Hundreds pack protest meeting in Norwich

Norfolk and Norwich were urged to spearhead a national fightback against plans to impose masive cuts in public services.

Hundreds of people packed a public meeting in the council chamber of Norwich City Hall on Monday night called by the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts in protest at national plans by the coalition government to cut public spending, and proposals by Norfolk County Council to bridge a �155m funding blackhole by slashing services and shedding 3,000 jobs.

Critics fear that the cuts will hit the most vulnerable in need of support and the consultation was branded a 'Big Con' at the meeting.

But County Hall has promised that people will not be left in the lurch and the aim is to find other ways of providing essential services including voluntary groups, parish and town councils, and the private sector.

The meeting, which was chaired by former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson heard calls from union officials for a general strike as part of a co-ordinated campaign of opposition to the coalition government's cuts plan.

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Dr Gibson said everybody affected by the cuts needed to stand together and drawing on the spirit of the Ketts Rebellion he said the city had a proud tradition of fighting back.

'We have won battles in this city over the years and we can do it again,' Dr Gibson said. 'I call upon you all to stand up and fight. This is not a time to compromise, it's a time to fight and say 'no' you are not going to get away with this. I am asking you to make history by being the first in the country to stand up and fight.'

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American trade union activist John Reimann, told the meeting campaigners needed to follow the lead of protesters in both France and Greece.

'One set of cuts leads to another,' he said. 'We can't leave it to somebody else, or our leaders upon high to organise this fightback. That's what we're here for, there's no reason why the workers in this room can't be the spark for a wider movement throughout Great Britain.'

But Norwich city councillor Alan Waters warned that the fight against the cuts would be a long battle, and he reminded the audience that similar protests in the city at St Andrews Hall during the 1980s had failed to stop the cutbacks of the then Thatcher government.

'We have to pull together,' Mr Waters said. 'This is not about some temporary cuts, it's about ending a social democratic country, with social democratic values, that's designed to care for all of its people.'

The meeting heard that the coalition was planning a further protest march in the city on December 4.

Richard Edwards, regional secretary for the PCSU civil servants union, urged the TUC to back a general strike, and bring forward a national protest march earmarked for next year.

'We believe we need national industrial action,' he said. 'Next time we will go for a bigger venue. Do not sit at home waiting for something to happen. Do something tonight. Take away the material, find our website, take it back to your own organisation and get them to become part of this movement.'

Jonathan Dunning, from Norfolk County Unison, said accused the Conservative administration of riding roughshod over the views of opposition councillors and the public.

But his suggestion that the protesters should try to win over Norfolk's two Lib Dem MPs Norman Lamb and Simon Wright was met with laughter from many in the audience.

'This is just the start of what they want to cut,' Mr Dunning said. 'It's changing the way Norfolk County Council is operating. I have never seen anything that fundamentally changes the way that services are delivered. This is that significant.'

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