Sunday, 7 March 2010

Trades Council demo unites Brighton fight back

[Words and pictures, Peter Knight]

"They say cut back, we say fight back" was the chant that roared through the streets of Brighton on Saturday as hundreds of working class trade union activists and campaigners brought the city's streets to a standstill.

In one of the largest trade union organised demonstrations in Brighton for many years, over 600 people representing union branches from workplaces right across the city united to inspire others to join a growing fight back against mounting job losses and the monstrous attacks on public services.

Recent work place closures in the city have seen the loss of hundreds of jobs with bookshops, bank branches, off licenses and manufacturing plants closing down in the last year.

With the continuing threat of redundancies and savage service cuts looming over the heads of thousands more local workers, the Brighton, Hove and District Trades Union Council organised March for Jobs demonstration has provided the spark for a united fight back campaign.

Union branches supporting the event included the GMB, NUJ, NUT, PCS, RMT, UCU, Unison and Unite.

Last week the local Save Our Nursery campaign, which has united parents and workers against plans to close an outstanding childcare service at the University of Brighton, forced management to consider a union proposal to keep the nursery open after a large vocal rally outside the board of governors' meeting.

Carole Hanson, secretary of the University of Brighton Unison branch representing the nursery workers, said at the rally on Saturday: "The impact that action has had on our branch, to see those workers absolutely united against the cuts to the nursery, the cuts to provision, the cuts to their jobs, has galvanised our branch into action and it's really uniting people in their opposition to any cuts."

The fight towards victory for the Save Our Nursery campaign saw their contingent lead the March for Jobs demonstration.

GMB members from the Brighton bin depot joined the march to inspire fellow workers in struggle after their victorious battle last year. Over 300 refuse workers were facing massive cuts in their pay of up to a third, but took united action and forced the council into a quick retreat after only a two day strike.

Dave Russell, GMB rep at the Hollingdean depot in Brighton, said at the rally: "We won the battle but the war has only just begun. I hope our victory can inspire you in yours."

Job centre workers in the Public and Commercial Services union, who are due to walk out on strike on Monday and Tuesday, marched side by side with unemployed campaigners who are being attacked with cuts to already poverty level benefits. Both unemployed and public sector workers face ongoing privatisation plans or the introduction of punishments for not excepting low paid work.

But organised activists remain confident of the unity that the March for Jobs event provided. Kevin Dale, a PCS rep at Brighton job centre, said: "PCS workers are taking industrial action in defence of their compensation scheme which, if cut, cheapens everything up for the privatisation and cuts to come. So we're taking all out action on Monday and Tuesday. Today's demo gives us every confidence we can win this battle."

Dominic McFadden from the PCS national executive committee echoed one of the demonstration's key slogans when he spoke at the rally at the end of the march. Yellow placards with the slogan "jobs and services not bail outs for the rich" were waived in the air by the crowd at Brighton town hall as he said: "When moat-owning Douglas Hogg MP steps down at the next election he will walk away with a pension pot worth more than £40,000 a year. The average pension for a civil service worker is only £84 a week. So much for gold plated public sector pensions. Perhaps the government could collect the billions of avoided and evaded tax payments owed by the rich before they start attacking low paid public sector workers."

With 76 per cent of an 80 per cent turnout backing strike action - a national record turn out for a UCU ballot - workers at the University of Sussex are growing in confidence that united action can force a nervous management to concede defeat over plans to axe over 100 jobs.

Support on the local campuses is growing with the Stop The Cuts campaign uniting workers and students who have organised peaceful occupations and demonstrations.

However, in a sign of desperation, the university's vice chancellor Michael Farthing called in police to violently break up the latest protest expelling six of the students without any hearing.

Students and workers involved in the Stop The Cuts campaign joined Saturday's demonstration to gather signatures in support of the six victimised students. Along with their petition and news of a demonstration planned for next week, they also provided the march with the chant "workers and students unite and fight" highlighting the strength and depth of the unity that is building across the city.

Radical poet Attila the Stockbroker provided some lively and stirring music and prose that captured the upbeat mood of workers and their families on the demonstration.

The anger over job losses and cuts is not lost in the local labour movement, but the March for Jobs demonstration has given everyone involved in struggle a massive boost that has united a lot of the battles taking place across the city.

Bill North, general secretary of Brighton, Hove and District Trades Union Council said: "What we've achieved today has been absolutely brilliant but if we left it there we would have failed. This is the start of a campaign for jobs and services that can be built to defeat those who wish to make us pay for their crisis. We’ve shown that we can work together, act together so let's stick together and let people know there is a fight back going on."