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8 News A COACHLOAD of people from

Ceredigion joined around 20,000 people in Birmingham last Saturday (Oct 1) to demand an alternative to ‘Austerity Britain’. Timed to coincide with the Conservative Party conference in the city, the demonstration was organised by the People’s Assembly against Austerity and supported by a number of major trade unions and campaign groups. With the support of the Unite trade union, Ceredigion People’s Assembly organised the coach from Aberystwyth, which also picked up people in Machynlleth. The People’s Assembly

demonstration demanded that the Conservative Government invest in public services, infrastructure and creating decent jobs. Organisers made a specific call to end the scapegoating of migrants ‘which divides our communities and whips up racism’. One of the people on the Aberystwyth bus told The Herald: “Abetted by a largely compliant media, Conservative politicians continually

Kelvin Mason Aberystwyth Reporter

blame immigration for all the social ills that their own government’s policies have caused, including the pressure on the NHS and unemployment.” The People’s Assembly believe

that the Conservative Government is creating insecure employment with low pay while it continues an ideological drive to privatise public services. Back in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion People’s Assembly are leading the campaign to save the Crown Post Office in Great Darkgate Street as Post Office Limited seek to franchise the service to WHSmith. Speakers at Saturday’s demonstration called attention to a wide range of major problems in society, including a growing housing crisis, the biggest funding squeeze on the NHS since its foundation, and an education system that is stretched to breaking point. Moreover, many local services have been shut down or reduced

as huge budget cuts are forced on local councils. At the same time, the People’s Assembly contest that big businesses and mega-rich individuals are ‘squirreling away’ money in offshore tax havens and awarding themselves obscene bonuses. Meanwhile, everyone else is told to tighten their belts.

WELSH STEEL Marchers made their way from

Victoria Square along New Street to Millennium Point, where they rallied to hear speeches from union leaders and campaigners. The march was proudly led by Unite steelworkers from the stricken plant in Port Talbot. One shop steward told the media:

“This isn’t about saving steel any more, it’s about saving manufacturing in the UK. All the Tories do is talk. They don’t actually put anything into action. There’s anger, disappointment, but also uncertainty. A lot of people are very anxious. We don’t know if we’re up for sale or having a merger.” At present, Port Talbot workers are

in something of a limbo, while TATA decides whether to hold on to the plant or sell it along with the rest of its UK assets. Reports that the plant is losing £1m a day are untrue, according to Bethan Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West. Rather, the plant has failed to make

the £365m per year that its owners had planned for. Given that the plant has been chronically under-invested in, certainly when compared to Ijmuiden, its sister plant in the Netherlands, that it remains viable is almost a miracle. Bethan Jenkins told The Herald: “Our

preference remains with the Excalibur bid - creating a Welsh steel company that’s run from Wales by people with experience. “Allied to this, we have laid out

Unite Cymru members: with their banners

comprehensive plans to modernise the plant, making it more competitive and environmentally friendly, while at the same time partnering it with research and development facilities in Swansea so that it could become a world-leading

Listening to the speakers at the rally: Janice de Haaff

steel specialist – ideas that the Welsh Government is only now taking up. “There is a real opportunity here to

take over and retool the Port Talbot site, so that it lasts many years into the future, delivering opportunity and prosperity for the local economy and further afield. What it requires now is political will. That isn’t going to happen while the plant is caught between a Tory government riven with right-wing ideology and an out-of- its-depth Labour Welsh Government that struggles to get out of first gear when it comes to taking action.” Andy Richards, Unite’s Wales

Secretary, said: “This demonstration in Birmingham is sending a clear message to Theresa May’s Government that ordinary working people are against austerity. Its effects on services across the UK and Wales are having a big impact on people’s lives. Austerity must end now!”

PEACEFUL, NOISY PROTEST Predictably, in a heavily policed

operation, the People’s Assembly demonstration was not allowed anywhere near the plush venue where the Tory party conference was being held. Some demonstrators compared the security cordon that had been set up in Birmingham to Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall on the border between the USA and Mexico. Other protests were permitted closer to the conference venue, however, notably a group protesting just outside the cordon against an increase in the age at which some women can claim their pensions. The march through Birmingham was

a peaceful but ebulliently noisy affair. Samba bands kept up their pulsating rhythms, people blew whistles and vuvuzelas, the plastic horns that made their noisy way into protest culture following the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010. The air was filled with chants of ‘Tories out!’ as people donned all manner

of fancy dress to highlight issues from Brexit to the badger cull. If the number of t-shirts, placards and badges bearing his name or image were anything to go by, Jeremy Corbyn was evidently popular with many marchers. Among a number of giant balloons

on the march, one was fashioned as a huge pair of scissors representing the cuts made by the government. At the junction of New Street and High Street, a massed ‘Campaign Choir’, made up of singers from street choirs from across Britain, including Côr Gobaith from Aberystwyth, sang to encourage the demonstrators. At the rally at the end of the march,

speakers included NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney and former Green leader Natalie Bennett. Stop The War Coalition national organiser John Rees said: “Every pound spent on Trident. Every pound spent paying for NATO imposed 2% of GDP arms budget. Every pound spent on guns and weapons and bombs, is a pound not spent on hospitals and schools and houses and decent wages.” Speaker after speaker called for unity, solidarity and tolerance. Many people brought their children

on the good-natured march and there were a number of pet dogs in attendance too. Police reported only one arrest, that of a 17-year-old boy who had his face covered and was held after reports of a young man who had his face covered ‘running through the crowd scaring people’. In contrast to the peaceful, tolerant

and friendly tone of the march, one Sun reader commented on that newspaper’s website: “Who are these gormless gits? Looks like a bunch of dole wallers who are always happy for the state to give them funds for doing rock all - hose them down with petrol and set fire to them!” With the stark spectre of the Brexit division set to haunt the UK’s political consciousness for a long time to come, it seems tolerance, peace and unity appear very distant political possibilities.


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Ceredigion raises its voice at anti-Austerity demo Ceredigion protesters: arriving in Birmingham

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