|People's Charter campaign, Dalton Rd., Barrow, April 2010|
Some members of Barrow and Furness Pensioners' Association noted with concern comments made by the New Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling, that cuts would have to be made and that these would be worse than under the Thatcher Tory government of some years ago. (Ironic - New Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had informed us that he'd put an end to boom and bust.
What a clown!) Several members of the association signed the Charter Petition but very few were prepared to actually campaign for it. Hence it was left to three members of the committee to lead by example in the hope that others would follow. They never did.
We were there in Dalton Road again just before the General Election and each of the candidates of the three main parties gave the People's Charter stall a wide berth. What they could not escape from, however, was the message coming loud and clear through the loud hailer warning the general public about the austerity measures that would be imposed whichever party was elected to government. Where, we asked, is the democracy when you are given no choice except to vote for cuts?
Even though we were campaigning against any threat to reduce pensions and allowances for the over 60s we also asked why the local Trades Union Council, local unions, charities, community associations and religious organisations were not standing alongside us demanding that the public should not have responsibility for making good the deficit - ordinary people did not cause the financial crisis so should not suffer job losses or diminished income. Neither should the unemployed, the sick nor the disabled have to endure benefit freezes or reductions. Appeals made to these bodies fell upon deaf ears but three pensioners maintained the campaign until the spring of 2011.
FURNESS AGAINST THE CUTS ESTABLISHED
And so it was that, in March 2011, the Pensioners' Association called a Public Meeting on 'The Cuts' that was held at The Forum, Barrow. It was at this meeting that Furness Against the Cuts was established and a Steering Group met shortly after to draw up 'Agreements' and a plan of action.
Since this time, numbers on the Steering Group have been reduced because of other pressures placed upon some of them. One has had to give up owing to working fulltime for the Unite Against Fascism organisation and another, a railway worker, has shifts that often prevent him from taking part. Ken Arts, (pictured seated above), one of the original three pensioners and a stalwart of the campaign, sadly died and his absence is sorely felt. The result of this reduction was realised this month (December 2011) when we had to abandon the month's street campaign owing to lack of numbers.
We were pleased when Cumbria PCS joined the campaign stall for one Saturday and used it as a platform to inform the public about the forthcoming 30th November strike - this is exactly how we hoped the campaign stall would be used. We are not asking other organisations to 'sign up to' Furness Against the Cuts - they can stand beside us and campaign on behalf of their own organisation. And if several organisations chose to do this it would impress upon the public that opposition to the cuts was universal and not just unions selfishly protecting their members' pensions to the exclusion of everyone else.
Unfortunately, other organisations in Barrow and in Furness do not yet seem to have grasped this concept (of unity) and choose to remain silently invisible. As austerity begins to really take hold people will have less to spend so will cut back on charitable donations. The church congregations remain dumb whilst the great and the mighty abandon Christianity and gleefully worship at the altar of Mammon.
As for the unions, having a one day strike and half-hour rally every six months will hardly impress the public (any union action needs public support if it is to have any chance of success) and will have little, if any, affect upon government policies. Without unity, the individual unions can be 'bought off' and bring any idea of solidarity crashing down leading, ultimately, to the eventual exploitation of everyone. (It's been done many times before)
The next meeting of the Steering Group of Furness Against the Cuts will be held from 6.30 to 7.30pm on WEDNESDAY 11th JANUARY 2012, at Greengate Children's Centre, Greengate Street, Barrow.
FAC sends seasonal greetings to all who are actively campaigning against the government's imposed austerity measures, its attacks on the Welfare State and privatisation of our National Health Service. The People's Charter really is the only alternative for building a healthier, wealthier Britain.