Scope marks 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act

PHM has been working with Scope to collect campaigning material relating to the campaign for the Disability Discrimination Act. Here their Campaign Officer, Tom Hayes, writes about the success of the project so far.

Nelson Mandela is known the world over for his impressive fight against racial segregation in South Africa.  Helped by a recent blockbuster film, Britain’s women’s suffrage movement is better known among people today. Whether projected onto big screens or taught in classrooms, similar civil rights fights from Selma to Stonewall are well-known.

Other equality campaigns have been wholly forgotten, however. Twenty years ago this month, Parliament finally passed a law to ban discrimination against disabled people. This change would never have happened without the fierce campaigning of disabled people.

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square.jpg

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square. Copyright Scope

In their thousands, disabled people gridlocked cities up and down the country, throwing themselves from their wheelchairs and chaining themselves to buses. Their message was clear: activists wanted rights. Not tomorrow or in a year, but, as their campaign’s name demonstrated: Rights Now!

For the first time, disabled people joined together, discovered they were not isolated and alone, and decisively smashed society’s flawed view of disability as something requiring pity not rights.

The law passed twenty years ago – the Disability Discrimination Act – fell short of the civil rights Act that so many disabled people campaigned for. But the campaign itself was life-changing for so many and challenged society’s stereotypes and negative attitudes.

Many of the leading disabled campaigners drew inspiration from the fights against Apartheid and for the vote for women.

The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst is the only person that one of today’s leading disabled campaigners and a civil rights veteran, Baroness Jane Campbell, says she would be if she could travel back in time.

Many Rights Now! members moved into disability rights campaigning  from the anti-Apartheid movement because they despised the injustice of segregation wherever they saw it.

However, in sharp distinction to the equality campaigners who inspired them, Baroness Campbell and others have a hidden history of campaigning. The campaign which took so much of the media spotlight in 1994 and 1995 has been entirely forgotten today.

Young disabled people – even those who campaign for change in their communities today –have been shocked to find their rights have not always been there and needed a fight to bring about.

That’s why Scope has been celebrating the civil rights activists who fought for equality and brought about the change that happened twenty years ago this month.  We’re proud to be working closely with the People’s History Museum to preserve a past in danger of disappearing. Together we have appealed to campaigners to rummage through their attics and find mementoes.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of the treasures that leading campaigners have shared with us as a direct result of our joint public appeal for donations. Until that time we will be sharing some stories of the civil rights campaign, as told by the leading activists themselves.

The campaigns which inspired disabled activists twenty years ago are honoured every day by the People’s History Museum in the galleries that are seen annually by tens of thousands of visitors.

Together we want as many people to see disabled people’s campaigning, right alongside better-known movements, so that their campaigning can inspire today’s activists as much as others do.

Disabled people’s campaigning has been central to our national march towards equality. Scope can have no better partner to honour this campaign than the People’s History Museum – the nation’s own museum of democracy and equality.

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Ideas worth fighting for – Claire Curtin’s Microresidency

Claire CurtinDo you have an idea worth fighting for?

Do you want to spread the word creatively?

Claire Curtin is here to help!

Our second Microresidency starts on Saturday.  Claire Curtin will use her residency to make a series of protest works with our visitors, which will be paraded at the end of the residency in a public demonstration.  You can take part in the demo and highlight issues you’ve been fighting for, make placards and satirical collages, write letters and more…

Claire’s residency runs from Saturday 9 August – Friday 15 August.  Throughout the week you can pop into her studio and help her to create protest artworks, including placards, badges and letters. Claire will be holding two screenprinting workshops on Saturday 9 August and Thursday 14 August, 1.00pm – 3.00pm.  Pop along for free family friendly fun!

The residency will culminate in a procession on Friday 15 August.  Bring a placard and meet at the PHM at 5.00pm.  We’ll march down to Lincoln Square at 5.15pm, where we’ll gather for our Democratic Demonstration, with speeches and music. Grab the megaphone and promote your idea worth fighting for! Everyone’s welcome, and please let us know that you’re coming by emailing catherine.odonnell@phm.org.uk or call 0161 838 9190.

It goes without saying that we won’t promote any ideas that are in any way offensive (eg racist, sexist, homophobic, etc).

Please note that Claire will be out of the studio on 10 & 11 August, but there’ll still be lots to do!

Share your stories of Migration, Protest and Workers’ Rights

Sashwati Mira Sengupta & Jaydev MistryWe are delighted that we will be hosting the Microresidency of Sashwati Mira Sengupta and Jaydev Mistry at the People’s History Museum from Fri 25 July – Tues 29 July 2014 as part of our Work in Progress exhibition.  Sashwati and Jaydev will use their residency to focus on the migrant communities that have changed the course of UK workers’ rights.  They will explore the museum’s archives, creating an original music composition and visual piece on this theme.  Visitors will be encouraged to share their experiences of migration, protest and workers’ rights, which will be included in the composition.

If you have any stories, memories or experiences that you’d like to share then we’d love to hear them! Just pop in to the museum between Fri 25 July – Tues 29 July and share your story.  If you can’t make those dates and would like to contribute then get in touch with Catherine O’Donnell on 0161 838 9190 or catherine.odonnell@phm.org.uk.

Chartist Leader William Cuffay’s book donated to People’s History Museum

Cuffay's bookWilliam Cuffay’s book of Byron poetry has been donated to the People’s History Museum and will go on display in our Labour History Archive and Study Centre throughout June.

Son of a former slave, William Cuffay was a prominent member of the Chartist Movement and one of its most militant. He was one of the key organisers of the rally at Kennington Common in 1848, but was said to be disappointed by the fact that many members were reluctant to use force to advocate their demands.

In the same year, Cuffay was convicted of conspiring to start an uprising against the government and was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for 21 years. After 3 years, he wasCuffay's book pardoned, although he chose to stay is Tasmania until he died a pauper in 1870.

The book is said to have been given to Cuffay by his Chartist colleagues before his transportation. It was found with a thumb print marked on one of the pages and leaves pressed in the cover.

Professor Malcolm Chase, author of Chartism: A New History said of the acquisition;

Thumb print on page

“What a wonderful find. William Cuffay is an inspirational figure in the history of Chartism, and in the struggle for democracy generally. This is the only object, anywhere in the world, that we definitely know belonged to Cuffay. His homes in London and Tasmania, and the workhouse where he died, have all been demolished. It’s all the more poignant because this book was a gift from his fellow Chartists. When you see the thumb print on the page that includes Byron’s ‘Song for the Luddites’ you can almost hear and feel the breath of history.”

The book will be on display in our Archive throughout June. Following this, it will be available to access upon appointment. Please note that the Archive is open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please contact us before you make a special visit.

Why Bureaucracy Broke our Hearts on 14 February 2014

Guest blog by Ian Morgan (Manchester Centre President of the Association of Revenue & Customs)

Hello – I’m Ian and I’m a committed trade union campaigner.  The members of my union (Association of Revenue & Customs or “ARC”) are all senior professionals working in HM Revenue & Customs.  We’re not faceless bureaucrats but real people striving every day to secure the funds which build schools, hospitals, libraries and playgrounds.  Our work knits the social fabric of the UK and delivers for the nation.

#ARC14FebOn February 14 2014, with sterling support from our sister unions, we took our first independent strike action against HMRC in an effort to do our jobs free from the tangle of bureaucracy.  Our dispute stemmed from the Civil Service Reform plan, specifically our new performance appraisal system, and review of our employee terms and conditions.  Both elements were imposed by our employer, refusing arbitration by ACAS, and despite our serious concerns about issues like:

  • link to pay and dismissal
  • no independent appeal process
  • cost and level of bureaucracy when resources are limited
  • greater risk for staff with protected characteristics
  • longer working hours in London, and less sick pay and annual leave nationally, for all new staff and (bizarrely) when existing staff are promoted.

Just under 2300 eligible ARC members were balloted between Dec 2013 -Jan 2014, commanding a respectable turnout of 48%.  This reflected a comprehensive campaign by trade union activists, both nationally and at local branch level.  Of those members exercising their ballot vote, 58% were in favour of strike action and 78% voted for work to rule.

#ARC14Feb 2ARC chose February 14 to launch our strike action, with a strong “broken heart” theme branded across placards, stickers and Valentine’s Day postcards.  They illustrated our sadness and frustration, not just that the new systems are unfair and unjustified for HMRC employees, but because they are also a massive distraction from our work in closing the UK tax gap and helping defeat the deficit – so vital to the UK in these times of austerity.  Last year we delivered an extra £20.7 billion into Exchequer coffers, enough to fund the cost of primary healthcare for the whole of the UK, and the lion’s share of that came from ARC members.  That’s why we think we deserve a fair performance system and a fair deal.

Like our fellow members throughout the UK, on February 14s Day of action.  ARC received some fantastic coverage in the national press, including sympathetic articles in tax publications, and members of the public up and down the country stopped to chat with the pickets or went on their way sporting our broken heart stickers!

Many more ARC members supported the strike quietly at home or with their families.  Each and every one of them were stars – we all know that industrial action is never easy but is proof positive of our commitment, both to our union and to our duties as public servants.  As a union we are small in number, but we do have a voice and hopefully a strong one.

The Manchester picketers were pleased to reconvene later in the day on 14 February in the much warmer surroundings of the Left Bank cafe bar at the People’s History Museum, always our preferred planning HQ.  Our Twitter photo was taken on its doorstep and I’m now proud to post my guest blog here, as a more detailed record of our campaign.  I hope that readers agree it connects with the museum’s story of ideas worth fighting for, during its Play Your Part project.

PHM on Tour: Salford

IMG_5022-1On the first leg of our AGMA tour, we visited Barton Moss in Salford to meet some of the anti-fracking protesters who are campaigning against iGas, who are drilling in the area in search for shale gas. The men and women on Barton Moss have been camped out for over three months and have formed a camp akin to a front line, proudly displaying posters and placards supporting their cause.

We wanted to reach out to the folk on Barton Moss to let them know about our contemporary collecting campaign, in which we aim to collect objects and stories of protests, campaigns and events that are happening today, or within living memory. This will give us more relevance not only in today’s society, but will also act in preserving our contemporary heritage for the future.IMG_5028-1

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we were able to speak to a number of the Barton Moss protesters and tell them about the Play Your Part project, and make them aware of our plan to collect contemporary material such as the placards, posters and leaflets currently being used there today.

If you have material you would like to donate, please get in touch with harriet.richardson@phm.org.uk , or to find out which AGMA district we are visiting soon, check the blog next week!

Play Your Part - resized for web

Protests on our doorstep: No Bedroom Tax

Today a group of campaigners gathered outside Manchester Civil Justice Centre to protest against the Bedroom Tax.  According to their flyer, ‘over 15,429 households in Manchester are worse off under the Bedroom Tax regime – around 43% of social tenants… We can’t let this carry on! Even if we’re not being hit by the Bedroom Tax, our community is!’No Bedroom Tax protest

We went over to say hello, took some snaps of the protest and asked the group if they’d like to donate any of their placards to the museum’s collection so that future generations would have a record of their campaign.  After the protest, they popped in for a brew and very kindly donated three placards to the PHM.No Bedroom Tax placards

Our Play Your Part project aims to make the museum more relevant to today’s audiences, by responding to current events, linking them to campaigns of the past, with the hope of inspiring activists of the future.  A key part of the project is to collect contemporary material, so that visitors of the future can learn about what was happening now.  The museum is keen to collect objects from campaigns and demonstrations within living memory.  This could be anything from posters, placards and banners to ticket stubs, badges and anything else! 

We’re specifically looking at getting our extensive Peace Collection up to date.  If you would like any further information or have any objects that you’d like to donate to the museum then please get in touch with Catherine O’Donnell on 0161 838 9190 or email Catherine.odonnell@phm.org.uk