Daniel Harris of the Liverpool Marxists reports from a rally against the latest Tory austerity measures to be announced: cuts to free school meals that will effect a million children.
A rally was held yesterday in Liverpool city centre against the Tories’ outrageous plans to cut eligibility for free school meals. This demonstrates the preparedness of the working class to leap into action and protect one of our most basic rights – access to food.
The protest came just a day after this latest attack on the working class was announced. For a few hours Williamson Square belonged to the homeless, to school pupils and their parents, and to all those fighting against these latest Tory austerity measures.
The paving slabs underfoot were covered with colourful slogans written in chalk, such as: “Let’s not see a return of malnutrition”; “Vitamin deficiencies”; “Let’s end starvation”; and “Theresa May, don’t take our food”.
A stall distributing hot meals was the focal point of the buzz, ran by enthusiastic volunteers and surrounded by activists. There were also several labour movement speakers at the demonstration.
Comrades from Socialist Appeal and Liverpool Marxist Society were in attendance. We got the chance to speak with Helen Collins and Ellie Longman, activists from Merseyside who organised this demonstration.
Socialist Appeal: Can you talk a little about what we’re doing here today and what inspired you to organise the demonstration?
Helen Collins: Our generation is already seeing the biggest school privatisations, resource privatisations, and education privatisations in the past 20 years. We’re already up against it. And now the Tories are taking away something this basic. It just doesn’t make sense. A meal is a basic human right.
Ellie Longman: Children who are hungry can’t learn. We’re talking about the future leaders, future doctors; people who will have the knowledge and the skills and will be able to change the world. And if they’re hungry, the school meal might be the only hot meal they get in that day.
Helen Collins: It’s just an outrage. We found there was a lot of anger on social media which wasn’t being directed. I think people just rage so much and we kind of wanted to mobilise everyone together, to be part of a massive movement, to let people know things can be done and that this can be challenged. There’s a lot happening to challenge it. It is really positive that Angela Raynor [the shadow minister for education] has just gotten a three hour debate on the subject [in Parliament]. We can move forward.
Ellie Longman: Hearing the statistics, one million children around the country – and 24,000 from Merseyside – will be affected. This is the first step to get that anger organised and get that momentum going so that when they do start making what I would say is an extreme cut, a detriment to human rights, we need to be there, organised and ready to lobby and put the pressure on our MPs. They represent us – but they’ve just given themselves a pay rise of up to £3,000 a year and at the same time they’re saying working people are unable to budget.
Helen Collins: It isn’t about individual families being unable to budget. We can manage. Our class can manage; we’ve always had to. It’s a fact that we shouldn’t have to manage. There is the money out there. They’re making cuts to a detrimental human right. Their reasoning for it is that it’s going to enable more kids to be entitled to free school meals. So far there’s been no explanation. It doesn’t make sense because, right now, any Universal Credit claimant is entitled to free school meals for their child. Even if we were to take the Tories on their word, they’ve already gone back on the promise about refugee support and homelessness. 24,000 children a year until 2020 starving on Merseyside alone. It’s just not on.
Socialist Appeal: Does this campaign have any links nationally?
Ellie Longman: We have put a call out to other groups across the country to set something similar up, in the same name, so that it’s not just Liverpool taking this on. Throughout the country people need to do it. What we’re hoping to get is parents, schools and headteachers involved.
Helen Collins: We’ve been in touch with the educational trade unions and we’re looking to lobby local Tory constituencies and to get mobilised. That is the way to make a difference.
Socialist Appeal: What is the next step after this demonstration?
Helen Collins: Hopefully today will ignite the passion of people to stop them feeling so helpless. We want to let them know that we are standing together as a class, there is something we can do and there is a strategy in place. We all need to stand together to not be defeated and to fight this.