On Tuesday June 22nd, ConDem Chancellor George Osborne revealed the contents of the "emergency budget." As expected, this included a pay freeze for public sector workers (except the lowest paid) along with cuts in housing benefit and an increase in VAT.
The SWP-initiated Right to Work campaign called for protests across the country against the budget. These were supported by Unison and, locally, by the Nottinghamshire and Mansfield Trades Council. Trade unionists and others demonstrated outside the Council House from 5.30pm. There were also protests by the PCS (the civil service union) at lunchtime.
Since the redevelopment of the Market Square, activists have begun to get used to protests juxtaposed by intriguing temporary landmarks, whether massive sandpits or council-branded fairground wheels. This was perhaps the weirdest, with demonstrators framed on one side by a huge St George's flag on the Council House (the biggest in the country if we are to believe the authority's PR) and on the other by the "Lady Boys of Bangkok".
The protest was not huge, but hardly tiny either and despite the prevalence of "usual faces". The SWP, Socialist Party and AWL (a full-set of local socialist parties) were all out in force. Local Maoist group Revolutionary Praxis also had a stall. Despite the sense of familiarity, there was a surprising number of young people, many of them apparently from one of the local colleges. The anarchist turnout was less than impressive. It isn't clear if this was because of the issue at hand, previous negative experience with the organisers, poor publicity or just because it was far too nice a day to be at a protest.
There were banners from the Trades Council and NUT along with Unison placards and a solitary one from GMB, as well as a bevy of PCS flags. Whether this was truly representative of the union's present wasn't clear. Some of them may just be better a publicity than others.
As people have always done at demos outside the Council House, protesters set up banners and placards on the steps. This attracted the ire of some jobsworth from Octavian Security who appears to have been given the vital job of ensuring that nobody besmirches the entrance to the building. Activists were understandably disinterested in his entreaties to move and he went off to call the police (I kid you not).
Astonishingly, the police did not immediately leap into action. Instead two Community Protection Officers (CPO) turned up. While having an overblown sense of your own importance is part of the job description for a CPO these two seemed particularly arrogant and had gone for the Miami Vice-look with reflective sunglasses. Astonishingly, when these two clowns stopped performing for the cameras long enough to demand banners be moved, people actually complied.
Encouragingly, when the NUT set up their ban on the steps later on, Liam Conway decided he wasn't going to back down and demanded to know what powers the CPOs was using to move protesters. Of course, as glorified traffic wardens they don't have any such power and they soon gave up and went off to sulk.
There were speeches from any number of trade unionists and students. No doubt all of them heartfelt, although I couldn't hear much of what was being said. The chanting which was interspersed between speakers was less than imaginative. If we're serious about building a long-term campaign against the cuts agendas the somebody is going to have to come up with some more exciting slogans. If only for my sanity.
Local media were out in force, looking for a local angle on the budget. The Post turned out for a photo opportunity before scurrying off. (People are always more enthusiastic about posing for the Post than for Indymedia, even though they know we're more likely to use the pictures).
Central News and BBC East Midlands also turned out. Watching the two gave an interesting insight into their differing approaches to journalism and it has to be said the coverage of the event did not reflect well on the BBC.
Central News did their interview on the edge of the protest. They spoke to Unison's regional head of local government Ravi Subramanian and to leader of the city council Jon Collins, but also garnered the opinions of Richard Buckwell from Unison and Paul (whose surname I forget) from the PCS. While both are prominent members of a certain lefty political party, they are also genuine, grassroots trade unionists.
The BBC, by contrast decided that it was sufficient to speak to Subramanian and Collins. The politician and the bureaucrat as exemplars of representative politics. The BBC apparently even told Liam Conway that Collins was speaking about cuts in education, strange Liam noted, given the record of Nottingham City Council in promoting city academies at the expense of staff terms and conditions and in the face of union opposition.
During his speech, Liam had mentioned that, earlier on, the BBC had approached the NUT looking for a teacher to discuss the impact of the budget. To his astonishment they hadn't been interested in the union's response or any proposed actions. Instead they were going to have the teacher speak to a financial adviser to see if they could help make ends meet. This underlines the depoliticised interpretation of the cuts being pushed by the BBC. A particularly ironic position given the likelihood that swingeing cuts to the BBC are only just around the corner.
It is also worth noting that while Subramanian and Collins were keen to get their faces on TV, neither of them were prepared to speak to the demonstration. Collins in particular made a point of standing a long way from the protesters, his media handler never far from his side. This of course, reflects their respective politics and the fact that neither wants to be too closely associated with anything genuinely left-wing. Collins is the leader of a particularly Blairite council which has already overseen major job cuts, even before the new government were elected. Subramanian meanwhile is a union bureaucrat and the partner of recently elected MP for Nottingham South Lillian Greenwood (who was also previously a prominent union bureaucrat).
Notts IMC + Disillusioned kid