The Socialist

The Socialist 15 February 2017

March to save our NHS

The Socialist issue 936

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Sheffield - Trees  court protest , photo by A Tice

Sheffield - Trees court protest , photo by A Tice   (Click to enlarge)

Anti-trade union laws used against 'Sheffield Trees Action' protesters

Alistair Tice, Yorkshire Socialist Party

What happens when a Labour council signs a 2 billion Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract with a multinational corporation to manage its streets for the next 25 years? It ends up with local residents being arrested by South Yorkshire Police for peacefully protesting to save mature roadside trees being felled by Amey plc.

This is what has been happening in Sheffield over the last few months. It's cheaper for Amey to cut trees down than it is to maintain them and the pavements. Amey has a clear profit motive - if it blitzes the city's trees in the first five years of its 25-year contract, it can spend the next 20 years with much lower maintenance costs.

Because of the furore caused by this, the council set up an 'Independent Trees Panel' to assess whether trees were "dying, diseased, decaying or dangerous" but then ignored its advice and cut the trees down anyway!

Dawn raid on trees

In November the Labour council colluded with Amey and South Yorkshire Police in a dawn raid to cut trees down on Rustlings Road. This resulted in two pensioners and a passer-by being arrested on charges subsequently thrown out at court.

After that public relations disaster the council said that there wouldn't be any more 5am operations. But the tree felling has continued with over 4,000 axed so far and another 14,000 planned.

This has led to huge and well organised opposition of local campaign groups coordinated by Sheffield Trees Action Group (STAG). Sheffield's Labour council leaders have dismissed this as being "a middle-class issue". While it's true that most protests have been in 'leafier' areas, the future of the environment is not just a 'middle class issue', as nature and pollution affect us all. In any case, many of the tree protesters are being politicised as they connect together austerity cuts and privatisation with the role of the council, Amey and the police.

Divisions in Labour

The issue has split the local Labour Party and Momentum. One Labour councillor was suspended from the Labour group for abstaining on a motion critical of the council's handling of Rustlings Road. Resolutions critical of the council leaders have been discussed at Labour ward meetings. And a "Labour Against PFI" banner is now often seen on protests.

Last week, nine more protesters, including a Green Party councillor, were arrested under 1992 anti-trade union laws for "preventing lawful work". Police appear in big numbers before every felling to facilitate Amey contractors. Two residents were even arrested who were standing under a tree with the property owner's consent. South Yorkshire Police are acting as Amey's private security firm!

This is what happens when Labour councils refuse to fight the Tory government cuts; they end up down the privatisation road, backing corporations against local residents and sending police to use Thatcher's anti-union laws to arrest people.

The first two protesters arrested under anti-union legislation back in November go to trial on 9th March in what will be a big test case given the increasing number of arrests.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 13 February 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

In this issue

What we think

Council cuts can be fought - and they must be

Corbyn needs to stand up to Brexit rebels

Socialist Party news and analysis

March to save #OurNHS

Resist Trump and his rotten policies: why I'm walking out on 'Day X'

Socialist Students: growing, brimming with confidence

Thousands march to defend Glenfield heart centre

Save child refugees, fight the cuts

Prison deaths scandal

Super-rich subsidised

International socialist news and analysis

Spain: clear win for left at Podemos conference!

CWI and Izquierda Revolucionaria - towards unification

Izquierda Revolucionaria central committee meeting

French presidential election

France: police attack triggers protests

Yemen solidarity

Workplace news and analysis

United fightback needed as entire grade of rail worker is at stake

"Disgraceful" treatment of sacked EHRC workers

Vibrant Picturehouse pickets in continued living wage strike

Ultimatum as Deliveroo drivers down tools in Brighton

Solidarity with Tesco Ireland Valentine's Day strike

PCS union pledges to fight Jobcentre job losses

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Anti-trade union laws used against 'Trees Action' protesters

Support floods in for the Cardiff no-cuts three

The Socialist: 20 years old and more important than ever

Toxic fracking could start in England in 2017

May Day greetings in the Socialist

New Socialist Party press

Socialist readers' comments and reviews

No, Trumpism is nothing like Leninism

Foreign aid's not the problem - it's capitalist thieves

Vivid visual account of the Paris Commune

The Socialist inbox


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15 February 2017