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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 18:45 GMT
Fuel crusade 'insulting'
The Jarrow march of 1936 took over three weeks to reach London
A Jarrow marcher stops to repair his shoes
Downing Street has pledged to act "vigorously" if fuel protesters carry out their threat to mount their own version of the Jarrow march of the 1930s.

The protesters said they plan to have a four-day go-slow convoy from Jarrow to London to coincide with the 60-day deadline they have imposed on the government for action to reduce fuel taxes.

The Jarrow marchers were working people fighting for jobs and decent pay and conditions

John Edmonds

A Downing Street spokesman rejected any comparison between the original march and the fuel protesters' threat to carry out a modern day equivalent.

He said: "The Jarrow march was about poverty and unemployment at levels that are unimaginable in modern Britain."

Earlier on Tuesday, the plan to imitate the 1936 march was also attacked by GMB union chief John Edmonds who said any comparison to the original march was "offensive".

Mr Edmonds said the move was an insult to the memory of the 200 unemployed men who marched to London to highlight the 74% unemployment in their community.

Mr Edmonds' remarks followed a call by the head of the Confederation of British Industry to the public not to join the fuel convoy, which he says would threaten jobs and the international reputation of the UK abroad.

Workers not bosses

The union leader said: "The Jarrow marchers were working people fighting for jobs and decent pay and conditions.

"They were not employers simply seeking to increase their own profits," he said.

Mr Edmonds added: "Those planning to organise this demonstration are frankly insulting the memory of thousands of working people."

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn echoed those comments saying: "This protest couldn't even walk in the shadows of the Jarrow march."

Lobbying parliament

The convoy is scheduled to reach London on 14 November and will form part of a mass lobbying of parliament by hauliers, farmers and others who say their livelihoods have been hit by the cost of fuel.

In another blow to the fuel protesters' plans Digby Jones, who heads the CBI, warned that new demonstrations would do "immense" damage to the economy.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The disruption and the loss to wealth creation, to jobs, to business as a whole is just so immense it will just severely disrupt UK plc in a way which will damage us all in the long term.

Economic threat

"The television images of blockades in the boardrooms of Detroit or Johannesburg or Tokyo, is not the image which will help anybody in the long term.

"It's a big issue and I would call on people not do it."

If a fresh blockade does take place, as the protesters have threatened should the government resist acting on their demands in next week's pre-budget report, oil bosses have revealed they can not guarantee that fuel supplies will be maintained.

The chief executive of Shell UK, Malcolm Brinded told MPs at a select committee hearing that there was no way that "business as usual" could be maintained.

But he said plans put in place by ministers and the oil companies had "significantly increased the chances that we will be able to maintain supplies".

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See also:

31 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Oil protesters 'not peaceful'
31 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Fuel blockaders threaten go-slow
23 Oct 00 | Business
CBI urges Brown to cut fuel tax
18 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Fuel protesters threaten mass rally
13 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Brown 'offers fuel concessions'
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Blair ridiculed over fuel crisis
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