Hardest Hit Cardiff: Tories welcome, but not Remploy Workers!

22nd October 2011

The turnout of 1,000 at the ‘Hardest Hit’ march and rally in Cardiff on October 22nd showed both the huge anger developing against the Tories’ proposals and potential to build a mass campaign against the attacks on the disabled. Disabled campaigners, trade unionists and the wider anti-cuts movement got a great reception in the city centre as they marched through, chanting “no ‘if’s, no ‘but’s, no disability cuts”.

But it also showed the weaknesses of cross party, cross class approach taken by many charities and politicians who claim to be the official leadership of the disability rights movement.

The march was inspiring in that a thousand disabled people, carers, trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners turned out to march through Cardiff. The overwhelming majority of those that turned out would have been looking for a lead in the fight to defeat attacks on disability benefits and a plan of action to defend vital public services including the NHS and local authority services.

They would have been sadly disappointed listening to the official platform of speakers which consisted of directors and executives of charities and 3 Welsh Assembly Members. The AMs included, unbelievably, Mohammad Ashgar, Tory AM for South Wales East. This representative of the Tory originator of these cuts was allowed to speak, while Les Woodward, the national trade union convenor for Remploy - employing around 2,800 disabled workers and threatened with closure by the same Tory party of which Mr Ashgar is a Welsh representative – was refused on the grounds that he was “too political”. When large parts of the rally booed and heckled this representative of the party of the ruling class they were told to be quiet by the chair because the “support of all parties” is needed.

It was only actor and writer, Boyd Clack (Satellite City/High Hopes), who introduced some sense to the platform, telling marchers that the lesson taught to him by his dad as a boy – “you can never trust a Tory” is as true today as it has ever been. But, he warned, that his father would be turning in his grave to see what the Labour Party he supported, has become. He warned disabled fighters to rely only on their own strength and not the support of politicians. He could have added that we should not rely on the support of charities which rely on government funding and will do all they can to argue for their own slice of a shrinking pie, while doing everything in their power to prevent political discussion.

Fortunately disabled campaigners do have allies they can rely on to fight all the way with them – public sector trade unionists, their families and the working class in general. This was the theme of the ‘alternative’ rally that Socialist Party members staged – that the struggle against the Welfare reform Bill and other attacks on the disabled can be defeated, as part of a campaign to oppose all public sector cuts.

Thanks to the Socialist Party, Les did get to address the crowd on the importance of fighting for Remploy and the thousands of disabled workers that it provides with the dignity of training, learning skills and earning a wage. He also exposed the shameful way that charities, including some of those participating in the ‘hardest hit’ campaigns, have colluded with the ConDem government’s plans to destroy Remploy. He was joined by other Socialist Party members, including Andrew Price from Cardiff Trades Council, whose message that the opposition to attacks on disability benefits and services needs to be linked to the strike action of public sector workers in November, was well received.

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