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Newcastle: Anti-cuts movement continues to build as police step up repression - 18 Dec 2010

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On Saturday 18 December hundreds of anti-cuts activists again took to the streets in Newcastle, protesting inside and outside shops and banks implicated in tax-dodging, bail-outs and support for the cuts. This was the fourth such demonstration in a month in the city, with participants numbering in the hundreds, and on the 24 November and 9 December numbering in the thousands. The latest demonstration also saw wider sections of the local population join in, following the lead set by school and college students.

Of the recent anti-cuts demonstrations around Britain, outside of London those in Newcastle have been amongst the largest and most consistent. The demonstrations have been joined by youth from outside Newcastle, some from far-flung parts of Northumberland and County Durham. These include the children of families who felt the full force of earlier offensives by the ruling class. The coal mining industry was devastated under the Thatcher government in the 1980s, leaving places like Ashington in Northumberland and Easington in County Durham with little work, no services, and few prospects. Whole communities were destroyed, and have hardly recovered since. Even before the crisis, many families from these areas would have found it very difficult to support their kids going to college or sixth form without the £30 a week Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Now, the situation is even worse.

Although the initial rallying point was EMA and tuition fees, the Newcastle protests have also demonstrated a conscious opposition to the wider public sector cuts. The youth are not simply demonstrating as students – they are also from families who rely on public services, and many are also the children, sisters and brothers of public sector workers. In the North East 57.1% of GDP is accounted for by the public sector. 46% of all women workers are employed by the public sector, compared to 31% in London. A study by Durham University estimates that measures in the government’s October spending review will lead to 49,000 jobs being lost across the region. Meanwhile, in Newcastle - a local authority which is predicting 2,000 job losses in the next four years - the Chief Executive has been awarded a £5,000 performance-related bonus on top of his £160,500 salary.

The 18 December demonstration saw increasingly aggressive policing. Two activists were arrested during the protest itself, held for nine hours and then charged, before being released into the snow in the middle of the night. A third activist was arrested on an FRFI stall three days later, on the basis of accusations about his actions on the protest the previous Saturday. This is how the repressive arm of the British state treats working class people who stand up for their rights. A defence campaign has been launched, with a blog at: A picture has begun to emerge of similar police tactics in other parts of the country outside London, with reports of arrests in Glasgow, Bristol, Edinburgh and elsewhere, and defence campaigns being set up in many places.

It is noticeable that all three of those arrested in Newcastle are supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! In Newcastle and other cities, FRFI activists have been at the forefront of fighting for an open democratic movement against the cuts, pointing to the basis of the cuts in the government’s attempts to make the working class pay for the capitalist crisis, and arguing that resistance must go beyond opposition to the Tories and must unite with struggles of the working class and oppressed internationally to smash the imperialist system and build a socialist alternative. Just days before the first big student protests in Newcastle on 24 November, many of those who would emerge as leaders among the youth in the following weeks had taken part in the Northern March against Racism 2010 on 20 November (see index.php/reports/north-east-reports/1956-northern-march-against-racism-2010-newcastle-20-november-.html) where FRFI activists, including the three who were later arrested, had played a prominent role. Internationalist, anti-racist unity, of the kind expressed in the Northern March, will be needed if we are to defeat the ruling class and its cuts agenda.

More and more people are waking up from the lie that no matter who you are or where you come from, as long as you keep your head down and work hard you can 'make something of yourself'. The truth is it's not about how hard you work - there are a lot of working class people who break their backs working in menial jobs all their lives just getting by, there are working class people just getting by on meagre benefits payments – but their living standards have been systematically pushed down to increase the profits of those in power, the recent cuts being the latest stage in this process. No amount of hard work or keeping our heads down will change this - what is needed is resistance. The government has declared class war, and the fightback is starting!

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