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Huge demo in London shows the mood to get the Tories out – and for an alternative

This article is over 6 years, 11 months old
Last week’s protest showed ordinary people’s determination to fight—and optimism about winning real change
Issue 2561
Protesters in Parliament Square last Saturday
Protesters in Parliament Square last Saturday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Tens of thousands of people marched through central London last Saturday to demand an end to Tory rule.

The protest, called by the People’s Assembly and backed by many unions and campaigns, was a great display of defiance.

Marchers were angry at austerity, racism and pay curbs. They attacked the Tories’ £1 billion bribe to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) while their services face cuts.

Protesters chanted, “Where is the money tree? Go and ask the DUP.”

Sophia told Socialist Worker, “I’m here because there’s no future in this country for my children. But there’s a magic money tree for the DUP. I’m fucking livid.”

Many saw the Grenfell Tower fire as a symbol of everything that is wrong with a society that puts profit before people’s lives.

Sue told Socialist Worker, “My son in law is a firefighter and he was sent into Grenfell Tower. That fire was totally avoidable. I’m furious.”

Unite member Kathryne came on a coach from Durham. “My decision to come was heavily influenced by Grenfell,” she said.

“I want to show some solidarity with those who lost their lives and the survivors who are now fighting for justice.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott on the protest

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott on the protest (Pic: Neil Terry)

The march assembled at BBC Broadcasting House for a march to parliament. Groups of workers assembled in blocs to march together, as did campaigns such as Stand Up To Racism.

Several speakers said 100,000 had joined the protest. Some shoppers applauded it as it snaked down Regent Street.

The march showed the mood to resist—and also a sense of optimism after the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Royal Mail worker Nat told Socialist Worker, “People are becoming interested in politics across the generations. It’s inspiring.

“Corbyn is bringing class into the mainstream.”

Unison and Labour Party member Linda from Portsmouth said she felt “angry but also empowered”.

“More people are moving to the left and towards Corbynism,” she said. “It feels like things are changing—we need to grasp it.”

Corbyn addressed the protest in Parliament Square as the crowd sang, “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”.

He said, “We were written off by the mainstream, but something happened. It was the people registering to vote and the people getting involved in the social media campaign.

“And it was the tens of thousands who came to rallies saying the people are united and determined.”

Anti-racists joined the protest in London

Anti-racists joined the protest in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

He added, “The Tories are in retreat, austerity is in retreat.”

There was fighting talk from union leaders—but some marchers were clear that they expect much more from them (see below).

There is a new sense of hope after the election.

But although Conservative MPs could topple May for their own reasons, getting rid of the Tories will require a serious mass mobilisation.

The mood for change needs to fuel action in the streets and the workplaces, not just inside the Labour Party or in elections.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the union leaders call now for a mass demonstration outside the Tory conference in Manchester in October it will be massive.

And everyone needs to press union leaders for strikes that can take on the bosses everywhere.

Mica from Liverpool joined the protest

Mica from Liverpool joined the protest (Pic: Socialist Worker)

We’re at breaking point – we can’t take any more cuts’

The harsh experience of austerity and attacks on key services fuelled anger among demonstrators.

Saira came from Huddersfield to support the campaign to defend the health service. She told Socialist Worker, “I just really hate the Tories.

“If they close our hospital my family and friends will be affected.

“They want to move it to Halifax, which is miles away. How many deaths will that cause?”

Damian, a teacher and NUT union member from Hull, told Socialist Worker, “Teachers are at the end of their tether. Kids are having their curriculum cut.

“There’s less teaching assistants to help.”

Taz from Norfolk said, “The public sector pay cut is atrocious. I hate the idea that the people working so hard to help us are suffering.”

Special needs teaching assistant Mica travelled to the protest from Liverpool. I can’t imagine how there can be any more cuts,” she said.

“We’re at breaking point.”

And Nicola from London added, “They need to put money into schools and public services.

“Listen to the ‘little people’ instead of making us pay for the bankers’ mistakes.”

Union heads must lead a real fightback

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told marchers, “This country under Jeremy Corbyn is rising up. We will not rest. We will keep marching.”

Prentis said he would fight to scrap the public sector pay cap and protesters chanted against the cap.

But some marchers wanted unions to lead a fight.

Theresa, a Doncaster care worker on the march, said, “Everybody’s had enough of year after year of the 1 percent pay cap.

“Unison is the biggest health union but we’re not taking a lead over fighting.

“We should be balloting for action. If you don’t have a go you’ll never win.”

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Prime minister, for the good of the nation, go and go now.”

And Trade Union Congress (TUC) leader Frances O’ Grady said, “Working people are hungry for change. We want a pay rise.

“We’re not going to put up with it anymore.”

But the TUC has just called off a rally planned for 17 July against the pay cap, and shows no sign of trying to coordinate strikes to break it.

PCS union leader Mark Serwotka said Corbyn will be the next prime minister.

“One way we can make that happen more quickly is through a public sector strike,” he said.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell speaking to protesters

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell speaking to protesters (Pic: Guy Smallman)

John McDonnell – ‘Seize the time’

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell slammed the Tories’ “grubby deal with the reactionary DUP”.

“If they can find the money for the DUP they can find the money for the rest of the country,” he said.

“We will bring this government down. And you can help.

“Let’s divide, demoralise and drive them from office. Another world is in sight—let’s seize the moment.”

McDonnell didn’t specify how to drive the Tories out beyond saying people should “stand up”.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott addressed the crowd outside the BBC before the march set off. “We are here for the many not the few,” she said to cheers. “We believe that people are increasingly with us.”

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