Take back Manchester… said the Facebook post. Take it back? Where’s it been? What’s this about, then? Click… National week of Action – Protest the Tory Conference…
Like so many in this city, I’ve been badly affected by the cuts inflicted by the Government over the past 5 years, have lost jobs, struggled to find part time work, just about scraped enough together to keep a roof over my head – I’ve had my degenerative disability pronounced cured and my adapted Motability car taken from me – but it’s a necessary evil, isn’t it? We’re all in this together, Mr Cameron told us – we’ve all overspent and so everyone has had to suffer in equal measures, haven’t they? Haven’t they?
Well, no actually. I’ve seen lots of suffering, by lots of people – I bet you have too. But the people suffering all seem to have one thing in common – they all have little enough to lose in the first place. I’ve seen disabled people stripped of their allowances, told they’re “fit for work”, sanctioned when they can’t find any because companies won’t make the adaptations they’re supposed to have to do by law and so will ignore any disabled applicants. I’ve seen families who work all the hours God sends and still struggle to put enough food on the table to feed their kids, as well as clothe them and pay their rent. I’ve seen kids on the dole, forced into slave labour jobs to “earn” their Job Seekers’ Allowance, when they should be being paid at least minimum wage for doing that same job – Workfare they call it. I can’t see anything fair about it, can you? I know someone on a zero hours contract who often walks 5 miles to work because on many days the hours she gets won’t pay for the transport to get there and back, let alone leave her with enough to feed herself and pay the bills.
Then I look in the newspapers and on the telly and I see the bankers getting multi-million pound bonuses for losing the country money. I see owners of the businesses who run on these zero hours contracts giving themselves and their directors huge pay rises and I see the companies ‘employing’ Workfare slaves announcing huge profits and not paying their taxes. I see Iain Duncan Smith claiming £39 for a breakfast that the taxpayer will pay for, then claiming that everyone can survive on £7 a day. I see him deny that taking allowances and benefits from the most vulnerable is contributing to people committing suicide, and covering up the figures that prove that people declared “Fit For Work” are dying in their thousands within weeks.
So no – we’re clearly not “all in this together” – but what can we do? The Government is in London, 200 physical and a million ideological miles away.
Oh no they’re not. They’re coming up to Manchester from 3rd to 7th October to sit in our proud industrial city - home of so many great socialist movements over the past 100 years, where the Suffragettes began their campaigns, where the pro-democracy and anti-poverty demonstrations led to the Peterloo Massacre and the city where community spirit regularly triumphs over adversity – to sit here and discuss more ways to make us suffer and more ways to ensure their chums prosper from our suffering.
The bloody cheek of it!
"So, if they’re coming up here to laugh in our faces and plot more and more cuts, do we really have to welcome them to our city, feed them, accommodate them and be nice to them? Oh no we don’t!"
With these thoughts churning in my head, I made my way to the Central Methodist Hall on Oldham Street to find out what the People’s Assembly Against Austerity had planned to ‘welcome’ the Tories to our town. This didn’t seem to be an ordinary, boring meeting with people droning on and nothing getting done – Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh were going to be talking, and there was a collection for the refugees in Calais and there were plans in the air about all sorts of events, from marches and demonstrations to music and comedy nights – it sounded like fun, like something you’d expect from a bunch of angry Mancunians!
I was greeted enthusiastically by complete strangers, welcomed, given leaflets, offered a seat in the hall. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, people coming in, lugging huge sacks of supplies for Calais – and suddenly there’s only standing room and the balcony has to be opened to accommodate all those still trying to get in.
There are several speakers, all enthusiastic in their message, all united in their cause – we have someone from DPAC telling us about their demonstration at noon on Monday – how Iain Duncan Smith has threatened to sue people accusing him of murder – and so the theme will be, “IDS, Wanted For Murder”. We are told about demonstrations, marches, protests, direct actions, film screenings, a huge “Laugh Them Out Of Town” comedy night, music gigs – involving many groups, from those against TTIP and Fracking to CND, anti-racist groups, Disabled groups and everyone affected by Government cuts represented.
Kate Marlow tells us about the anti austerity play she’s written, Knock Knock – it’s very dark but also very funny, she tells us. Terry Christian is going to be hosting it – and people such as Charlotte Church, Frankie Boyle, Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones and many more people are also going to be there to stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester and the people across the whole UK.
Julie Hesmondhalgh – Hayley from Coronation Street to most of us – takes the podium and tells us of her upbringing when funds were available for young actors and musicians, when government invested in the future and saw the benefit of arts and music to society rather than today, when she receives hundreds of letters asking for support for individual crowd funding projects to enable people to study drama, when many arts courses don’t even qualify for student loans, let alone grants. She warns us of the danger of a future society where the working class person simply isn’t represented in the arts because they couldn’t afford to study. She reads us a fabulous poem called “My State Benefactor”, outlining how important the support of the state was to her career – and how she has paid it all back, many times over, in tax.
Maxine Peake also speaks to us – a fabulous rallying call that urges us to stand up against austerity and to defend the vulnerable against the consistent bullying that the Tory government is inflicting. She becomes angry, reflecting the anger of everyone there – “Give the Tories hell when they come to Manchester”, she says, “How dare they fuck with Manchester?”
And with that, the meeting ends – no boring announcements to bring the atmosphere down, no speeches to detract from that message of anger – people are on their feet applauding, inspired and ready to take that deep feeling of anger at the injustices we have all had to suffer and determined to find a way of getting involved – whether it’s marching, volunteering, spreading the word, helping with collections or just being there that week to stand as one people and say – No More Cuts – End Austerity Now!
I know where I’ll be from the 3rd to the 7th October this year – will you join me?
Many thanks to Kay for this fantastic piece. Manchester People's Assembly will be meeting every Tuesday at 7pm at the Central Methodist Hall on Oldham Street until TAKE BACK MANCHESTER. We will be catching up on the planned events, making banners, picking up leaflets and posters and plotting more actions! These are informal sessions (not public meetings like the one on Tuesday 8th) but planning, doing and getting together sessions. Everyone is welcome. Come with questions, ideas, a paintbrush, a pen, or just yourself – we will find something for you to help with!