a place where we must conspire to demand something better.’ We must demand better than an ‘assembly against austerity’ dominated by the pro-cuts Labour Party and its apologists.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013