Newcastle residents protest against Bedroom Tax

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Tuesday 2nd April – the first working-day since the introduction of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – saw dozens of residents across Newcastle’s East End take to the streets in a display of anger and determination. Equipped with homemade placards, banners, and powerful speeches the working class communities of Byker, Heaton, and Walker sent a clear and simple message to Newcastle City Council, to Your Homes Newcastle, and to any other housing provider, company, or official that decides to collaborate in social cleansing – ‘We can’t pay! We won’t pay!’

A day of lively protest began that morning with residents of Heaton and Byker – part of the recently launched Byker & Heaton Against the Bedroom Tax campaign – congregating at the entrance of Your Homes Newcastle Housing Office in the heart of the Byker Wall Estate. Armed with loudhailer and plenty of revolutionary spirit, residents loudly articulated their calls for a campaign of non-payment and demanded the Council and Housing Providers commit to ‘No evictions – full stop!’ and to cancel all rent arrears. The management of the Housing Office promptly appeared and addressed those protesting, warning them that their protest action may ‘intimidate our customers’! That’s right – in addressing those who face the imminent threat of rent arrears, court proceedings, eviction notices, potential loss of child custody rights, and the all too real prospect of homelessness, Your Homes Newcastle have the nerve to tell us about intimidation! Residents responded by challenging the office management on what stance Your Homes Newcastle intends to take in relation to the state’s attacks on housing. This forced them to promise the arrival of an official from the Byker Trust (the private trust that took over housing stock in the Byker Wall estate from the Council last year) to discuss our ‘concerns’. When that official – a certain Jill Haley, Byker Trust ‘Chief Officer’ – failed to appear after almost two hours, residents decided to save her the walk, proceeding to march through the estate to the Trust’s offices and demanding an immediate audience with her – which they received. The demands of the campaign were put to Mrs Haley and her colleagues (who are of course all ‘strongly opposed’ to these cuts to benefits), for Your Homes Newcastle to commit to an unconditional ‘no evictions’ policy, to refuse to initiate legal proceedings against any of their residents in arrears, and to support a campaign of non-payment. Unfortunately, their ‘strong opposition’ didn’t manifest itself in support for any of these basic demands.

The protest received local press coverage, including the following article in The Chronicle (Newcastle daily newspaper):
www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/newcastle-protesters-urge-tenants-boycott-2508409

The day’s action continued in Walker with a ‘Smash the Bedroom Tax’ protest held outside the local Your Homes Newcastle Housing Office. Local FRFI supporters joined members of Walker Action Group and other local residents to distribute leaflets, window-posters, and collect signatures from passersby as others spoke via megaphone about how the bedroom tax will affect them personally and on how the latest attacks on benefits will totally devastate working class communities like Walker.

Newcastle Labour Council and their housing providers would do well to heed the warning they were issued this week – working class communities are organising to fight back, they are growing in strength and confidence and they are determined to win. Despite a media frenzy giving relentless expression to the ruling class’s divide and rule tactics, those who came out on Tuesday were clear about who their real enemies are and the need to build a militant campaign centred on civil disobedience to defeat them.

Both events were the first major actions against the bedroom tax organised by the local East End campaigns. They will not be the last.

Smash the Bedroom Tax! - Can’t pay! Won’t pay!

Newcastle Labour council £100m budget cuts

On Wednesday 6 March, Newcastle City Council voted through cuts of £100m to local services, to heckles and boos from a packed public gallery. A video screen had been set up in another room for those who could not fit into the council chamber, but many people walked out in disgust as the Labour councillors wrung their hands and tried to justify their actions.

When it came to the vote not one Labour councillor opposed the cuts. This budget has received both local and national criticism, with controversy centring on the 100% cut to arts funding and the closure of local libraries, alongside a 100% cut to youth and play services and other cuts affecting respite centres for the families of disabled people, swimming pools and leisure centres, parks and bin collections. The council has ignored widespread opposition from local communities which culminated in 1,500-strong demonstration on 16 February demanding a no-cuts budget.

Following the council vote, Labour leader Nick Forbes was quick to turn to the media to justify himself, stating that the council would be regarded as a ‘civic basket case’ if the cuts were not passed. He was determined to absolve himself and the Labour Party from any blame, claiming that the cuts were pushed upon him by an ‘unfair government’.

In the run up to this vote, local press have claimed that significant concessions have been made compared to the original budget proposals. The Evening Chronicle reported on both 12 and 16 February that the city’s arts budget ‘wouldn’t face a 100% reduction’. Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader and shadow culture secretary, stated that ‘the reality is there is not going to be a 100% cut to the arts in Newcastle’ and that finance will be in the form of ‘capital funding or revenue funding’, but she could not give ‘the nitty-gritty’. The reality of this is simple: Newcastle does face a 100% cut to public funding for the arts. The funding that has been proposed to replace that of the council is a minute £600,000, provided by an independent body, funded by private philanthropists and completely unaccountable to the public.

Other services the media have reported as ‘saved’ include Castle Dene and Cheviot View respite centres. These services are used to aid carers of disabled children and adults and are vital to these families. Sky News reported that Nick Forbes had ‘removed the threat of closure’ to these services. Again, the reality is far different. A statement on the council website makes clear that the decision has merely been postponed, ‘pending further discussions with the families directly affected’. There are no guarantees that the council will not bring new proposals for closure in 2014.

Sky also reported that cuts to Newcastle’s library service have been reduced, from 18 closures to 10, with the potential for 5 of these to remain open through some form of ‘partnership’ – either privatization or dumped on the community to run with no resources but their own voluntary labour. This seems to have been the first time it has been openly stated that the council originally aimed to close 18 libraries – their official proposals released in November 2012 mentioned only 10 closures, although some council officers have given verbal indications that the real figure in councillors’ heads was 18. Now that the council have decided to close 10, this is being presented as a concession, even though this is what they said they would do all along.

It is telling that in all of these articles about amendments to the budget, not one has reported that the original budget proposed a cut of £90m, not the £100m now agreed by the council. Rather than offering the working class of Newcastle concessions, the council has intensified its attack on local communities. The budget passed is nothing short of devastating to those already faced by a vicious assault on living standards, benefits, and the looming threat of the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts in April. An utter refusal by the Labour Party to reject cuts, nationally or locally, and their consistent outpour of excuses can leave us with no illusions in their party. They do not act in the interests of the working class: they do not even listen to them.

At a What’s Next? meeting on 2nd March, 2013, organised by anti-cuts campaigners from local areas and across the city, it was clear that resistance will not stop. The budget may have been approved by the Labour party, but communities and activists across the city will not cease to oppose it. Whatever Forbes and his allies might say, the people of Newcastle do not accept his austerity measures. They will not stop fighting.

James Bell

Thousands March Against Cuts – Newcastle 16 February 2013

On Saturday 16 February campaigns and unions from across Newcastle and the North East marched through the city in opposition to proposed council cuts of £100 million and the government’s wider austerity programme. Police estimated the turn-out to be over 1,500 people, by far the largest anti-cuts mobilisation Newcastle has seen to date. The mood was militant, angry and vocal, as can be seen in the Sky News report above.

The success of the march vindicates the approach the RCG/FRFI has been arguing for since the start: open, democratic, and led by ordinary working class people. Community campaigns were central to organising the march, including the Save Our Services campaign that focuses on how the cuts will affect young people, Walker Action Group, Save Moorside Library, Save Newcastle Libraries, Save Our Play and Sure Start Parents’ Voice. RCG members are active in all of these groups, fighting for a democratic and principled approach that allows working class people to decide the direction of the campaign, and does not make concessions to the Labour Party, trade unions or anybody else. Many unions supported the march on the day, financially and by mobilising their members, but ordinary working class people organising in their communities led the way. In organising meetings for the march RCG supporters and our allies fought for and won decisions to have an open mic at the rally, which provided a platform for some very powerful speeches from local people who had not been included in the ‘official’ list of speakers, and a compere who has a proven track record of working in a democratic and non-sectarian way.

The Newcastle campaigns have more actions planned over the next few weeks in the lead up to the vote on the council budget on 6 March, and are coming together on 2 March to discuss the current stage the campaigns are at and the next steps in building resistance:

Stop the Cuts – Save Our Services: What Next?

Bring your ideas and join the discussion, help to plan the next steps for stopping the cuts in Newcastle

Saturday 2 March, 1-5pm

St John’s Church Hall, Grainger Street, Newcastle (near Central Station)

For more information and analysis of the Newcastle council cuts and the movements that have been built in response read:

Newcastle cuts: the fight is on/FRFI231 Feb/Mar 2013: index.php/fight-the-cuts/2879-newcastle-cuts-the-fight-is-on

Fighting the Cuts in Newcastle - Arthur's Hill Day of Action 2 February 2013: index.php/fight-the-cuts/2860-fighting-the-cuts-in-newcastle

Save Newcastle Libraries occupy the council chamber – 5 December 2012: index.php/fight-the-cuts/2818-save-newcastle-libraries-occupy-the-council-chamber

Defend Newcastle libraries – fight all cuts!/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013: index.php/fight-the-cuts/2801-defend-newcastle-libraries-fight-all-cuts

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.

The day started with events in the facilities under threat. In Moorside community library people came in fancy dress as literary characters. Activities for children were organised such as mask making and face painting. Children from New Mills estate decorated t-shirts with anti-cuts slogans and made protest instruments with play and youth workers and similar activities took place in Nunsmoor centre, another local play facility. At midday protesters converged for a 150-strong march through the local high street, with chants that made clear the community’s opposition to all cuts. Children were at the forefront of the march, rapidly developing megaphone skills and distributing hundreds of leaflets to passers-by to further build the campaign.

The event was built through consistent work in the local community since the first meeting of Save Moorside Library at the start of December, uniting with other campaigns, from knocking on doors to petitioning at school gates. This community based approach really paid off, and Newcastle RCG/FRFI is committed to continuing this work. Contact us if you would like help setting up an action group in your local area. Phone 07858 346276 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Metro Cleaners Strike in Newcastle June 2012 - Report and Interview

Metro Cleaners Strike in Newcastle June 2012 - Report and InterviewNine years after opening in 1981, privatisation of the Tyne and Wear Metro light-rail system began with cleaning services being contracted out to the private sector. Churchill Services took charge of Metro cleaning provision in 2010 and – in their pursuit of increased “cost efficiencies” – have been attacking the cleaning staff’s terms and conditions of employment ever since. Churchill Services increased its annual pre-tax profits by 81% between 2009 and 2010; none of which has been passed on to the cleaning employees. Metro cleaners continue to be paid the bare minimum wage of £6.08 per hour; which amounts to poverty-pay considering the “living wage” in the North East is estimated at £7.20 hourly#. On top of this, the cleaners have no sick pay scheme; no pension scheme; and no access to free leisure travel passes (a condition that is afforded to other Metro employees however). In fact, originally Churchill had also refused to provide cleaners with free work travel passes; forcing them to pay to use the Metro system even when travelling to work. Although this has now been awarded, the attacks continue.

 

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