THOUSANDS OF trade unionists and campaigners marched through central London today to defend the welfare state and public services.
The march was called by the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) and supported by all the major trade unions. It was designed to frame the election debate and send a clear message to all prospective MPs of the opposition to cuts.
Pensioners were prominent on the protest – and with good reason. Dot Gibson, general secretary of the NPC, said, “There are 2.5 million pensioners officially living in poverty and they also rely heavily on public services. We are not going to stand by while cuts and privatisation go through.
“Many pensioners remember the 1945 era when the welfare state was founded. The slogan then was that we were not going back to the poverty and inequality of the 1920s and 30s. We are determined that we are not going back again now.”
Marchers carried dozens of trade union banners, and listened to speeches at a rally in Trafalgar Square.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told all politicians to “think twice before making cuts”.
Prentis is a Labour loyalist, but he warned, “If Gordon Brown thinks that hatred of the Tories is enough for our members to vote for the Labour Party – then think again. We won’t vote for more cuts and privatisation.”
He finished by saying “we are ready to fight”. Rank and file workers must apply increased pressure for real resistance to the cuts now and after the election on 6 May.
Hamish Meldrum from the British Medical Association, welcomed the unity of trade unions and campaigners and said “it is ludicrous that while the government has nationalised the banks it is privatising the NHS”.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ FBU union, began his speech by paying tribute to the courage and sacrifice of firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon who died on Tuesday while attending an incident in a high rise block of flats in Southampton.
Wrack went on to say that “it wasn’t our people who caused the crisis” and that “we won’t accept cuts now or after the election”.
Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the journalists’ NUJ union, who chaired the rally, summed up the dilemma many people will feel at the election. He called on marchers to “demand from those standing to be MPs that they make clear they will not support cuts or support policies which attack the welfare state”. You wouldn’t need a very long pencil to put crosses against those from the main parties who could honestly make such a pledge.
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition supporters and candidates got a good response from many marchers.
There was a real welcome for an organisation standing over 40 parliamentary candidates in the general election in opposition to public spending cuts and privatisation and demanding decent pensions. It also calls for investment in publicly owned and controlled renewable energy, the repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The march also showed the potential for the Right to Work campaign’s conference on 22 May. The RTW national banner was on the march and supporters distributed thousands of leaflets for the conference which aims to develop and coordinate resistance to cuts which will follow the general election.