By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2792

Protests across Britain over cost of living crisis

Union leaders have to take the anger in society onto the streets and encourage strikes
Issue 2792
A crowd of people stand parliament square under a pale blue winter sky

Anger at the Tories outside parliament (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Some 30 protests took place across Britain on Saturday, on a day that should mark the beginning of a fightback over the cost of living crisis.

More than 500 people joined the rally in central London, promoted by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. People rallied outside parliament before marching up Whitehall to block the road outside Downing Street.

Many of the people there said they were already feeling the pressure of rising bills and prices. One protester, Sylvia, told Socialist Worker, “I work in hospitality and I wasn’t paid very much last week.   So I started coming into work early to get a meal. People around you will be affected by the rising cost of living even if you can’t always see it.” 

Another protester, Sarah, said, “I live in a poorly built house with a heating system that’s not very efficient. I know the price of heating is going to double.” Even people slightly better off are beginning to feel the pressure. Ell, another protester, said, “My energy bills are going up. Fortunately I’m still able to afford it, but I know that if I was less fortunate I wouldn’t be able to continue living as I am.”

The protest also heard from low-paid workers on strike over pay and living conditions. Arshad and Arnold, two strikers from Barts health trust in London, opened the rally. Outsourced workers including cleaners, porters and domestics at Barts are fighting for a proper pay rise. “While inflation is nearing 7.5 percent, they offered us just 3 percent,” Arshad told the protest.

“We’ve been through the pandemic,” Arnold added. “We’ve had to go into places where a lot of people have had Covid, and we didn’t even get proper PPE. But the government doesn’t show us the same sacrifice we’ve given them.

“Bosses won’t give us a pay rise, while they’re earning a hundred grand. They don’t understand what it’s like—they don’t know how much it is for a bottle of milk, or to buy clothes for our children. It’s time for us to go to war with them.”

Two striking security guards from Great Ormond Street Hospital also spoke. The workers—also outsourced—are demanding the same pay and conditions as those employed directly by the hospital.

“That’s parliament,” one of the strikers told the protest. “The government meets there and talks, talks, talks. But energy bills are going up and it’s hitting us, the lower class. I opened my energy bill the other day and I almost cried—how can I afford that?”

The strikers gave a boost to the protest—and a much needed sense of resistance. But there were none of the usual trade union leaders speaking—let alone any sense that they had mobilised their members to join the demonstration.

There were only a couple of trade union banners, brought by branch activists. Only Dave Ward, general secretary of the CWU union, sent a message to the rally. The message said the demonstrations were “an important moment, and a step towards building for a major demonstration later in the year.” 

Meanwhile, in Glasgow around 500 people marched in a protest backed by the Scottish TUC union federation and the RMT, Unite and Unison unions.

Mercedes Villalba, Labour MSP for Scotland North East said, “Parliament is not going to fix this. The Scottish government is not going to fix this. The Scottish National Party is not going to fix this. We need the movement on the streets”.

Similar numbers braved the rain to march in Liverpool, where a young crowd were joined by Labour Party banners.

Dozens of protesters with a Labour Party and campaign banners

On the streets in Liverpool

Around 400 people and several Unite union banners and balloons took to the soaked streets of Manchester. A delegation of Chep UK strikers joined the march and addressed the rally. Strikers were joined on the stage by former Labour MP Laura Smith and Unison’s deputy regional convenor Rena Woods.

Many other places reported smaller protests. There were 150 in Sheffield, 100 in Edinburgh, 85 in Leeds, 50 in Dundee, Aberdeen and Eastbourne, and 30 in Stoke.

The People’s Assembly has called more demonstrations on Saturdays 5 March and 2 April. Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the London protest, “Let’s make March even bigger. And in April we need a spring demonstration to fill the streets of London.”

There need to be more protests—and much bigger. Activists have to build for those demonstrations—and demand that their union leaders get behind them properly.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance
One-off