Monday, 27 May 2013

Disabled Trade Unionists and Disabled Grass Roots Campaigners Bring Central London to a Standstill!

Last Wednesday evening, 22nd May, around 200 disability activists blocked the junction at Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street for over an hour in protest at this government's continued attacks on disabled peoples' benefits, welfare resources, and indeed in all too many cases, their very existence.


Sean, in red, speaking to journalist, John Pring at Tottenham Court Road Protest

Earlier in the day, just a short distance away, a couple of hundred trade unionists were in attendance at the TUC's annual Disabled Workers' Conference, were Seán McGovern, Co-Chair of the TUC DWC, set the mood of for the event with a speech that told in stark terms this government's unremitting attack on our class, and especially the vicious lies and distortions it continued propagating at the expense of disabled people.

Finishing his address by stating that trade unionists must join with sisters and brothers within our communities, to send an unequivocal message to this government that disabled workers share the same struggle as unemployed sisters and brothers as well as those disabled who can't work.

The first few motions covered:

·       Recruitment of Disabled Workers

·       Defending the Welfare State and the Rights of Disabled People

·       Protection of Disability Rights

·       UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities

·       Universal Credit and SEN Changes

·       Changes to Work Choices Programme

The debate around these issues was very lively. The delegates were sending out a clear message; and the message was: 'We're not standing by and allowing this government to wreck our welfare state and kill thousands of us in the process!'

Straight after lunchtime, during which an excellent standing-room-only- fringe meeting on 'Autism and Neurodiversity in the Workplace took place chaired by Unite's Tom Butler, our first guest speaker of the afternoon, Francesca Martinez took to the platform.

For those of you who with the misfortune of not knowing who Francesca is, well she's an actor and comedian with disabilities; whose material, while very funny, also has a political edge. Francesca is deeply involved in the disabled people’s WOW (War On Welfare) petition.

Francesca told the conference that an “attack on basic human rights” was being perpetrated against disabled people by this government; and that

“People my age with so much to offer have been writing to me and expressing such worry over issues such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund. A very common thing written to me is a stark choice between losing all their care and being isolated at home or being forced into institutions.”

Ideology, not money are behind the benefits' cuts; and are aimed at those in our society who can least defend themselves.

Martinez received a standing ovation as she stated she'd be taking part in anti-austerity direct action; and that: "Those in power are not going to give in unless you force them to. That means making things uncomfortable. There is no other way things are going to change.”

Francesca finished by saying: “It might take more than marching and protesting. It might take a national strike. I don’t think change occurs because of polite pleading. I also support any action taken and I will be out there on the streets with you.”

With an international tour to start, Francesca left the hall to a standing ovation of tumultuous proportions. We liked her; we liked what she had to say; and, most importantly we liked the fact that what she said to us needed saying!

A few motions later, and Andy Greene from Disabled People Against the Cuts (or as they're better known across the country, DPAC) came on to speak on how ordinary people were dealing with the cuts.

DPAC, though a relatively young organization, has packed a lot into its short life. It wouldn't be amiss to say that this group of disabled people and their supporters have led the way in direct action against the austerity cuts and brutal way in which ATOS assess sick and disabled people for benefit; DPAC has carried the fight from the Internet and public meetings onto the street and indeed into government offices.

With an eloquence and determination, Andy's speech took hold of the conference; and when he appealed for trade union delegates to take direct action, they didn't take too much persuasion. Mandy Hudson, co-chair of the TUC Disabled Workers Committee, called for support for action to which the majority agreed; with that she closed the conference early and we made our way to Tottenham Court Road.

At around 5pm a group of disabled protestors stopped on the crossing by the Dominion Theatre at the top end of Tottenham Court Road, and began a protest. The theme of the protest was the coming together of disabled trade unionists and disabled grassroots campaigners. Our aim to show this government that we don't buy into their 'workers versus shirkers' propaganda; that whether we are disabled and in work or disabled and out of work, we are still one class; and this governments smashing of the welfare state and selling off of the NHS is a fight we must all join.

The demo went quite smoothly. Cabbies and bus drivers seemed bemused by a bunch of crips asserting their authority on the streets. Indeed, the police merely spoke to several of us, individually; and when they discovered that we were indeed all called 'Spasticus' they stood back and allowed the protest to continue.

Wednesday's action was important for a number of reasons. First it showed that disabled trade unionists aren't simply about attending countless committees where we, with the best intentions, vote on masses of motions that may or may not change the world. It also showed that direct action does have a place; and if the action is carried out in the correct way, that it’s a powerful medium in which to engage with the wider public.

Had we remained ensconced in our conference last week, we'd have moved a few motions quicker; and carried out very important work for our movement. Our conferences are a vital part of trade union democracy, and as such we should endeavor to ensure they are well attended, and as importantly, filled with issues that impact upon our members and the wider community. Our decision to take the conference to the streets was the correct decision; and I am proud to belong to a movement that sees the big picture and acts upon it.  

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Calamitous Caledonian forage for Farage!

Farage gets escorted back to England after disastrous forage into Scotland

English far right racist homophobic stockbroker Nigel Farage was forced to take refuge in the Canons Gait pub in Edinburgh today after dozens of anti-racist campaigners protested against his presence. Eventually police had to escort him to a riot van in which he made a hasty retreat.



Monday, 6 May 2013

Left-wing activists’ treatment of disabled people as objects of pity is far more disgusting than anything the government has done

Brendan O'Neill's article in today's Telegraph (follow the link below) is yet another example of the lazy journalism to which we're exposed all too frequently these days. Here we have another ex-Leftie turned right-wing libertarian attempting to paint the Left as a politically moribund entity bereft of ideas and direction; while portraying the Right as the true champions of the working classes and disabled with their 'work is the only solution' message.

From beginning to end this piece is a gross insult to the very group O'Neill purports to defend - disabled people. He begins the article by speaking as though the "...Left-wing observers..."  (the villains of this piece) are the spokespersons for disabled people; when the reality is that it is disabled people who are speaking up for themselves on a variety of social media sites, in Blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, in newspapers and out on the streets via direct action.

So, O'Neill's take on the fear for many disabled people expressed by themselves is a casual: "Concerned commentators tell us disabled people will be propelled into “destitution" by the government’s overhaul of disability benefits."  O'Neill, we are the concerned commentators; and many of us are enduring the real destitution caused by the dismantling of the welfare state!

"They claim disabled people will commit suicide in droves if their benefits are changed or removed."  O'Neill, look to sites such as Black Triangle, DPAC and ATOS Stories for proof of the suicides caused as a result of a flawed system that disregards the frailty and sense of hopelessness associated with some disabilities and conditions, especially those of a mental health nature.

"They refer to disabled people as “the vulnerable”, as “this country’s most vulnerable people”." Sadly, we do refer to ourselves as vulnerable; because the actions of this government is forcing vulnerability upon us. Anyone that cannot see that taking away the very means that affords us independence, or power, thus placing us in a position of vulnerability fails to understand the power politics of independence.

Add to the scenario a constant barrage of negative stories, especially from the scum papers, those attack dogs of the Tory press. They have vilified and demonised disabled people for years; and it's hardly any wonder we're feeling vulnerable. When lies and propaganda are daily drip-fed to Scum and Daily Hate readers, why are we surprised to learn that disability hate crime is on the rise.   

"The government’s aim is to address the fact that currently some 3.2 million people receive disability living allowance by renaming the allowance a personal independence payment, and gradually reducing the number who receive it by checking if they're more capable of work and independence than we previously thought." 

Oh dear, Mr O'Neill really demonstrates his ignorance of a subject he has spewed out over a thousand words on. Disability Living Allowance is a benefit paid to some disabled people to help cover the extra costs of transport and care they meet in everyday life. This benefit is non-means tested and paid to people whether in work or out of work.

It's replacement, the Personal Independence Payment, will, consistent with information out in the public domain, be more difficult to claim for many disabled people given that the criteria for qualification appears to be more stringent.

However, and unless they have other plans as yet unknown, PIP will also be non-means tested, that is, available to people in work and out of work.

His statement on DLA proves that Brendan is a lazy writer who has failed to delve into the most basic of research in order to create a balanced article.

"And the Left was definitely on the side of work for the disabled over handouts for the disabled."  This is an inaccurate statement. The Left has always defended disabled people's right to work. While the more progressive of us defended the right for Remploy workers to choose supported employment.

Of course the Left was against  "...handouts for the disabled."  so inflammatorily phrased by O'Neill. Instead, the Left supports a decent level of benefit for those disabled people unable to work or forced from getting work by a discriminatory employment market; and that remains our position.  

 "Today, the exact opposite is the case: the Left sneers at the idea that disabled people should be expected to work and fights tooth and nail for the preservation of a benefits system that explicitly defines disabled people as incapable, unfit, as invalids, effectively."

No Brendan, our call is as loud and clear as it has always been; and that is to demand the right for disabled people who can work to be given jobs. Scores of thousands of us desire to be employed. Several thousand Remploy workers made redundant over the past six years demonstrated their wish to work; yet they had their employment stolen from them. Likewise countless unemployed disabled people dream of the day they can go to work on equal terms with other workers.

O'Neill, even you must have come across this saying in the days you flirted with the Left: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."  This still holds strong today. Therefore, those of us who are able to work do so without discrimination; and those of us unable to work are afforded a living income. It is your Right in its clamour for the maximisation of profit who label us as incapable or unproductive. It is capitalism that sees us as invalid; surplus to their requirements.

"Likewise, the Lib-Con government’s approach to the disability issue leaves much to be desired: it should never have outsourced to a private company something as socially important as redefining disabled people as fit for work, and it should be investing more money in creating fruitful work for disabled people to do." 

One area that we can agree upon. However, if you believe this government has any plans to invest more money into creating meaningful work for disabled people you really are lost to the dark side. Trends show that expenditure on Access to Work is falling. On closing Remploy factories and ending Residential Training Courses for disabled people, the government saved around £116 million of which they pledged £15 million extra to A2W (£5 M per year until 2015); a mere 13% extra by a government who want to show people that work works!