Disabled union activists began a new “fight back” against government cuts by flooding out of their annual conference and taking part in a protest that brought rush-hour traffic to a standstill in London’s West End.
Their conference had been addressed by Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), who accused the government of using “the language of the workshy” to try to introduce artificial divisions between workers and benefit claimants, and other groups in society.
But he told delegates at the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference that they “dispel the myth of workshy disabled people”.
And he pointed out that replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA) and closing the Independent Living Fund (ILF) would affect tens of thousands of disabled workers, and force many of them out of their jobs.
He said that hundreds of thousands of disabled people both received and delivered public services, with ILF and DLA again playing critical roles in maintaining them in those jobs, while the coalition’s one per cent limit on benefit increases, the new universal credit and the “bedroom tax” would impact on many disabled people both in and out of work.
Greene then appealed to delegates to join a direct action protest that was about to take place a short walk from the TUC’s headquarters, where the conference was taking place.
He said: “I am asking the members of this conference to turn words into action. Show this government that we are one voice, one community, and we will not go without a fight.”
Mandy Hudson, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, proposed that the session closed 90 minutes early so delegates could join the action.
Scores of delegates then left the building to join DPAC activists as they blocked the road at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street for nearly 90 minutes, in an entirely peaceful protest.
DPAC said in a statement that the action was an attempt to “strike back” at a government that had “repeatedly used the language of division, trying to divide workers and claimants, public and private sector workers, non-disabled and disabled people”.
DPAC said it was the country’s first “joint, co-ordinated direct action” by campaigners and unions.
Sean McGovern, the disabled workers’ committee’s other co-chair, who took part in the action, said it had been his idea to combine part of the conference with a protest, after he “realised there were going to be a couple of hundred disabled activists in central London at one time”.
He said that fellow activists agreed that “it would be a good idea if we came out as trade unionists to show that we support disabled people at work, people being hit by the bedroom tax, support all those who are being hit in one way or another by benefit cuts, care cuts, and extra taxes.”
He added: “We showed that disabled trade unionists are also active. We are not passive, we do not just sit in committees passing motions. We are also pro-active in the movement.”
23 May 2013