The huge People’s Assembly demonstration today, Saturday, is a sign of the deep anger against the Tories. It also shows the potential for a rising curve of struggle that can inflict serious defeats on the divided, reeling government.
It was a great day. It will help build the anti-austerity movement. Steve Turner, the national chair of the People’s Assembly, announced that 150,000 had taken part.
Mark Turner, a steel worker from South Wales spoke for many when he told the final rally, “This Tory government can go to Panama and stay there”.
There is also a growing sense that the enemy is not just one man or one party. It’s a system.
The Panama papers lifted the lid on a nest of very rich people and corporations who will stop at nothing to protect their wealth and power.
But nobody should underestimate how important it would be to force out David Cameron. It would be a massive victory, and it's an urgent task.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said, “We need change, we need to get the Tories out. It's not enough to say that David Cameron must go, we don't want a PM Johnson or Osborne or May."
There is hope in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Unite leader Len McCluskey said, “We now have a Labour leadership fighting for ordinary people in parliament and on the streets.
“The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are despicable. The right attack him not because they think he'll lose but because they're scared he'll win.
“I've got a message to the Panamanian Conservative Party, slope off to your tax havens and leave ordinary people alone.”
Jeremy Corbyn sent a solidarity message, “Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. We need an alternative economic strategy which works for all, not for the few. Solidarity to the junior doctors and steel workers fighting to save the steel industry.
“We forced them back on working tax credits, we forced them to put PIP back in the budget. There's power in our hands to change society.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, “For too long Labour leaders have been embarrassed by their association with the movement on the streets. Whether it's in parliament or on the picket line, this leadership will be with you.
“We will end austerity. We will halt the privatisation of the NHS. We will build hundreds of thousands of council homes that we need.
“We will introduce a fair taxation system and make the rich and corporations pay their fair share.
"We're committed to scrapping Trident if we can win the argument in the party.”
McDonnell: For too long Labour leaders have been embarrassed by their association with the movement on the streets
Such words are hugely welcome. Who was the last shadow chancellor to march alongside the demonstrators and to give such pledges? Certainly nobody in recent decades.
Corbyn’s victory has brought refreshing change and boosted the willingness and the confidence to fight.
But there is a problem. Labour is not with the junior doctors on the picket line. Some of its leaders, such as John McDonnell certainly are. But the party as a whole is not. Its MPs, in the main, are still wary of strikes.
Labour has not called demonstrations over the steel crisis. And Labour councils still impose cuts—and the party does not support those who strike against them.
There are no guarantees that Labour will abandon its support for Trident—especially as union leaders such as Len McCluskey want it maintained.
We need to keep pushing for struggle, and for a movement that can drive out the Tories before 2020’s general election.
There were three very common themes on the demonstration, three focuses for action.
- Nearly everyone on the march mentioned the junior doctors’ battle. Their next strikes on the 26 and 27 April must become a focus for increased solidarity. Everyone can go to the picket lines, and trade unionists must push their union leaders to stop standing on the sidelines and offer real support—encourage their members to the picket lines, organise lunchtime protests, and start other disputes.
- The NUT teachers’ union is balloting for strikes against forced academies and funding cuts. A complete victory over the Tories would unravel the most high-profile remaining element of George Osborne’s last disastrous budget. Everyone has to do all they can to help them win. If possible, they should strike alongside the doctors.
- There was strong support on the march for refugees and against racism. Our movement must not be divided. Next week’s Trade Unionists for Calais meeting and the 18 June convoy to Calais organised by Stand Up to Racism, the People’s Assembly, trade unions, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Stop the War Coalition will be an important focus.
There is increased anger against the government, and many more people are beginning to believe our side can win. We need resistance, and we need socialist politics at the centre of the resistance—against the Tories, against racism, and against capitalism.