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25 June 2014

People's Assembly demo shows anti-austerity anger

On 21 June, a demonstration called by the People's Assembly marched to parliament to show opposition to austerity. Despite around 20,000 people assembling outside the BBC's central London offices, as with many previous protests, the BBC again ignored this one.

The demo was lively and there was a lot of support for the upcoming 10 July strike action which could bring out well over a million public sector workers. However, unfortunately, there was little comment from the platform on how to take the struggle forward from there.

National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower wrongly described lobbying MPs as "every bit as important" as strike action. With MPs from all the main parties backing the Tories' austerity policies, simply appealing to their better nature will have little effect. Industrial action will force them to sit up and pay attention, as PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh made clear in his speech.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey echoed this, arguing for a general strike "when that is necessary". With the butchery of jobs and services already in full swing it is more than necessary already! The Socialist Party's call for a one-day general strike found a lot of support.

One of the rally speakers was comedian Russell Brand who last year pointed out that none of the main parties offer anything to ordinary people and called for 'revolution'. This struck a chord with millions of people, particularly youth.

One after another speakers laid into the Tory/Lib Dem government and the purple Tories of UKIP but the only criticism of the Labour Party - which has also pledged to inflict austerity - took the form of mocking Miliband for holding the Sun, mainly by his own MPs Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn.

Unions must give lead

This demonstration was yet more evidence that there is a mood for a fight against austerity. It had been promoted and funded by Unite, the NUT and other unions. But it was a step back from the hundreds of thousands who marched in 2011 and 2012 in demonstrations led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

In March 2011, 700,000 people marched, led by the trade unions, calling for strike action. The massive two-million strong public sector pensions strike that followed on 30 November should have been a step towards a 24-hour general strike to seriously challenge austerity. Instead, in December 2011, the leaders of Unison and GMB retreated.

We're now in the fourth year of austerity, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, and been hit by the bedroom tax, cuts in pay and benefits. A mass movement against austerity is even more necessary, whichever government tries to enforce it. Such a movement would need to draw together all sections of the working and middle classes, but the Socialist Party has argued from the start that it is the working class, organised in trade unions, that has the greatest power to challenge the government and bosses, and should be at the heart of the struggle.

However, having stepped back at the end of 2011, union leaders have contracted out the fight against austerity to the 'broad' People's Assembly. Saturday's march had a turnout of thousands partly because it had some trade union backing. But at the same time it lacked the authority of a union-led struggle and there was no clear direction put forward by People's Assembly leaders. Mass strike action, the most powerful and unifying weapon the anti-cuts movement has, is considered by them as simply one option in a list of protest methods.

The trade union leaders have a responsibility to lead. The national pay strike on 10 July is another opportunity for coordination and should be a springboard for a renewed drive for a 24-hour general strike. The TUC should step up to the plate and name the day.

Socialist Party reporters



http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18825