The People’s Assembly march in central London last Saturday was the biggest and liveliest demonstration against austerity in years.
Organisers said some 250,000 people joined the protest.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches from all over England and Wales brought a vast array of people into London to march against the Tories.
Up to 10,000 protested in George Square, Glasgow, against austerity at the same time. It wasn’t just the size of the demos that was so impressive—the atmosphere was lively too.
The weeks after the Tory election victory last month saw a resurgence of angry protests in towns and cities. Large numbers of people fed up with Tory rule were drawn into political activity for the first time. Last Saturday’s march focused and amplified that.
Trade unions played a central role in organising the protest and had a very visible presence. But in between union delegations were banners from groups such as Goths Against Austerity.
And thousands of homemade placards ranged from the sublime—“Is this the queue for the food bank?”—to the ridiculous, “David Cameron is actually a robot made of ham!”
One placard simply said, “Fuck the fucking fuckers”.
Ellie, a health worker from east London, told Socialist Worker, “This is my first demonstration. I’m not here just about health—it’s everything. I’m disgusted at what the Tories are doing.”
Nicky Stevens, who was on the Glasgow protest, told Socialist Worker that she was worried about the future for her two children.
She said, “I’m worried about their education, their jobs, everything. Austerity is a lie. They’re spending a fortune giving parliament a facelift at the same time as they’re cutting school bus services.”
Gordon Scott from Stirlingshire, who was active during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, was also on the protest. He said, “I can see no alternative but for people like me to become active again.”
Tony, who organised coaches from Plymouth, told Socialist Worker, “People on the coach back were talking about how young and angry the march was. It was very different because it was from below.
“It wasn’t like the TUC demos—it really did feel very different. It felt like something is changing. It felt like something new.”
Sixth form student Imogen was one of those new activists. She told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to defend education. I want to go to uni in the future but they’re making it harder.
“The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. It’s like the film The Hunger Games.”
Khaira from west London felt the same. She said, “I was so angry when the Tories won. I’d like to go to uni and find somewhere to live but it’s all so expensive today”.
The march wasn’t just about expressing people’s anger. It was also a place for people to debate how to resist the Tories.
Many of those on the protest felt excited by left wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to stand for the Labour Party leadership. They were encouraged by the fact that Corbyn had secured enough nominations from Labour MPs to make it onto the ballot paper. For lots of people, the idea that Corbyn could shift Labour to the left seemed to fit with the sense that resistance to austerity had been reinvigorated.
School leaver Reuben from Taunton was one of them. He told Socialist Worker, “There are all sorts of protests and campaigns going on that people should get involved in. We need more protests.
“But we also need Jeremy Corbyn to be elected Labour leader. Labour has moved to the right since Thatcher. If he doesn’t get elected—but Liz Kendall does—then Labour is finished.”
Other marchers were more cautious in their support, but were also pleased to see a left wing candidate on the ballot paper.
Charity worker Nick said, “Where are Labour today? They are not providing an alternative to what the Tories are doing.
“The only leadership candidate here is Jeremy Corbyn. The rest are all pro big business”.
He added, “I’d pay £3 to be a supporter of Labour to vote for Jeremy—he’s a decent guy and a good socialist. He’s not a career politician. But sadly I don’t think he’ll win.
“Labour offers no hope. It’s important we show out to demonstrations like this to show there are people who are defying the Tories and give hope to ordinary people out there.”
Others had simply given up on Labour, and had started to look for an alternative.
The Green Party had a sizeable bloc on the march. Green Party member Suzie told Socialist Worker, “I kind of lost faith in the Labour Party. I’ve been a member of the Greens for about a year. I stood as a Green Party council candidate in Aylesbury in May.”
Disabled People Against Cuts steering committee member Roger Lewis was also on the protest. He told Socialist Worker, “We’re pleased that Jeremy Corbyn is on the ballot paper.
“But it also shows what I’ve learned by working with John McDonnell and going to Left Platform meetings—the Labour left is weak.”
He added, “The real question is, when is the break going to be? We can’t ‘reclaim’ the Labour Party and still need to build a left alternative.
“People’s anger could break to the right—or to forces such as the Scottish National Party in Scotland. It shows that we need to put something in place now.”
Corbyn himself spoke at the final rally—and was greeted like a rock star. He said, “Demonstrations are very important. They’re part of our political process.
“I pay tribute to each and every one of you who’s come out today to say a different world is possible.”
Other speakers greeted with rapturous applause included comedian Russell Brand, and singer Charlotte Church who said we must “save ourselves from years of yuppie rule”.
Activists involved in different aspects of the fightback addressed the protest.
Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism spoke as the march assembled near the Bank of England, in the heart of the City of London financial district. He said, “It was not migrants who caused the crisis, it was that bank over there.”
Victimised PCS union rep Candy Udwin talked about the strike against privatisation at the National Gallery and fighting attacks on trade unions.
Everyone agreed that more action was needed after the march. Many trade unionists argued that more strikes would be crucial.
PCS member Keith said, “After today we need to push trade union leaders to call strike action. We need to build and spread the resistance further.
“The National Gallery is a great example of this—but the danger is they are left to do it on their own.
“We need more disputes like that—action from below—that can pressure union leaders to act.”
He added, “Today can’t just be an expression of opposition that fizzles out. It has to be the start of something more permanent.”
John McLoughlin came with a delegation from his branch of the Unison union in Tower Hamlets, east London.
He told Socialist Worker, “It’s really important people come together and show there is resistance to their attempts to impose further austerity and attack our trade union rights.
“Today will give confidence to people to fight in the workplace.”
Activists on the coaches home were already planning their next step. People are looking towards the national demo outside the Tory party conference in Manchester on 4 October. And there will be protests across Britain on 8 July when Tory chancellor George Osborne announces his emergency budget.
Daniel was on one of the coaches that came down from Newcastle.
He told Socialist Worker, “On the ride home everyone was very tired, but full of confidence. There was a desire to do more.”
Martin from Manchester said, “People were exhausted after the demo—but they were also really happy. The demo at the Tory party conference is something people are really up for. And they just felt big follow up stuff was a good idea.”
And Tony from Plymouth said, “We had a meeting on the coach coming back. Everybody was talking about how we can unite. And people want action too.
“We agreed that we would launch a progressive parties’ alliance that would meet regularly to build and organise resistance.”
He added, “We’ve got 49 people already signed up to go to Manchester. Travelling from Plymouth, we have to go the night before.
“So people aren’t just signing up for the demo—they’re signing up for the whole weekend.”
Tony explained that the demo had paved the way for building resistance to the government on a huge scale.
He said, “The Tories will be rattled by this. There’s something big here”.
He’s right—everyone who wants to defy Tory rule will be feeling more confident than ever to fight back.
The demo on Saturday wasn’t just another march. It was the day that the resistance to the Tories was rekindled.