Unite took to the streets of Birmingham yesterday (October 2) alongside thousands of others from all walks of life to send a clear message to the government that the British people have had enough of its austerity programme that’s wrecked lives and hamstrung the economy for years.
Unite members were out in full force at the People’s Assembly demo, which gathered together an estimated 10,000 protestors, who marched past the Tory Party Conference which started on the same day.
A Unite delegation of steelworkers were among those leading the procession to highlight the plight of the UK’s most fundamental foundation industry now under threat.
As prime minister Theresa May prepared to give her keynote address, the people’s procession flooded the streets to the sounds of chants – “Tories out!” – whistles, cheers and drums.
Unite rep Paul Maullin, a Birmingham local who has worked for a car components manufacturer for nearly three decades, was among the many demonstrators who brought their children with them.
More than anyone, Maullin and his young daughter Lauren (pictured), who has special needs, know the toll that government austerity has taken on the most vulnerable.
“We used to have transport for Lauren but in the last two years it’s been cut,” he explained. “So we’ve had to fund the difference ourselves – it’s been very hard.
“The biggest myth about austerity is that the poorest and most vulnerable in society would not be affected. And they have actually been affected worst – I know this first hand.”
Maullin explained why protests such as yesterday’s march are so important.
“We need to highlight what is actually happening to ordinary people,” he said. “You get all the spin doctors from the Tory party saying that we’re supposedly all in this together, with Theresa May trying to come across as some sort of semi-socialist trying to appeal to the working class. But never in a million years will they do anything for the working class because they don’t hold our values.”
Maullin felt compelled to bring young Lauren to the march.
“It gives her an acknowledgement of what’s being done to her and others like her,” he explained. “And it’s a good friendly atmosphere with everyone out here — in it together.”
For our children
Unite community member Andrea Buford from Leicester has also been hit by government austerity.
“I’ve got a disability but I won’t claim any benefits for it because I’m too frightened of being hassled,” she explained, noting that so many people on disabilities benefits have had to be reassessed under new government policies designed to humiliate and harangue those who need support the most.
“It’s been incredibly expensive for us,” Buford added.
Buford and her husband Chris also brought their young daughter Livia (pictured).
“I want her to know how important equality is and how important it is for everyone to work together,” Buford said.
Unite member and health visitor Su Lowe (pictured), of Staffordshire, told UNITElive of the very real threat facing young children as massive government cuts to public health have hit hard.
“Some councils are making massive cuts to health visiting services and we feel that it’s becoming downright dangerous,” she said.
“We need the government to put back the funding for public health. They need to keep the mandate required for basic health visiting services. Universal services matter. In Scotland they’re increasing the amount of contact children are getting from health visitors, while in England we’re at risk completely. We need to talk to this government about valuing health visiting.”
Unite equality rep Patricia Davis, who travelled up to Birmingham from London, also feared most for her children.
“This government’s policies have had the worst impact on young people – it’s affecting my kids now,” she explained. “They’re finding it so hard now to find a job, to find an affordable place to live.”
Davis said she was also attending the march to demonstrate against the Tories’ Trade Union Act.
“They’ve taken away so many of our rights as trade unionists over the years already – and they’re still trying to reduce these rights even more,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point that we have virtually no rights in the workplace and the employers can do what they like with us.”
Manufacturing strategy call
The march finished at Eastside Park, where a wide range of speakers – from Birmingham’s poet laureate Stephen Morrison Burke to Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) activist Bob Findlay-Williams to comedian Francesca Martinez and many more – issued a clarion call against austerity.
Unite steelworker and branch secretary Mark ‘Pasty’ Turner (pictured) addressed the 10,000-strong demonstration, as he urged the crowds to remember just how important steel is to their daily lives.
“Just to put it into context – look around you,” he said. “Everywhere around you, you will find steel. Every day, you touch steel.”
He noted that the Port Talbot steelworks alone produces eight thousand tonnes of steel each day, which goes into making eight thousand cars, while the steelworks in Scunthorpe, with a production rate of five thousand tonnes of steel each day, is the backbone of much of the rail system which so many of us use daily.
“Every time you open your cupboard and you see a tin of beans – every Heinz can that is produced in this country comes from Port Talbot and goes through Trostre,” Turner said.
“But it’s not just about steel – to make those tin cans and to fill those tin cans all require manufacturing jobs. We need a manufacturing strategy in this country.”
Turner lambasted the previous Tory government under David Cameron for failing to implement a manufacturing strategy which it had promised – and he added that now, under Theresa May, the story is much the same.
“We don’t need promises – we need action,” Turner argued. “To those at the Tory conference, we don’t want to hear words. We want this government to make a commitment to the thousands and thousands of UK manufacturing jobs that are out there.”
He noted the urgent need for support goes well beyond manufacturing itself.
“If the automobile industry were to collapse, 160,000 direct jobs would be lost but on top of that you have the economy of every single community [that such a collapse would affect],” Turner pointed out. “In Port Talbot alone, we would lose shops, hospitals, garages, we would lose all the basics of our communities.”
Just as other members at the march told UNITElive about an abiding concern for the next generation as they grow up under the yoke of austerity, Turner, too, said that our fight is, ultimately, a fight for our children.
“Look around us – what futures have our children got? Zero hour contracts? Manufacturing gives us good, well-paid jobs. We have to keep them,” he said.
“Get behind our manufacturing industry. Give us the support that we require.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, who is also the People’s Assembly chair, said that demonstrations such as yesterday’s are now more important than ever before.
“We may have a new prime minister but the government’s plans for working people have remained sadly the same as under Theresa May’s predecessor David Cameron,” he said. “May’s rhetoric is patently designed to fool ordinary working people into thinking that austerity does not have any consequences.
“But we won’t be fooled,” Turner argued. “And that’s why yesterday’s protest is so important – we need to continue to highlight at every turn the very real damage that this Tory government’s policies are inflicting on everyone. Its why protests, marches, campaigning and political action that can build social movements and can build for a Labour government are all necessary in ending this government’s disastrous policies.”