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Walthamstow: action demanded from new council
A 'Save Our Square' press release
In a fantastic show of unity in action, campaigners from across the spectrum of local issues came together on the evening of 24 May at Waltham Forest town hall.
The Save Our Square (SOS) campaign had raised the idea of making demands on the new council - and people fighting for special education services, libraries, teaching assistants, schools, against the Leabridge Road development, undemocratic implementation of Mini-Holland, and more, responded.
Among the crowd on the town hall steps were children, parents, trade unionists, socialists, dogs, and even four 'tower blocks' who came to push out the ordinary people of the borough in a touch of street theatre.
No chance to ignore the crowd was given to the town hall occupants as the idea of uniting and fighting to 'Save our Square, Save Our Services' rang out.
This was very definitely a protest against cuts - but the first council meeting after the 3 May election was also understood as an opportunity to appeal to new councillors to listen and defend the services under attack.
SOS campaigners handed them a letter which said:
"We call on councillors to demand a full council debate on the Mall and Square as a matter of urgency.
"In the last council the doings of councillors, many themselves landlords or variously involved with property companies, were shielded from public scrutiny by their decision to exempt themselves from declaring interests.
"We call on councillors to call a vote to re-institute an open register of interests. Save our Square campaign is pledged to maintain active opposition to this grotesque Town Square project. We are not going away."
One of the themes of the SOS speeches that was popular with all the campaigns was to come together as a 'people's budget' conference or assembly.
In her speech on the open mic, Nancy Taaffe, chair of Save Our Square, called on the sympathetic councillors to help us convene such an event to put our submissions forward to the councillors as they prepare for setting the budget this autumn.
Speakers called on everyone to contact their local councillors to put this idea to them and seek their backing.
Danny Herbert, a parent of a child with autism, explained why he was there: "Children with special needs and disability are being failed in Waltham Forest, including practices likely to be unlawful under the Children and Families Act 2014.
"Mental health services have closed their books to children in the area unless they are suicidal or self-harming.
"We are calling for services to reopen for all kids in need! Children with special needs and disability have been refused adequate transport to school.
"We are calling for the system that denies transport as a default to be overhauled! This year 2.3% will be cut from the high needs education budget in Waltham Forest, despite increasing numbers of children needing support. We are calling for this cut to be reversed".
Donna Bibby, Unison convenor in schools, said: "We have lost many teaching assistants due to school budget cuts.
"We really need to link up and fight for jobs for education workers and to protect vulnerable children who need us".
Two things were clear from this protest.
One: The idea that a Labour council is helpless in the face of Tory austerity was not accepted by the protest. Action was demanded.
Two: We're not going away. As things stand there is no future for our young people - so we have to join together to fight for a future that includes public services, open spaces and affordable homes for all.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 May 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.