Article published: Thursday, September 10th 2015
Around 700 people heard impassioned speeches by actors Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhaigh alongside local and national activists on Tuesday, as part of a People’s Assembly meeting around the protest against the Tory party conference from 4 to 7 October.
Peake, whose commitment to the politics of protest was highlighted by her 2013 performance of the Masque of Anarchy commemorating the 1820 Peterloo Massacre, spoke about the need for Manchester to show its resistance to the Tory’s “bullying” austerity policies. On hearing of the Tory conference, Peake said that her first thought was “how dare they come to our city, a city annihilated by their cuts.” But she then started seeing the conference as an opportunity for the city to show off its vibrant tradition of protest and resistance to elite rule, with her calling out to those present to “show the Tories what Manchester is about”.
Former Coronation Street actor Julie Hesmondhaigh performed a poem based on her experiences growing up in Accrington and the advantages of having state-funded art projects and grants, many of which, she stressed, are unavailable to young people today after successive cuts from the former Coalition and now majority Tory governments. She gave the crowd a rousing reminder of the need to oppose cuts to state- funded services across the arts as well as other sectors like health and education, saying that austerity will lead to the arts “yet again becoming a playground for the rich”.
Manchester People’s Assembly organiser Penny Hicks was pleased with the “vibrant, buzzing atmosphere” of the meeting. She said that it was an “excellent, exciting panel” that had captured the mood of the room, and was confident that people would go away and get involved with the national week of action to protest the Tory party conference at the beginning of October.
The panel at the meeting reflected the momentum across the movement and country generated by the recent confluence of the refugee crisis, deepening austerity under the Tory government and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as front-runner in the Labour leadership contest. Speakers included representatives from DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts), BARAC (Black Activists Against the Cuts), the North West Trades’ Union Congress (TUC), and ongoing National Gallery strike, as well as National Secretary of the People’s Assembly Sam Fairbairn.
Other panelists included Becx Harrison, who spoke about her recent trip from Manchester to Calais to provide aid to people gathered in camps in the port town. She emphasised the need for human contact as well as material aid for the refugees in Calais, saying that she had taken part in a “bike race, as well as an impromptu Syrian disco” on her trip. Harrison urged Manchester residents to write letters for people in Calais “to show that people in the UK do care”.
The People’s Assembly will be out in force this Saturday 12 September at the Solidarity with Refugees demonstration in Piccadilly Gardens at 1pm. On the same day they will also be running a stall at the Wigan Digger’s Festival at Gerrard Winstanley Gardens.
For more information on the national week of action from 3 to 7 October to protest the Tory party conference, see the People’s Assembly timetable of events.
To support further trips to Calais, go to the Manchester Aid for Calais crowdfunding website.
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