A great report from the South Yorkshire People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
11.00 – 12.00
Yesterday morning over sixty disabled activists and supporters gathered outside the Atos assesment centre in Sheffield to protest about work capability assesments. The action was called by Unite Community and supported by Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut. Speakers included Mike Higgins of DPAC who called for an end to work capability assesments and the use of for profit companies in the assement of disabled people.
A sea of red Unite flags surrounding Ratos, the giant inflatable rat, greeted passes by, many of whom stopped to see what was happening and offer support. Speakers from Unite Community and ex-Remploy workers talked about the hardships disabled people face in Austerity Britain. Mike Higgins called for the creation of a Sheffield DPAC, announcing a launch meeting for all interested parties.
12:00 – 13:00
The Demonstration ended with a speech by Unite member Oliver Clayton, recently sacked from his zero hour contract job at the Sheffield branch of CEX. He asked demonstrators for solidarity with his fight to get his job back. Virtually everyone present then got behind the Unite Community banner and marched onto Sheffield High Street and descended upon CEX, not only to demand Oliver’s reinstatement, but to campaign against the company’s unfair use of zero hour contracts.
13:00 – 16:00
The demonstration was soon joined by around sixty members of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), who were staging a walk-out over the privitisation of probation services. After a short session of protest and chanting, the main bulk of the gathering marched on to Sheffield Town hall, whilst others joined bedroom tax activists, food banks and faith groups holding an alternative market in the city centre. Freshly baked donations were recieved by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and Sheffield students, who gave away cakes and leaflets to passers by.
16:00 – 18:00
Striking probation officers, disability activists and zero hour campaigners joined together with trade unionists and other campaigners and community groups to hear speakers from across the movement, in a rally organised by the Peoples Assembly. The mood was vibrant with over 200 people shouting and cheering as speakers called for more action. People spoke of the huge attacks our communities are facing, with increased poverty, hunger, desperation and illness caused by austerity. People spoke of the need to unite, to organise and to fight back.
Benefits justice activist Jennifer Bush spoke of the pain of the Bedroom Tax, striking probation worker Sharon Price spoke of the need to escalate strike action against this government. Unite Member Mark keening talked of the difficulties their members face in the council. BFAWU president Ian Hodson spoke of the magnificent victory over zero hour contracts for the Hovis workers, and talked passionately about the importance of learning from our victories and supporting all campaigns. Joe Forde spoke of the need to remove the need for food banks, and Sheffield students were represented with passionate speeches by Henry Parkyn Smith and Apryl Walcott.
The biggest cheer of the day went to Unite Community member Jack Hetherington who used his closing speech to call for direct action, resulting in the immediate blocking of the road as symbol of what collective action can achieve. On his call, around 100 people gathered behind the Unite Community Banner and staged a ten minute blockade of rush hour traffic to cause disruption and gain publicity.
Many people stayed around after the demonstration to enjoy the atmosphere, the music and the excellent street theatre. Eventually the increasing rain and cold forced people to retire to the pub or disappear off to bonfires, but there’s no doubting the day’s events lifted many people’s spirits.
Find the original article here.