The seaside town of Hastings on England’s south coast was hit by a wave of protest last week. More than 300 people marched against cuts.
The protest last Saturday was much bigger than organisers expected.
Sam Buckley of Hastings Against the Cuts spoke to Socialist Worker. “The maternity ward is under threat,” he said. “The mental health wards and the libraries could be shut down—the roads, the bins, everything is up for grabs.”
Hastings is a working class town. Already a quarter of the population rely on benefits to live—and with almost half working in the public sector, that number is set to shoot up.
The march united the local trade unions, socialists, the local Labour Party, disabled people and others against the cuts.
As the march burst into the town centre, people clapped and cheered. Chants of “no ifs, no buts, no public service cuts” rang through the streets.
Protesters then held a rally setting out the arguments against the cuts.
Hastings Labour council leader Jeremy Birch addressed the protesters saying, “Thatcher was not invincible. This government has already been shaken—on the forests and the ‘pause’ on NHS reforms.
“The pressure and momentum that’s built up since the TUC demonstration can get them to back down.”
Many union speakers called for a general strike and got a big round of applause—and there was enthusiastic support for Monday’s Jobcentre strikes.
Calls for solidarity with the public sector strikes planned for 30 June were well received. “When we come out on 30 June, we have to involve everyone,” said PCS national executive member Andy Reid. “This is a fight for the survival of the welfare state.”
The anti-cuts campaign pledged to hold a support rally for strikers in the town.
The crowd was full of homemade placards, with slogans like “tax the rich not the poor” and “the big society is a big joke”.
Many people on the protest also had flags and placards that they had brought back with them from the 500,000-strong national demonstration in London on 26 March.
“That march showed people what can be done,” said Sam. “We planned this beforehand—to use the momentum of the 26th to build something locally.”
The campaign took more than 200 people to the national protest—and since has been having public meetings where it’s standing room only.
Last week’s protest is thought to have been the biggest in the town for almost a decade.
“You can go on a national demo and think, it won’t be the same back in Hastings,” said Sam.
“But then you look around and see all these people gathered on the seafront, and you think, maybe it can be the same in Hastings.”