Class anger raged through the streets of Sheffield last Saturday as 5,000 people marched on the Lib Dem conference—barricaded behind eight-feet high steel fences in Nick Clegg’s home city.
Sheffield was up for a fight. The solidly working class protest was united, cheering calls for a general strike.
The march, organised by Right to Work and Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance, was the biggest in the city since the miners’ strike more than 25 years ago.
It clearly rattled delegates who later voted down the coalition’s NHS privatisation plans. Some Sheffield Lib Dem councillors even boycotted the conference.
Marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like” to show their anger at the £2 million policing bill for 1,000 cops protecting the conference.
All week police and the media predicted “violence” to justify the huge cost—and to deter people from marching.
On the day there was a fantastic atmosphere. Young, old, black, white, students, pensioners, gay and straight.
Teachers, social workers, bus workers, nurses, rail workers, post workers, engineers, council workers and Friends of the Earth—they all were there.
When Chris Bambery, national secretary of Right to Work, called for a general strike there was a huge cheer.
Peter Davies of Sheffield GMB union announced a ballot for strikes by city council workers in two weeks’ time.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, praised students for taking direct action and warned police to “keep your hands off our kids.”
McCluskey said the Lib Dems should quit the coalition. “Nick Clegg has turned the Lib Dems into shock troops for a Tory counter-revolution that aims to dismantle everything ordinary British people have built up over generations,” he said.
“All in it together, don’t make me laugh. We have to make it clear—we will fight all the way.”
At a rally before the demonstration set off Tony Kearns from the CWU union said the TUC demonstration on 26 March has to be a start and the momentum had to be maintained.
Teacher Ralph Dyson, who led strikes at his Rotherham school against job cuts, told Socialist Worker, “We lived through what Margaret Thatcher did to the mining communities and we’re not going to let the Tories and Lib Dem liars do it again.”
Social worker Liz could not contain her anger: “Clegg has lied, he’s power crazy, he’s broken all his promises, he’s more Tory than the Tories.”
Sam, one of the campaigners against 25 percent cuts in SureStart, said, “That level of cuts will be devastating for parents.”
Student Max was cheered when he told the crowd, “I’m angry that the people making the cuts are here in our city.
“We have to follow Egypt. On 26 March we have to turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square.”
Paul Brandon, chair of the Right to Work campaign, added, “We need to start occupying, taking direct action and we need coordinated strikes that can lead to a general strike.”
Another 500 people protested outside the conference on Friday night.
And two hours after Saturday’s march ended, hundreds of people were still demonstrating.