Union bosses have refused to say whether they sanctioned a private security company’s efforts to halt an anti-austerity protest by disabled activists.
The protest at Marble Arch in central London was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and took place on the fringes of a mass anti-austerity rally held by the TUC in Hyde Park.
But as disabled activists from DPAC moved into the road to chain their wheelchairs together, several stewards tried to stop their protest.
The stewards were working for the event and security consultancy company Security Force Management (SFM), which has provided staff for events such as the London Marathon, the BAFTAs and the annual disability arts festival Liberty.
The protesters ignored the stewards demands to clear the road and eventually blocked traffic for 90 minutes, causing serious hold-ups and securing significant media attention for their cause.
Many of those taking part in the protest, which followed similar actions that have caused major disruption across central London, spoke out against Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government.
But the main thrust of the protest was to raise awareness of the impact of the government’s austerity measures on disabled people, and to call for a general strike.
A TUC spokesman said: “As part of our agreement to use Hyde Park we were required to ensure that entrance and egress to Hyde Park were kept clear at all times to ensure the safety of what was a large crowd.
“SFM and TUC stewards were therefore instructed to keep entrances and exits from the rally footprint within Hyde Park clear at all times.
“We also used stewards at pedestrian crossings at park exits at the end of the event as this was found valuable [in] managing crowds leaving Hyde Park during the Olympics.”
He said the TUC had “not had any evidence that any stewarding went further than this”, even though Disability News Service told him that stewards had tried to prevent the protest taking place.
The TUC spokesman said: “The TUC’s pre-march dialogue with protest groups stressed that we were only concerned with actions on the route of the march including the rally footprint area within Hyde Park.
“We strongly discouraged any action likely to disrupt the smooth running of our march, threaten the safety of the many people attending or detract from our messages.
“We also recognised that what protest groups did away from our march area was nothing to do with the TUC, and we would not therefore comment on other initiatives.”
But the TUC has refused to say whether SFM was acting under TUC orders when its stewards tried to stop the protest, or whether the TUC itself supported the DPAC protest.
SFM has declined to comment.
24 October 2012