Last night, on Market Street in Manchester city centre, hundreds of people gathered to hear journalist and tv commentator, Owen Jones, deliver an anti-UKIP, anti austerity, message of hope in advance of the People's Assembly demo and festival in London on June 21st.
Joined by an array of campaigners, from Save Lower Broughton Children's Centre to UK Uncut to Salford Against Bedroom Tax, Jones said "We're going to come out with a message of defiance, that we're sick of being made to pay for a crisis we actually had nothing to do with…"
This article originally appeared in the Salford Star. Link to full article here…
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"If you are going to start from scratch and build a society, would you build a society where, in the last five years alone, the wealth of the top 1,000 richest people has doubled, while one million people are dependent on food banks? Would you design a society where most people in poverty are in work?..."
Owen Jones - tv commentator, author and journalist - was about, joined by an array of campaigners whose message also gets lost in the mainstream media…people from trade unions, people trying to save children's centres, people trying to stop the Bedroom Tax, tax dodging corporations, fracking and TTIP (the next BIG campaign).
Organised by Manchester People's Assembly to raise awareness that's it's not all UKIP, and to publicise a massive protest and festival in London on June 21st, hundreds of people gathered as Jones, originally from Stockport, spoke of his pride when he heard the election results from Manchester…
"There was a clear result that Manchester told Nigel Farage to `F' off and had rejected the politics of what UKIP stood for" he said "UKIP let people at the top off the hookbecause what they don't do is ask who is responsible for the mess this country's in…
"…Is it the Polish fruit picker? Is it the Indian nurse? Is it the Nigerian cleaner?" he asked "Or is it the bankers who plunged this country into economic disaster? Is it the private landlords charging rip off rents? Is it tax dodgers who dodge £25 billion off the exchequer every year? Is it the poverty paying bosses who have left most people in poverty in work? Is it those people at the top, the people with wealth and power, or is it our neighbours down the streets? That's what we're about – we're about telling people who to be angry with – not to be angry with each other.
"This is about offering people hope, because at the moment out there there's so much fear, so much anger but there's one thing missing and that's hope" he explained "Ask people this… `If you are going to start from scratch and build a society, would you build a society where in the last five years alone the wealth of the top 1000 richest people has doubled, while one million people are dependent on food banks? Would you design a society where most people in poverty are in work?...
"`Would you design a society where people have to choose between heating their homes and feeding their kids? Would you design a society where one million families have to depend on legal loan sharks like Wonga?' Of course you wouldn't and that is what this is about. It's about saying `We don't accept a society that's all about making sure that people at the top, the richest people are ok, whilst millions of people struggle."
Jones added that it was important to give people solutions…
"Instead of spending millions of pounds on in-work benefits, everyone in work should have a living wage" he said "Instead of leaving millions of people on social housing waiting lists and kids in overcrowded homes, let councils build houses…Instead of people having unskilled jobs we should create hundreds and thousands of renewable energy jobs like they did in places like Germany. That instead of the banks we bailed out carrying on business as usual, paying out bonuses and not lending, they should be under the control of the people of this country.
"…That instead of being held to ransom by rail companies and energy companies who charge rip off bills that people can't afford, energy and rail should be run under public ownership…That instead of going on about benefit fraud all the time…we should be talking about tax avoidance by rich people worth £25billion because Amazon and Google and people at the top refuse to pay their taxes…
"What the media and politicians do is stand up to the poor, they stand up to people with no wealth and they stand up to people with no power" he explained "But we've got to stand up to people who have the wealth and have the power, those are the people who are responsible for the mess this country is in. We've got to have hope because out there is an appetite for what we are talking about."
Referencing previous battles for democracy, the women's vote, the NHS and Welfare State, as well as the more recent fight against the Bedroom Tax and the UK Uncut campaigns against tax dodging corporations, Jones urged people to unite…
"Lets have hope, let's have courage, let's take to the streets, make our voice heard, and let's remind people that it's those at the top who are responsible for the mess this country is in, and stop letting them turn all of us against each other" he concluded to huge cheers "We must never let them divide us…Never! Never! Never!"
Before Owen Jones had taken to the stage, speakers had lined up to tell of their own campaigns against `those at the top', urging passers by to listen to some facts that turn austerity on its head…
Michelle from UK Uncut talked about tax dodgers and the billions of pounds avoided every year by… "Gary Barlow, Top Shop, Boots…they're all at it" she said, picking out the Boots store with her finger… "£1.8billion in avoided tax"… ThenVodafone…"hasn't paid a penny in corporation tax since 2011… the taxes Vodafone owes could pay for thousands of new affordable homes – which is why UK Uncut is taking over Vodafone shops on Saturday 14th June and transforming them into shelters, homes, hostels…"
Alex Davidson, Secretary of the Manchester Trades Union Council, underlined the point, talking of low pay, zero hours contracts and workfare used by "ruthless employers, many who are represented on this high street…employers like JD Sports and Sports Direct who have huge numbers of their workers on zero hours contracts…Only unionisation can help protect these workers" he explained.
Next up were campaigners from Salford. Maria Brabiner, from the Anti Bedroom Tax Federation, told how she treated the Bedroom Tax as a war situation…
"My mum and her generation survived World War 2 by rationing food and heating…that's what people have to do now" she explained "This Government has declared war on its own people…the whole of the working class are the enemy. It's ideology and it's disgusting."
Keri Muldoon and her son Maverick spoke on behalf of the Save Lower Broughton Children's Centre, urging people on Market Street to sign the petition to get 3,000 signatures before the end of June… "I don't know where they expect people to go when they close these services down" Keri said.
From Salford, it was to worldwide issues that affect every doorstep, with Leoni, from the Manchester Stop TTIP Group and Ethical Consumer magazine, explaining the horror that lies in wait from a trade agreement most will never have heard of before.
"TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and it's biggest bi-lateral trade deal of all time, between European and States" she said "Companies will be able to sue governments to take action that will affect future profits. That might sound crazy but it's already going on in the world where these agreements exist…
"Germany is getting sued for phasing out nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima disaster, Canada is getting sued for Quebec's ban on fracking, and Australia is getting sued for introducing plain cigarette packaging by a subsidiary of Phillip Morris" she added "This is really scary stuff, states and people won't be able to decide what happens on their sovereign territory, corporations will decide and sue states if they don't comply…"
From corporations taking over the world to corporations taking over under the world,Carmen from the anti-fracking fraternity told how there could be three thousand wells between Manchester and Liverpool if the controversial shale gas industry gets its way. She said the Barton Moss protests will be back later in the year but that the front line had now moved to Crawberry Hill in Hull and urged people to attend the upcoming solidarity Sunday.
The message from Owen Jones of taking to the streets and fighting back was echoed by Maurice from the PCS trade union and Lawrence from Manchester University Student Union, who told of huge strikes planned for July 10th by public sector workers… "We've called for a general strike by PCS, Unite, UNISON, GMB, FBU and the teachers" said Maurice "To show this Government that the public sector is not for sale and will not go to the highest bidder..."
The message from Market Street was that while UKIP give one very, very narrow bigoted focus for people's frustrations, there's loads of other, more real, common sense explanations and reasons to be angry. There are also community fightbacks going off all over the place – from Lower Broughton to the TTIP international stage.
The People's Assembly, which organised last night's street protest, aims to build a mass movement uniting all these campaigns from all over the country to give people hope, not fear.
The People's Assembly has called a Demand The Alternative national demonstration and festival on Saturday 21st June in London, at which Russell Brand will be speaking, as well as Owen Jones and many others. Tellingly, the demonstration will set off from the BBC HQ in Portland Place before marching to Parliament.
To book a place on the coaches email Manchesterpaaa@gmail.com or phone 0796 663 2027.