St George’s music hall was packed out and an overspill rally was held on nearby Brandon Hill when national campaign Enough is Enough held its first Bristol event on Tuesday night.
Attendees began arriving up to an hour before the event, keen to bag a good place to see the speakers, who included RMT regional organiser Brendan Kelly, Acorn co-founder Nick Ballard, and Green councillor Carla Denyer.
The venue hummed with expectation. Enough is Enough events in Manchester, Liverpool and London have attracted sell-out crowds and resulted in attendees spilling out of venues and onto the streets.
Numbers fell short of organisers’ estimates, but there were several hundred people inside St George’s and another 100 on Brandon Hill.
Enough is Enough was formed by a affiliation of trade and community unions and has five demands: a real pay rise and a national minimum wage of £15 per hour; reduced energy bills and a reinstatement of the pre-April price cap; an end to food poverty; provision of decent homes for all by capping rents, building homes and introducing a renters’ rights charter; taxing the rich.
The audience was a mixture of ages and backgrounds, although all shared a lack of faith in the present government and opposition.
Jamie and Meg, both 25, had never been involved in any political organising before, but felt it was important to attend this event.
‘Rent is the biggest problem facing our generation,’ said Jamie, whilst Meg added: ‘I have no faith in the government at all…Movements like this are something to turn to.’
Similarly, Angela, a former NHS worker, and Phil, who has been a union member for 50 years, have lost faith in major political parties.
Keir Starmer is doing ‘bugger all,’ complained Angela, and Phil added that ‘unions are the only people we can rely on.’
‘We will win’
The event began at 7.30 and first to speak was Brendan Kelly, regional organiser for the RMT.
Kelly said: ‘There’s a lot of angry people out there. If we had all the angry people in Bristol here tonight we could overflow this theatre a thousand times over every night.’
Recollecting the RMT strikes in June and the wave of support swelled by popular figures like Mick Lynch, Kelly said that people are becoming more class conscious and are seeking to organise.
‘This campaign has to play that role of going out into the estates, into the workplaces where there’s no workers organising trade unions and getting working class people organised. The more organised we are, the stronger we are. And we will win,’ said Kelly.
The RMT return to the picket lines on October 1 in dispute over job security, pay and working conditions. Rail services will be affected as will bus First bus services in Somerset.
‘We cannot go on as we are’
Next to speak was Carla Denyer, councillor for Clifton Down and co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
Denyer spoke of her own involvement with Acorn and of her work as a councillor to protect council tenants from council tax rises.
‘We are in a cost of living crisis. We are in a climate crisis. We are in a healthcare crisis. We cannot go on as we are. The priorities in our economy must be flipped. Enough of the endless pursuit of profit and economic growth at the cost of all else,’ said Denyer.
Val Hampshire from the Fire Brigades Union spoke of the hardships fire fighters face, with some reporting working up to 100 hours a week or taking second jobs to make ends meet.
‘Fire fighters save lives but we don’t get paid like it,’ said Hampshire, adding: ‘We demand pay. We demand to be safe. We demand to be secure. And we demand investment.’
The FBU is ballot members for strike action, the first in a decade, in two weeks after a proposed 2% pay rise was rejected by members across the country.
Academics ‘struggling to live’
Janet Farrar, UCU President, said that teachers and academics are not always thought of as suffering low wages, but said that some UCU members, including prison and adult educators, are amongst the lowest paid educators in the country due to what Farrar called ‘the scourge of casualisation.’
Data from the UCU shows that two thirds of workers in higher education are on precarious contracts, although this varies across the sector, with black academics more likely to be on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts than their white colleagues.
‘Our members on these contracts, they can’t plan. They can’t plan to have a child. They afford a mortgage, they can’t settle down,’ said Farrar. ‘Our members are struggling to live, and that is what this is about,’ she continued.
Farrar shared some testimonies from UCU members featured in the 2022 report On the Breadline, in which members spoke of living with parents into their 40s, of fearing having to leave the profession, and some even spoke of suicidal thoughts as a way out of the worry caused by bills.
Testimonies collected by staff at the University of Bristol during UCU disputes in February paint a similar story.
Read more: Emotions rise as university strike enters third week
Farrar said: ‘So while the rich get richer, the working classes are dying. They are sitting at home in their coats, they are going hungry, they are having to decide whether to feed their children or feed themselves. And some of them are thinking about taking their own lives, and some of them are taking their own lives.’
UCU strikes are happening on September 26-28 with pickets outside City of Bristol College, Ashley Down and South Bristol Skills Academy. There will be a rally from 10am on Wednesday on College Green.
Following Farrar was Kevin Beazer, CWU south west regional secretary, who was standing in for Dave Ward who had to pull out of speaking.
Beazer said: ‘When you get the Tory government talk about militant trade unions, that makes my blood boil. We talk about working class people that don’t vote yes to go on strike because of the fun of it, that are losing money, struggling to pay their rent and mortgages etc., but they know that the time has come and to use the words “enough is enough”. They have had enough.’
He warned that the current government wants to neuter trade union power and said: ‘if the British public don’t stand up, shoulder to shoulder with the trade union movement and working people then everybody will end up paying the consequences of that.’
‘Taking the piss’
Finally, Nick Ballard, Acorn co-founder and UK head organiser took to the stage to close the evening.
‘There is no cost of living crisis,’ Ballard said, blaming instead a system that is set up to benefit the rich. ‘Their profits are up for one reason. Because they’re keeping our wages down. It really is that simple,’ he said.
‘CEOs don’t maintain the tracks or drive the trains. They don’t deliver the mail. They don’t care for the sick. They don’t stack the shelves, clean the streets or teach our children. But they want to tell you that somehow all this money belongs to them.’
Ballard continued: ‘The working class built this country. It belongs to us and we can take it back.’
‘We’re sick of being poor and we’re tired of having the piss taken out of us,’ he said as he brought the crowd to a swell of cheers and applause.
There was no lack of energy in the room throughout the evening and the crowd felt electrified as it left the building. Whether that translates into action alongside the strikes happening next week and into October remains to be seen. The need to strike back against the state and corporations that have taken so much from society has never been clearer.
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