On the 2nd October, the People’s Assembly held a march against austerity in Birmingham city centre
The demonstration occurred on the same day that Theresa May’s first Conservative Conference began, which was held in the ICC and Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The People’s Assembly, a national organisation united against austerity, government cuts and privatisation, is based on the affiliation of individual supporters and local campaign groups.
Members of the organisation were seen handing out their leaflets during Freshers events at the Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham.
Alongside protesting against austerity, demonstrators voiced their concerns about the current state of the NHS, cuts to education, workers’ rights, and the damaging effects of racist rhetoric within communities. Groups such as Unison, Socialist Workers, anti-fracking campaigners, Black Lives Matter and The Communist Party were all present at the demonstration.
Around a thousand individuals took part in the march which began in Victoria Square at 1pm and arrived at Millennium Point just after 2pm. The march took the route through the city centre causing some roads to be closed. The volume of protesters travelling from all over the country meant that there appeared to be disruptions and delays at local train stations, such as Selly Oak and University. Although there was a clear police presence, the demonstration remained relatively peaceful throughout.
The protest boasted a range of different speakers, including campaigners, politicians, and even poets – Stephen Morrison-Burke summarised the sentiment of the event, saying, ‘now is the time to stand and unite.’ Campaigner Salma Yaqoob called attention to the controversial issue of tax fraud, citing the statistic that tax evasion costs Britain £70 billion each year, while benefit fraud remains at a steady level of less than £1 billion per year. Bob, a member of the Disabled People Against Cuts organisation was also present, and raised awareness of the negative impact of austerity cuts on the livelihoods of disabled individuals. The West Midlands Officer for Unison went on to say a few words, stressing the importance of protesting to help ‘rebalance the inequalities’ caused by austerity cuts.
Ex-Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was also at the march and spoke at the end of the demonstration. Speaking to Redbrick she expressed the importance of political demonstrations saying that: ‘Marches bring people together. Under the banner [People’s Assembly] you have unions from different organisations. It’s very hard to fight if you’re on your own. Coalition is much louder and powerful together’.
Present at the demonstration was the Birmingham Student Socialist group which was formed in January of this year. James, a member of the group said that they had received over 250 signatures at the freshers fair at UoB, and that they have also begun to recruit students from Aston University and Birmingham City University.
Many students who attended said they felt a sense of unity and involvement. Lawrence, a UoB graduate told Redbrick that ‘a lot of people feel like there’s no point to vote and student politics can be in a bubble […] you often feel like you’re fighting the fight alone being a left [wing] student.’ James also continued this point by suggesting that the media ‘often ignore the opposition and isolate people’.
Nancy, another member of the group described the atmosphere as ‘exhilarating [..] it’s so positive and clear that I’m not the only one who’s feeling upset because of cuts and austerity […] Labour is in disarray but there is an opposition and it’s clear today’.
University of Nottingham student, Joe, who travelled to attend the protest emphasised the fact that ‘it is really important to energise people […] as a university student there’s quite a lot of right wing students and it’s quite isolating’. Fellow UoN student, Theo, also added that he hoped Student Socialists will help ‘give a back bone for the student movement to create a coherent plan to help not only students but workers.’
Students who spoke to Redbrick also expressed their discomfort with how negative demonstrations are often portrayed, Charlie, a second year English student at UoB explained that ‘all we want is free and equal education. Smaller debts when we graduate and jobs that give us enough money when we graduate.’
When asked about whether events like this can increase the number of young voters, most seemed positive with Nancy saying that it will ‘definitely get people to vote. It’s hands on engagement just like learning you need to engage people to vote’. Cassidy, a student from London, told Redbrick that demonstrations may encourage more young people ‘to think about what they believe in’ and encourage them to vote.
Amy, a socialist who travelled to the event from Cambridgeshire, said it was ‘very good to see so many trade unions’ present, and went on to reiterate the importance of getting involved in such demonstrations, saying; ‘after all, if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.’