Disabled activists have warned that they could disrupt next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with direct action protests, after councillors rejected calls to ask for the government’s unpopular “fitness for work” contractor to be dropped as a sponsor.
SNP councillor Billy McAllister had proposed that Glasgow city council should write to the organisers of Glasgow 2014 to ask them to remove Atos as a corporate sponsor.
But Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors defeated the bid by McAllister and his SNP colleagues.
McAllister said in his motion that Glasgow 2014 would bring “immense economic and social benefits” and “international exposure” to both Scotland and Glasgow.
But he said the council should write to Glasgow 2014 to seek the removal of Atos, which he said had been “implementing the iniquitous welfare policies” of the Westminster government.
About 40 activists from the grassroots campaign groups Black Triangle and Glasgow Against Atos protested outside Glasgow City Chambers in George Square while the motion was being debated. Other campaigners watched the debate from the public gallery inside the building.
After the motion was defeated, the gallery had to be cleared after furious activists shouted their objections at councillors.
John McArdle, one of the disabled activists who protested outside, and a founding member of Black Triangle, said he was furious with Labour councillors for voting against the motion.
He said: “Labour talks the talk about Atos because we have dragged them kicking and screaming into condemning them, but when it comes to taking any action…
“The people of Glasgow and Scotland feel very badly let down. It is an indefensible position.”
He added: “There will be people coming up from all over the UK to join us in direct action during Glasgow 2014. We will make sure the Scottish people never forget this betrayal by Labour councillors at Glasgow city council.”
Asked if there could be direct action that disrupted the games themselves, he said: “Yes. Nothing is off the table.”
Campaigners believe that Atos has contributed to or even caused the deaths of thousands of disabled people, because of the way the company’s assessors have carried out the much-criticised work capability assessment on behalf of the UK government.
The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG was heavily criticised for signing up Atos as a sponsor, but continued to defy critics by publicly praising the company and the crucial role it played in providing IT systems during last summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Campaigners held a week-long series of protests they called the “Atos Games” to coincide with the first week of the Paralympics.
But activists decided not to disrupt the Paralympic Games themselves as they did not want to target the disabled athletes taking part in London 2012.
The organisers of Glasgow 2014 have so far taken a similar route to LOCOG, and are facing the same battle to justify sponsorship by Atos, which will provide similar IT services in Glasgow to those it delivered last summer in London.
A Glasgow 2014 spokeswoman said they were “very proud” to have Atos as one of their sponsors, while the company had “demonstrated unwavering commitment to driving forward the Paralympic movement by providing dedicated practical support to athletes for the last 10 years”.
She said: “An important consideration for us is how a sponsor will contribute to the mission and ambitions of Glasgow 2014 and we are confident in the positive role Atos will play in helping us deliver an athlete-centred and sports-focused Commonwealth Games.”
Cllr Archie Graham, deputy leader of the city council and its executive member for the Commonwealth Games, said: “The council has condemned the UK government’s welfare reforms and the way in which they are being implemented.
“But the council can’t on its own change the fact that Atos is a games sponsor. The Scottish government is also a games partner and has supported Atos’s role.
“In addition, its sponsorship is inextricably linked to the contract it has to deliver IT support for the games.
“Today’s debate wasn’t about affecting change. It was simply a case of Cllr McAllister grandstanding and missing the point entirely.”
31 October 2013