On November 5, activists across the UK will be holding Bonfires of Austerity to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The British establishment has traditionally celebrated Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, marking the anniversary of the foiled plot by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, although nowadays, I’m glad to note, the anti-Catholic aspect of the festivities has largely disappeared, and the day is more generally known as Bonfire Night (even though bonfires are generally frowned upon in dull, modern-day, health and safety obsessed England).
Thankfully, the spirit of dissent lives on, and this year protests across the country have been initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement of political activists, union members and the handful of enlightened MPs who exist in Parliament. The movement was launched with a letter published in the Guardian in February, with signatories including Tony Benn, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka, John Pilger, Ken Loach and the late Iain Banks, followed by a press conference in March, where speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, journalist Owen Jones, comedian Mark Steel and disabled activist Francesca Martinez, and a meeting attended by over 4,000 people in Westminster Central Hall in June, following meetings and rallies across the country, at which a statement was issued that began as follows:
We face a choice that will shape our society for decades to come. It is a choice faced by ordinary people in every part of the globe.
We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for over more than 50 years.
We do not accept that government’s austerity programme is necessary. The banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources. Austerity does not work: it is a failure in its own terms resulting in neither deficit reduction nor growth. It is not just: the government takes money from the pockets of those who did not cause the crisis and rewards those who did. It is immoral: our children face a bleaker future if our services and living standards are devastated. It is undemocratic: at the last election a majority voted against the return of a Tory government. The Con-Dem coalition has delivered us into the grip of the Tories’ whose political project is the destruction of a universal welfare state.
Following the June event, local groups have continued to form and hold meetings across the UK, so if you’re in the UK tomorrow, and want to take part, there will be ‘Bonfire of Austerity’ events in 40 towns and cities, including a mass occupation of Westminster Bridge in London where campaigners will ceremonially burn their energy bills. See the Facebook page here, and see here for the Peoples’ Assembly Facebook page People are asked to meet at Jubilee Gardens in Waterloo at 6pm, to subsequently block Westminster Bridge. The organisers add, “Bring your energy bills: we will be burning our energy bills on the bridge to highlight the massive rise in energy prices which have left people choosing between heating and eating.” There will be fireworks and energy bills will be burned at 7pm.
Events are also taking place across London, one of which I’ll be attending — in Lewisham, where we have a proud tradition of protest, most recently with plans by the government and senior NHS managers to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. See the Facebook page here, and see here for the Facebook page for the South East London People’s Assembly.
In Lewisham, there will be a procession from Catford to Lewisham, beginning at 4.30pm, culminating in a bonfire and the burning of effigies of politicians by the main roundabout in Lewisham at 6pm. This is how the event is described on the Carnival Against Cuts website:
4.30pm: “Stations of the Cuts” procession from Catford Town Hall, from where we will wend our way to Eros House to highlight the housing crisis, continuing to Rushey Green Early Years centre to protest about the erosion of Lewisham’s provision for under 5s and the threat to close the remaining seven play clubs.
Next is the Job Centre where we will protest about the workfare scheme and raise the demand for more long-term, skilled employment opportunities in Lewisham through bringing public services back into direct council control, a large scale programme of social housebuilding and council support for manufacturing here in Lewisham.
A couple of hundred yards/metres further north brings us to Lewisham Hospital, threatened with downgrading and privatisation. Tens of thousands of people have been involved in the campaign to save the hospital and in the broader campaign to stop the privatisation of the NHS. There have also been various direct action stunts about the Private Finance Initiative.
Two of Lewisham’s fire stations are under threat from Boris Johnson — at Downham and at New Cross. We will be showing support for the Fire Brigades Union and the public campaign against the cuts as we pass Ladywell Fire Station.
From there we will make our next focus Lewisham’s Libraries — five of which were planned for closure in 2011 and are running a severely reduced service with volunteers under a variety of managements. Only vigorous campaigning two years ago prevented these libraries from being closed altogether and the Labour Council and Conservative government have acted jointly to cut the service by over a third in Lewisham. We will also commemorate Connexions — one of the first services to be totally axed by the council in 2011. It used to give advice to school leavers and others on finding training courses.
The procession will then continue to The Grassy Knoll, in the shadow of the empty Citibank tower, a reminder of the dominance of banking and the alleged reason for all these cuts. There will be a brazier for you to burn specially printed £1million notes and effigies of your favourite politicians responsible for the many attacks on working people.
A press release for the day’s events across the country states, “Campaigners will highlight the human cost of the government’s cuts programme which has seen many local services decimated, jobs lost, wages frozen and the benefits which supported some of the neediest in our community drastically reduced.”
Peoples’ Assembly co-ordinator Sam Fairbairn said, “This government chose to punish those least responsible for the economic crisis whilst letting the bankers carry on as before. It might be back to boom time in the City of London, but most households round here are struggling with frozen wages and soaring energy bills.”
Journalist and campaigner Owen Jones said, “We’re going through the longest fall in workers’ pay-packets since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. The Big Six energy companies are holding the country to ransom, and driving millions into fuel poverty. The Tories are building a Britain of food banks, legal loan sharks and zero hour contract workers. Millions languish on social housing waiting lists. In years to come, many of us will be asked what we did to stop this horror show. That’s why it’s time to tap into our country’s proud tradition of protest and civil disobedience, and make loud and clear our demand for an alternative to the failure of austerity.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
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On Facebook, Curt Sommer wrote:
Remember, remember the 5th of November; the gun powder treason and plot. I can think of no reason, the gun powder treason, should ever be forgot.
And the rhyme goes on to say that “twas his intent/To blow up king and parliament,” Curt. Such violent intent may largely have been excised from society these days, but the people’s approval of politicians is at an all-time low. Widespread apathy, unfortunately, allows the largely corrupt politicians to pursue their selfish, corporate-obsessed agenda largely unchallenged, but the general lack of interest in politics is deeply troubling for civil society as a whole. Hence the need for people to wake up and take action – in large numbers!
Brigid-mary Uptherevolution Oates wrote:
Im in london… going to trafalgar. .. x
Good to hear from you, Brigid-mary. Good luck at Trafalgar Square.
Brigid-mary Uptherevolution Oates wrote:
Thank you.. we met at menwith hill in july.. Aoife kyna my other name x I was in my orange suit…..
Yes, once met, never forgotten, Brigid-mary. I hadn’t realised it was you!
Brigid-mary Uptherevolution Oates wrote:
Indeed.. I could say the same about you too xx keep doing what you do so wonderfully.
Waris Ali wrote:
Including right here in Hull! Some very interesting ideas were floated about at the meet last week, November 5th will be a day to remember! Hashtag is #BurnAusterity for the day.
Thanks again, Brigid-mary. Hope to see you again soon. And Waris, I’m very glad to hear that the people of my hometown aren’t all taking this abuse lying down!
Curt Sommer wrote:
I don’t advocate violence, but I can understand the frustration that leads to it. I think Russell express’s the sentiment very well.
Thanks again, Curt. Personally, I find it rather sad that Russell’s accurate observations about bent politicians and people’s disillusionment aren’t recognised as something that millions of people talk about on a regular basis. It indicates mainly how few dissenting voices are allowed in the mainstream by our cowardly and greedy rulers.
Paul Siemering wrote:
i agree- it was so annoying for the interviewer to keep saying vote vote vote after Russell had already answered that question- as if we ever had anyone to “vote” for, as if we had democracy!
Well, yes, Paul, and in the US and the UK it’s also an idiotic system, because it’s “first past the post,” or “winner takes all,” without even any attempt at proportional representation, so most people’s votes aren’t necessary. Only the handful of marginal seats are decisive. That’s on top of the two (or three) parties vying to suck up to the rich and corporate and all reading more or less from the same script, which treats us with disdain, although they lie about that endlessly. They all need removing from power, and a jury-like system put in place by the people to replace them.
The only alternate politicians that get airtime nowadays are from the BNP, EDL or UKIP. That is, parties that only an extremist would vote for.
That’s shockingly true, Thomas, almost as though everyone involved – including TV news managers who would claim to be liberal – is invested in a project to force-feed right-wing propaganda to a population being encouraged to see the world in an angry, right-wing manner, to pick on immigrants and “scroungers,” and not to question whether there might be more appropriate targets for their discontent – like the banks, corporations and super-rich individuals running the show.
Willy Bach wrote, in response to 13, above:
Andy, Britain’s “first past the post,” or “winner takes all” voting makes it one of the least democratic states in Europe, yet they bang on about the 400 years of parliament they’ve had.
The voting system is not idiotic, in 2001 and 2002-3 the “first past the post” parliament managed to lead Britain into two illegal wars of aggression. It happened almost as seamlessly as the polling showed almost 80% opposition to these wars. It operated just as it was intended – except that this is not what you and I would call democracy.
Thanks, Willy. You’re absolutely right, of course. I only meant idiotic in the sense of idiotic from the point of view of the people. For our corrupt, profit-crazed, bloodthirsty rulers, it’s not idiotic at all, as you demonstrate.
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