The biggest protests of the year took place in Britain last Saturday. You wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media, much of which failed to report the action. But around 200,000 people marched through London while up to 15,000 demonstrated in Glasgow. Another 10,000 protested in Belfast.
Class anger ran through the marches against cuts and austerity. Angela, Eileen and Irene are Unison union members working at Liverpool Women’s NHS Trust.
“We’re here to get rid of the government,” they said. “In our hospital they are getting rid of the social workers who look after bereaved mothers. That’s how low they’ll go.”
Ralph, an NUT union member and teacher from Rotherham in south Yorkshire, said he was marching “to fight for our kids’ futures”.
Jake, a student from Westminster university said, “This is the first protest I’ve been on. The government is destroying our lives—my dad lost his job last month. They’ve got to be stopped.”
Protesters mocked the government. A large group of Unison members chanted, “Let’s all kill a Tory”. One homemade placard read, “Osborne’s throat—the only cut we need”.
“Beware Tories on bicycles,” read another, referring to disgraced former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell who resigned after calling a cop a “pleb”. Everywhere people carried placards declaring themselves “plebs” against the Tories.
Eleanor, a school student from Sheffield, said, “We’re here because we’re angry. The government is getting away with things most people don’t want. If we don’t march they won’t know what we think.”
TUC leader Brendan Barber appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning. He claimed there was little appetite for a general strike among workers.
But many workers on the march disagreed. Tony Rushforth, a bus driver in the Unite union from Barnsley, said, “I believe we need a general strike to retaliate against their attacks.” Jenny, a GMB union member from Newcastle, added, “It’s the only way this government will take notice.”
But it’s clear there is a debate about the way forward. Mary Jane, a health worker from Doncaster, said she didn’t think that strikes were needed now. “Union leaders have to go back into negotiations with the government,” she said.
Many Labour Party members joined the march. But some said that Labour would impose cuts—a message that didn’t go down well.
The anger broke through when members of Disabled People Against Cuts occupied the road at Marble Arch at the end of the demo.
The potential for a real challenge to the Tories was there for all to see on the streets of Britain last Saturday. Now we need to turn that potential into reality.
Up to 15,000 marched on the Scottish TUC demonstration. As the head of the march arrived at Glasgow Green the end was still just leaving Glasgow’s George Square. The Daily Record newspaper lined the streets with placards reading “No cuts”.
Marchers were angry at the impact of cuts on jobs and services. Kathy Miller from NHS Glasgow & Clyde’s Unison branch (pc) told Socialist Worker, “Austerity is hitting hard.
“Hospital beds are being closed and there’s no support services in the community to fill in the gaps. People who have worked hard all their lives are having their dignity stolen.
“We have to continue to fight after today—and strikes should be actively considered. We’ve shown we can bring members out.”
Alan Robertson, from the Grampian postal branch of the CWU union, said the CWU was preparing for battle over privatisation.
Other workers already in dispute joined the march. Mick Symon is from Unite’s road transport commercial branch. “We’re here to highlight the fight against unemployment,” he said.
“There’s a dispute in Marks & Spencer DHL over pay and they’ve already lost 100 jobs.” Mick said workers had struck against the attacks.
Some EIS union marchers were frustrated their union leaders had not countered the impact of the march falling during school holidays, which hit numbers. But the size of the march showed that there is a strong mood to fight.
A big group of Remploy workers joined it—some of whom struck on Monday of this week.
A delegation of NUT, Occupy and Unite activists travelled from Lancaster to march in Glasgow after a private firm cancelled their chartered train to London. Protesters stressed that the stakes are high in the battle against austerity.
Murray Meikle from the PCS union said, “If we don’t fight we’ll be left with a miserable society. Today shows there are more of us than them. We need a general strike. What more has to happen for our union leaders to accept we need to act now?”
A Unison marcher added, “We’ve been too tolerant—with cuts, attacks on our pensions a pay freeze. But we’ve had nothing in return. Our union leaders did nothing after the 30 November strike—the momentum was just wasted. There needs to be more action quickly after today.”
Union leaders at the TUC rally in London’s Hyde Park focused on the next steps after the protest. Those who talked of a general strike won the loudest applause.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, told the crowd, “We won’t get what we want simply by asking. There was a motion at the TUC to consult on a general strike. We were asked to start a consultation.
“Well let’s start the consultation today—are you prepared to strike?” The crowd responded with huge cheering and blaring of vuvuzela horns. McCluskey went on, “Let’s have a vote.” The crowd put their hands up. He concluded, “I think that’s carried.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka backed a strike “right across the economy”. “Let’s say to our trade union leaders, me included, the time has come to strike and when we strike together we can win.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow was drowned out by applause when he said, “It’s about time we looked at the practicalities of a 24-hour general strike.”
Other union leaders appeared less enthusiastic. Some protesters heckled Unison leader Dave Prentis over whether he backed a general strike. He replied that Unison had backed the motion for a consultation on it.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said workers should strike together—“when the time is right and all the practicalities have been considered”.
The crowd in London’s Hyde Park had little truck with the idea that we need any cuts. Marchers booed Labour leader Ed Miliband when he declared a Labour government would make cuts.
“There will still be hard choices—it’s right that we level with people,” Miliband said to shouts of “rubbish” from the crowd.
Miliband also pledged his support for the cops. “We have with us off duty police officers,” he told the crowd. “Let us say we stand with them too.”
But protesters cheered when Miliband said Labour would repeal the government’s Health and Social Care Act and end the “privatisation experiment” in the NHS.
Miliband ended his message by banging the drum for the old Tory ideal of “one nation”. He has been pushing this theme heavily since his Labour conference speech last month.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said Miliband “should refuse to put through any further cuts”.
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