Remember, Remember…

In which The Author is back in the fight

In The Armchair Anarchist I told you how I was planning to go to London for today’s rally against the Government’s austerity policies (or, in reality, the policies of the Government’s paymasters in finance, industry and business.) In the event, I decided against the national demo, preferring to stay local and network within my own community.
Yesterday, in Silence in the Library, I outlined the agenda for today’s series of wildcat actions throughout Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taf county boroughs. As things transpired I was only able to make the Pontypridd leafletting session, but it was still my second political action in as many weeks.
A week ago Saturday I was in Cardiff for the march and rally against the Bedroom Tax. Lew M. was hoping to come as well, but he was skint on the day so had to cry off. In spite of the atrocious weather, a hundred or so of us marched through Queen Street on a busy shopping/rugby afternoon, with banners aloft and in fine voice.
Ninjah Pendragon, Cardiff’s best-known eccentric street performer, joined us for a while, improvising a rap against the government as we made our way through bemused families and even more puzzled street traders. We were turned back by mounted police officers when we reached the castle, and returned to City Hall to hear some inspiring speakers from trades unionists, housing support workers, a representative from a tenants’ group, and Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw. I was able to pick up some literature and made some contacts with the group in Cardiff. It was just like old times.
This afternoon was a bit of an anticlimax, but to be fair to the others, they’d been on the go since mid-morning. The first leg of the protest was in Bridgend, where they’d taken the campaign against the Bedroom Tax to the offices of the Valleys2Coast Housing Association.
So far, opposition to this ill-thought-out policy has been patchy. Thus far, it has concentrated on social landlords, to get them to commit to a ‘no evictions’ pledge. The first evictions took place in England (Wilkinson, 2013) in the same week as our Cardiff protest. A few days ago, Rhondda Cynon Taf backed a Plaid Cymru motion and adopted a ‘no evictions’ policy (Bishop, 2013) – however, the ruling Labour group are not noted for their integrity. It remains to be seen how long this policy will be effective.
So far, the proposal which has attracted the most attention, and consequently the biggest expression of public disgust, is the plan to cut back on nursery school provision. As I noted yesterday, there is a very active Facebook group and a number of petitions in circulation.
The next move will be to engage with the people opposed to this proposal, and to demonstrate to them that it does not exist in isolation. The cuts to youth services, care for the elderly, and libraries overlap with the cuts to education, and will ultimately affect everyone living in the county borough, whether they realize it now or not.
That’s why today’s protest by the Bridgend & RCT People’s Assembly moved next to McDonald’s in Llantrisant. Here, the focus was on the increasing reliance of employers of so-called zero hours contracts. These are becoming more and more common in the service sector; employees literally do not know from one week to the next when (or if) they’ll be required to work, with consequent financial insecurity and an inability to plan ahead.
Radio 4 have recently been broadcasting G.F Newman’s serial The Corrupted, set in London during the 1950s. In one episode the characters arrived at the gates of the docks at the crack of dawn, only to be told that they weren’t going to get any work that day. Austerity 1950s style seems to be returning in the 21st Century, with no job security and a constant erosion of workers’ rights. If David Cameron and his cronies had planned to turn back the clock sixty years to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee, they couldn’t have done a better job.
Before I left Aberdare I saw part of Adam Boulton’s Sky News programme on TV in the Prince, and one of his studio guests was a representative of the People’s Assembly. I wasn’t able to hear the debate, but it was good to see the campaign gaining some nationwide publicity. There’s no better date in the political calendar than November the Fifth to try and get people to sit up and (maybe) take notice of what’s going on the world outside football, soaps and reality TV.
I caught up with the campaigners in a cold and windy Taff Street in Pontypridd. I’d missed their visit to the town’s Jobcentre, where they were hoping to target workfare and ATOS, who administer the egregious Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the government. Len Arthur, who organized today’s protests, told me that the management at McDonald’s had called the police, who asked them politely to move on. Even so, the attending officers stayed to talk to Len and the others for quite some time, tacitly allowing the demonstration to continue all the while. Make of that what you will.
Len and a couple of pals were standing by the fountain, half-heartedly giving out leaflets to apathetic passers-by. It was hard to tell who looked more disillusioned: the daytime shoppers; the parents with their kids in tow; the elderly townsfolk; or the campaigners, whose words were obviously falling largely on deaf ears. I bumped into my friend Tony W., a lifelong member of the Communist Party, now retired and looking after his grandchildren. We exchanged contact details, and it looks as though we’ll be organizing a meeting in Aberdare before long.
It’s vital that we unite the disparate groups opposed to the austerity measures, and try and bring some influence to bear on an opposition which seems dismally irrelevant less than two years from the next general election. We can’t afford to let ideological differences spilt us into countless warring factions, as Thatcher was able to do so convincingly in the 1980s. If today’s day of nationwide actions achieves anything, it needs to bring people from across the country and across the political spectrum into one vast network of opposition. Let’s hope that we don’t waste this valuable opportunity to make our voices heard.
Wilkinson, G. (2013) Porthleven woman evicted after owing £700 by bedroom tax. This is Cornwall, 25 October 2013