Below is an edited write-up of the Campaign and the demonstration on the 6th October from Paul of Brent TUSC (see his blog here lostbutnotreturning.blogspot.co.uk )
Within only a few weeks of its foundation on 14th August,the Counihan Sanchez Family Campaign got into an unfaltering and self confident stride.I don’t know who originated the idea for a demonstration.It will undoubtedly have been one of the women who play such a strong and leading part in this campaign,although actually it does not matter much because so much of this campaign does genuinely seem to be collaborative and co-operative.
The idea took off and bearing in mind other important actions planned in this community,we settled in and worked hard for the demonstration that took place last Saturday, 6th October 2012.
Arranging it was not straightforward but we let nothing stand in our way. When the Metropolitan Police and the intransigent local authority sought to put major obstacles in our way-that we would have to pay £1200 for policing and that we would be restricted to marching on the pavement or be arrested,we simply”stepped back”,sought legal advice and went back into the fray.This resulted in an unprecedented letter of apology from the Metropolitan Police that indicated it was entirely reasonable to march in the road,and that we would not be charged financially either,nor arrested for carrying out our legal rights.
We then set about dividing tasks for the day and got on with it. Everyone played their full part,and it paid off on the day.
Saturday 6th October came – The protest was due to start at 2.30pm with a few speeches and some further organising that can only be done in situ on the day.Some of us agreed to arrive early to assist with preparations.As me and my comrade Sandra arrived just a few minutes in advance of the time agreed,it was clear that people were already gathering.
Indeed it was impressive that the local RCG/Revolutionary Communist Group comrades had moved their own solidarity work with the presidential elections in Venezuela last weekend, to join us in Kilburn Square. Numbers swelled as campaigners, friends of the campaign and others arrived in numbers and often with banners. Already an open, inviting, fraternal and friendly atmosphere was developing. Contingents included Kilburn Against Workfare,Global Womens Network,Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group,whose original initiative had led to the establishment of this campaign arrived. So too did Brent Trades Council and SWAN/Social Work Action Network. I spent some time introducing various campaigners to others and co-ordinating speakers.
As people gathered, members of the family and the wider campaign made speeches promoting our cause, which served to make links also with other campaigns and issues but also to press home the pressure on the local council,and particularly its leader Cllr. Butt who have the power and ability to end the misery of this family now and to begin a fight back against the cuts!
Highlights included Carol, a fervent campaign member who has worked particularly hard raising money for the campaign and in relation to her own trades union, the RMT, and Barney of the Revolutionary Communist Group who in making links with Venezuela and Cuba, made clear that the struggle was both international and linked by common concerns about living standards and housing. I stressed the need to link campaigns,with references to local issues and the importance of the Council dealing with both this family and fighting the cuts now or face an increasingly determined and growing campaign to fight back! Anthony Counhihan focussed on the increasingly heartbreaking situation of his own family, and its efforts with the campaign to fight back. Donna spoke stressing the importance of campaigns rooted in the community and demanding that the local council take responsibility for both this and other families and to lead a fightback against cuts.John Tymon made a rousing speech spelling out the attack on the community and the class and reinforcing the need to fight back,as well as the unique and courageous contribution to that struggle the counihans and this campaign are making!
Approximately on time the demonstration set off in good order along its route,along ashort stretch of Kilburn High Road, singing its own song,written by one of the campaign members, Alan Wheatley and to the chants also emblazoned on our banner demanding housing for the Counihans,and indeed Housing for all.
It was a spirited demonstration of 200-300 people. we made a stop at the old address of Nygel Firminger,who comitted suicide following running into difficulties with employment,benefit, increasing debt and again what i have called the “casual indifference”or brutality of institutions and agencies dealing with him,but which offered no help to him.His best friend Nic, offered a speech which gave some insight into Nygels life and last hours. We all honoured Nygel who every instinct tells us is”a fallen comrade”, with a minutes silence before moving on. Nic told me later that the reverence shown along with its care to him, gave him some closure in what has clearly a painful road for Nic. this again makes clear the indifference of those who ought to have cared, set against the palpable affection in which we and the wider community hold Nygel. We all hope Nygel will rest in peace, but that we should never forget him. Whilst the system victimised him, we should also not forget that as a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, he was also a class fighter!
We continued our march, with our song alternating with chants-the slogans of the campaign and also “Who’s streets?Our Streets!”.I admit when i got to lead the chanting i could not resist the musicality of “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” which seems to have its roots in the Wisconsin demonstration of the winter of 2010.Along the way our comrade, Sandra who is also a TUSC member, made a poignant speech about the impact of cuts and austerity on the aspirations of young people, facing debt and blighted lives whatever way they turn, and hinting at an alternative vision of how things might be.
Arriving at the rally site, the Peel Precinct at the South Kilburn/Carlton Estate,we rallied to speeches from Sarah Counihan and Isabel Sanchez,daughter and mother, followed by Ted, a supporter who came all the way from Milton Keynes, and who spoke movingly of his own experience. Speeches also included Jane from London SWAN/Social Work Action Network who pressed home that many social wokers wanted to practice a social work that embodied humanity and humane values,along with a commitment to campaigning with/alongside campaigns precisely like our own..Tracey stressed the importance of people fighting back and the importance of widening and strengthening the campaign.Barney added that whilst Brent does nothing about anything,the Venezuelan government is planning t build 3,000,000 over the 4-5 years! I expressed my rage that Cllr. Butt appears again to have broken a commitment to meet with the Counihan Family. Whilst it turns out that this may have arisen from a”genuine misunderstanding”, it remains the case that Cllr. Butt only responds to pressure and that any concern has not been matched by any constructive change or improvement in family circumstances. I indicated that one of my responses to this is to prepare with the willing co-operation of the family, and “alternative social work report” which might assist us to develop the campaign further and to put more pressure on those council bodies with the power and discretion to make a difference.
The day ended on a great high,which was not just built on good feeling. We took a great step forward with our demonstration.We made an impact,and we now have further actions planned,when we will have to step up again and again until we win!
For those of us in TUSC, the key idea for the fight against austerity is for the council to adopt a needs led budget and to link with the Trade Unions, community groups and the public to fight all cuts! In the face of the systematic failure of the Labour Party, locally and nationally, this begs questions about independent working class political representation. That for me is firmly centred on the self-activity of our own people, our own class. We support all steps towards genuine working class representation and seek to stand candidates in the elections on an anti-cuts basis!
The next Counihan Campaign public meeting is Wednesday 17th October 7pm @ Marian Community Centre, 1 Stafford Rd, Carlton Vale Estate, NW6 5RS