Protest against ban on free speech and street life

23 Jun
Busking 001
A singing protest (with amplification) took place in the city centre yesterday evening. It began with a musical procession up New St, and ended with unamplified and amplified singing, poetry and speeches outside of the Council House. Without the use of amplification, only those very close to the performer or speaker could here exactly what was being sung about or broadcast.
And this is the point. All the warm words in the Council consultation document about how it is not an attack on free speech come to nothing in the reality of trying to make the voices of ordinary citizens heard. The very successful protest about the massive attacks on the library service of 13th June would have been far less successful if the words of the poets, writers and speakers had not been amplified.
And don’t forget that this ban will not apply to commercial concerns. The pro-business priorities of the Labour Council are made clear once again.
When the subject was aired on the Adrian Goldberg show not so long ago, the proposal to ban amplification got a complete roasting. So it is important that this view is reflected in the official consultation. It was supposed to end yesterday, but has been extended by a week. Could this be because their consultation is coming up with the wrong answer and more time is needed to marshal more support for the ban, one is tempted to ask?
If you have not added your voice to the consultation yet, please go to 006
Mind you, if they take as much notice of their consultation over this as they did to the consultation over the cuts to the Library of Birmingham, a certain amount of cynicism would be justified.
Nevertheless, please have your say anyway. This attempt to make the city centre an exclusive area for wealthy shoppers, a playground for the kind of people the Council is trying to attract with its support for luxury development, means pushing out ordinary citizens, especially the poor.
‘Social cleansing’ is happening in many cities these days, particularly in London. Don’t let it happen here in Birmingham. 

Bob WhiteheadBusking 008





Save the city libraries and the city center!

14 Jun
Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 001
Despite the rain, about one hundred people demonstrated up New Street yesterday afternoon, and about 150 attended the long rally outside of the Council House. Poets, writers and many speakers voiced their opposition to the cultural vandalism of the city council.
Both events were organised by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, and both were demanding that the recent massive cuts to the Library of Birmingham and the Community Libraries be reversed.
This represents an escalation of the level of campaigning from the static rally outside of the LoB on February 7th. It was necessary as the Council ignored its own consultation over the 2015 budget, which showed massive support for the library service, way above all other areas of service. The council ploughed ahead with the cuts regardless.
What was the response of the Labour-run Council to yesterday’s well-advertised protests?
Firstly, the council house doors were locked, when a simple friendly gesture could have been made to allow the rally to take place inside, away from the rain.
Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 003
Secondly, not one Labour Councillor turned up to the rally or demonstration to give support.
When councillors wring their hands and say ‘our hands are tied, there is nothing we can do’, yesterday’s events, and the no-show by any councillors, especially from Labour, spoke volumes.
There is a lot they can do; organise rallies and demonstrations against government cuts, protest and vote against cuts to services in the Council chamber, or at least lead a fight against austerity within the Labour Group.
Yet all we have is silence; the resistance is left to voluntary groups, such as the FoLoB to do all the work instead. And now there is even a proposal from the Labour Council to shut such people up; the intention is to ban amplification by protest groups, entertainers and religious groups in the city centre (but not commercial advertisers of course!)
Is there any further evidence needed that the Labour council has gone over to austerity and the neo-liberal agenda hook, line and sinker?
Are there no Councillors who will break from this in some shape or form? Are they all going to accept that the city centre is only a place for rich shoppers, a playground for those with money, a bleak landscape of concrete, glass and steel, devoid of life, education and culture?

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 004

Owen Jones has just started a debate, “What is the point of the Labour Party?” We could well ask a similar question about the Labour Council. They have meekly lain down in the face of government cuts. Are they now going to do the same in the face of the pro-business Kerslake and West Midlands Combined Authority’s onslaught on services and local democracy?
It would be nice to think otherwise, but it is unlikely many people will be holding their breath. In the absence of any semblance of opposition, it is the city council that should be served with an Anti Social Behaviour Order, not the city center’s street life.
All power to the elbow of the Friends of the Library of Birmingham and similar groups.

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 008

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 007

Demonstrate on June 13th

26 May
Here is the calling note from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham.


Demonstration poster_page_001

Demonstration text_page_001

Demonstrate for the Library of Birmingham (and the wider library service)

19 May
 The Friends of the Library of Birmingham has decided to call a demonstration on Saturday June 13th. It will be to oppose the drastic cuts to the LoB in terms of its opening hours, staff cuts and restrictions on the services it has been offering. It will assemble at the Waterstones book shop at the bottom of New Street at 12 noon and then march up New Street for a rally at the Council House at 1pm.

Lob occupation 016

 The “Friends” group has decided to take this course of action for several reasons.
 Firstly, the consultation exercise over the 2015 Council budget showed massive support for the LoB, far and away more than for any other area of service (50% of all respondents, compared to 29% for adult social services, and a massive 78% rejecting any cut to this one-and-a-half-year-old library). The results of the consultation were ignored and the cuts went through.
 Secondly, the “Friends” are very alarmed, as are the many LoB users, at the results of this year’s cuts;
  • A massive reduction of hours – closed on Sundays, no admission before 11 am in the week, no late nights.
  • No new books to be bought; no business and IT advice; limited access to study space and PCs.
  • No community outreach: no story times for children; no schools events or holiday activities.
  • 90 staff to be made redundant.
  • Limited access to the internationally important City and photography archives and special collections, including the Vanley Burke Archive.
 Thirdly, even greater cuts are planned for next year. The question has to be asked; will the LoB even be viable with another savaging of its budget? Will we be faced with the loss of this major cultural centre (and tourist attraction!) which cost £189 to build? It would be the ultimate absurdity; paying £12 million per year for 40 years to finance a library which no-one could use!
 The Friends of the Library of Birmingham is calling upon all library users, whether from the LoB or community libraries, all trades unionists who wish to oppose the huge job losses, and all concerned citizens, to unite at this demonstration on June 13th.

Bob Whitehead

Small Heath School strikes against academy status

13 May
A very successful strike took place today at this school.
The picket line at lower school

The picket line at lower school

For five years running, this school obtained an “outstanding” from OFSTED, and although it was investigated as part of the “Trojan horse” group of schools, it came out with no problems identified.
However, in January of this year, when OFSTED arrived again, it was placed in special measures! Now there had been a change in leadership of the school and certain problems had arisen, but to go from one extreme to the other in one term lacks credibility.
And then the school governing body was removed and an IEB (Interim Executive Board) installed in its place, showing the usual contempt for the parents and community. The staff are firmly of the view that the agenda of the IEB will be to turn the school into an academy.
When the joint staff unions approached the IEB and asked that no changes were to be implemented at the school for another term to give it the chance to turn things around and achieve a certain amount of stability, this was flatly refused.
And so the strike took place today and given solid backing from the staff unions. Spirits are high, and it is to be hoped that the parents and community join in to give support as well, so that this whole unnecessary and unwanted academy conversion is abandoned.
Academies have been proven not to raise standards, so what is the real motive for this move? There are much better ways of sorting out issues in schools than handing them over to accountable bureaucrats.

Small Heath School strike 2 014


To see and hear the comments of the NUT rep;


Labour fails; the chickens come home to roost

8 May
The answer to the question at the end of the letter below * is, unfortunately, a lot worse, in the light of the election results.
Communities Against the Cuts, in its short existence has always taken a hard line against austerity, from whichever party was promoting it. In Birmingham, that meant actively fighting against all the local cuts alongside service users, service workers and citizens, and also standing candidates against the Labour Council. In addition, CATC highlighted opposition to discrimination via its election materials.
Labour has done the opposite. It has embraced austerity at the national and local levels and only offered a slightly less objectionable version in the general election. In the end it proved too little too late. The years spent developing ’austerity-lite’ plus accommodating to the scapegoating agenda of UKIP have done the damage.
The Liberal Democrat collapse shows a similar negative example of what happens when you adopt Tory austerity.
Even against the background of a shift of politics to the right, south of the border, and a lack of large scale anti-austerity struggles, the Green Party of England and Wales has made serious electoral gains due to its anti-austerity profile. Its defence of immigrants has contrasted with Labour pledges to tighten the screws on them.
 Despite the Green Party’s bad record in local government, where it has implemented big cuts to services, its national profile has enabled it to obtain over one million votes. With a consistent approach and a proportional representation system it would have done a lot better.
The example of the new kind of politics that CATC developed – a hard line against all aspects of austerity and active campaigning on the ground against them –  is the best antidote to the neo-liberal offensive.  It is good to see other groups thinking in a similar way. It would be welcome if this approach could be spread into every corner of our city, and indeed, the country.
It would also be nice to see Labour adopting similar conclusions, but it seems more likely that they have passed the point of no return.

 The Ultimate Insult: How about this for a diary note?

Elections frequently don’t seem to change much but I went along to my local polling booth (a Moseley Primary School) on 7 May to cast votes for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the local elections and (grudgingly and in the absence of any other supportable candidate) Labour in the Parliamentary job to kick out the Tories.

At 2:00pm the rear gate and entrance to the school was heavily bolted and this meant a walk of about 15 minutes to the only other entrance to the building.  I mentioned the locked back gate to the officials issuing the voting papers in the school assembly hall and it seemed council spending cuts meant the rear gate had to be locked because there was no caretaker in a council building being used as a public polling station. Quite unbelievable!

One of the officials pointed out that somebody from a nearby sheltered housing scheme had been into the school to express concern that the locked back gate effectively meant others from the scheme may have found the 15 minute walk to the only entrance beyond their physical capabilities.

So we now have the ultimate insult where, on top of all the other attacks on jobs and services, the seemingly endless cycle of spending cuts may have indirectly led to some people not being allowed to exercise their right to vote.

* How much worse can things get?









Lively hustings on Pool Farm

28 Apr
Several things were noteworthy about the election hustings at Greaves Hall on the Pool Farm estate last night.
The first was that this was the first time ever that a hustings has been held in the area, the second was that it was well attended by local people and that they were keen to take part, and the third was that unlike the recent huge but polite hustings in the Cotteridge Church and the Northfield Methodist Church, this one became very heated towards the end.
After the customary introductory speeches by the three main parties, UKIP and the Greens (and the Labour and Tory candidates for the Kings Norton council seat), the questions focussed on local and national issues, mainly linked to the theme of austerity. The bedroom tax, housing, the failure of the £50 million “New Deal” initiative to really change things on the 3 Estates, how student fees were hindering the life chances of the poor, the proposed reduction in housing benefit for young people and the failings of provision for people with mental health problems were some of the items dealt with.
The attempt by UKIP to stir up racism by reference to stronger borders and for a Euro-exit met with no resonance from people; their concerns were far more reflective of the deprivation experienced for so long by this community.
The Tory candidate’s stock answer to everything was that the economy had to be sorted out first. But of course, the economy she kept referring to is a capitalist economy, one that puts profit first and the environment, young people, the disabled, the homeless and the sick way down the list.
The Green Party candidate was the only one to refer to the environmental crisis and the need to break with austerity. She endorsed the anti-austerity views of the SNP and Plaid Cymru.
 All the other candidates were openly hostile to the SNP and the prospect of Lab-SNP collaboration, never mind a coalition.
The Liberal Democrat gave a string of liberal progressive policies, which flew in the face of the coalition practice during the last five years.
Richard Burden, on home ground, got the best reception and mentioned how he had always voted against Trident renewal. But he failed to distance himself from the Balls/Miliband austerity programme.
The turning point of the meeting was when someone on a zero-hours contract spoke about the acute difficulties of existing, when he might get called in for one hour this week and half an hour next week. The long suppressed feelings of local people started to come to the surface to such an extent that it eventually became difficult for the chair to keep order.
To say that this hustings event created a buzz would be an understatement. Thanks are due to the person who organised it. It is about time that ordinary people started to enter the political arena.

Bob Whitehead



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