Sketch for a PCS banner 'Keep Sheffield Open' Sketch for a PCS banner 'Keep Sheffield Open''. Illustration: Barac Zita

A ‘Northern Powerhouse or Northern Poorhouse’ demonstration converged on Sheffield last Saturday, Jon Moorcroft reports   

Around 500 activists and trade unionists marched from Devonshire Green, Sheffield to the steps of the City Hall in protest at the government’s decision to move the Department of Business, Skills & Innovation jobs from Sheffield to London. The significance and resonance of this protest had been compounded by the ‘Panama Papers’, and this week’s Junior Doctors’ strike.

The event kicked off with speeches from PCS’s Candy Udwin from the National Gallery dispute, a striker from the National Museum in Cardiff, Rob Williams of the Shop Stewards Network, and Martin Foster, Unite convenor at Scunthorpe Steelworks. 

Bring it on 

A short march followed, led by the PCS steel band, with a good contingent of mainly PCS and Unite members to the steps of the City Hall where Martin Mayer, president of Sheffield Trades council MC’d the rally. 

Paul Blomfield (MP Sheffield Central) addressed the demo and proceeded to demolish the ‘business case’ for the relocation. He continues to lobby the government. Junior Doctor Will Sapwell urged the patients of the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to write to the chief Executive Sir Andrew Cash to demand he refuses to impose Hunt’s damaging contracts. Such a move would isolate Hunt and further weaken his position. 

Bev Clarkson from UNITE Steel called for the government to intervene through nationalising the steel industry, and reminded everyone that Northern folk are a tough lot and more than up for the fight ahead of them. She challenged the government to ‘bring it on’.   


PCS’s Mark Serwotka spoke movingly of the Junior Doctors who had saved his life when his illness damaged his heart. They deserve our support, he said, and concluded that it’s important that Steelworkers, Junior Doctors and Teachers fight side-by-side in their forthcoming disputes. 

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell caught the mood when he told the demo ‘there is a need for a powerhouse of resistance, and I expect the proud city of Sheffield to lead the way in providing that resistance, through its collectivity and solidarity’.

This demonstration more than set the mood for Saturday, 16 April’s national People’s Assembly demonstration in London, and proves that Tory attempts to pit region against region are prone to misfire. Working class unity is always the key.