Anti-G4S protesters force Manchester City Council meeting to close
Campaigners want the Council to stop awarding contracts to security company
The Executive meeting of Manchester City Council was disrupted yesterday by protesters demanding that the Council stop awarding contracts to security services giant G4S, which they allege is responsible for serious human rights abuses.
Richard Leese, Leader of the Council, opened up the meeting by explaining that members of the public in attendance who wished to have an item discussed that was not on the agenda should go through the appropriate democratic process.
It is the Council's policy to discuss the subjects of petitions that are bought by members of the public if they are signed by more than 4,000 local people.
Norma Turner, Coordinator of the Greater Manchester Stop G4S Campaign, explained that the group had attempted to follow the appropriate process, but the Council had refused to accept their petition.
The petition called for the Council to stop contracting in future with G4S, a company alleged to be involved in human rights abuses against Palestinians and UK migrants and people seeking asylum. It also called for the council to introduce an ethical commissioning and procurement policy, excluding companies with records of breaches of human rights, anti-trade union practices or tax avoidance and fraud.
After submitting the petition to be placed on the Council website to gather signatures, campaigners received a response from the city solicitor saying that, after consulting “leading counsel”, she had concluded the petition was “inappropriate”.
“There is no democratic process open to us,” Turner told the attendant Councillors. “Our petition has been rejected so we are here to tell you our demands – that you stop contracts going to G4S. If you won't accept our petition we will continue to disrupt this meeting and future meetings until you will”.
Leese told the protesters, who included a hooded detainee wearing an orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuit, that a meeting would be organised between the group and the city solicitor in order to devise wording for an acceptable petition.
But protesters, chanting “Stop G4S”, continued to disrupt the meeting and it was adjourned.
“Manchester City Council has spent taxpayers' money on commissioning a legal opinion that they think will allow them to refuse to discuss our petition”, said Turner. “Stopping contracting with G4S is a political decision not a legal one, but it is possible legally. We know this because other councils, such as Sheffield and Liverpool, are willing to discuss it.”
Outside the Town Hall, the action was supported by protesters from a number of groups that object to G4S's activities in the UK and abroad.
Palestinian solidarity activists point to the company's involvement in the Israeli prison system, in which human rights organisations have documented systematic torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including child prisoners.
Mohammed Ghalayini, a Palestinian living in Manchester, said: “By subcontracting to G4S and ignoring their human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories and elsewhere, Manchester City Council becomes complicit in these crimes. People of conscience should stand against the involvement of such companies in the management of public facilities. They prioritise profit over human rights and should be opposed”.
Anti-deportation campaigners claim the company is responsible for repeated human rights abuses against asylum detainees.
Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian asylum seeker living in the UK, said: “It's important that G4S is not allowed to be contracted by the UK government based on the series of human rights abuses they have committed. It was ruled by the UK court that their guards unlawfully killed Jimmy Mubenga, an asylum seeker they were forcefully removing from Britain on behalf of the UK Border Agency".
Alongside human rights campaigners were anti-privatisation campaigners. John Clegg, Secretary of Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch, said: “G4S is guilty of swindling the public purse by charging public funds for tagging dead people. Their people often have terrible terms and conditions of employment, with zero hours contracts and complete lack of training. And they provide services that it is simply not appropriate for them to provide - such as for complex families, social services and sexual assault centres - when they are guilty of the unlawful killing of a deportee and have paid out hundreds of thousands to those they have abused in detention.”
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