Public Service Workers Strike for Fair Pay Now!

BBC to Trafalgar Square, London. Thu 10 Jul 2014
At the front of the crowd during the rally in Trafalgar Square
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Thousands of teachers, civil servants, firefighters and others in the public services marched to a Trafalgar Square rally demanding fair pay and conditions and to be allowed to provide public services to meet public needs rather than private profit.

Among the unions supporting the strike were the PCS, the NUT, Unison, GMB, FBU, Unite and NIPSA, the probation services union.

The march started outside the BBC, certainly a reminder to our public broadcasting service that - even if they chose to play it down and often not report on it at all - there is consderable opposition to the coalition government's austerity programme and the hardships that this is producing.

The crisis was caused by the banks and by the speculative activities of the ultra-wealthy but is being paid for by the great bulk of the poor and ordinary workers. While they are suffereing from the effects of welfare cuts and wage freezes, government has given massive financial support to the banks, and the wealthy have quickly recovered and are surging ahead, widening the gap between rich and poor.

As Mark Serwotka of PCS put it: "Whether it’s local government or civil service pay, firefighter pensions or teachers’ workloads – the underlying problem is the same: public sector workers are being made to carry the can for the economic crisis."

"Due to pay and pension cuts, some of our members have seen real terms losses in their income of 20% since 2010."

This was a large march, and it took around 50 minutes to go across Oxford Circus on its way to Trafalgar Square, and there were other marches in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Brighton. Altogether around 2 million workers took part in the one day strike, though rather fewer marched, perhaps around 15,000 in London.
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Argentina don't pay the Vultures

Elliot Associates, London. Wed 9 Jul 2014

'Vulture Funds; Claws off Argentina' Jubilee Debt Campaigners at Elliot Associates
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The future of Argentina lies in the balance following a US court decision that it must pay $1.3 bn to US vulture funds who bought up its debts cheaply. Protesters in London on Argentinean Independence Day urged it to refuse to pay.

US hedge funds bought up debts owed by the government of Argentina when it was clear that these were not going to be repaid in full, paying only a few cents for every dollar owed. They then refused to negotiate with Argentina over repayment at a low rate, and went to the US courts to get an order from them that stops Argentina making payments at a lower rate to others - holding over 90% of the debts - who had come to agreements with Argentina and insisting on repayment to the speculators in full.

It isn't clear why the US court thought this was a reasonable case, and why they should back speculators in this way which will damage the interests of the other lenders. Argentine officials say they judge failed to understand the case. Argentina can't afford to pay, and to do so would be disastrous not just for Argentina but possibly for the whole world financial system. Courts need to protect countries and other bodies from speculators, not act in their interests.

Protesters from the Jubilee Debt Campaign went to protest at the UK office of one of the vulture funds, Elliot Associates in Mayfair to urge Argentina not to pay. The protest started at a block of offices just off St James Square, and had been going for a few minutes when one of the reception staff came out and told the protesters that Elliot Associates, although still officially listed at that address had actually moved elsewhere a week or two ago, and gave their new address. The protesters were not sure whether to believe this or not, so one of them set off to investigate while the protest continued. Shortly she phoned back to confirm they were now in some new offices just off Oxford St.

A few people had to leave early, but the rest of the protesters decided to walk to the new offices, stopping briefly on the way outside the Argentine Embassy for a photocall. The protest then continued for around 15 minutes in the new location.

[Argentina did refuse to pay at the end of July, and argue that the US court ruling is an attack on Argentine sovereignty. They hope to evade the ruling by a new Argentine law and bond swap which will remove any jurisdiction over the debt form the US courts. The fight against the vultures is continuing. The world can't afford to lose.]
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Court vigil for WCA Judicial Review

Royal Courts of Justice, London. Tue 8 Jul 2014

Protesters including Claire Glasman (seated) and Paula Peters (right) outside the court
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Disabled rights supporters held a lunchtime vigil at the Royal Courts of Justice as the judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment, previously found by the court to discriminate against mental health claimants, was in its second day.

Many of those who came to the vigil which was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in partnership with the Mental Health Resistance Network were disabled. As well as several in wheelchairs and another with a long white cane, there were others whose disabilities are less obvious. John McDonnell MP came to show his support but did not speak.

One of the women who spoke told of her annual difficulties with the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) when every year she was refused Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and had to appeal against this, and every year her appeal on the grounds of mental health was upheld. But when she attended her latest assessment after having just fractured her ankles she was surprised to be immediately put in the support group. Why, she asked, just because my mental health problems are not obviously visible should she "every 12 months have to put up with the same bloody palaver?" Of course, many people with quite visible problems also get refused, but as the previous court had determined, those with mental health problems face additional discrimination.

Other speakers included Clare Glasman from Winvisible and Danny Shine who added a little somewhat black humour to the event, as well as Roy Bard from the Mental Health Resistance Network and others from Fight Racism Fight Imperialism. It was the MHRN which had helped the two anonymous complainants to take the case that they were being discriminated against under the Equality Act to court. The court agreed, and when the DWP appealed they lost their appeal and were told they had to take remedial action to make their procedures comply with the law.

According to the protesters, within hours of the appeal having been lost, the DWP sent out a message to the assessment centres, telling them it was 'business as usual' and they should continue to act illegally. Certainly nothing appears to have changed in the WCA procedures since the court verdict.

The most moving part of the event came when Paula Peters of DPAC asked for a minute of silence to remember those who have died, committing suicide as a result of having benefits removed, including 18 of her personal friends. Paula had brought two placards to wear, one with the message 'Dr Paul Litchfield you deny WCA harms. Claimants have died.' and the other 'Keep Calm and Resist Iain Duncan-Smith.' Other posters on the fence outside the court listed just a few of the names of those whose inquests have recorded benefit cuts as at least a partial reason for their deaths.

The tests used in the WCA were apparently bought from the USA, where they were developed by an insurance company who had them designed to try and wriggle out of making payments on their policies wherever possible.

The court hearings, where the DWP is outlining the 'reasonable adjustments' it proposes to make to meet the demands of the Equality Act, continue until tomorrow, and some of those at the protest were returning to the public gallery to hear the proceedings after the vigil.
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Save our Surgeries on NHS 66th Birthday

Whitechapel, London. Sat 5 Jul 2014

Listening to speeches at the rally in Altab Ali Park before the march
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On the 66th anniversary of the founding of the NHS, the Save our Surgeries campaign against health cuts in Tower Hamlets marched to Hackney in a show of opposition to health cuts, surgery closures and NHS privatisation.

Changes in the funding of NHS surgeries which fail to take into account the extra needs of inner-city areas such as Tower Hamlets are expected to lead to the closure of some surgeries in the borough as well as in other deprived areas of the city. Tower Hamlets has already been badly hit by NHS cuts, particularly because of the huge debt from the PFI contract for the new Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. Always problematic, the failure of inexperienced civil servants to negotiate sensible deals with the private sector during the new Labour administration has saddled the NHS with an impossible debt, while the current government is busily privatising areas to provide profits for its friends.

Among the speakers in a brief rally before the march started were the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Luftur Rahman who was welcomed enthusiastically by many on his way through the crowd. There was also a warm welcome for Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali. Other speakers included health campaigners Dr Anna Livingstone, Dr Jackie Applebee, Dr Naomi Beer and Myra Garrett and Sheila McGregor of the NUT.

After the speeches the crowd of several hundreds set off down the Whitechapel Road on its way to London Fields where it was to be met by other protesters for a longer rally. But I had to leave the march at Whitechapel station.
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Focus E15 March for Decent Housing

East Ham, London. Sat 5 Jul 2014

Focus E15 Mums led the march with the message 'Social Housing not Social Cleansing!'
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Focus E15 Mums led a march through East Ham to demand secure housing, free from the threats of eviction, soaring private rents, rogue landlords, letting agents illegally discriminating, insecure tenancies and unfair bedroom tax and benefit cap.

Well over a hundred people formed up behind banners to march through East Ham and Upton Park in a protest over the terrible state of housing in England, and in London in particular. There were protest groups from Hackney, from Brent and from South London on the march as well as groups including BARAC, TUSC and others. A few had come from outside the capital to join the protest. The protest was organised by Focus E15 Mums with the support of Fight Racism Fight Imperialism.

Some, like the Counihans who founded the Housing for All campaign and the Focus E15 Mums had been involved in fights for their own housing against councils lacking in principles and compassion who had suggested they might move to Birmingham, Hastings, Wales or further afield, but who had stood their ground and made some progress. But councils across London are still involved in a policy of 'social cleansing', moving the poor who can no longer afford escalating market rents out of London. Some of those on the march had earlier this week managed to prevent an eviction that was taking place in Queens Park.

We need a government - national and local - determined to act for the benefit of ordinary people, making a real attempt to build much more social housing, removing the huge subsidies currently given to private landlords through housing benefit, legislating to provide fair contracts for private tenants and give them decent security - and criminalising unfair evictions. Housing is becoming a national emergency (though one that hits London far more severely than elsewhere) and emergency measures are needed.

But governments continue to provide incentives for building of expensive property for investment by overseas buyers - much of it not even lived in - and huge numbers of homes in London are empty. We need a system that imposes heavy taxes on empty properties and which makes council tax reflect property values in high price areas such as London. Even more radical solutions may be the only answer.

The people on the streets showed a great deal of support for the march. I can't remember seeing motorists stop their cars to put money in the collection buckets at a march before, but it happened several times in the first half mile of the march. Unfortunately I had to leave to go to another event when the march reached East Ham station, and so missed most of the march and the rally at the end.
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Independent Living Tea party

DWP, Westminster, London. Fri 4 Jul 2014

Sophie Partridge chaired the tea party and John Kelly sang

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Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) celebrated Independent Living Day at a Tea Party at the Dept of Work & Pensions, calling for a stop to the removal of support funding, education and transport that enables disabled people to live in the community, then blocked Victoria St with their wheelchairs.

The party was on July 4th, American Independence Day, and the organisers say: "The famous Boston teaparty led to a revolution against the British government let’s see where our teaparty leads…."

Fifteen or so people in wheelchairs along with around as many walking but with other disabilities along with carers and supporters filled the pavement in front of the DWP in Caxton St, and at times made a considerable noise. As well as their voices and a megaphone, some had brought whistles and other musical instruments (and some less musical) to liven up the event. For those with hearing difficulties there was a BSL signer.

But there were also sandwiches and cakes, because this was a tea party, though one with a number of speeches, poems and song performances, making it an enjoyable event although the cause is a desperate one. The Independent Living Fund supports almost 18,000 people with severe difficulties and has enabled them to live in the community and to make a contribution through their work and other activities, taking their place in society as equals. It was at the heart of equality for those with disabilities.

To quote DPAC, "there are many strands of Independent Living, and all are under threat. Cuts to:
• Support funding - such Social Care, the ILF & Disabled Students Allowance;
• Education - in areas like the wholesale destruction of SEN Statements and the continued segregation of disabled children into 'special' schools;
• Transport - the withdrawal of Taxi-cards, freedom passes and the halting of planned works to make infrastructure more accessible, amongst a host of other cuts combine to make disabled people second-class citizens in society."

The government lost a court case over the closure of the ILF taken by five people receiving it last year, but four months later decided to go ahead and close it anyway in 2015. A month after this protest, DPAC announced they had permission to go ahead with a further court case and a second trial is expected in September or October.

The government say that money will be given to local authorities to meet the needs of those who now receive ILF, but this money will not be ring-fenced for this purpose, and given the pressure to cut budgets faced by councils it seems unlikely that all will find its way to the disabled. Councils having already had to make massive cuts are also unlikely to be able to find the staff to properly implement fair schemes - and many directors of Adult Services have said they will be unable to cope. The ILF is administered by an experienced body with a very high (97%) satisfaction rating from those receiving it.

Getting rid of the ILF, a well organised and cost-effective scheme, is likely to increase rather than decrease expenditure, as well as severely impacting the quality of life of severely disabled people. Many are likely to have to give up work and will no longer be able to live independently but will have to go into residential care - at much greater cost.

After the tea party, around half of those taking part decided to take a token direct action which would give them a much greater chance of publicity in the media. They went back close to Westminster Abbey, where just six days earlier they had attempted to set up a protest camp. This time they simply blocked the busy Victoria St stopping their wheelchairs and holding banners on the pedestrian crossing.

When traffic had been halted for a few minutes, a few police officers arrived. They tried to persuade the protesters to move off the road, without success. After around ten minutes they began to get rather firmer, eventually threatening protesters with the possibility of arrest for obstructing the highway.

Before long there were around four times as many police as protesters and when it began to look as if the police might carry out their threat of arrest, the protesters who had been receiving a great deal of support from tourists and others - even including some in the traffic being held up or diverted away down Great Smith St - decided it was time to end the protest and wheeled their chairs away.
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my london diary index

Jul 2014

Public Service Workers Strike for Fair Pay
Argentina don't pay the Vultures
Court vigil for WCA Judicial Review
Save our Surgeries on NHS 66th Birthday
Focus E15 March for Decent Housing
Independent Living Tea party


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