By Socialist Worker journalists
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Rage against Tories and cost of living crisis fills streets of London on TUC march

This article is over 1 years, 9 months old
Everyone who marched against the Tories should build the biggest possible solidarity for the rail workers’ strikes
Issue 2810
Protesters on the TUC trade union march with placards such as Kick the Tories Out and Workers are not to blame for the crisis

Protesters on the TUC march wanted to see a fightback (Picture: Guy Smallman)

A major demonstration of trade union members on Saturday raised the prospect of a serious battle by workers against the Tories and the cost of living crisis.

The TUC union federation told Socialist Worker that “tens of thousands” had joined its national demonstration in central London. Lots of activists said it was 50,000 or even more—it took two hours for everyone to leave the assembly point outside the BBC in Portland Place.

For the first time since 2018, all the major trade unions in Britain brought hundreds—if not thousands—of their members to march in blocs. It was one of the biggest union demonstrations in the last decade and a real boost to activists everywhere. It showed the unions can still be a real force and can mobilise on the streets when they try.

For many people, the size of the march—and the fact that it brought people from across the union movement—showed them that a united fight is possible. And there was bitter anger against Boris Johnson and the Tories.

Firefighter Gareth told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been quite cynical over the past five years, with the general populace seeming to keep voting for the Tories. But when I turned up here and walked past all of the blocs, I had a tear in my eye. It was quite moving because you’re not surrounded by this solidarity every day.”

And Emma, a nurse in the RCN union, said, “Seeing all the trade unions here, it shows the government we’ll stand together if we have to.”

The march was a focus for anger at the Tories and the social emergency of rising prices. Jackie from the GMB union told Socialist Worker that she was “unhappy with how the Tories are running the country”. “They are literally draining the money out of the system and allowing people to fall deeper and deeper into poverty,” she said.

“If working people don’t stand up, it’s only going to get worse. We won’t be able to afford to live. Writing to your MP is ok, but it’s not enough. You have to be part of a union. And you have to get out on the streets.”

Paul, a teacher and NEU union rep from Reading, said “I’m here to demand the government do better by us. Our pay is going down in real terms and my colleagues are struggling to live. Conservatives are pushing the decline of working class people. We need a new government that does more.”

Protesters on the TUC trade union march with a placard Nurses Support Railway Strikers

There’s a chance for a united fightback (Picture: Guy Smallman)

But the TUC march was also a focus for more general anger at the Tories, and at how bosses used workers throughout the pandemic. NHS worker and Unison member Jane Walker told Socialist Worker, “The government needs to know we won’t shy away, we’ll stand up and fight. In the NHS it’s not just about pay, it’s about bullying management, it’s about how the frontline workers were treated during the pandemic. It’s about dangerously low levels of staffing. And while we suffer the bosses are cashing in.”

Climate change campaigners and anti-racist activists joined the march too.  Steph from climate group Just Stop Oil said, “The climate crisis and the cost of living crisis are inseparable and part of the same horrifying economic system. We also know it’s so important that we build a coalition between organised workers and the climate movement.”

Mark, a firefighter, took a placard from Stand Up To Racism, which also joined the march. He said, “Racism is a threat to all working class people—Boris Johnson has said unforgivable racist things.”

Several sections of the march joined chants of “Refugees are welcome here”, and there was horror at the way the Tories have tried to ram through deportations to Rwanda. 

The TUC march came as some groups of workers have already begun the fightback. The RMT rail workers’ union was one of the most visible sections of the march. Tens of thousands of people on Network Rail are set to strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of next week over pay and jobs.

And they’ll be joined on Tuesday by London Underground workers, who have already struck twice against funding cuts. Underground worker Leigh told Socialist Worker she was “Excited for the upcoming strike.” 

“The whole country needs to stand up and fight for better pay,” she said. “I want to strike and join the others. I’m struggling with the cost of living. I no longer put money on my gas, just electric. All we want is an inflation-beating pay rise.”

Other groups of workers, headed for their own major battles over pay, also joined the TUC march. The CWU union—with the bulk of its members in the postal and telecoms industries now in national pay disputes—was another major contingent.

Its members working for BT group—BT, Openreach and EE—began balloting on Wednesday for strikes. And its members in Royal Mail are gearing up for their own ballot after bosses said last week they’d impose a below inflation 2 percent pay increase.

Gemma, a CWU rep for EE in South Wales, said the cost of living was “getting tough for members.” “So far everyone I’ve spoken to has voted yes in the ballot,” she said. 

Maria, a Royal Mail worker at Warrington mail centre, said, “Things are getting hard even on our wages. Everyone at work is feeling deflated. People want to leave. It’s not a happy place anymore. I think we’ll get a 99 percent yes vote when we ballot—maybe even 100 percent.”

Civil service workers in the PCS union—also set to ballot in September for strikes—joined the march too. PCS activists Abe told Socialist Worker, “I work in the defence group where people don’t’ traditionally vote for strikes. But in our recent consultative ballot we got a fantastic result. It shows people are fed up. We’ve got a lot of work to do but I think we’ll win our ballot and beat the 50 percent turnout threshold.”

Many union leaders at the rally at the end of the march spoke of the need for a united fightback—and even hinted that they can’t rely on the Labour Party. Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The people in parliament won’t be doing anything, we have to stand on our own two feet. The only way we can change anything is if we take action. Trade unions need to do what we’re meant to—stand up and fight for workers.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said—despite hostility from the Tories and the media—striking rail workers could rely on solidarity. “We won’t settle,” he said. “The struggle is still on—we’ll keep striking. We either fight or live on our knees.”

NEU joint secretary Kevin Courtney said, “This is just the start, we need to see more demos, more meetings and more strike ballots.” CWU general secretary Dave Ward said unions need to come together “like never before.” And FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the crowd how “Working people have never won anything without a fight.”

Meanwhile, also on Saturday, senior government Tories told the bosses’ Financial Times newspaper they are worried of a “looming wave of industrial action.” “We risk going into a de facto general strike,” one cabinet minister fretted.

The TUC march shows that such a fight is possible—and it could have been even bigger. Union leaders have to put those words into action. And trade union activists should use it as the launchpad for new fights among the trade unions there, a spur to more strikes—and the foundation of a fightback that beats the bosses and crushes the Tory government. Marching must be followed by strikes.

  • For a selection of Guy Smallman’s picture from the march, go here

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