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Year 2001 No. 41, March 5, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

Militant Demonstration in Birmingham against Privatisation

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Militant Demonstration in Birmingham against Privatisation

Global Conference against Racism

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Militant Demonstration in Birmingham against Privatisation

Around 2,000 people assembled in Birmingham City Centre on Saturday, March 3, at 10.30 am, to march against privatisation. At the forefront of the demonstration were the Dudley Hospitals ancillary workers, who have been waging an heroic strike campaign against the Dudley Health Trust. The employing authority wants to transfer NHS workers' jobs to the private sector under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

The demonstration assembled with a rally outside the Town Hall and was joined by other mobilisations of workers opposed to privatisation. The demonstration marched to the constituency surgery of Health Minister Gisela Stuart at Woodview Community Centre in Edgbaston.

Many sections of the movement against the anti-social offensive participated

UCATT, the building workers' union, organised a demonstration of building workers who gathered at the Post Office Tower and joined the main assembly in the city centre. The building workers employed by the New Labour Council are under threat of privatisation too and have started a vigorous campaign against the Council's privatisation plans. Fire-fighters also mobilised and after first assembling at the Central Fire Station proceeded towards the central assembly point. Fire-fighters have been organising against the closure of Bloxwich Fire Station and the threatened privatisation in their sector.

Deeply affected by privatisation are elderly people whose council homes are being closed by Birmingham Council. Representatives of the campaign RAGE are being "de-recognised" by the Council and they spoke at the rally. A leading representative of the campaign, Caroline Johnson, attended the rally and demonstration. She will be standing as a Socialist Alliance candidate in Geoff Rooker's constituency of Perry Barr.

Campaigners against the privatisation of council homes also joined the demonstration, as well as teachers, students and railway and underground workers. A speaker from RMT spoke at the rally against the privatisation of railways through the Public/Private Partnership scheme (PPP) and the recent moves by the government to single-mindedly move on with its privatisation plans for London Underground.

Union banners included those from UNISON and MSF, and banners from various campaigns such as against globalisation, from the women's movement, of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism and many other collectives represented themselves on the demonstration. Many socialist organisations and worker candidates were present, in particular a prospective building worker candidate who is going to try and raise the necessary finances to stand in the next election against New Labour. The Birmingham Branch of RCPB(ML) also took part in the demonstration and distributed copies of Workers' Weekly.

The state threatens to criminalise the political protest

The demonstration and rally took place in a militant atmosphere and this was despite the blatant and intimidatory actions of uniformed police who videoed the faces of demonstrators at every stage of the march. These actions of the state were openly threatening and antagonistic by the police and political in nature. They went so far as to approach and intervene in the platform of speakers at the end of the demonstration and closing rally. These actions were both anti-democratic and illegal interference in the democratic rights of the people to carry their right to peacefully protest.

Some speakers at the rally

At the rally, John Cunningham of UCATT said, "I would like to make a few observations. The Hospitals from Russels Hall, fire-fighters from the Black Country, the Council building workers, care home workers, users of care homes, council houses, hospitals, air traffic control, the London Tube – the common link is a whole process of privatisation that is taking place at national and local level. It is a political issue that all these processes are going through. The protest has to be taken to a higher level, public funded services need to go back into public ownership. We need to build a real political alternative. If Labour are not prepared to fund hospitals, schools, education with people employed in those public services then a socialist alternative must come to the fore and show New Labour that there is an alternative, and to invite the public to take the protest not just to the streets but also to the ballot box. There is no alternative coming from the main political parties. New Labour, the Liberals and the Tories have a common agenda, so it is about time that we built the alternative."

A speaker from the RMT representing London Underground Workers delivered a solidarity message to the rally and in particular the Dudley Hospital Workers. To great cheers he announced how on February 5, the City of London ground to a halt in the underground workers’ strike struggle against PPP. He said that London Underground workers were determined that privatisation would not go ahead.

A UNISON official said, "All the things I have mentioned amount to no more than privatisation. What I say to you here today is don't be fooled by any of the fancy titles. It is all privatisation. It is taking caring establishments, caring people, of one sort or another out of public hands, out of the public domain and placing them fairly and squarely in the hands of the private sector whose aim is to make money, to make profit and not to put people first."

The march itself was widely and warmly accepted by the people in the centre of Birmingham New Street as thousands of banner waving and chanting demonstrators. Leaflets given out at the side of the demonstration were eagerly received by shoppers.

As the demonstration wound its way around the dense community with blocks of flats and houses in Lee Bank in Edgbaston, the demonstrators chanted slogans and carried placards saying: "PFI - No Way, The NHS Is Here to Stay", "Stop Paying The Rich", "Stop The Privatisers", "No Privatisation", "No Job Privatisations in Dudley", Keep Our Jobs Where They Belong - In The NHS", "Betrayed by the Labour Party".

Health Minister has nothing to add

At the final destination outside Health Minister Gisela Stuart's constituency surgery, the demonstration sent in three delegates of Dudley strikers who told Gisela Stuart that the protesters would not move until she came out. Eventually the New Labour Minister came out and simply said, " I have nothing to add to the government's position!" Amid boos and chants of "traitor" she told the demonstrators to move on and respect the rights of her constituents. After she hastily returned to the building, Mark New, UNISON Branch Secretary of the Dudley Group of Hospitals, commented on her anti-people position and said, " Gisela Stuart should understand that her constituents have a right to a National Health Service."

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Global Conference against Racism

A United Nations conference on racism is to be held this summer. The conference is to cast globalisation as a racial issue and demand reparations for the slave trade and colonialism.

The agenda is already being passionately debated. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will be held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September, 2001.

Beyond consideration of the North-South divide, the issues include treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in developed countries, the caste system in India and contemporary slavery in Africa as well as discrimination in Latin America and parts of the Caribbean against people of African descent.

"The last two conferences on racism were about foreign policy," said Gay J. McDougall, executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington. "The first one was on decolonisation and the second one was on apartheid. But this one is in everybody's back yard, and there's a lot of nervousness about it."

Representatives of governments will begin a four-day meeting in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss the conference agenda and the content of documents to be issued in Durban.

Mary Robinson, the United Nations commissioner for human rights, said of finding some form of recompense for slavery, "That trauma is still there and it's deep, and it hasn't been properly acknowledged."

Mrs. Robinson said the conference could achieve concrete results just by urging the enforcement of existing laws and international conventions against bias and discrimination. "About 85 percent of measures that can be taken are already in force or will be agreed on without difficulty," she said. "Then there will be a number of issues on which political leadership will be needed.

"One of them will be how we find the language to condemn in full terms the evil of slavery, returning to the issue of compensation for past practices.

"It may sound strange that we still have to do that, but in fact we need to close off a period and say that this exploitation was in real terms a crime against humanity when it took place and that it has had an effect into this century. The more generous and open the condemnation is, the less I believe there will be a push to focus on precise monetary compensation."

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