Well over 1000 people marched in Newcastle on Saturday 16 February in a united show of opposition to devastating cuts inflicted on public services.
The city's Labour council is implementing coalition cuts in draconian fashion, with libraries, youth services, play services and the arts all set to be devastated. 1300 council jobs are set to go. This is in the region with the highest unemployment in the country.
The demonstration followed the confirmation of the council's plans on Friday, but ahead of the council meeting (on 6 March) which will see councillors vote on a budget of unprecedented cutbacks. Protesters will again gather to voice opposition to the destruction of local services.
The march and rally involved Coalition of Resistance (COR), a wide range of community campaigns and trade unions in organising and building it. It was backed by Northern TUC, while campaigns like Save Newcastle Libraries and Save our Play had a strong presence on the march. A number of unions had contingents, including an RMT contingent of Metro cleaners currently taking 7 days of strike action for a living wage.
The march, which went through the busy streets of Newcastle city centre, was diverse and vibrant. There were chants of "Save our services - no cuts for kids!" and "No ifs, no buts, no library cuts". We passed key landmarks such as Newcastle City Library and the City Pool, which is set to close. The remarkable range of banners testified to the breadth of the popular coalition gathered for the protest.
A rally at Grey's Monument, in the heart of the city centre, had speaker after speaker make the connections between specific cuts and the wider assault on public services and welfare. Emmerdale actor Charlie Hardwick read a statement by popular playwright Lee Hall, supporting the march. A recurring theme was the threat to young people's prospects represented by the proposed cuts. Popular children's author David Almond, speaking on behalf of Save Newcastle Libraries, said:
"Libraries are for everybody, not just an elite. Culture is for everybody. Everywhere I go I see young people keen to take part in the arts, keen to read. We need libraries to provide for the future. Our children should not pay for the wickedness of the rich and powerful."
Further campaigning over cuts to local services is planned. Activists and trade unionists are also starting to mobilise for the People's Assembly Against Austerity (22 June), which offers a chance to unite the disparate strands of the movement at a national level. The first North East co-ordinating meeting is on 28 February, 5.30pm, at the Unite regional offices on John Dobson Street, Newcastle.
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.
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