This is what we’ve been waiting for

Hastings Demands Better is one of a series of meetings being held in the region by the South Eastern TUC, leading up to the big demo against the cost-of-living crisis, to be held in London on 18th June. Yes, we gather to tell the government we cannot and will not put up with any more but it’s more than just a big demo, or as one of last night’s speakers said, more than ‘a sponsored walk’.

Don’t miss this. Here’s why…

Sam Gurney, TUC

Sam Gurney, STUC

Our chair for the evening spoke about the people he’d been meeting in preparation for tonight – the people running the local foodbank, the hospital workers who, still reeling from the consequences of COVID, are being taken for a ride by the government *again*, the RMT train cleaners, currently in dispute with the contractors they work for – his point being that none of them – none of the people currently protesting and campaigning on one or other of the millions of austerity-related problems – NONE OF THEM CAN WIN ON THEIR OWN.

These meetings, and the lessons that will be discussed at that demo, are about all of us – Trade Unions, community groups, charities and local politicians, coming together to deal with this government.

Paul Barnett, HBC

Paul Barnett, HBC

Hastings’ new council leader, Paul Barnett opened the meeting with a heart-felt declaration about how angry he is that Hastings is being so badly mistreated – that all councils are, but that towns like Hastings are bearing the brunt of bad government. He made no bones about it – this, he said, is a class war and we have to win it, to save our public services. His example, the foreign owned water company which has been simultaneously sending out bills Hastings people can’t afford, and contaminating our streets and waters with sewage due to their maintenance failures.

Paul invoked Robert Tressell, Ricky Tomlinson and Jeremy Corbyn, and pledged to fight to win a better deal for the people of Hastings. That’s sure what he stood for when he was leader of our Labour CLP, and I seem to remember he and his colleagues ruffled some feathers on council when they first became councillors by suggesting it was time to reform HBC’s cabinet structure, that it should be more democratic, and more socialist. Now, he’s our council leader, with environmental activist Maya Evans as deputy.  It bodes well for Hastings Demands Better.

John Wales, Hastings foodbank

Jon Wales, manager of Hastings Foodbank

John, the manager of the local foodbank, spoke of the people who come to them, faced with the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma. He told us that in Hastings now, people were more likely to die from lack of food and heating than they are from drink or drugs.  He acknowledged that the government did something right today, putting more money into helping people with energy bills, but he said, it’s not enough, and it’s not over.

He offered his thanks to Hastings Council which, through the austerity years, has been helping the foodbanks with funding applications and shared expertise.

Nick Warren, CAP Debt Advice Service

Nick Warren, Hastings CAP Debt Advice Service

Nick told us that this local debt advice organisation used to spend their time helping people who had run into trouble after illness or a death, or a family split. Nowadays, more and more of their time is needed by working people who simply cannot pay their bills.

Bella Fashola, RMT

Bella Fashola, RMT

The train cleaners working out of Hastings station work for the cleaning contractors, Churchill. Bella and her colleagues earn £9.50 per hour, and as ‘outsourced’ workers, they don’t get the same travel concessions other railway workers do – like many citizens, they often can’t afford to get a train to work. She said there are 40 different nationalities working as cleaners in our regional railways, and they are all working together to end this ridiculous austerity.

There will be demos at Hastings station from 2nd to 8th June. Please go along and support them.

Darren Smith, GMB

Darren Smith, GMB

Darren Smith told us about refuse workers’ fightback, which started in Eastbourne, and came to Hastings, and called for support for Wealden workers who would be taking action now. He said they are dealing with an offer of £ 9.50 – yes, they are negotiating their way to the minimum wage, and they are not unskilled workers. There are no unskilled workers, he said – there are unrated workers.

Diane Ebanks, PCS

Diane Ebanks, PCS

Diane told us the PCS are currently facing government plans to cut 71 thousand civil service jobs. She spoke about tax office workers, chasing down tax avoidance – not work this government values at all. She spoke about workers in Swansea whose workplace was one of the worst in the country for COVID, because we have a government that does not care about worker safety. She spoke about DWP workers who, after dealing with stressed and impoverished workers all day, on time-constraints that don’t allow them to really deal with the issue people face, then have to make their own benefits claims because they, too, earn less than it takes to feed a family and pay the bills.

She invoked Fred Douglas, saying, power concedes nothing. Ever.  Those things we do have, we have because previous generations of workers struggled for them. We get what we need only by coming together and demanding. This is not identity politics. This is class struggle, and we need to win it.

Phil Clarke NEU

Phil Clarke, NEU

Phil spoke about the inadequate pay and unbearable pressure on teachers, about how the government now sees teachers as disposable, accepting that a few years in the job is all most people are able or willing to put up with, and about the impact the cost of living crisis is having on teachers and support staff, on the kids, and on staff recruitment.

Max O’Donnell-Savage, Unite

Max O'Donnell-Savage, Unite

Max talked about outsourced workers facing contractors dropping staff, and about companies’ fire-and-rehire tactics. He said that once fire-and-rehire is on the table, workers have nothing to lose, and this is what is bringing more workers to come together and organise – this is the point where we can fight back and win.

He said the June 18th demo is not a one-day action, it’s the start of a collective action that can and must feedback to the workplace and the communities all over the country. Max believes society can run on human decency rather than stockholders’ dividends. The first step, he said, is to persuade fellow workers that they deserve better.

Paul Jones, UNISON NHS worker

Paul Jones, hospital worker

Paul spoke about workers at our local hospital. He spoke about workers who can no longer afford to look after themselves, let alone anyone else. Our NHS, he said, is dying. Staff were asked to do more for less during the COVID crisis, and things are not improving. Staff giving up and leaving is making a dire situation worse. It’s time to fight back.

Kevin Mcguire, Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror

Kevin, a journalist, said that he can see that the mood is changing, that people have had enough. He said that the government wins because it divides people but now, we all face the same cost-of-living crisis. This is a movement to win for everyone.

Jo Grady, UCU

Jo Grady, UCU

Jo talked about an event she attended where Jeremy Corbyn was asking people, ‘why are you a socialist?’ Her answer was that she was born in Wakefield into a mining family at the time of the miners’ strike. She spoke about the indignities poverty inflicts on people.

It was, and is, clear to her that the government chooses to let these things happen to people. We can make choices too. We choose not to put up with any more.

 She spoke about the importance of acting together, or not letting them pick you off one by one. It’s our job now, she said, to talk to others about what we’ve discussed tonight, to spread the news that it’s time for everyone to act together.

Dave Ward – The Plan

Dave Ward, CWU

Dave rounded up the speeches, underlining the scale of the enemy this government represents. He said no one trade union can solve this. He said that trade unions, community organisations, and local politicians, such as our Paul Barnett, need to resolve now to work together, for the people, against government-inflicted austerity, and simply not put up with any more.

We need a plan – we have a plan

The TUC are running these meetings all round the country. They are the build up for the big demo on the 18th June, but the big demo alone cannot solve the problem. People have had enough, said Dave, there is no more. We are working harder, for longer – retirement is receding ever further away – and we are being paid less for our work.

There is one point, and one point alone, he said, where we should listen to Boris Johnson. Our Prime Minister said…

Take back control

We intend to. None of us can do it alone, no town, no union, no industry, no charity can do it alone but the trade union leaders are on board with this idea – from now on, they will be working together to agree common standards for pay, for hours, for working conditions.  (My jaw dropped at this point – I remembered going to an event at Ruskin College about sector collective bargaining – we seemed to think that we had to wait until we had a government that would agree to play. Suddenly, it becomes clear that the resolve can only come from us, and from our unions.)

I am no longer in the Labour Party, and I note Dave’s statement, “I am not handing this to the Labour Party.” I second that. If they have the will, the Labour Party – or any other party, can join this campaign but – this one’s for everyone.

So – the unions are agreeing to work together for everyone. At these meetings, up and down the country, citizens and community groups are agreeing together. Hundreds of thousands of us will be in London on the 18th of June to announce that we are working together now, against the cost of living crisis, and against any politician who continues to support austerity and the politics of the rich and privileged.

You can sign up on the TUC website here…

Demand Better

Homework

We are working together to force the government to put an end to austerity and the cost of living crisis. Our homework – set by the UCU speaker – was to tell at least another ten people. I’m counting this blog as one of my ten– if you’ve read it, please share it and/or the TUC call-out linked above, to another ten people/groups. Here’s our homework:

Tell the people around you this: we are all working together now. Our goal is to force the government to end the cost-of-living crisis, and start working for the people of this country. If they don’t, we will ensure they are an ex-government – and that goes for whoever replaces them when they fall.

TUC Demand Better campaign

We do this by telling each other, by coming to the March on 18th June if we can but, whether we can do that or not, we will be telling out unions, our community groups, our colleagues and our friends that we are all working together, now, against government-inflicted austerity, against the cost-of-living crisis.

Solidarity

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Cheers,

Kay

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