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UK Citizens network hold rally to mark 20 years holding authorities to account

PUBLISHED: 00:09 10 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:24 14 March 2017

UK Citizens East London rally at York Hall

UK Citizens East London rally at York Hall

Archant

Hundreds of campaigning citizens packed a rally in east London tonight to mark the 20th anniversary of a grassroots network that has been keeping government and authority on its toes for two decades.

Delegates from citizens’ groups across east London squeezed into Bethnal Green’s York Hall with rallying cries that they were still very much a fighting force to be reckoned with.

It is 20 years since the emergence of Telco, The East London Community Organisation, began in Whitechapel in 1997 as a small, but determined campaign for low-pay workers right which has morphed into the UK Citizens’ network that has gone viral across Britain.

Its founder Neil Jameson, sitting in the wings of York Hall, could barely imagine its national influence today when he began in 1997.

“It works because people trust each other, not just strangers coming together about a particular issue,” Neil tells next week’s East London Advertiser. “People feel powerless—that’s what we address, whatever their issue.”

Its first major success was Canary Wharf banks agreeing to better wages for cleaners, followed by Tower Hamlets becoming the first local authority in the country to sign up to a ‘fair wage’ charter for its staff and contractors workers in its supply chain. This led to the Living Wage campaign which became law when it went to Parliament.

Telco’s UK Citizens campaigns on housing, knife crime, reclaiming streets from gangs, immigration, unemployment, social benefits, poverty traps, election hustings and setting up the country’s first urban land trust housing scheme in east London at Mile End.

It puts on the gloves whenever there’s a fight to square up to—ready to take on the politicians.

But it also has political supporters, like Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs who addressed last tonight’s rally.

He later told the Advertiser: “They make demands, but this is what it’s about, ordinary people getting organised, expressing their views and politicians listening to that. They’re an outward looking bunched of people.”

Rallying calls were also made to support a group pressing the Olympic Park Legacy organisation for a bigger ratio of ‘affordable’ housing.

Another group was fighting for equal tariffs for gas and electricity where families on the poverty line have to go on prepayment meters at high premium rates. It plans to demonstrate at British Gas offices in Aldgate on March 28 for a ‘flat rate’ fair deal for low-income families.

For Telco, it’s all in a day’s work.

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