Hundreds of people from the North East joined 50,000 protesters in London’s Parliament Square to campaign against austerity measures.
Two coaches full of determined protesters assembled at Newcastle’s Central station and South Shields’ Town Hall on Saturday, before they made the six hour journey down to the capital.
> There was also a coach from Sunderland, according to the Sunderland Echo.
The protesters were armed with colourful banners and placards designed by local artist group, Artists for Change, their message was conveyed in just a few words; “No Cuts, No More Austerity; Demand the Alternative.”
Upon arrival, they marched passed the BBC headquarters in Portland Place where they accused the broadcasters of ignoring the plight of thousands of impoverished Britons affected by the cuts.
> The BC evidently didn’t notice, as they ignored the protest until the next day…
They then marched to Parliament Square where the crowds were addressed by union workers, politicians and celebrities such as Russell Brand and journalist Owen Jones.
Mum-of-four Ruth Stevenson, 35, from Wallsend, attended the demonstration after the cuts put her family under extreme financial strain. She said: “It was really well organised and there were loads of families and children, people in wheelchairs, and even choirs at the sides of the marches.
“There was a fantastic feeling of all people united. There were NHS staff, firefighters, monks and all sorts of people there. The amount of bus loads of people who arrived was amazing.”
The National secretary of the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, talked to the masses about the negative impact of the coalition’s cuts on communities and workers.
He said: “Make no mistake, these cuts are killing people and destroying cherished public services which have served generations.”
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched one year ago through an open letter co-signed by the late Tony Benn, along with a variety of union leaders, MPs and writers.
Ruth was moved to attend the demonstration when she realised she would have to forgo paying two-months worth of bills to ensure she has enough money to buy her children school uniforms.
She said: “I went because the cut-backs have really affected my family. This is the first year ever I am going to have to default on two months worth of bills to pay for school uniforms.
“School uniforms are really expensive and this year it is going to be too much. Although the cost of living has increased, wages have stayed the same. So it is really hard on families.”
She also has concerns for the future education of her four children.
“At the moment I am worried about my daughter Victoria who is really intelligent. I want her to go to university but I just don’t know how I am going to support her financially.
“And if I can’t support Victoria then I don’t know how I will manage with the rest of them,” she added.
Ruth believes the British people have fought hard for institutions such as the NHS, trade unions and the welfare system only to have them taken back.
“We have spent the last 50 years making sure that these institutions are there to protect ordinary people but now it is like the government is slowly removing the support network.”
Tony Dowling, Chair of the North East’s People’s Assembly, who helped to organise the North East protesters agrees that it is the hard-working and vulnerable who have been affected by the cutbacks the most.
He said: “The people who are being affected are the students who no longer have education maintenance allowance, the parents of children who have had their disability allowance cut or the NHS patients who face having to pay for their treatment in future.”
Tony helped to put together the North East’s cohort of the People’s Assembly in September 2013 at Northern Stage Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, and since then, the fast growing group have been busy organising workshops, public meetings, and petitions.
The 57-year-old, who is a specialist behaviour support teacher from Gateshead, hopes the demonstration has encouraged more people to join the People’s Assembly. He also wants it to be a reminder that the crisis was not caused by the people, but by the banks and the sub-prime mortgage lenders in the US.
“The banks have been bailed out but ordinary people have been made to pay for it. There is a small number, around 85 people – a double decker bus load – to be exact, who own as much wealth as 50% of people put together.”
Tony added that the ultimate goal of the People’s Assembly is to make the government come up with an alternative economic strategy to end poverty in the North East and in the rest of the UK.
“We want more jobs, less cut-backs, no privatisation of the NHS,” added Tony.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 23 June 2014
Frontline nurses and health care assistants gathered in the region this morning to protest against pay conditions.
Scores of NHS staff joined prominent MP Nick Brown outside Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise this year.
After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.
While some nurses and health care assistants will still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many will not be entitled to the rise.
The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region regional director, said: “Nurses are working very hard and the number of people at our protest shows how angry our members are.
“It is baffling that the Chancellor said the Government could afford a 1% pay rise across the board and then that was reneged on. It makes no sense.
“What the NHS cannot afford to do is continue a policy of treating hard working and loyal staff with contempt, at a time when morale is at an all time low and trusts around the country struggle to retain and recruit enough nurses to maintain safe staffing levels.
“We see this as being a year long campaign leading up to the general election.”
Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff took part in demonstrations throughout the country.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “The Government’s continuing public sector pay restraint is not fair and not sustainable. It is particularly unfair on nurses and other low paid workers in the NHS.
“I completely support the Royal College of Nursing, hospital staff look after us in our time of need and we must stand up for them. It is important that the public understands just how shabby the Government is in treating key health service workers.”
Staff nurse Grace Onuoha, 53, of Walker, Newcastle, had just finished a night shift for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust when she attended the protest.
The mum-of-three said: “It is very disappointing that there is not an across the board pay rise as we are working hard and doing a lot yet receiving nothing in return. It feels like we have been given a slap in the face by the Government.
“Morale is extremely low among staff as we are doing more and getting less. My pay is exactly the same as it was in 2009 despite the rise in the cost of living.”
The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.
Unions said that by 2015/16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years. Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.
Susan Johnson, 47, of Killingworth, a senior sister in critical care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “It is frustrating because we work so hard and my concern is that we will put off future generations from joining the profession as nursing staff struggle with unsociable hours and are not very financially rewarded.”
The Department of Health said it was saddened by the health unions’ reaction to reject the pay offer. A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.
“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.
“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.
“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.
“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 June 2014