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A Magazine for Sheffield

Jarrow Marches: Give us jobs!

There's always one who keeps the revolution waiting and, as I was running five minutes late to meet the marchers on a drizzly Thursday morning in mid October, I was worried it would be me. Fortunately I was not the last one to arrive, and so began my small part in the 2011 Jarrow March for Jobs which, over five weeks, would travel from Jarrow in the North-East to London, a march of 330 miles. My decision to join the march had been spur of the moment. I first heard of them on the day they arrived in Sheffield on 12th October. I went along to show support as they had a rally in the rain in the city, and by the evening I had decided to join them for a few days of their journey. After an initial struggle with the snooze button on my alarm clock, my rush to get to the rendezvous meant my legs already ached. The march was inspired by the Jarrow Crusade of 1936, when 200 men of Jarrow walked to London during the depression with a petition for more jobs to be created in areas where the industry was failing. 75 years later, people marched again, this time with an emphasis on youth unemployment and the cuts that the government tell us are necessary. This Jarrow March has five key demands: a 'massive government scheme to create jobs' and apprenticeships; reinstatement of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) payments; the re-opening of youth services; the scrapping of workfare schemes, which force unpaid work on the unemployed; and a massive building programme of social housing. Implicit in this is the need to pay for it all, which could be done if the ultra rich paid the taxes that they reasonably should and if banks did not get bailed out with so much taxpayers' money. Having no job myself, it made complete sense that I should show my support. The day that I met them was relevant, as it was the day that the new figures for unemployment revealed that about a million young people are now jobless in the UK, the highest ever recorded. The media were suddenly a lot more interested in the march. Also, my final day with them, on the Saturday, was the day that the Occupy movement went global, as people joined protests against inequality of wealth and opportunity that have been inspired by the Occupy Wall Street demo. The march seemed to me such a relevant a part of this. The walking was gruelling, but spirits remained high, thanks mainly to the people who would toot their horns in support as they drove past, the people who we met along the way, groups providing food or cups of tea for us and of course those who gave us somewhere to sleep each night. There was a sense of the left coming together to support us, and even New Labour MPs came out to support us, although I wonder if it was just to boost their own image. The strangest moment for me was marching into Chesterfield, when we were met by local unions and the Labour Party, bringing their own banners to add to our own as we marched on to a rally in the town centre. But a Labour Party van drove alongside us playing such cheerful pop songs as Kool and the Gang's 'Celebration', which seemed slightly inappropriate for a march about youth unemployment. One of the best moments was the Saturday, when we marched into Nottingham centre. We were joined for the last mile by many locals with banners of their own, boosting our numbers. After some speeches, some UK Uncut people led a march upon shops that were owned by tax dodgers, and I eagerly joined them, chanting for Vodafone, Topshop, BHS and others to pay their tax. The protesters were very polite and we all made way for customers to enter or leave. There was something absurdly British about this blend of politeness and angry demands. Outside each venue, we were given a speech about how the owners of each establishment have dodged however many millions or billions of tax that could have gone to our NHS or schools, say. Finally, outside a Natwest which had managed to lock most of us out, we were told how much the taxpayer has had to bail them out. Chants of "We are the 99%" began, bringing the Occupy Wall Street movement to Nottingham on a day that this same chant spread across the world, with an estimated 1,500 cities globally joining in. The air became charged. Then to the main square where people sat, joining the now-global Occupy movement, sharing ideas and a communal megaphone to make speeches. One passer-by with a mullet shouted at us to "get a job, you lazy twats!" so I took the megaphone and asked him if he thinks this recent trend of mass laziness has caused the recession, or if it is just a coincidence that they both came at the same time. People cheered and I wondered why I hadn't ever done this activism thing before. The next day, I passed through the main square, where protestors were still camped out in solidarity with the Occupy movement. After I had coffee with them, I headed home. On the way to the train station, I passed through the same shopping centre that the Uncut people had been yesterday, and there was a church service happening for a congregation whose church was being refurbished. BHS did not call security on this (as they had done with us), and as they sang a poppy, guitar-driven version of 'Amazing Grace', a song with words that encourage the singer to feel helpless and wretched, I felt like I had woken from a dream into a nightmare of a church of consumerism. Meanwhile, the march continued into the heart of the county. The oldest marcher, Peter, now retired, said to me one day: "Why am I doing this? The struggle. You've always got to struggle. I've fought all my life and I'll keep on fighting." The march arrives in London on 5th November and I will go and join them again. If you see them pass you before then, please show your support for these people who really care about our country. )

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