There were unprecedented scenes in Birmingham on N30 after the
Tory-Lib-Dem coalition that runs Birmingham City Council tried to ban
the planned TUC protest march.
There were unprecedented scenes in Birmingham on N30 after the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition that runs Birmingham City Council tried to ban the planned TUC protest march.
The day before, no doubt as a spoiler, the City Council suddenly demanded the TUC pay £10,000 to cover the cost of road closures. This was outrageous -previous demonstrations such as the recent protest against the Lib-Dem national conference in the city had only incurred costs of a few hundred pounds.
The TUC refused to pay and withdrew from the event. This prompted the city’s daily newspaper, the Birmingham Mail, to splash across its front page on the eve of the demo that the protest march had been called off. Fortunately, this is the 21st century and social media networks were abuzz with the fury of angry trade unionists – there was a mini ‘Arab Spring’ underway in the city, with everyone declaring they would turn up anyway. A common refrain was ‘if they can do it in Tahrir Square, then we can do it in Birmingham!’ As the anger grew, Unison, the NUT, PCS and GMB declared the march would go ahead, and instructed members to still turn up.
On the morning of 30 November, the City Council still refused to put road closures in place, and maintained that the march was illegal, with leading Tory Cllr Alan Rudge telling the Birmingham Mail: “They haven’t agreed a correct route, haven’t permission from private landowners…They are putting unreasonable risk on the people of Birmingham and will be held responsible if anything goes wrong.”
Despite the Tories’ attempts to whip up a confrontation, 15,000 public sector trade unionists assembled at the allotted setting off point regardless. I have been a trade unionist for many years, and what happened next was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. There was not a police officer in sight! West Midlands Police of course have their own problems, facing 3,000 redundancies including 1,000 frontline Bobbies, while much of their civilian staff were on strike. So the police gave their verdict on the posturing of the City Council – and stayed away. Police were no where to be seen throughout the one and half hour protest march through the city. Not one.
So the labour movement took over. An army of stewards in hi-viz jackets and waving union flags, closed roads as we marched around the city, redirecting traffic, ensuring the march parted to let through Fire engines and ambulances on emergency call-outs. It was like a mobile mass picket.
The city centre came to a standstill – yet far from facing anger from gridlocked motorists, most honked their horns in support and gave thumbs up signs. I only saw one snotty businessman attempt to drive his 4×4 through the streaming crowds, but he was quickly surrounded by burly stewards who ‘patiently explained’ why it was perhaps best he just hang on to let the protest pass. He got the message.
In the city centre itself, passers by clapped the marchers, with many joining in – BBC national TV reported that at its height, 30,000 joined the march. The march reached the rally venue, the National Indoor Arena, where around 7,000 stayed to hear the speakers.
The likes of Cllr Rudge were left with egg on their faces by the carton load. 30,000 people had taken to the streets, organising road closures themselves, keeping order, and ensuring the right to protest, without a police hi-viz jacket or a riot cop in sight. And there was not one arrest, no disorder, no injuries, no violence. Public sector trade unions took their responsibilities seriously. Unlike the irresponsible Tories and Lib-Dems in Birmingham who tried to provoke a confrontation. Oh, and the City Council didn’t get their £10,000 either.
By a Birmingham City Council Adults and Communities Unison Steward