Wednesday, 13 June 2018

RTUC - Flying a Banner for Reading Workers

RTUC Banner - the official unveiling at the delegates' meeting
After more than a year of discussion concerning design and production, the Reading Trades Union Council banner was officially unveiled at the RTUC delegates' meeting on 13 June 2018 - from a design finalised by Nick Hatton. Its obverse iconography represents a wealth of Reading history, with key workplaces such as the Royal Berkshire Hospital and Reading Railway Station (and, from the past, Huntley & Palmers' Biscuit Factory) keeping company with such Reading symbols as the Maiwand Lion, the memorial to the volunteers of the International Brigades and the Red Kite. Reading's proud symbols of struggle are also represented, with banners on display representing the Suffragettes, Pride and Peace. And foregrounding it all is the diverse Reading population - with persons from all ethnicities standing shoulder to shoulder, defending past victories and promoting a better future.

On the reverse, the banner pays a special homage to three pillars of the local labour movement - Thora Silverthorne, Ian Mikardo and Lorenzo ('Len') Quelch.

The reverse detail during the May Day march
Thora was a volunteer nurse in the Spanish Civil War, caring for the fallen heroes of Spanish democracy under the auspices of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee and in so doing becoming a hero herself. On her return to Britain, she was instrumental in founding an independent trade union for nurses - the National Nurses Association - and as a paid employee of the Socialist Medical Association, through which she lobbied for the creation of the NHS in the 1940s.

Ian was the Labour member of parliament for Reading/Reading South (1945-59). Although never a cabinet minister, he did chair the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and had stints as Chair of the Labour Party and Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Len started his career as a trade unionist, serving as Secretary of the Berkshire Branch of the English Land Restoration League and being active in the Agricultural and General Workers' Union. He was also seconded to Gibraltar for a period, reorganising the Coal Porters' Union. In politics, he was a Reading Borough Councillor from 1914 to 1937, being elevated to the Aldermanic Bench from 1933 to 1937.

Heading Reading's May Day march
Although officially unveiled on 13 June, the RTUC banner had already made two public appearances by that date: on 7 May it headed the annual Reading May Day march through the town, with RTUC President Chris Reilly (RMT) leading the way; and on 7 June the banner was flown outside the Reading Town Hall, while BBC Question Time was being filmed, as part of a vigil for Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression.
The RTUC banner on display at the vigil for Palestine

Monday, 11 June 2018

RTUC joins DPAC to Oppose Attacks on Mobility

DPAC & RTUC at the Reading Civic Offices
On 11 June 2018, Berkshire Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) organised a vocal demonstration outside the Reading Civic Offices to protest against Reading Borough Council's proposals to restrict free travel on buses for disabled people and their helpers. The Reading Trades Union Council was strong in its support of the protest, recognising not only the fundamental injustice of restricting mobility in itself - but also understanding the negative impact RBC's actions would have on disabled people finding employment and commuting to work. Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU), Nikki Dancey (GMB), Ginnette Hargreaves-Lees (Unite), Kevin Jackson (Unison), John Partington (TSSA) and Sue Taylor (PCS) represented RTUC at the event.

The protesters leafleted the general public and attracted their attention with the flying of banners and placards and the chanting of 'No more cuts - cuts kill!' Although the Borough Councillors did not pass by the protesters - preferring to enter the Civic Offices by the back door to get to their debate on the subject - the presence of Reading Chronicle and Get Reading journalists should alert them to the anger and opposition their proposals have roused.

DPAC leaflet for the protest
Whereas free travel passes are currently available to mobility impaired persons plus a helper all day everyday, the RBC's proposals would see disabled people having to pay for bus travel before 09:30 and after 23:00 - and free travel for their helpers would be abolished altogether. In addition, disabled people would have to pay for all travel on the hop-and-stop style Readibus service.

Ginnette Hargreaves-Lees (Unite, left), Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU, right) and
John Partington (TSSA, second right) of RTUC join DPAC protesters
The June meeting of RBC is unlikely to decide policy on disabled persons' bus travel concessions - it will continue to be debated in July and perhaps also in September - so DPAC and others supportive of disabled people's struggles for life and liberty have time to make their case for the retention of free bus travel. As RTUC's involvement demonstrates, DPAC is keen to build a broad coalition - so those interested in supporting the campaign should contact Berkshire DPAC via its Chair, Merry Cross, on

Saturday, 9 June 2018

RTUC Supports Oxford's March for the NHS

Unison head the march from Cowley Road
Organised by Oxfordshire Health Unison and Unite, Oxford's march for the NHS included representatives of Oxford Keep Our NHS Public, trade unions, health campaigners, the Labour and Green parties and the sympathetic public. Beginning on Cowley Road, the march proceeded down High Street, Cornmarket Street and ended with speeches on Broad Street.

Wolvercote Ward Labour Party parade down Cornmarket Street

In order to capture the mood of the afternoon, a good friend of Reading Trades Union Council and the chair of Oxford & District Trades Union Council, Pól Ó Ceallaigh (Unison) has permitted the reprinting in full of his address to the rally:

"Friends, Comrades, Sisters and Brothers!

"The Health & Social Care Act 2012 introduced by the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is the enabling legislation that allows for the fragmentation and dismantling of the NHS.

Oxford & District Trades Union Council join the march
"Despite what they may say both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are responsible for the worst crisis in the NHS’s 70 years of existence.

"The deliberate underfunding of the NHS that has occurred in the last 8 years is clear for all to see. When they, the Coalition Government took office, few NHS Trusts were in deficit; now nearly all are as a direct result of this government’s policies. 

Student nurses prepare to march
"Recently a Tory MP suggested that we should move over to a Health Insurance-based system, rather than the current NHS system.

"Insurance companies use 'Actuaries' to calculate the likelihood of something happening to their customers.

Pól Ó Ceallaigh (Unison) speaks for O&DTUC

"So for example:

i.   if a teacher retires at 55, actuarially they have a life expectancy of about 30 years.
ii.  if they retire at 60, actuarially they have a life expectancy of about 10 years.
iii. if they retire at 65, actuarially they have a life expectancy of about 2 to 3 years.

Labour Councillor, Nadine Bely-Summers
"In Ireland they have a mixed Healthcare System; if you are working, you are required to have Health Insurance. 

"Three years ago my nephew, who was 27 and working, went to his GP as he was feeling unwell. Eventually he was referred to a consultant for tests; all those came back negative. When he asked if it could be cancer, he was told that the type of cancer it could be normally only affects people over 50 so the Health Insurance Company would not pay for those tests.

March organbiser, Ian McKendrick (Unison)
 "As ACTUARIALLYhe would not have it!

"So after extended periods of illness, he lost his job due to sickness absence.

"My nephew then took a job in Munich in April last year where once again he was taken ill. They did do all the test there and the doctor could not believe that having ruled everything else out the Health Insurance Company in Ireland would not pay for the next set of tests as the symptoms all indicated that it was Oesophageal Cancer.

Pól Ó Ceallaigh (O&DTUC) and John Partington (RTUC)
"In May last year he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Oesophageal Cancer, has undergone chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, and was given the all clear at the end of the course of treatment.

"On his second three-month follow up appointment, he was told that the cancer had returned.

Joan Boyd (second left, NEU) and John
Partington (second right, TSSA) of RTUC
"Last week he was given a prognosis of a year, give or take a few months.

"This is not some case where there are no symptoms, there were the classic symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer, but because it is UNUSUAL for people under 50 to get that, the so called Health Insurance company would not pay for the tests that could have discovered the cancer at an earlier stage and improved his chances of survival.

Oxford's cost-of-living crisis - causing
an NHS staffing crisis
"So, in conclusion, it is REALLY IMPORTANT, that you come to the national demonstration on 30 June in London. Book a seat on the coach and let this government know that they have to take their grubby hands off Our NHS."

Leaflets from the march

After two hours, the approximately 300 marchers dispersed - many of whom will no doubt reassemble for the national march in London to celebrate the NHS's 70th anniversary on 30 June. From the RTUC, John Partington (TSSA) and Joan Boyd (NEU) marched in Oxford. It was a pleasure to join comrades in a cause of such monumental importancve.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

A New Deal For Working People 12 March 2018

RTUC assemble at the rally: Billie Reynolds (Unison),
John Partington (TSSA) and Steve Geary (USDAW)
On 12 May 2018 from 11:00 until 16:00, trade unionists and others battling for workers' rights, the NHS and public services assembled in London and marched and rallied under the banner of 'a new deal for working people'.
John Gillman (RTUC & Unite)
Reading Trades Union Council delegates were there with their trade unions and political; parties, including Billie Reynolds (Unison), Steve Geary (USDAW), Kevin Jackson (Unison), Cllr Ruth McEwan (Unison), John Partington (TSSA), John Gillman (Unite) and Neil Adams (Unite).

John Partington (right, TSSA & RTUC) with his
Network Rail North London Branch Chair, Andy Bain
The TSSA delegation, included members from its affiliate branch to the RTUC, Andy Bain (Network Rail North London Branch Chair) and John Partington, who were joined on the march by their General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, and Assistant General Secretary, Steve Coe.

TSSA delegation, led by Assistant General Secretary, Steve
Coe (left), and General Secretary Manuel Cortes
As has become standard, pro-NHS campaigners joined trade unionists, so interrelated are their respective struggles.

NHS campaigners, shoulder to shoulder with trade unionists
Of the more impressive banners on display, a mention must go to the RMT's (Liverpool No. 5 Branch), sporting an image of the great Bob Crow with his immortal words, 'If you fight you might lose but if you don't fight, you will always lose'.
RMT marching for their members' rights
As the marchers congregated at Hyde Park and the rain began to fall, Manuel Cortes of the TSSA kept spirits up with a rousing speech on the need for rail nationalisation and highlighting the Conservatives urge for privatisation and attacks on public services.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary,
addresses the rally
Dave Prentis of Unison restated the need for workers to defend the government attacks on public services and to reject any continuing cap on public sector pay.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison 
Patrick Roach of the NASUWT bemoaned spending inequalities in education and the government's loading the dice in favour of academies, free schools and - more recently - grammar schools.

Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT

Why we marched and rallied!

Mark Serwotka of the PCS followed in the strong roster of speakers.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS
Matt Wrack of the FBU gave an impassioned speech in support of the emergency services, reflecting on the approaching anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and the government's reluctant relaxation on the public sector pay freeze for fire fighters. Matt pointed out - every one of the fire fighters who risked their lives in Grenfell Tower were trade unionists!

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union
The TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, followed Matt, speaking but briefly, introducing the man many trade unionists are placing their hopes in for a reversal of austerity politics - Jeremy Corbyn MP.

General Secretary of the Trades union Congress, Frances O'Grady
As Labour leader, Jeremy recommitted the party to reforming trade union law, ensuring all workers received representation and protection at work without fear of recrimination. He promised an enquire into the Orgreave scandal, when miners were attacked by South Yorkshire Police during the Great Strike of 1984-85 - and no officers have been brought to justice yet. He promised to roll back privatisation of health provision and maintain a fully public National Health Service. He said Labour would end the scandal of railway franchisee charging exuberant fares and receiving public subsidy. Labour would nationalise the railways, water and the postal service - policies the public are keen to see. Despite the rain, Jeremy captivated his audience and received round after round of applause.

Jeremy Corbyn MP, leader of the Labour Party
Following Jeremy, Gill Walton of the Royal College of Midwives restated the call - made by several speakers already - for the maintenance of a public health service, free at the point of use, and fair pay for the staff keeping it going.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives
Gill encouraged her audience to return to London on 30 June to celebrate the NHS's 70 birthday and to be vocal about our desire to preserve it and keep it public.

Advertising the next protest - fighting on all front!
Dave Ward of the Communication Workers' Union followed, reiterating Jeremy's call for a renationalised postal service and alerting his listeners to the efforts in the telecommunications industry to deskill and reduce wages for staff.

Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Communication Workers' Union
The final speaker was the heavyweight of the trade union movement, leader of the largest trade union in Britain, Len McCluskey of Unite. He gave a ringing endorsement for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and committed his trade union to fighting for a Corbyn-led Labour government at the next general election.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite
Despite the rain, it was a great day, recharging the radical batteries and sending everyone home with a sense of purpose - and urgency; end Tory rule and fight for workers' rights, the NHS - and COrbyn-led Labour government!

Unison assemble, including Kevin Jackson (second right)
and Cllr Ruth McEwan (right) of the RTUC
The following are examples of radical literature being distributed during the march and rally:

Monday, 7 May 2018

Reading's May Day Rally and March, 7 May 2018

Reading Trades Union Counil's new banner makes its debut

On the early Bank Holiday Monday, 7 May, the Reading labour movement - joined by comrades from other local communities - amassed in the Forbury Gardens for the annual workers' festival - the May Day rally and march. Organised by the Reading Trades Union Council, the wealth and variety of the speakers, marchers and spectators was a credit to Reading's sense of solidarity. The speakers covered a range of subjects, respecting the fact that May Day is an international event, marked annually since 1889 following the Socialist International's call for a workers' annual day of protest at their first conference in Paris. Often associated with trade unionism, International Workers' Day is in fact a celebration of labour - both industrial and political - so it was perfectly appropriate that, behind the banners of the Reading Trades Union Council and the Slough Trades Council was that of the Reading & District Labour Party - later followed by other parties of the working class, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of Britain.
Nick Hatton, the banner designer, with his creation
The Reading Trades Union Council was delighted to be able to display its new banner, which made its first outing during the rally. The design was subject to debate for a year before ideas were presented to Nick Hatton (Wokingham Labour Party) who produced a splendid synthesis of trade unionists' priorities. Nick captured local landmarks such as the Royal Berkshire Hospital, the Maiwand Lion and The Blade, referenced old industries (biscuit manufacture) and expanding ones (the railways) and gave a nod to historical struggles (the 1916 women's strike at Huntley & Palmers and the protest marches against nuclear weapons of the 1960s-80s). Accompanying these local references on the obverse of the banner are ageless slogans of the labour movement ('Unity is Strength', 'Knowledge is Power', 'Workers United', etc.) while the reverse honours three towering figures of Reading's past struggles: Sister Thora Silverthorne, Ian Mikardo MP and Alderman Len Quench.

John Partington (TSSA & RTUC) and Chris Reilly (RMT & RTUC)
There was no shortage of interest in RTUC's banner, with John Partington (TSSA) and Chris Reilly (RMT), the RTUC President, pleased to pose beside it.

Chris Williamson MP with Steve Geary (USDAW & RTUC)

Similarly, Chris WIlliamson, MP for Derby North who came to Reading especially for the May Day event, joined Steve Geary (USDAW) at the banner.

Reading Greenpeace
As well as trade unionists and politicians, Reading's May Day attracted other organisation with shared concerns. Reading Greenpeace brought their banner and hosted a stall, focusing on their concerns about fracking and also the pollution bombshell the world is faced with from plastic waste.

One initiative Greenpeace are promoting is a return to paper bags - recycled, off course - in shops and supermarkets to replace plastic bags and packaging.

Reading's Global Justice Now contingent
Global Justice Now, a group very active in Reading, hosting regular events in RISC on London Street, also attended with a stall of literature.

Reading University Marxist Society out in force
It was great to welcome students to the May Day event, with the Reading University Marxist Society bringing banners and attending in numbers.
Neil Adams (right, UNITE & RTUC) with the Socialist Party
The Reading Socialist Party, including two RTUC delegates, John Gillman and Neil Adams (both Unite), had a stall - well stocked with campaigning literature and information about current hot topics. They also kindly hosted the RTUC's own modest book collection which contained literature on the history of the labour movement - including two local publications: the memoir of Len Quelch, a former trade unionist and Labour representative on Reading Borough Council, and We Cannot Park on Both Sides, Mike Cooper and Ray Parkes's history of the Reading volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

Justice for Orgreaves
Justice for Orgreaves attended the day with a stall, publicising the injustice meted out on the miners of South Yorkshire in 1984, who were indiscriminately attacked by the police then charged with rioting and imprisoned en masse. The miners and their supporters have been calling for an enquiry for decades and - following the success of the Hillsborough Enquiry in recent years - hope is still high, so long as the general public get behind them. Visitors on the day were encouraged to sign a petition calling for an enquiry - a petition which is also available online.

Banners at the bandstand
Around the Forbury Bandstand, from where the first batch of speeches took place, banners and flags were displayed in anticipation of the march. Greenpeace, Education Unlimited, NHS Not For Sale and the IWW regaled the scene side by side.

More banners at the bandstand
As did the flags of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Communist Party of Britain and the Reading & District Labour Party.

RMT's Reading Branch banner
The resplendent banner of the Reading RMT branch was striking as ever, alongside flags of Unite and Reading Pride.

Chris Reilly introduces the speakers
At 12:30, Chris Reilly took up the mantle of compère and introduced the first speaker, Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North.
Chris Williamson MP commences the orations

After having addressed the Reading University Labour and Cooperative Society a fortnight earlier, Chris was already known to some of those present and his staunch defense of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party leadership and policies was familiar to even more. Chris made a powerful speech on the positives of Labour's Manifesto commitments, citing large scale public support for renationalisation of the rail industry, water and other utilities. He also stressed the economic benefits of these policies, however, with rail franchises costing the tax payer millions in subsidies whilst often failing to operate as viable service providers. The East Coast franchise is a case in point, being recently bailed out by the government (for the second time) in contrast to the much reduced subsidy and the profits being returned to the government by it when it was being run by (the publicly-owned) Directly Operated Railways. Similarly, Chris was critical of the oligopoly of the energy sector and the regional monopolies of the water companies, offering the public little or no choice whilst following each others' pricing policies.

Ben Chacko, editor of the Morning Star
The second speaker was Ben Chacko, editor of Britain's only socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star. Ben gave a brief account of the paper, emerging from Communist Party ownership in the 1960s to being a cooperative ventured, owned by its readers and financially supported by many left wing organisations, including several trade unions. The main thrust of Ben's speech tackled media ownership and the struggle the Labour Party, trade unions and other progressive organisations and individuals face trying to gain coverage. Ben referenced recent reportage - in both print and televisual media - of the Salisbury nerve agent attack against the Skripals and the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria. The Russian state was quickly accused of being behind both incidents - by the Conservative Government and the mass media - and Jeremy Corbyn was demonised for suggesting evidence was required before such serious allegations be made. Like Corbyn, the Morning Star maintained a more critical stance towards the initial accusations - and time has shown that clear cut responsibility for both attacks has been impossible to demonstrate thus far.

Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General
Secretary of the RMT
The next speaker was the Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, Steve Hedley - a returnee to RTUC having previously joined our 2016 pre-Referendum panel discussion on the pros and cons of leaving or remaining within the European Union. Steve talked about the interaction between the industrial and the political wings of the labour movement and the RMT's current debate on whether to reaffiliate to the Labour Party. Although the RMT ceased to be an affiliate trade union in 2004 it has continued to support political campaigns - including financing Labour candidates who represent its interests. Steve acknowledged, however, that Labour nationally under Jeremy Corbyn has moved closer to the RMT position and the case for reaffiliation is (in his opinion) strong - especially given the added influence reaffiliation would give to the RMT is shaping Labour Party policy. Steve also talked about areas of industrial struggle the RMT are engaged in, supporting blacklisted members in their fight for justice and opposing the imposition of Driver-only Operated trains - a national campaign against several rail franchises, though one won against Great Western Railway which has agreed not to expand its use on the new electrified Western Route.

John Booth, Justice for Orgreave
Following Steve was John Booth from Justice for Orgreave, the campaign for an inquiry into the South Yorkshire Police's alleged illegal activity in kettling and beating Orgreave miners and sympathisers during the Great Miners' Strike of 1984-85. John cited examples of 'fake news' 30 years before our current usage of the term, with the media reversing film to make a police baton charge look like an act of self-defence against strikers' aggression. In fact, the police (some of whom were alleged soldiers in police uniforms) charged the strikers and meted out unjustified punishments without legal authority. Miners were arrested and imprisoned for long stretches without trial - accused of rioting, which carried a potential life sentence at that time. Despite the length of time since the Orgreave incident, John is hopeful justice will come - with the 2016 Hillsborough Inquiry (involving the same police force) offering hope for delayed justice to the victims of Orgreave.

Samantha Wathen of Keep Our NHS Public (Swindon)
From Swindon, Samantha Wathen spoke on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public. Samantha told her own story - witnessing the progressive attacks on health and social care but keeping her head down and pushing on with her own life until complications during the birth of her two children risked her life and the dedicated staff of the Great Western Hospital saved her. That experience caused a 'Road to Damascus' conversion and Samantha threw herself into research about the NHS, government policy and the heroic efforts and results delivered by healthcare staff in the face of severe underfunding. Samantha was clear - the NHS does not require reform or 'improvement' through private sector involvement; it needs investment. The radicalisation of junior doctors in recent years over proposed contractual reform and of nurses over this year's pay negotiations show the impact of government policy. Staff sectors which traditionally didn't 'fight back' - held to ideological ransom with accusations of putting patients at risk if they took industrial action - are now realising that securing their future in their professions is in fact a way of reducing patient risk.

Aris Shukuroglou of the Reading
University Marxist Society
The final two speakers from the outdoor session represented the two sides of the university workforce - the students and the staff. Aris Shukuroglou of the Reading University Marxist Society presented a forceful argument for why students need to be considered (and should consider themselves) as workers in a monetised, marketised higher education system. A system where everything has a price - from tuition fees and accommodation to textbooks and other resources - and unprofitable departments are closed down promotes exploitation and immiseration of the student workforce. The pressure of workload, scrutiny of exam results and fear of post-graduation debt load result in increasing levels of mental health problems and high drop-out rates. But it can - and must - instead be channeled into militant action and the emergence of a political consciousness. During the recent university staff strike, led by UCU, a new sense of solidarity emerged among significant swathes of the student population - most graphically represented by the Marxisr Society which staged an occupation of Whiteknights House - Reading University's administrative headquarters.

Par Kumaraswami from UCU
Par Kumaraswami of the University and College Union took up some of Aris's themes, decrying the marketisation of higher education and describing the staff bitterness caused by the pension reform dispute between UCU and the employers (Universities UK). Although the university staff have recently accepted the compromise offer made by UUK - it is contingent on a revaluation of the University Superannuation Scheme and further talks between the trade union and the employers.

The reverse of the Reading Trades Union Council banner
Following the speeches, the various banners and flags were assembled in preparation for the march. Reading Trades Union Council's banner - making its debut - took pride of place at the head of the march, followed by Slough Trades Council's and that of the Reading & District Labour Party.
Peter Woodward (Unite) and David McMullen (GMB) bear the RTUC
banner at the head of the mustering procession

The procession gathers
Solidarity from Slough Trades Council

Cllr Ruth McEwan (Unison), Cllr Rachel Eden (GMB), Micky Leng and
Billie Reynolds (Unison) with the Reading & District Labour Party banner

Reading's RMT Branch contingent

Kevin Brandstatter and Nikki Dancey of GMB and RTUC

John Partington (right) with a retired TSSA member

Chris Reilly and the RTUC lead the march down Friar Street
Once assembled, Chris Reilly, President of the RTUC and delegate from the RMT, led the procession, marching from the Forbury Gardens, down Friar Street and along West Street before continuing down Broad Street, Kings Street and Kings Road to the Outlook Pub.

RTUC on the march down Friar Street

Reading and District Labour Party march down Friar Street

The IWW join the parade
Once at the Outlook Pub, marchers could relax with refreshments in the booked downstairs room, and further speakers came forward.

Merry Cross of DPAC
Merry Cross of Berkshire's Disabled People Against Cuts commenced the afternoon session of addresses. Merry spoke on the campaigns DPAC are running - for which she welcomes solidarity action from other organisations and individuals - such as opposition to the Spare Room Subsidy (aka the Bedroom Tax), to the continued imposition of Universal Credit and to cuts to the NHS (particularly mental health services). Merry talked the audience through the barriers to access which disabled people face on a daily basis - especially since so many adapted vehicles have been taken off them by the thieving assessors of the personal independence payments. Many victims of the assessors remain prisoners in their homes or tensions have developed within families due to new reliances imposed on disabled people as a result of the new restrictions on mobility. These tensions and sense of helplessness are creating increased instances of depression, self-harm and suicide and throwing more pressure on the NHS and social care providers - at a time when healthcare funding is being restricted and staffing levels are at a crisis point.

Cherie Elston speaks on Justice for Colombia
Cherie Elston, speaking on Justice for Colombia, educated her audience on the civil war in Colombia and the social and economic impacts of it on the present generation. She spoke on the continued divisions in the country and the slow return of trust. She spoke of the economic hardship suffered and the need for both foreign investment in the country but also support for domestic industries and training and education to empower Colombians to determine their own future course.

Wendy Thomson from the Women's Equality Party
Wendy Thomson of the Women's Equality Party followed, reminding her listeners of the continued disabilities faced by women in society. This might be through male sense of entitlement leading to harassment and violence against women, or discrimination in the workplace during consideration of reward and promotion and - of course - the challenge for women of retaining their economic status in the workplace during and after career breaks when taking maternity leave and perform parenting duties (which is still a woman's preserve much more than a man's).

Kathy McCubbing from Palestine Solidarity
The final two speeches related to Palestine Solidarity. Kathy McCubbing and Jim Penn touched on historical context before talking about the discrimination faced by Palestinians - both in the Palestinian Territories and in Israel, and both Israeli-Palestinians and the stateless Palestinians living as refugees in their own land. The speakers identified areas of Israeli breach such as the occupation of Palestinian land and the continued expansion of Jewish Settlements in direct contravention of United Nations resolutions.

Jim Penn from Palestine Solidarity
They also highlighted daily barriers faced by Palestinians, such as border checks, Israeli military harassment and the constant economic disruption to international trade and aid directed against the Palestinians and their supporters by the Israeli state. Palestine has friends throughout the world, a strong liberation movement within the Palestinian Territories and support from pro-Palestine Israelis. Kathy and Jim encouraged continued support for Palestine and publicity of Israeli crimes against their practically besieged neighbour.

The Retreat Singers serenade the day to a conclusion
The highly successful day - with speeches, banners, flags, a march and enthusiastic people (adults and children from Reading and further afield) - was wrapped up with music from the Retreat Singers, friends of Reading Trades Union Council who have been welcomed to several events over the past couple of years and who never fail to entertain and keep spirits high!

Reading Trades Union Council would like to thank the speakers, singers and attendees - and we look forward to seeing you again at next year's International Workers' Day march - as well as many other events before then!