Just as chancellor Alistair Darling was lamenting that Labour has “lost the will to live” last weekend, a vibrant protest outside the party’s conference showed that the movement for change is very much alive.
Around 4,000 people joined the demonstration for jobs, education and peace in Brighton last Sunday.
The protest was backed by six national unions, as well as campaigns including the Stop the War Coalition.
Trade unionists, students, activists and local people gathered on the seafront in the blazing sun. More than 60 banners – mostly from trade union branches – were proudly displayed.
The London delegation arrived in Brighton on a specially-chartered train. Around 500 activists poured off the train and marched together to join others gathering at the assembly point.
The atmosphere at the front of the demonstration – which was headed by Vestas wind turbine workers and their supporters from the Isle of Wight, alongside victorious strikers from Tower Hamlets College – was jubilant.
Barbara Jeffery, who teaches in the hair and beauty department at Tower Hamlets, told Socialist Worker, “We want to put it out there that it’s possible to win. We’re here to show people that we’re stronger if we stand together.”
Many onlookers – who had left their workplaces or deckchairs to see what was happening – cheered at the passing demonstration, and some joined as it snaked its way past Labour’s heavily fortified conference.
There was a large police presence on the demonstration. A “boo” went up from the crowd as they were told that the police operation to protect the conference had cost £6 million.
Many trade unionists were angry at Labour’s attacks on working class people.
Donald McDougall is the branch secretary for the Unite union at the Honda car plant in Swindon. He told Socialist Worker, “We’re not getting what we want from this government – we’ve been short changed.
“I want to see the repeal of the anti-union laws and support for workers. Why should people at the bottom be paying for people at the top?”
Brian Harder, one of a group of health workers from Bristol, said, “Both the major parties have indulged in macho posturing over cuts. Where will the job cuts be in the NHS? They will target vital ancillary workers.”
A noisy student bloc added yet more energy to the march. Students had travelled from universities across the country to come to the protest. Young people from Brighton also joined the march as it went past.
Tom and Alex are FE students in the city. Tom told Socialist Worker, “We saw the banners and agreed with what they said. It’s crap really, the way the government treats people.”
Alex agreed. “They think they can walk all over people,” he said.
“Maybe they think that if they bore people to death they won’t be angry any more! I’m sure the people on this march could do a much better job of running things.”
Cheryl McCormick from Glasgow university told Socialist Worker, “The harsh conditions for people hoping to go to university mean that more working class people will be unemployed.
And the lack of places means that many who can’t pay will be left outside of education.”
Others echoed this feeling. Leanne and Rochelle are both from the Brighton area. They were pushing their children in prams along the seafront when they saw the demonstration and joined it.
“I read about the protest in the local paper and wanted to get involved,” Leanne told Socialist Worker. “I care about all the issues here – it’s about the future, for us and for our children.”
Rochelle agreed. “It’s very hard when you have young children,” she added. “I want to go to college, to make a better life for my kids. And that’s what the government keeps telling us to do.
“But I’ve been trying to find a way to get back into education, but I just can’t find childcare. So I’m forced to still live on benefits.”
There is a clear sense that the government has let people down, and become a self-serving force that lies to ordinary people.
Vestas worker Seb Sikora told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to bring the fight to the government. We want them to step in and save our jobs.
“They promised money for green jobs but there’s no sign of it. What’s the point of this Labour conference if it does nothing for workers?”
The main theme of the demonstration was the need and will to fight back – against cuts, against war and against racism.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, spoke at the closing rally.
He told the crowd, “If it is wrong for the Conservatives to cut jobs, privatise jobs and attack the poor then it is just as wrong if Labour is doing it.
“We are told to be quiet in case we get David Cameron. But now is not the time to be quiet. It’s the time to be bloody noisy.”