Real Britain fringe: Reaffirming the fight against austerity

Real Britain fringe: Reaffirming the fight against austerity

23 September 2013

By Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary

As ever at a Labour conference the fringe meetings turn out to be the most memorable. The fringe meeting hosted by the Daily Mirror with its political commentator Kevin Maguire in the chair on Real Britain was one of the best I've seen. And I've been to a lot of Labour conferences!

The speakers at the fringe meeting were indeed real people who know only too well what its like to live in today's Real Britain under this callous, Tory led heartless government. We heard from Jack Monroe, a single mother living on the 'bread line'. Her main concern is of course her son. She told us that at mealtimes  when money had run out she tells son that she isn't hungry. Jack spoke with real emotion and anger at what this government is doing to our welfare state.  Its not sympathy that she wants - its political action and top of the list of political demands is a living wage.

Then came Mary Laver. Mary was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her forties.  Her harrowing story as her condition progressed showed an indomitable spirit. She's adapted her home so that she can live an independent life.  We saw for ourselves how difficult her life has become -. she had to have her carer turn the pages of her speech. Mary relies on the ‘Independent Living Fund’ to live her life. But Mary's story doesn't move this government. They don't see a woman, now a pensioner, wanting as much independence as she can. They have scrapped the independent living fund. and after a lifetime coping with the severity of rheumatoid arthritis she is in despair.  
Councils have been given the money to local authorities, and town halls up and down the country, because of savage cuts to their budgets are cutting her care to 46 hours condemning her to sit in her wet patch unable to move with sores on her body. Her home will become a prison. This government has destroyed her life and now she contemplates how she can end it.  

Mary knows what austerity Britain is like. And its stories like Mary's that as Kevin said make our blood boil.  But we have to turn that anger into action and it's why Unite will continue to fight to scrap these cuts.

Mary didn't cause the economic crisis, it was made on the trading floors of Wall Street and Canary Wharf and she shouldn't have to pay for it.
The next speaker was Hetty Bower. Hetty 107 years old was a suffragette fighting for the right to vote (a vote that we at times take for granted). She fought against the blackshirts in the 1930s in the battle of Cable Street.  She was victorious then.  
Hetty knows what life was like before the welfare state. She was there at the beginning.  And she has continued to campaign and fight for social justice. Hetty ended her speech with a rallying cry for peace.
We were all inspired and moved by these speakers.  Not least our general secretary Len McCluskey who in an impassioned speech told the meeting that it is because of Mary, Jack and Hetty that we will resist these cuts. The bosses don't understand collectivism and solidarity but we do.
When the Tories and other members of the political class talk of the need for welfare cuts these are real people they are referring to.  They should not be regarded as economic liabilities.
Just as in those early days when trade unions fought for rights we are not going to be defeated.  Trade unionists have to have a voice.  And as Len said:. "Its our party and we won't be pushed out."
I can honestly say I left the meeting inspired and fired up ready to continue our fight to end this misery.  It's not cuts and austerity that we need its investment in our communities so that Jack, Marry and Hetty and others can live in dignity.

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