Over 2,000 workers from across Britain joined the Unite union’s demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth last Sunday.
They brought with them tales of the low pay, job insecurity, and long hours that New Labour’s policies have forced millions of workers to endure.
The “march with a message for Labour” had several key demands – stop the privatisation of the NHS, build council housing, defend manufacturing, rights for agency and migrant workers, defend pensions and oppose the offshoring of jobs.
Unite’s joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and, to a lesser extent, Tony Woodley wanted to make the march a friendly demonstration to Labour’s conference.
They both emphasised in their speeches the priority of getting Labour elected in the next general election.
Despite this, among the workers on the demonstration there was real anger with New Labour and life in Brown’s Britain.
Around 30 workers from the Rolls-Royce plant in Liverpool, which is under threat of closure, joined the march. They chanted, “Gordon Brown, you’ve let the people down.”
Joe Birch, the Unite rep at the plant, told Socialist Worker, “There’s a plan from senior managers to close our plant and move it to the US. Two hundred jobs have gone in the last 18 months and 220 more are at risk. We’re fighting to defend jobs.”
Marjorie Henry, a Unite shop steward at Sainsbury’s in London, said, “There is real unfairness in supermarkets. We are paid rubbish and expected to work three people’s jobs. Many people who work for Sainsbury’s can’t even afford to shop there.”
“Management put workers under a lot of pressure,” said Raj Ramsarran, a Sainsbury’s shop steward in Clapham, south London. “Chief executive Justin King has a pay and bonus package of £2.1 million a year. Newcomers are on £5.94 an hour.”
Liz McInnes, an NHS worker in Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to campaign against the creeping privatisation of the NHS. We often don’t even get to hear about it until after the deal is done with private companies. Today is a chance to make our voices heard.”
Pauline Dunn from Lloyds TSB in Manchester said, “Management are trying to offshore jobs from the computer centre in Manchester. That’s why I’m here today.”
A number of workers also questioned the union’s funding of New Labour, regardless of its policies.
Phil Johns, a Unite shop steward in the NHS, said, “We need to defend the NHS and oppose New Labour’s wars and attacks on the working class. I don’t want the union to give New Labour money to do all those things with.”