By New Worker correspondent
CAMPAIGNERS against the profiteering of the Big Six energy companies at the expense of people who need to keep their homes warm last Saturday succeeded in blocking Whitehall, many of them in wheelchairs which they parked across the road.
The campaigners included many disabled people and pensioners – those who suffer most from the constantly rising costs of keeping their homes warm.
The protest was called by Fuel Poverty Action, supported by: All African Women’s Group, Climate Justice Collective, Disabled People Against Cuts, Frack Off (London), Global Women’s Strike, Greater London Pensioners’ Association, National Pensioners’ Convention, Redbridge Pensioners’ Forum, Red Pepper, Single Mothers’ Self Defence, Southwark Pensioners’ Action Group, WinVisible.
They came to deliver a message to the Department of Energy and Climate Change in Whitehall as part of a very busy Week of Action all over Britain. The previous day demonstrators targeted the Edinburgh headquarters of Scottish Gas. Other protests took place in Nottingham, Lewisham, Haringey, Hackney and Southwark.
The message they had to deliver was that while thousands are dying from cold homes every winter, the Government is cutting vital fuel poverty lifelines.
Meanwhile the Government and energy companies want to increase our dependence on dirty and expensive gas power, which will send fuel bills even higher and contribute to rising food prices through climate change.
Dozens of Big Six energy company staff are being loaned to work in Government energy policy. Together, they’re doing all they can to keep profiting from the Great Fuel Robbery. The protest in Whitehall was very well attended and was coming to a close when protesters decided spontaneously to ram home their message a bit harder by blocking Whitehall. Several who were in wheelchairs positioned themselves across the road while police were left to redirect traffic to the Embankment.
There were a lot of police, with more arriving from vans in the side streets. For a while there was a big rise in tension. The disabled protesters and the pensioners were very vulnerable.
But there was a cool-headed police liaison officer and there were negotiations. A bargaining process took place, with protesters declaring they would stay for two hours and then go, while the police wanted immediate withdrawal to the pavement.
There were complications as one pensioner sat down and handcuffed himself to a wheelchair. Police moved in to remove the cuffs – while one of the organisers from her wheelchair reassured the crowd, saying: “The police are removing handcuffs, not putting them on. If that’s what they were doing we’d be acting very differently.”
It all ended peacefully and in good humour, with the blockage lasting about 40 minutes.
Passers-by asked what the protest was about and when told expressed their complete support. There is little public love for the profiteering power companies.
James Granger, from Fuel Poverty Action, said: "You hear some really terrible stories of people being forced out of their homes because they can't afford to keep the heating on.
"People are going hungry and they're freezing and they've come out to say enough is enough, they're not going to tolerate the Great Fuel Robbery any longer."
Rising energy costs have left more than six million households in Britain in fuel poverty because they spend more than 10 per cent of their income on heating their homes, campaigners say.