A cross-section of North Devon, young and old, from Hartland to Ilfracombe, congregated in the Barnstaple Guildhall yesterday for the Rally Against the Cuts organised by North Devon Anti-Cuts Alliance (NDACA). The meeting began with brief speeches from the four speakers, including the Unite Union south-west regional officer Heath Pettifer, Petroc student Steven Holden, a disabled campaigner and NDACA secretary Jim Lowe. Heath stressed the key role trade unions can play in the anti-cuts movement, Steven condemned the Government’s education policies which will result in less-well-off students being unable to go to College and University, disabled campaigner ‘S’ gave a passionate account of the difficulties she faces, which will be considerably worsened by the cuts and attacks on social welfare, and Jim outlined what local councils and councillors can do to oppose the cuts.
The theme of the meeting was ‘ideas for action’, and so as much time as possible was set aside for the 45 who attended the meeting to contribute their own ideas and experiences. Speakers from the audience included Mike Creek, secretary of Ilfracombe Trades Council, who pointed out that the millionaire ministers and MPs pushing through the savage cuts have no idea of life outside their golden bubbles. Another gentleman pointed out the need to vigorously counteract the PR campaign for the cuts the Tories have been running for the last 18 months. Retired teacher Dave Clinch pointed to the inspiring example of the student protests last year, and the need to organise to ensure as big a turnout at the national anti-cuts demonstration on March 26th, a point that was echoed by many of the contributions.
On specific cuts, a man working with women’s aid organisations drew the rally’s attention to the catastrophic cuts to women’s aid proposed by Devon County Council, and urged that anti-cuts activists protest at the council meeting on February 17th in Exeter, a suggestion we fully agree with and will cancel our planned meeting in Bideford on the same day to head down to County Hall. A young woman working in the voluntary sector dispelled the myths about charities being able to provide essential services when they are cut by councils, by revealing that hundreds of jobs had already been lost in the voluntary sector as a result of public spending cuts. The website http://voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk/ should help to show that the so-called ‘Big Society’ is nothing but a big sham.
A lecturer from Petroc outlined some of the effects that spending cuts are having on further education, and Gerry Sables of the Communist Party announced his plans for a referendum on the future of Nick Harvey MP, that he plans to put before voters in Barnstaple in May. There were many other speakers, including Clifford Bell from the Devon Pensioners Action Forum, Save the NHS campaigners, Viv Gale from the Labour Party, and Independent Councillor Joanne Bell from Fremington, who emphasised the need for combatting cuts to environmental projects, and the sale of the forests.
Cllr. Bell also became one of the first candidates to sign the Anti-Cuts Election Pledge that was launched at the Rally. The pledge commits council candidates to, if elected, vote and campaign against all cuts. Over the next few weeks we will be attempting to reach every candidate for the upcoming town, parish and district council elections in North Devon and Torridge, and challenge them to sign the pledge. If you know of any candidate, or are planning to stand yourself, please contact us at devonanticuts [at] gmail.com
As a campaign like North Devon Anti-Cuts Alliance always needs funds to continue holding meetings and produce materials, Treasurer Paul Dyer appealed for those at the rally to contribute what they could. As a bus driver and trade union activist, Paul pointed out the impact spending cuts are already having on public transport, though unfortunately some in the hall could not hear him due to many digging out money to contribute to the finance appeal, which raised an excellent £163.
North Devon Anti-Cuts Alliance would like to thank all those who came to the rally, and helped to make it a success. One of the main reasons for the rally was to share stories and ideas, and this was certainly what happened. But the other is to make sure that the anti-cuts movement in North Devon continues to build momentum. A good way to ensure that happens is to come along to the next organising meeting, at the Owl Cafe, Maiden Street, Barnstaple, on Thursday 3rd February at 7pm, to the protest outside County Hall on the 17th February, and put your name down to go to the national demonstration on the 26th March in London.