On Saturday I joined hundreds in Birmingham in a protest against the bedroom tax. The protest was part of a day of action involving over 50 demonstrations and thousands of people across the UK which was co-ordinated by Eoin Clarke & Labour Left but was a broad cross left event, with speakers including left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, former Respect leader & local councilor Salma Yaqoob, the Socialist Party’s Nick Hart, Shadow DWP Sec Liam Byrne, as well as local activists from Birmingham Against the Cuts, Birmingham Trades Council, Dudley Trades Council, Boycott Workfare, UCU, the CAB, and Unite the Resistance.
Along with this, two protestors who had traveled some distance to attend spoke about how the tax will hit them directly. Simon Cohen spoke about how the forced downsizing will mean his child no longer has anywhere to sleep even though parenting is shared, as well as significantly impacting on his health. Meanwhile, Karen Fear who has had ME for some time spoke about how she has already been pushed through stressful moves and dreads being forced through more dangerous upheaval.
The mood of the day was determined – people are starting to rise up and are ready to push forward and stand alongside those who are threatened to resist this attack on the basic security of working class people. But how do we move forward? With unity and co-ordinated strong action.
1) Organising: There will be a public meeting organised by Unite the Resistance at 7.30 on Thursday 28th March, Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham. B4 6AF. Tell people you know it is happening and encourage them to come along.
2) Lobbying: We need to bombard MPs and Councillors with letters, e-mails and tweets, and organise co-ordinated lobbies at surgeries.
- You can find out how to contact your MP at theyworkforyou.com
- There is a list of Birmingham Councillors and how to contact them here, Dudley Councillors here , Wolverhampton here, Sandwell here, Walsall here – and you can also find your Councillor at www.writetothem.com.
- One issue raised by John McDonnell is that we should be urging Labour Councillors to step in to stop evictions, so even if you are not going to be directly affected letters of support recommending this will help.
- When writing to your MP, you could include alternatives such as building Social Housing, and capping private rent and agency charges. Be prepared to be fobbed off and write back if you are. One way to make it clear that you are not a lone voice and are standing with others is to start a local petition to send to Councillors and your MP.
- Labour party members need to be putting pressure on within to make sure the positive moves from the front bench towards scrapping the tax are followed through fully.
4) Resisting: For resistance to be effective, it needs to be co-ordinated and it needs lots of support. Hopefully one outcome from the public meeting will be a beginning of a network to physically stand with those being affected by the tax from eviction/baillifs, spreading information, and helping people access information and support. Along with physical resistance, another way to combat the tax is in blocking the system with challenges and appeals. It appears that Birmingham residents are not intending to comply with the planned rehousing program, and this site here gives lots of information about how to go about doing this in terms of using the official systems.
Lots of people involved in the campaign so far are grassroots activists with links to other anti-austerity movements. But lots of people who came along on Saturday were at their first demonstration, and lots were asking for support and in particular information about what they can do. For the movement to be effective it needs to fully engage and involve first time activists, and there needs to be lots of work on keeping the momentum, and making campaigning inclusive and accessible for all. When we fight together, we win.