The national TUC demonstration against cuts
on Saturday 26 March will be a key moment in the fight against the Tories. An estimated 250,000 people are already set to come.
Here, Viv Smith chairs a roundtable discussion with activists from Cambridge to see how one city is organising for the protest.
Why do you think 26 March is so important?
Philippe: The government is shaky. Thatcher never admitted she was wrong, but this lot have already had to back down on some issues, such as selling off the forests.
They are weaker because they weren’t mandated to make these cuts.
The only thing that will stop the cuts is bringing the government down. The demonstration is part of that.
Mike: We have to see the demo as the start of something. On our coaches afterwards most of us will be talking about taking it further.
I don’t think a one-day general strike is enough.
We need widespread industrial action and protest on the scale of Egypt to bring down the government.
Martin B: People in my own department who have never marched before have been asking about the demo, and some have booked already. It is gaining momentum.
Of course, the demonstration on its own won’t stop the cuts—there must be united national action to follow it.
How do you see the march helping the struggle in your own workplaces?
Martin H: The march will show people the size of the movement against the cuts. So for us it is part of a process of building confidence and educating people, getting them to question what the government is doing. Then we have to take it further.
It would be good to see all the unions taking some kind of action together. But we should fight locally too—against library closures, for nurseries and other services.
Sara: A huge turnout on 26 March will lift people—I’m excited at the thought of trade unionists marching together in blocs.
Having so many of us march will give us a sense of our power. It can act as a lever to push the campaign forward in our anti-cuts groups, in our workplaces and trade unions.
We can use the day to inspire people to keep fighting and win the argument for strikes and bigger protests locally and nationally.
Amy: For me it’s vital to link the student movement with organised trade unionists, for students to see the power of organised workers.
The action of workers can bring the government down.
It will be an exciting day that can inspire us to keep on fighting. It also shows what kind of solidarity we have when we stand together.
What kind of discussions are you having about the protest?
Martin B: The response from health workers has been more positive than I expected.
We are getting a lot more interest than we have done for many years.
Philippe: Some students felt disheartened that they didn’t stop the government from cutting Education Maintenance Allowance. But others argued that they have to keep fighting and can win.
We have to contend with media images of the student protests, showing people being kettled. But we have to say that a protest of hundreds of thousands of us will be completely different. They can’t kettle that many of us.
Mike: It is vital that we convince people that the cuts aren’t necessary and put an alternative.
Lots of people used to think that the cuts were too quick and too deep, but were needed. But that’s shifting as they start to bite.
We have to win the argument that the cuts have not been caused by public spending but by the bankers who want us to bear the burden.
If they say we can’t run a deficit, let’s take our bank bailout money back.
George: People sometimes agree with what they read in the papers because that is all they get.
That’s why we have to tell people the truth—like the fact that most firefighters budgeted for a pay rise but got a pay freeze. That hits hard.
Sara: A few people say they aren’t into marching—but that can shift if we create a sense of excitement and momentum in each workplace.
We have 30 percent membership in a workplace of around 600, so we will fill a coach easily and are on our way to doing so.
Amy: The march itself won’t bring down the government, but it is a show of strength and will give people confidence.
So what’s your battle plan for getting people there?
Martin B: I’m secretary of Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts, which is out campaigning every Saturday to build for the demonstration. We run stalls and organise workplace leafleting.
My Unison branch has booked a coach and is also running stalls to sign people up.
Philippe: We are selling it as an event for family and friends—so we don’t just want NUT members to sign up but to bring other people.
Mike: PCS is working hard to get members there. We’ve put out a lot of publicity across workplaces. We have convinced people who have never marched to come along, but there are people who haven’t marched for a while coming too.
The work of UK Uncut has helped by putting the question of tax evasion in the headlines in a positive way.
How much transport is booked and how is it being publicised?
Sara: We know of seven coaches booked so far, but that’s just the start. Different unions have produced different leaflets and posters.
In Unite we’ve produced our own materials and we are leafleting, running stalls and building it by linking it into our campaigns over pay.
Martin H: The FBU is asking members to pay for their transport. We want members to want to come—if they put money down they are more likely to do so.
And we want to encourage people to bring their families and friends. If every member tells one friend and convinces them to come it could make a big difference.
There are FBU branch meetings across the region now to get people signed up.
George: Cambridge FBU meets next week and that is going to be important because that is where we will get most of our members in one place.
We have around 70 members and there will be a big turnout so we will use that to sign people up.
After the roundtable, FBU reps Martin and George agreed to come to the next Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts organising meeting and invited a speaker from the campaign to their union meeting this week to talk about the 26 March.
And Sara and Mike agreed to set up a joint PCS and Unite stall outside their workplaces, which are next to one another, to ramp up the visibility of the campaign.