The week of protests against the G20 summit to be held in London this week kicked off on Saturday with the Put People First march in central London organised by a broad coalition of trade unions, NGOs and activist groups.
Some 40,000 people came to the march—more than organisers expected, despite repeated attempts by the police and right wing newspapers to put people off demonstrating.
They were there to demand decent jobs and public services, an end to global poverty and inequality, and serious action taken now to avert catastrophic climate change.
But the march was also marked by a deep sense of anger at the economic crisis—anger that had a class edge to it, directed against bankers, the rich and the politicians that had presided over an economic system that has failed to deliver jobs, justice or environmental sustainability.
The march started at Victoria Embankment and made its way to Hyde Park for a rally. The comedian and activist Mark Thomas was cheered when he attacked Gordon Brown and the Labour government for their complicity in creating the crisis.
“We are here to kill neoliberal capitalism,” he told the rally. “People ask, what’s the alternative? We are the alternative. We have to build a movement that can go from strength to strength. This struggle is about democracy against capitalism—and we have got to win.”
Trade unions had a strong presence on the march, with large contingents from the GMB, Unison and RMT unions. Many of them spoke of their anger at the wave of job losses sweeping through Britain at the moment.
Stuart Fegan, a senior organiser for the GMB, was on the demo. “There’s been a failure of capitalism,” he told Socialist Worker. “This the first recession in my lifetime that hasn’t been blamed on the unions. We have to show governments around world that workers can act collectively.”
Pete Millward, an Usdaw union member from Andover, said, “Unions aren’t dinosaurs—we just want equality and fairness. We need to protest more. I want a real choice, not just between two kinds of Tory government.”
There were also several international delegations of trade unionists on the protests, including workers from France’s CGT, Italy’s CGIL and the Dutch FNV union federation. This international flavour was also represented at the rally, with speeches from US and Australian union leaders.
The march was also marked by large numbers of young people and students who had come to London to make their voices heard over issues ranging from climate change to the “war on terror”.
Sarahelen is from Stirling and currently studying at Oxford. She told Socialist Worker, “We want to see people put first. A lot of our concerns are about war—we’re against all the wars that are happening.”
Her friend Shona added, “We also want world leaders to think about developing countries. We want them to think about something other than money for a change.”
The radical mood of the demonstration was reflected by veteran anti-capitalist campaigner Susan George, who spoke at the Hyde Park rally. She attacked the G20 for wanting to give more money to discredited institutions like the International Monetary Fund.
“The banks are ours—they belong to the people and should be treated like public utilities for the good of the people,” she added. “They should be providing credit to create jobs and for a massive conversion programme to a green fossil-free economy.”
The protests against the G20 are set to continue this week. On Wednesday the Stop the War Coalition will be leading a march against war starting at 2pm from the US embassy in Grovesnor Square and heading to Trafalgar Square.
Stop the War will also be protesting on the first day of the summit proper, assembling at 11am on Thursday 2 April at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. Go to » www.stopwar.org.uk for more details.