Our event on 30 September 2017 – Fighting Unemployment, Poverty and Austerity – took place against the background of the introduction of the horrendous change to the social security system ie. Universal Credit and the annual Tory Conference which was taking place down the road in Manchester. It was held in the Annexe at the Working Class Movement Library.
The WCML was founded by Ruth and Eddie Frow, communists who believed that the world could be turned upside down to favour the masses and not the millionaires. Eddie’s politics were shaped by his experiences as a victimised engineer who played a key role in the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. Just across the road from the WCML in 1931 took place the Battle of Bexley Square where police attacked protestors, including Eddie, who was framed and sent down for 4 months for his political activity.
Our first speaker was Sean Mitchell, activist in People Before Profit, and author of Struggle or Starve, Working Class Unity in Belfast in 1932, published by Haymarket Books. He brought to life the story of how Protestant s and Catholics united to demand equality and justice in the Poor Law system. Through first hand accounts and original research Sean told the story of charismatic leader Tommy Geehan who led and help win the demands for a fairer poor law system.
Charlotte Hughes from Tameside against the Cuts, then reminded us of how the social security system is going backwards in its treatment of poor people. She spoke about individual cases she has encountered and how her group works to support individuals as well as publicising their activities through her blog, The Poor Side of Life.
Our final speaker was Chris Rea, chair of Manchester and Salford branch of the National Union of Journalists, who spoke about how his union was challenging media stereotyping of poor people through its initiative of the Reporting Poverty Guidelines. Crucially the guidelines were developed in partnership with the Church Action on Poverty and have now become part of the national NUJ guidelines for all media workers.
We then had a discussion on the issues raised by our speakers, and the meeting finished with a collection towards Charlotte’s blog. Charlotte does not get paid for writing this, so please read it, and make a contribution if you can afford to.