Campaigners taking part in a Day of Action against welfare reform and cuts have called for “radical” activism to bring about change in society.
Fifty-one years on to the day, they marched the same route as civil rights protestors in Derry who fought for the allocation of houses, jobs and against limited franchise in local government elections.
October 5, 1968, was viewed as the day the Troubles began when police used batons and water cannon to break up the peaceful march.
Organisers called for a Day of Action to retrace that original route and raise issues affecting people today such as welfare reform and cuts to health and education.
Trade unions, community organisations, women's groups and campaigners from all backgrounds took to the streets demanding “urgent action”.
In 1968 the numbers were relatively small but swelled over time as ordinary people realised the need for change and trade campaigners believe that Saturday should be the beginning of sustained action.
Activist group, Action Against Cuts (AAC), wore black clothing and walked behind a horse-drawn carriage carrying a casket. Other members carried a coffin with ‘NHS’ and ‘DIGNITY' written on the side of it.
Other messages on fake gravestones signified the death of human rights, mental healthcare, funding in education and health, and the loss of housing and welfare rights.
It most certainly caught the attention of weekend shoppers who seemed confused as to whether or not it was a real funeral until they read the messages.
At the Guildhall an excerpt from the film I Daniel Blake was played. It is from the funeral scene where his friend Katie reads the eulogy, including the speech Daniel had intended to read at an appeal for his jobseeker’s allowance.
The speech describes his feelings about how the welfare system failed him by treating him like a dog instead of a man proud to have paid his dues to society.
AAC member, Kat Healy, took to the steps of the Guildhall first to thank those who turned out for the march. In the spirit of the original civil rights march people were taking a stand against injustice, she said.
People Before Profit Councillor, Shaun Harkin, also reflected on the march in 1968 which “changed history here in the North of Ireland”. He said the numbers turning out to protest at present don’t accurately represent the depth of “anger” in the local community which is “growing and growing”.
Cllr Harkin added that it is important to put pressure on “leaders” to address the devastation felt by local communities.

‘Direct Action’

Another AAC member from Strabane, Michael Mclaughlin, told the crowd that he has been fighting against welfare reform for the best part of a decade.
“The system is broken,” he said, and is part of an “ideological attack” on the working class. He referred to a research paper published by a university in Sheffield which studied the impact of welfare reform in the UK.
A table included in that report which took in all 405 local authorities in the UK at the time, shows that people living in Derry and Strabane will be impacted the most with working age adults anticipated to be £900 worse off per annum. Blackpool sits at the top of the table, Derry is second, Strabane third and Belfast is fourth.
Mr McLaughlin said people can point the finger at Stormont but also need to look “closer to home”. It is time to “inject radicalism into activism”, he said, by getting working class people out on the streets and occupying offices were these cuts are being implemented.
“We need to organise a direct action campaign against neo-liberalism, against austerity and expose and call out the parties that have let everybody down.”
Member of the Irish Travelling Community, Martin McDonagh, said he was proud to be taking action and made clear that his community has felt the impact of cuts more than most.
Becca Bor of Alliance for Choice slammed the two-child policy and benefit cap which she said have “massively increased” child poverty. Although primarily campaigning for free safe legal and local abortion in Ireland, the group has also fought “tooth and nail” against welfare reform, she said.
She added that families are having to “scrape” money together essentials and said there is a need to fight so that women and families “have what they need”.
The final speaker on the day, Goretti Horgan, of Derry Trades Union Council said large families have been impacted most by benefit caps and self-employed workers such as taxi drivers.
She urged people to join a trade union, saying weekends off, holiday pay and sick pay wouldn’t exist without trade unions. “Don’t believe the hype when the Tories say they’re bringing in a living wage, read the small print, they’re saying it will happen in five years by which time normal wage increases will have brought it to that level,” she concluded.

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