Sunday, 27 March 2011

Today we march together, tomorrow we must strike together!

Trade unionists, activists, campaigners and concerned individuals from all over the country converged on Central London for the TUC 'March for the Alternative' yesterday. Estimates ranged from 250,000 to 750,000, so half a million seems like a good bet. There were around five or six coaches from Cornwall organised by the trade unions: NUT, GMB, Unison and Unite and members of the PCS also went up on a train from Exeter. The first coach left Cornwall at 3:30am. The NUT, Unite and Unison opened their coaches to members of the public and the NUT sent two coaches. At one point it looked like they might send three.

The first NUT coach left Penzance at 5am. Many people tried to sleep on the coach and there was a sombre but determined atmosphere to begin with. As the sun began to rise, however, the mood began to change to one of defiant optimism. After a brief stop in Devon, activists began to come to life. Members of Save our NHS (Cornwall) collected signatures on their petition. Members of the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance gave out leaflets about their public meeting in April. A recently sacked Penzance play worker discussed an unemployed play workers network with the secretary of the Penzance Parents Group which is campaigning against cuts in the Sure Start Children's Centres. The coach also contained retired trade unionists and Gill George, midwife and the wife of local MP Andrew George.
The coach arrived at Vauxhall in London at around 12:30 and met up with the other NUT coach from Cornwall just after 1pm. The 'Cornwall bloc' then marched towards Embankment.

At 1:45 the Cornwall bloc decided to try to enter the march at Parliament Square rather than try to make it to Embankment. There were lines of police officers but they made no attempt to stop protesters taking a short cut.
The Cornwall bloc made its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and then through Picadilly to Hyde Park. The demonstration was moving incredibly slowly in some places, a sure sign that it is a big march. Not since the anti-war march on February 15 2003 had it taken so long to travel a relatively short way. The mood was lively but not as radical as many demontrations. Again, it is a sure sign of a big protest when most people there are unaware of popular chants. There were old people, young people, workers and more middle class types, again reminiscent of 2003.

The Cornwall bloc arrived in Hyde Park just before 4pm and had to leave at 5pm for another incredibly long coach journey home. Most of the speakers took a general Labour Party line that some cuts were necessary and that the deficit did need to be tackled. The only exception was Dot Gibson from the National Pensioners Convention. She rightly reminded the crowd that much of the groundwork for the current government's privatisation plans had been laid by New Labour and the implication of what she was saying wad that we should not rely on the Labour Party to solve our problems.

On the coach journey home the general mood was one of satisfaction that we had sent a clear message to the government that there should be no cuts to the public sector. Of course this is just the beginning of a long campaign and there is every chance that the next demonstration will be even bigger. But we must not rely on marching alone. As in Egypt, the way to win is to combine demonstrations of public anger at the regime with economic strikes at the capitalist class the state exists to defend. We need co-ordinated strike action, as even Dave Prentis and Len McCluskey, general-secretaries of Unison and Unite respectively recognise, leading to a General Strike, as they have done recently in Greece, Spain and France.

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