United States

March 26, 2011—500, 000 at Largest British Labor March for 30 Years

By Graham Durham

The continuing organized strength and potential of the British trade union movement was shown on this march—the first national march of this size on economic issues since the 1981 protests against Thatcher. Only the 2003 Stop the Iraq War march, which reached a million people, has had a larger attendance in the last 30 years.

Watching the march from Trafalgar Square, where Nelson’s Column was suitably decorated in slogans calling for “Regime Change Now” and urging marchers to “Strike Like an Egyptian, ” it was an inspiring sight as the march took over three hours to reach Hyde Park. Long after trade union leaders had ended their speeches, people streamed into the park in the spring weather. Trade unionists from Scotland, Wales and across the north and midlands of England were present in their hundreds—with a large Birmingham contingent wearing “Tory Scum Out of Brum” T-shirts.

The Trade Union Congress, particularly through a range of public service unions, had mobilized members and huge contingents from the main public service union, UNISON, as well as UNITE, the biggest trade union in Britain. Other smaller unions such as the PCS (civil servants) and the NUT (Teachers) took part with significant delegations.

This huge mobilization of class hatred of the Tory/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government was clear with loud and ringing calls for a fightback against the vast swathe of cuts in public services being introduced by the Cameron/Clegg regime. The cuts are so deep and wide-ranging that virtually every section of the public service workforce was represented, along with many campaign groups ranging across all of human need from National Health Service users and supporters to local library and youth service supporters. UK Uncut staged a large peaceful protest at prestige store Fortnum and Masons—and despite police pledges to the contrary—over 100 were arrested on leaving the store. A smaller group of anarchists and others staged more direct protests attacking the property of banks and other organizations making huge profits from government bail-outs.

There was dissent at the rally as Labor Party leader, Ed Miliband, who secured the leadership last year through massive trade union support, attacked the cuts as “too fast and too deep” although conceding cuts were needed. In fact many policies of introducing the private sector to run public services occurred during the 13-year Labor government of Blair and Brown. The new Labor leader, although declaring the Iraq invasion to be an error, fully supports the view that the working-class must suffer cuts in services for the failures of the financial system and the world crisis in capitalism.

The task of socialists in Britain is to work in trade unions and community struggles to unite all those hostile to Cameron/Clegg in direct action to resist the cuts. Despite much talk of the success of this magnificent march by trade union leaders there is an unwillingness to sanction direct strike action and occupations to resist closure. Promoting and supporting action from below, tapping into the anger at the class-war unleashed by the government, will be the test of the ability of socialists in Britain to lead the struggle against the Tory and Liberal Democrat’s coalition.

There are already signs of panic in the government, which has re-introduced some very limited support for poorer students after abolition and student fee hikes; and has slowed the proposed further privatization of the National Health Service. Socialists need to lead the battles to come, and to challenge the view from Labor and most trade union leaders that the working-class must pay for the failures of capitalism.

Graham Durham is a member of UNISON, the public service trade union and Brent Fightback, a local anti-cuts campaign.