Tens of thousands of trade unionists and campaigners marched through London on the Trades Union Congress’s “New deal for working people” demonstration on Saturday.
It called for a minimum wage of £10 an hour now, a ban on zero hours contracts, repeal of the trade union act which makes strikes harder, a crackdown on tax dodgers and more funding for the NHS, education and other public services.
Pay was the big issue for nearly everyone on the march.
At the rally at the end of the march Manuel Cortes, TSSA transport union general secretary, said, “Enough is enough of rotten, rotten austerity and we're not going to take it anymore. The Tories have used the recession as cover to do what they wanted to do, smash the NHS, attack workers' conditions and preside over a fall in wages.”
Huge cheers erupted when Cortes said, “We should take a leaf out of Iceland’s book - they put the bankers where they belong - in jail.”
Ten years on from the onset of the financial crisis, real wages are still worth £24 a week less than they were in 2008, and are not expected to return to pre-crash levels until 2025, according to the TUC.
At that point, real wages in Britain will have been in decline for 17 years, during which time the average worker will have lost out on about £18,500 in real earnings.
Kris, a care worker with the GMB union bloc said, “I only get the minimum wage. We've got to get it up to £10 an hour.
”This is how we do that, by marching."
And Jo, an Usdaw union rep at an Argos in Bolton said, “We need a better living wage. People are struggling. I volunteer at a soup kitchen and we've got people coming who are in work, not just homeless people.”
People had different ideas about how to win higher wages.
A couple of sections of the march occasionally broke out in chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. And there was a smattering of Labour Party banners throughout the march.
Sean, a young council worker said, “We haven't had a pay rise for eight years, but the rich are still allowed to get away with dodging tax.
“Today is marching for a fairer society. Today is an example of solidarity with all the unions and the left marching together. We've got to give the government a lesson.
“We need a change of government for a start. A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be a huge step forward.”
They put the bankers where they belong - in jail
Sarah, a health care worker in Unison wanted a better pay deal than one her union leaders had recommended. “We've had a pay freeze for years. Now they're going to put pay up but it's not in line with inflation.
“And they're getting rid of our yearly increments. So we're paying for the pay rise with the increments that we would have had anyway.
“We need to have more marches like this. Strikes maybe."
It was very welcome that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined marchers on Saturday. Too often he has been absent from major demonstrations in recent months.
Corbyn promised that a Labour government would "invest in this country and support jobs all over the UK.”
And he promised to “open an inquiry into Orgreave [a police assault on miners during their 1984-5 strike], blacklisting and wherever workers have faced injustices.
A commitment to housing was a central part of his speech, reasserting the promise to build “half a million council homes.”
He said, “Public ownership is no longer a dirty word but is something that is very popular. It will give workers a say in their future.”
Rally speakers denounce the Tories
Speakers at the end of the march savaged the Tories.
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said austerity was a “vicious political choice that's shown itself to be cruel and callous." And he spoke about how victims of the Grenfell fire were "victims of an avoidable tragedy.”
“Today we march and we'll keep on marching now we're in the majority.
“We won't just sweep the Tories from office, we'll sweep Corbyn into 10 Downing Street.”
Mark Serwotka, PCS civil service workers’ union leader, said the treatment of the Windrush Generation was “one of the most despicable decisions” he'd ever seen.
“Theresa May is a racist. Her racist policies have seen the deportation of people who have lived here for years,” he added.
“Let's get Jeremy Corbyn in as prime minister and give us the social system we deserve.”
Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan, a black and minority ethnic women's organisation, made an important point. She said, “Cuts to services started under Labour and now we have Labour going back to its socialist roots, I want those services restored.”
Instead Labour council continue to pass on cuts.
Many speakers at the rally spoke out against the Tories' racist scapegoating of migrant workers.
Patrick Roach, NASUWT teachers’ union deputy general secretary, slammed the Tories' “hostile immigration policies fuelling racial hatred”.
“I don't have to tell you about the impact of racism on black workers,” he said. “Less likely to be hired—more likely to be fired.”
When speakers mentioned the Grenfell Tower fire, it touched a nerve of working class anger.
Matt Wrack, FBU firefighters’ union general secretary, said, “A year on people are still homeless, their concerns are not addressed and no one has been arrested.
“The inquiry is due to start and the signs are that the concerns of the community and firefighters will not be addressed.”
Saturday's march was a good initiative. But it’s important to face reality. The Tories won’t roll over because a few tens of thousands demonstrate.
The feeling of unity today has to be turned into strikes and sustained struggle.
Frances O’Grady, TUC leader, wrote after the march, “To make big change, it takes more than one person and it takes more than one rally.”
She’s right, but the trade union leaders haven’t organised the scale of resistance we need.
There has not been, since 2011, a serious attempt at united struggle.
Six months ago, for example, there was a real anger over the public sector pay cap but no concerted effort to have coordinated ballots and strikes.
Instead union leaders allowed below-inflation pay deals to go through in many areas.
Of course the new balloting thresholds of the anti-union laws make big strikes harder. But they are not impossible to beat.
Postal workers in the CWU union smashed the thresholds, and so did nearly all university workers in the UCU.
The other important factor is that the success of Jeremy Corbyn, and the more radical promises from Labour, have created a sense of “wait for Jeremy”.
But it could be four years to the next election, four years of horrendous damage and poverty caused by the Tories.
And in any case just electing Labour won’t transform workers’ lives. We can see that in the record of Labour-type parties such as in Greece and France.
March today, organise and campaign for bigger demonstrations and strikes tomorrow.
And a central part of pushing for that is to take issues into the workplace like anti-racism and opposition to Donald Trump’s visit to Britain on 13 July.