Estimates of the huge turnout ranged from 70,000 to over 200,000. The mood was very buoyant, as the size of the demo brought home to everyone that the fightback against Cameron’s plans has really begun, and this just six weeks after the shock result of the general election.
After an opening rally of speakers invited by the demo organisers – the People’s Assembly – the march set off through the City of London, packing the streets through to Blackfriars and then along Fleet Street towards its destination – Parliament Square.
Many of the individuals and groups – who came from all over the country – were new to demonstrating. Young people were strongly present. All clearly felt that they can’t sit back and watch a renewed onslaught on people’s living standards, while the richest get richer.
Trade unionists were also key participators, though not on this occasion in a highly organised form with large blocks of union contingents, which are an inspiring and important hallmark of TUC-led demonstrations.
Self-made placards were prominent, with inventive and humorous messages condemning austerity – from the carefully polite to the rude or crude.
The hundreds of placards on offer from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and those of the Socialist Party were eagerly snapped up, until all were gone.
Thousands of Socialist Party leaflets headed “Organise! Strike! Resist! to smash Tory austerity” were also enthusiastically taken, with their message on the need to build for a 24-hour general strike meeting widespread support.
A number of the anti-cuts candidates who stood for TUSC in the 7th May elections spoke from a TUSC stage while the marchers were assembling, attracting a lot of interest.
Later, the Socialist Party hosted a stage on Whitehall, with speakers from it including former ‘Liverpool 47′ councillor Tony Mulhearn who was in the leadership of the major Liverpool anti-cuts battle in the 1980s that achieved victory.
Niall Mulholland reports on the Parliament Square rally:
Trade union leaders, singer Charlotte Church, comedians Russell Brand, Mark Steel and Francesca Martinez, and politicians addressed many thousands crammed into Parliament Square. They lambasted the Tories’ plans to continue with the brutal austerity policies that have brought so much suffering to the poorest and most vulnerable in society and the working class as a whole.
Marina Prentoulis, representing Greek party Syriza, appealed for solidarity with the Greek people in their struggle with the austerity-imposing Troika – the EU, ECB and IMF.
Jeremy Corbyn, the left candidate for Labour Party leader, got a rousing response when he rounded on the grotesque inequalities in society and pointed out that the richest 100 people now have the same wealth as 36% of the population.
Speakers were at one in pointing out that the Tory government, voted into power on only 24% of those registered to vote, has no mandate to continue with vicious cuts and new assaults on trade union rights.
Sixty four per cent voted against the Tories, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey pointed out. A government “with no legitimacy” to continue attacks “will be responsible for the consequences” of more austerity, he warned.
The cruel effects of austerity were expressed by speaker after speaker but what concretely should be done next to stop the new Tory government assault?
John Rees, from the People’s Assembly, correctly said we “cannot win with one demo” and called for mass action to “make society ungovernable” by organising “protests, meetings, direct action”.
But his proposals did not go beyond calling for protesters to “lay siege” to Tory party conference later this year, and to build resistance across the country.
Similarly, Len McCluskey, leader of the one of the biggest trade unions, said the “fight goes on” but left it at a call for “solidarity” and “community spirit”.
In contrast, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said it was necessary to “say not just what is wrong but what to do”. He got a rousing response when he posed the question: “Six and half million in trade unions – why not strike together?” He pointed out that by “stopping all work” we can “turn the government back”.
The Socialist Party agrees. Mass actions, including more big demonstrations, are very important in building mass resistance to austerity but this needs to be linked to a plan of industrial action against cuts and attacks on trade union rights. The Socialist Party calls on the unions to start building for a 24-hour general strike. The organised working class, with a bold anti-cuts policy, can lead the campaign to force the Tories to back down and even kick them out of government.
A successful anti-austerity movement also needs to be 100% against cuts. There cannot be any ‘acceptable’ or compromise levels of austerity, as every cut affects someone’s family, work colleague or neighbour, and indeed, society as a whole.
The Labour MP for Edmonton, Kate Osamor, said she would use her seat in parliament to speak on behalf of the anti-cuts movement. But she had nothing to say about the huge cuts passed on by Labour run councils without a semblance of resistance, or Labour’s support for the Tories’ £30 billion worth of new cuts during the life of this parliament.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, got a rousing reception for her anti-cuts stance but she has had to distance herself from Green-controlled Brighton council’s cuts.
Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, claimed that Sinn Fein is “an anti-austerity party”. He said Sinn Fein is “proud to say” it “blocked the welfare bill” in the Assembly.
But as part of the Stormont power-sharing executive, along with the DUP, Sinn Fein has voted through attacks on the rights of workers and cuts, in particular major cuts in pension entitlements for public sector workers. Sinn Fein is disputing only some of the new cuts measures, while at the same time calling for lower corporation tax for big business.
Sinn Fein’s current ‘anti-austerity’ rhetoric has more to do with the fright it got during the Westminster elections, when its vote fell, partly as a result of its unpopular cuts.
The question of political representation for the anti-austerity movement and the working class was left hanging in the air in Parliament Square.
Jeremy Corbyn, who did not refer to his Labour leadership bid, spoke eloquently about 150 years of class struggle in Britain and how it created the Labour Party and won important reforms for the working class.
The Socialist Party wishes Jeremy well in the Labour leadership election, but does not believe there is a realistic prospect of the left gaining control of the Labour Party. Labour has long ceased to be an organisation of the working class, at least at its base, and slavishly follows an openly pro-capitalist agenda.
A new mass party of the working class, which can bring together anti-austerity activists, trade union fighters, environmentalists, housing campaigners, etc, is urgently needed. And to be successful, a new workers’ party has to not just oppose cuts but offer a bold socialist alternative to austerity and capitalist crisis.
Altogether there were 30 speakers during the demonstration’s opening and closing rallies, but unfortunately TUSC, which stood over 748 anti-cuts candidates in May’s elections and collectively received over 118,000 votes, was refused the chance to speak.
Speakers at Saturday’s rally talked in general terms about the need to “rebalance and rethink” our society, called for “social justice” and the need to “change our society”. Julie Hesmondhalam, the Coronation Street actor, used the ‘S’ word, correctly stating that “socialism is not an anachronism”.
The Socialist Party agrees. Only socialist policies – such as opposing all cuts and calling for the nationalisation of the main pillars of the economy, under democratic public ownership – can start to reverse the attacks on the working class and poor and bring about a society for the many, not the capitalist elite.