Peaceful protesters were violently ejected from a meeting of Islington council, after councillors from the Labour-controlled authority called in the police. Around 60 campaigners, trade unionists and community activists had filled the public gallery to make clear their opposition to the passing of a budget that slashes spending on local services. After chants of ‘Shame’ and ‘No cuts’ rose when it became clear that the council would pass the measure, uniformed police officers were called in to silence and eject the local demonstrators.
Earlier, more than 200 anti-cuts protesters had rallied outside Islington town hall on Thursday to say no to savage slashing of public services. Backed by the Islington Hands off our Public Services (IHOOPS) campaign and local Unison and GMB union branches, the protest was both angry and well supported by local people. Assembling at nearby Highbury Fields, the activists then led a defiant march to the town hall, briefly halting traffic on busy Upper Street.
Speaker after speaker reminded the council that the cuts passed down from central government would have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable and excluded people of the borough. Dean Ryan, of Islington Unison, said:
Today is the day David Cameron relaunched his Big Society scheme. We are here to tell him no… black, white, gay and straight people all over the country are coming together to protect the services that they rely on. Politicians should remember that it is ordinary people who voted them into office to protect their interests, and we will stand up with them against the cuts as long as they stand with us.
A campaigner fighting to save the Sotheby Mews day centre spoke saying:
Vulnerable people desperately need the service that Sotheby Mews provides… they are just taking that away. I’ve lived for 73 years, and I will never believe another word they say until I die.
Sotheby Mews belongs to us. If we have to, we’ll occupy the centre to save it from closure.
Councillors were encouraged to remember that they are elected to serve their constituents, not bow to the whims of a government elected on the slenderest of electoral margins. Many speakers brought up the spirit of Poplar and radical local resistance of the past. Activists called on everyone opposed to the cuts to stand up and fight to preserve the legacy of social services won through generations of struggle. Recent events in Egypt were clearly a source of inspiration, with one trade unionist remarking that we need to bring the energy and passion of Tahrir Square to Trafalgar Square.
When the meeting began, campaigners attempted to enter the public gallery. Police were on hand to prevent too many exercising their democratic rights to see the actions of their representatives, and many were left outside as the doors were closed and locked. However, some did manage to enter the Town Hall and register their disapproval with the assembled councillors.
Paul Brandon, of the Right to Work campaign and joint chair of IHOOPS, stood to speak from the floor. He urged councillors to remain true to the radical tradition of Islington, and to tread in the footsteps of Suffragettes and Chartists in defying the law to fight injustice. However, it seems the message was lost on the Labour-dominated council, which seemed on the verge of accepting the £52 million cuts in expenditure.
Chants and jeers sounded from the public gallery. The chair chose to call an adjournment, at which point the police were called in to clear the protesters from the room. According to one activist:
Shamefully, the police attacked us as the councillors were leaving the room. They manhandled and dragged us out, and our treatment was so bad that some councillors refuse to carry on with the sham of democracy. Unfortunately, not a single Labour councillor was among them.
It seems pretty clear that after reconvening in secret, the council will have voted in favour of cuts. This poses the question starkly of where anti-cuts campaigners can turn for political support for their struggle. While some Labour members like the courageous Hackney councillors, or the Labour members in attendance at today’s protest, are a source of strength for the movement, it is clear that Islington council are only in favour of mouthing platitudes while doing the dirty work of the Tory government.
The task for campaigners now is clear, to build local resistance against the cuts and for the TUC-sponsored March for the Alternative on the 26th of March to be an eruption of anger with the potential to change the course of the ConDem government.