Disabled protesters caged in

Demonstrators from Direct Action Network make their point outside parliament

DOZENS of angry people with disabilities staged a demonstration outside parliament last week to coincide with the third reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Several supporters of the Direct Action Network blocked the traffic.

The protesters were then penned behind speedily erected barriers by the police and not allowed to leave.

Thalidomide victim Mathew Fraser commented: “We say that non-violence is the only way forward, but it’s as if they want to force us to use violence.”

Inside parliament the private member’s bill of Labour MP Harry Barnes was being ‘talked out’. Instead the government is pursuing its own much more limited Disability Discrimin-ation Bill. This proposes improved access and employment rights, but applies only to firms employing more than 20 people and does not provide for the enforcement of those ‘rights’.

Rachel Hurst of the British Council of Disabled People expressed her contempt for the government’s “useless” proposals: “We can’t even pee in our own lavatories; we can’t get out of our homes,” she told me. “They confine us in regimented ‘Royal Hospitals’ like the one in Putney, where 700 people are incarcerated.”

But the Barnes bill is rejected as too expensive. According to the government, it would cost £17 billion to implement. Campaigners for his bill dispute this figure and claim that allowing people access to work would inject an extra £33 billion spending power into the economy every year.

This argument is identical to the one which states that giving workers large pay increases would result in their spending more and provide bigger profits. Unfortunately the ‘short-sighted’ bosses never quite seem to see the logic of it. Capitalism will not willingly fork out even a few million pounds today unless it can see an immediate return on its ‘investment’.

Harry Barnes’ ‘civil rights’ approach is useful in that it recognises that disability is “a process by which people with physical, mental and sensory impairments (and sometimes their relatives) are excluded from equal participation in society”. But his proposal for a Disability Rights Commission to enforce any new measures would, on his own admission, be “on the same basis” as the toothless Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality.

Gareth Davies of the TUC-affiliated National League for the Blind and Disabled is a former communist and well aware that money is not the problem. The problem is the whole society on which it is based. Yet he believes that we are “ultimately onto a winner” with Labour. “Jerusalem won’t come immediately, but ...” The rest of the sentence was lost among the guffaws of those listening.

Kath Gillespie-Sells of Regard, an organisation which campaigns for the rights of gay and lesbian disabled people, recognises that alliances are necessary.

“Real progress could be made with the organised working class. That would be great - fucking brilliant,” she said.

Peter Manson