Socialist Worker

Thousands march to demand that people are put first

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2145

Trade union banners on the Put People First march last Saturday (Pic: http://reportdigital.co.uk/» Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk )

Trade union banners on the Put People First march last Saturday (Pic: » Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk)


More than 40,000 people converged on central London last Saturday for the opening protest in a series of demonstrations focused on this week's meeting of the G20 world leaders.

The march was the first major organised response to the recession in Britain.

Its theme was, 'Put People First' and it demanded action on jobs, global justice and climate change.

Stuart Fegan from the GMB union summed up the feeling of many when he told Socialist Worker, 'This is about a failure of capitalism.

'It's the first recession in my lifetime that hasn't been blamed on the trade unions. We want to show governments around the world that workers are a collective.'

There was an impressive array of union banners on the demonstration.More than ten sent their national banners and there were large contingents from the GMB, Unite, Unison and RMT unions.

There were also delegations from trade unions in Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The march attracted activists both old and new. Eighty year old Albert Rollinson from Hull told Socialist Worker that he had been a trade union activist for more than 60 years.

He said, 'We're protesting against the fat cats making money while workers are left at the bottom of the pile. The government is trying to blame the recession on the global situation. But it's doing nothing for us.'

Priorities

Many school and college students also joined the march. Samia and Fahmida, two sixth form students from north London, said that world leaders must change their priorities.

Fahmida said, 'Foreign policy is the biggest issue. So much money is spent on war, on killing.'

'It should be spent on health and education, both here and abroad,' added Samia. 'And on jobs,' Fahmida chipped in. 'The gap between rich and poor is too big,' said Samia. 'But we can stop it.'

Many marchers felt a sense of anger and betrayal at the policies of New Labour. One protester from the Unite union told Socialist Worker, 'The world's gone mad. I've voted Labour all my life but I won't again – and for a union man to say that is serious. Gordon Brown wasn't even voted in – we need to get rid of him.'

Many of those who marched are already involved in their own battles over jobs and pay.

There was a large group of former Remploy workers, who lost their jobs when New Labour closed their factories last year. Striking community service workers from Glasgow were also on the protest.

Education workers from London Metropolitan University, where up to a quarter of the workforce are threatened with the sack, marched alongside train and underground workers who are fighting for jobs, decent pay and the future of public transport.

Many workers spoke of the growing spectre of mass unemployment. Terry, a JCB worker from Stafford, told Socialist Worker, 'There have been 1,500 job cuts at JCB so far and 150 at our place.

'It's going to get worse – we've got no orders in for the next few months. Management say they are trying to keep people in work by cutting pay. But some of us think the pay cut has made no difference – they're still sacking people.'

Demonstrators cheered workers from the CGT union in Paris as they emerged from Embankment tube to join the march. 'Trade unions across Europe are united against the crisis,' Olivier Seveon from the CGT told Socialist Worker.

Attacking

'All workers are facing the same situation in every country – managers everywhere are attacking workers. Now is the moment that trade unionists can see that we all have the same interests.'

Daniel, a student from St Andrews university in Fife, Scotland, was involved in the recent occupation at the college in solidarity with Gaza. He told Socialist Worker, 'I'm here to campaign against the system that has led to this crisis – both economic and environmental.

'We've heard a lot about the student protests of the 1960s. The problem is that they lost. But with the current wave of university occupations, I think things are starting to change.'

There were some weaknesses in the demonstration. Some unions currently in the frontline of fighting attacks on public services such as the PCS civil service workers' union, the FBU firefighters' union and the CWU postal workers' union were not as well represented as they should have been.

This meant that, although some activists and individual members did take part, their national leaders missed the chance to play a major part in building a united response to the recession.

But the protest marked a step forward. It brought people together to fight over the impact of recession and will have inspired many more people to do the same.


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Tue 31 Mar 2009, 20:31 BST
Issue No. 2145
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