THOUSANDS OF people are set to demonstrate over the next two weeks against student poverty and the World Trade Organisation's plans to squeeze the world's poorest people. Socialist Worker reports on a demonstration against Third World Debt and looks forward to the other protests.
Around 3,000 people surrounded the Treasury in central London on Thursday of last week. They were demanding that the British government cancels the debts owed to it by the poorest Third World countries. The protest included young and old, students and workers, black and white, pensioners and schoolkids. Some had come with church groups, others through local Jubilee 2000 organisations, others from charities and some because they were socialists or trade unionists.
It was a lively, angry event. People are convinced that they are in the right and that the government has to act now if it is to retain a shred of credibility. The demonstrators formed a chain which entirely ringed the massive Treasury office complex. The organisers had encouraged demonstrators to bring trumpets to 'Blast the Treasury'. The noise must have deafened everybody inside the building. Harassed policemen desperately pressed their radio earpieces to their heads, unable to hear the commands of their superiors.
School children wore T-shirts exposing the size of debt repayments extracted from the Third World by the Western governments and banks. The children offered piggy banks and banknotes to anyone wearing a suit who entered or left the Treasury. Some ordinary civil servants working at the Treasury paused to applaud the protesters.
Jubilee 2000 protester Margaret Palmer from Solihull told Socialist Worker, 'The Labour government has let us down over very many things but I thought it would give justice over this issue. There is no limit to the protest I am prepared to take part in to win, to save lives in Africa and elsewhere.' Student Ed Chalmers from London said, 'We've got to show how angry we are, how pissed off we are that people are left to starve while there is all that money for businessmen and weapons.'
A large contingent of members of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) included people of widely varying political views. Some wanted to replace the present people who run banks with 'more caring individuals'. Others felt that the United Nations should take over international flows of capital and finance. Some thought that the whole capitalist system was rotten and that socialism was the only answer.
A group of nine council workers from Birmingham had taken a day's holiday to come to the protest. One of them said, 'This for me is the biggest political issue of today. It is the standard by which I judge any political party or any politician. If the suffering caused by debt is not enough to make somebody take drastic action then there is something wrong with their morality. They have no right to preach or legislate about anything else.' The British government collects £75 million each year from the 52 most impoverished and indebted countries.
CLARE SHORT, Secretary of State for Overseas Development, is to speak at Nottingham University on Tuesday 23 November. People and Planet and the Socialist Worker Student Society at the university have called a joint picket to demand that New Labour drops all the debt.