Socialist Worker

Punish the Tories not the poor

Issue No. 2373

The millionaires of the Tory cabinet want to force people who can’t get jobs to work for nothing. Where they can’t do that, they want to herd the unemployed into centres for 35 hours a week to look for non-existent jobs. 

This is not about saving the economy, it is just vindictiveness against those who are suffering the most from the crisis. We need more protests like last Sunday and more strikes to get rid of them once and for all.

Part of the Unison contingent on the Manchester march

Part of the Unison contingent on the Manchester march (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Together we can beat the tories

Workers from different unions took to the streets of Manchester to protest at the Tories last weekend—and spoke to Socialist Worker about what should follow

More than 50,000 people filled the streets of central Manchester last Sunday in an angry march against the Tories. The TUC protest, backed by Britain’s major unions, was called in defence of the NHS. It became a lightning rod for people who are furious at every aspect of the Tories’ assault on working class people.

Lynsey Johnson from Bolton Against the Bedroom Tax came with her daughter Casey. “I owe £111 because of the bedroom tax,” Lynsey told Socialist Worker.

“I think it’s disgusting. I couldn’t buy my daughter new school shoes for the start of the term because of the money I’ve lost.”

Pat Gray from Barnsley added, “I just can’t believe the Tories’ disregard for ordinary people. We’ve got to get them out.” Coaches backed up in the streets around the assembly point as thousands of demonstrators arrived from across Britain. Hundreds gave up waiting and abandoned their coaches, marching along pavements to join the protest.

Chants of “Tory scum—here we come” rang out among the brass bands that punctuated the march. Health workers and others marched in Unison, Unite and GMB union sections.

A delegation from the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign was at the front of the protest.  Sonia, a nursing assistant at Lewisham Hospital, told Socialist Worker, “Our campaign in Lewisham can be an example to other people about how to fight for the NHS.

“We need to get hospital workers out onto the streets so people can see what’s going on.”

Sarah Gartland, an FBU union member from Cleveland, said, “We came to show our support for the NHS. Ordinary people are all in it together against the government. We’ve got to stick together.”

Labour Party members and councillors joined the protest. Sharon Hamilton from Leeds was one of them. “I came to tell the Tories we are not taking things lying down,” she told Socialist Worker.

“Keep your hands off the NHS and scrap the bedroom tax.”

Other demonstrators said it was important to keep the pressure on Labour to stand up for ordinary people. Frank Mellor from Blackburn said, “The papers are calling Ed Miliband ‘Red Ed’. The Tories taunt him about being the voice of the unions. “But is it such a crime to be on the left and to be in a union? Miliband should be proud to speak up for trade unionists.”

A group of women asylum seekers brought a banner to the protest. “We’re here to support the unions because they have supported us,” said one asylum seeker.

Many marchers said they wanted the protest to be a “springboard” for more action. And the size of the demonstrated boosted people’s confidence.

“People have come from all parts of life who have suffered under this government,” said Oktay Sahbaz, an NUT union rep in Hackney, east London. “That will give people strength to see that we are all marching together.”

Stewart Campbell is a Unite union member from Corby. “There are more than six million people in trade unions in Britain,” he said. “I’m sure when Margaret Thatcher started out she thought we’d all be dead and buried by now.

“But today shows that unions are still a force.”

Naresh, a housing worker and Unison union member, joined the march from Leicester. She said, “I think we can expect to see more people taking to the streets. What we really need is to come out on strike.”

Andy Turner, a Ucatt union member from Rotherham, agreed. “The TUC should organise a general strike,” he said. “It’s got to take the plunge.” Banners hanging on the conference centre claimed that the Tories stood up for “hardworking people”. Nobody was convinced. 

Demonstrators booed as they passed and chants of “strike, strike” broke out. June Smith told Socialist Worker, “We don’t want to be millionaires. We want a living wage to be able to feed our families. 

“We are the bloodline of this country. We do everything—we make it work.” They can refuse to make it work too—and force the Tories to their knees.

Leaders’ fighting talk 

There was fighting talk at the rally in Manchester’s Whitworth Park at the end of the march. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “We must make certain that the next Labour government doesn’t betray us like the last Labour government.

“To the private health vultures I say this—don’t get too comfortable.”

Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis told the crowd, “Privatisation will suck money out of the NHS. It will suck money out of patient care.” But some heckled him asking, “What are you going to do about it?”

Labour’s Andy Burnham promised that a Labour government would “stop the sell off” of the NHS. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said in her speech she wanted to “pay tribute” to groups of workers fighting—post workers, teachers and firefighters.

Those who spoke about united resistance won the loudest applause. Kevin McHugh from the PCS union said, “It’s brilliant to be marching together, but what we really should be doing is striking together. “Let’s have a strike—and let’s have it now.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU union, said, “I can’t say that if you fight you will win. But if you don’t they will rob you blind.”

Rally unites resistance 

Over 250 people joined a lively Unite the Resistance rally in Manchester after Sunday’s protest. A worker from the recent Hovis strike in Wigan spoke alongside president of the Bfawu bakers’ union Ian Hodson.

The Hovis worker said how the strike had changed things. They said, “People who’d never spoken before in the bakery, but talked to each other on the picket line, are now backing one another up.” Speakers from strikes at Future Directions in Rochdale and South Gloucester Unison also spoke.

Claire Lyall, Glasgow Unison deputy convenor for social work spoke in a personal capacity. She described the unofficial social work strike in Glasgow that won a colleagues’ reinstatement. She said social workers were “already sick to the back teeth” of management attacks. “The anti-union laws can’t hold us back,” she added. “If anyone is in that situation we have to have their back.”

Unite the Resistance has organised a national conference for Saturday 19 October in central London.

Jane Aitchison from the PCS union told Socialist Worker that “everyone who is sick of the Tories and austerity” should come to the conference. She said that Unite the Resistance could help bolster the struggle to win coordinated strikes later this year.

Workers from a range of unions will speak at the conference about their disputes, including a Hovis worker and blacklisted electrician Frank Morris.

Jane said, “The Hovis dispute has been inspirational and it put other union leaders on the spot. It showed we don’t have to wait for a Labour government or wait for the TUC. We can take action to change our conditions ourselves.”

Unite the Resistance conference - Organising to win. Saturday 19 October, 12 noon - 5pm, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP.

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