Saturday’s march was magnificent. Certainly well over half a million marched, showing the depth of the bitter anger at Cameron and Clegg’s cuts.
Now the great protest of 26 March 2011 can be the beginning of a new surge of resistance.
Every reader of Socialist Worker must play their part in making that happen. Hundreds of thousands of people were crucial in making the march a success – and in getting it called at all.
When David Cameron came to office, some claimed workers in Britain were so beaten and apathetic that they would not fight back. Remember last August when then Unite union leader Derek Simpson said, “We don’t have the volatile nature of the French or the Greeks”?
Six months later and hundreds of thousands are on the streets.
This took activists pressuring the union leaders, arguing with their workmates and friends to come, filling the transport, getting the banners made and the delegations organised.
Now we need those same people—and the many others who are inspired by last Saturday’s march—to put themselves at the head of another argument inside the working class.
The argument is this: if we can demonstrate together in such great numbers, then we can also strike together.
In 1979, when Tory Margaret Thatcher came to office, there were six million more trade unionists than there are today. But for all her brutal assaults, we never saw a march like this.
In 1980-81 the Labour Party held three monster demonstrations across Britain. The TUC backed a major demonstration that took place at the end of the People’s March for Jobs in 1981.
But even added together, those four mobilisations were smaller than last weekend’s protest.
And the march in 1990 in London that played a decisive role in breaking the poll tax was less than half the size: 200,000.
No amount of police violence or lurid headlines in papers about “anarchy” can obscure the fact that 26 March was massive.
But it wasn’t just the numbers that were so impressive—it was the composition of the protest.
All those pampered ideologues who bore on about the “death of class” and the irrelevance of trade unions got their comeuppance.
Alongside the unions were many anti-cuts groups, disabled people’s campaigners, women’s groups and others. They showed the massive scale of opposition to the Tories across society.
At the centre of the march, though, were the huge delegations of organised workers.
Workers have social power because when they stop work they collectively cut off the source of their bosses’ profit or bring a service to a halt. This is the power we need to use now.
Speaking at the rally on Saturday, PCS union leader Mark Serwotka said, “Look around you in this park. Imagine what it would be if we didn’t only march together but took strike action together.”
Len McCluskey, the Unite union general secretary, said that the demonstration “must be only the start” and urged everyone to “continue the fight, including coordinated industrial strike action”.
So significant union leaders now argue that cuts are not inevitable—that it is right to fight this government of Eton boys and millionaires with united strikes.
This makes it much easier for those who argue for a militant fightback and a general strike. We are no longer a small minority.
To win such action, though, will still take a big political fight inside the working class.
The general level of confidence to strike is fragile. Individual strikes, protests and occupations in our communities can defeat individual cuts and build up that confidence.
But to derail the entire project of making workers pay for a crisis they did not create will mean bringing down the government. And that means mass walkouts.
We need strikes by millions to wipe the smiles off the faces of the bonus-grabbing bankers and their political defenders.
Militant steps to take in fightback
Strike back where you are
Action is worth much more than words. The national lecturers’ strike last week is a living example of what we need.
Everyone should follow their example—and that of the strikes this Wednesday in Tower Hamlets and Camden (see page 5).
Small groups of activists cannot deliver a general strike alone. But they can argue with workmates and in union branches to show the way—by fighting the cuts here and now.
Turn coordinated action into a reality
The NUT teachers’ union is set to launch a national strike ballot at its conference on 22 April. This could see a national strike around 30 June.
The UCU lecturers’ union, the PCS and other education unions may join them. Everyone has to push for this—and for the largest unions, Unite, Unison and the GMB, to get involved too.
Attacks on pensions, for example, will hit millions. They are a perfect issue for united strikes. After Saturday the gap between where we are and a general strike no longer seems so great. Every time unions fight together, it looks more possible.
Defy the cuts
We need resistance to every library closure, every attack on a SureStart centre, every cutback to pensioners’ centres.
Saturday had a powerful sense of people from different groups coming together. We need to build on this mood for unity with the Right to Work campaign and other groups opposed to cuts.
Fight for socialism
The cuts are part of a global assault to make our class pay for the economic crisis.
But we draw inspiration from the general strikes across Europe—and the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Middle East and North Africa.
This is a world in turmoil where it is clearer than ever that we need to get rid of capitalism.
That’s why at the heart of the resistance here we need a core of socialists—and a bigger, stronger and better-rooted Socialist Workers Party. Please join us.
Facts of the march
- 963 Banners counted by Socialist Worker
Sections with the most banners:
- Unison (188)
- NUT (95)
- Labour Party (68)
- PCS (61)
- UCU (48)
- Unite (40)
- TUC and trades councils (36)
- RMT (31)
- GMB (28)
- NASUWT (16)
See a full list of banners
Some other banners we spotted:
- Spirit of Shankly, Liverpool Football Supporters Union
- Zimbabwe Association
- Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign
- The Morris Dancing Liberation Front
- Association of Musical Marxists
- Scouse Solidarnosc
- Bradford Women Singers
- Lib Dems Against the Cuts
- Chinese Migrant Network
- Art Against Cuts
- Comunista Rifondazione
- Open University Students’ Association
- Queer Resistance
- Writers’ Guild
- Woodcraft Folk
- Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign
- Red Leicester Choir
- Five hrs, 15 mins: Total time taken by demonstration from start of march to the end
- Four hrs, 15 mins: Time taken for demo to pass any one point
Charlie Kimber is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party