Demonstration against Newcastle Council’s Cuts Budget – Newcastle 7 March 2012

On Wednesday 7 March members of the Anti-Cuts Network demonstrated as Newcastle City Council voted on the latest round of council cuts, with £30 million to be slashed in 2012.

Last year Labour councillors in Newcastle shed crocodile tears as the Lib Dems voted through cuts of £44 million. This year, with Labour now in control of the council, they voted through a further £30 million of cuts, including less funding for wardens supporting older people (to be replaced by a telephone helpline), an increase in charges for meals on wheels from £2.50 to £3, reduced library opening hours and increased charges, a 5% cuts in spending on arts and culture (and a further 15% next year), a cap on care packages and squeezed time for home care visits from 30 to 20 minutes. So much for the council’s claims of a ‘fair budget for a fair city’!

Earlier in the afternoon activists mobilised at Grey’s Monument in the city centre to speak to people about the budget meeting. The council have run a slick campaign this year, making loud claims about ‘consultation’ while in reality the working class of Newcastle has had no say in the budget. So the Anti-Cuts Network took to the streets to say: ‘Stop the Cuts – Stop the Spin!’.

As the meeting approached the demonstration moved up Northumberland Street to the Civic Centre, to chants of: ‘They say privatise! We say mobilise!’ FRFI supporters carried a Cuban flag proudly on the march, pointing to the alternative to capitalism, crisis and cuts demonstrated by Socialist Cuba. In Cuba the working class are in power and as such, amongst their long list of achievements, they can boast one of the best healthcare systems in the world and state–funded education for all ages. A far cry from what is happening in Britain with the privatisation of the NHS and attacks on access to further and higher education.

At the council meeting local residents were denied access to the public gallery by council security guards supported by the police. The reason given by the head of Civic Centre Security was that the leader of the council had given him absolute discretion about who to admit to the ‘public’ gallery, and that he was taking the advice of the police to bar entry to anyone under suspicion of being an ‘activist’. Of course this didn’t apply to the Labour and Lib Dem party activists wielding the axe inside the meeting, but only to people opposed to the cuts. In reality admission to the meeting was not on the basis of whether you were an activist, but if you were prepared to stand up for working class interests then you were excluded.

Despite radical talk from union leaders like Len McCluskey, about the need for civil disobedience to defeat the cuts, the unions have provided little or no fight back. Unison had called a rally at the Civic Centre to coincide with the budget decision. Around fifty people gathered at 4.30pm to listen to two speakers and by 5pm, before the march had arrived and an hour before the council meeting had even begun, they called their rally to an end and headed home!

Any movement that seeks to defeat the government’s austerity programme will need to organise independently of the stagnant unions and the fundamentally anti-working class Labour Party. The austerity measures have nothing to do with party politics: they have everything to do with class war.

This Saturday (10 March 2012) the Liberal Democrats are having their spring conference in Gateshead. Join the ‘Cleggoff!’ march to oppose them, assembling at 11am outside the East End Pool and Library on Shields Road, Byker, for a march through the city to the conference. Further details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/278570088877106/