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From every direction they poured onto London's Embankment, from up and down the country, a magnificent surge of workers, their banners and placards, transforming London for a day.
Previously the governor of the Bank of England expressed surprise that there has not been greater anger against the cuts from those affected. Even some trade union leaders, the very organisers of the demonstration, had estimated that 'up to 100,000' would march.
But the number on the day was six or seven times that as the opposition to the government's cuts was made clear. This was a reflection of the rage that has been building up, not having found a national expression until 26 March.
Not only was it huge, but this was unquestionably the working class on the march.
Firefighters, nurses, teachers, civil servants, transport workers, carers, young people, and their families surged through the city.
Union t-shirts, bibs and flags made blocs of purple, of green, of blue, orange, yellow, red and white. They marched against job cuts, against library closures, for a future for young people, for decent pensions, against the whole spectrum of suffering that the Con-Dem government intends to rain down on us.
But marchers drew confidence from their sheer number and also knew that more has to be done to stem the flow of cuts. Only days before the march the budget had granted further tax breaks to the richest and spelt greater suffering for the most vulnerable, such as the cuts in the winter fuel allowance.
Vince Cable has made the government's position clear. "Certainly we're listening, and I talk regularly to the trade union movement. I think [it's] important we have a dialogue with them, but we're not going to change the basic economic strategy." But that's what they think! Leaders of two of Britain's biggest trade unions called for coordinated strike action to follow the demo.
They are absolutely correct: this demo must form the platform for an almighty and powerful campaign of action, of occupations of threatened services and, especially, of coordinated strike action, so the cuts can be defeated.
The Con-Dems are intent on attacking us on every front. The cuts to the health service will cost lives. Despite promising to 'ring-fence' the NHS, billions of pounds of 'efficiency savings' initiated by the previous Labour government have been viciously continued by the Con-Dems.
Tens of thousands of health workers' jobs will disappear and whole wards are being closed.
The push to convert all NHS hospitals to 'Foundation Trust' status - initiated by the last New Labour government - will reinforce the NHS's 'internal market' (in which private health care companies now have a significant stake). Private contractors are drooling at the prospect.
The government's white paper: 'Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS' proposes changes that will effectively hand over the bulk of the health budget to privately run corporations whose profit-driven motive will result in further cutbacks and the break-up of the NHS as we know it. Even top doctors have warned that this will create major problems.
Opposition to the white paper has also made it onto YouTube in MC Nxt Gen's online hit 'the Andrew Lansley rap' which includes the following verse: Lansley's white paper: 'Liberating the NHS' sets out a plan where we'll become more like the US and care will be farmed out to private companies, who will sell their service to the NHS via the GPs, who will have more to do with service purchase arrangements than anything to do with seeing their patients.
The government will face enormous anger from NHS workers, trade unions, and the wider community in trying to implement these plans. Many on the 26 March TUC demonstration held placards demanding an end to the job cuts, closures and privatisation in the NHS. United action against cuts, including to the NHS, can stop these plans.
Around 30 supporters of the Save Our Children's Services - Westminster campaign marched on the 26 March TUC demonstration.
Children from a local nursery used handprints to make t-shirts and placards saying 'hands off our services'. The demo will give a huge boost to hundreds of campaigns like ours everywhere.
Our campaign was set up earlier in March by parents and carers to oppose the local council's plans to cut the borough's Sure Start children's services by, on average, £50 a child next year. This is despite the prime minister's assurance that children's centres would not suffer from spending cuts.
Westminster says central government funding for Sure Start has been reduced so the council must also cut its budget, but we don't accept our services must be cut as a result.
In Westminster there is money for some things but not for others.
The council says it needs to save around £0.75 million from its Sure Start budget. Yet, it has over £11 million in reserves.
The council spends £10.5 million a year on highly paid consultants and the council admits that some top council officers earn more than the prime minister. Nonetheless, the council plans to increase charges for children's holiday play schemes from £22 a week to £120 a week - up 545%. They would also raise charges for children's after school play provision from £8.30 a week to £30 a week - a 360% increase.
Our campaign asked every councillor to vote against cutting the Sure Start budget. Yet at the March meeting, elected councillors voted through a 20% cut to children's services, while rejecting a proposal to reduce their own allowances by 10%.
We forced Westminster to publish an additional consultation document, extend the consultation period and hold additional consultation meetings with parents. But there is still everything to fight for. We demand that Westminster council uses its reserves to ensure no cuts to children's services in the borough.
Please send protest messages to Nicola Aiken, Westminster council cabinet member for Children & Young People, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QP or to info@ westminster.gov.uk, with copies to the campaign: socswestminster@ gmail.com or SOCSW, 3A Lydford Road, London W9 3LU.
"The smiles on people's faces said it all: We're on the move - we don't have to take the cuts!" Martin Powell-Davies, a member of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), summed up the mood of workers on the 26 March TUC demo.
120 trade unionists, campaigners and young people, inspired by the march, turned out to discuss and debate the way forward at an excellent London Socialist Party meeting on Thursday 31 March.
The first platform speaker was Joe Simpson, assistant secretary of the POA prison officers' union. Joe introduced himself by saying that he was not speaking in a 'personal capacity' but on behalf of the 34,000 members of the POA.
Battle lines are being drawn in the prison service as the Con-Dems plan to sell off public prisons, with Labour backing them up. The prison unions - POA and civil servants' PCS union - are forced to defend a public service, jobs and conditions.
Joe reported that the POA has been attacked for being one of the "unreconstructed unions that needs to join the 21st century" but made it absolutely clear that his is a fighting union.
He thanked the Socialist Party for support. Vik Chechi from Tower Hamlets, fresh from being elected as a Unison branch secretary, spoke (in a personal capacity) on the struggles of young people against unemployment and education cuts.
Vik explained that "the country's not broke - it's awash with cash". It's just that the top 1% have got it! He invited everyone to support Youth Fight for Jobs' Jarrow anniversary march in October.
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, was the final platform speaker. In response to the "cold cruelty of the British ruling class", the working class has marched.
Peter described how the effect of the 26th March demo on the working class, in terms of raising confidence to fight the cuts, was like a stone dropped in a huge pond with eddies still feeding out.
But the question on everyone's mind is 'what now?'
The general council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) leadership must meet urgently to discuss how a 24-hour general strike, uniting public and private sector workers, can be organised.
Martin had previously pointed out how the widespread attack on pensions provides trade unions with an issue around which coordinated strike action can be organised, despite the anti-trade union laws.
Peter added that if united strike action is not immediately possible, then a midweek demonstration in support of action by individual unions is urgent.
Speakers from the floor in the discussion included campaigners and trade unionists from Unison, PCS, RMT, and Unite. 40 of those attending were either new members of the Socialist Party or not yet members, with five joining and agreeing their membership dues on the night.
The Libyan revolution is at a crossroads. But the turning point is not simply the rapidly shifting battle lines around the Gulf of Sirte.
No, we are witnessing a determined effort by the Western powers to seize control over the revolution and exploit it for their own ends. This is something which could possibly strengthen the Gaddafi regime, if it has not yet exhausted its political capital in the country, particularly in the heavily populated areas controlled by him and his supporters.
It is absolutely clear that the Nato-led military intervention is not simply to 'save' the civilian population. Now they are effectively acting as the airforce of the rebels and, for example, did nothing to stop the shelling of the civilians in Sirte.
Wary of being involved in another Iraq or Afghanistan, Obama has ruled out sending in ground troops, unlike Cameron who has already sent small SAS units into the country.
But this is a dangerous strategy, not just in Libya but also at home as polls in Britain and the US show rising doubts and opposition to any ground intervention.
The London conference on Libya on 29 March drew back from following in French premier Nicolas Sarkozy's footsteps and immediately recognising the self-appointed Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) as the nucleus for a new government.
This was not possible as, at the time of writing, the ITNC only claims to control part of the country and a minority of the population. The conference itself was filled with hypocrisy.
Its closing statement proclaims that "the Libyan people must be free to determine their own future", but the powers at the conference have, at very most, only mildly criticised the oppression and lack of democratic rights in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen.
In truth the western powers are moving to steal the fruits of the popular uprising that began in February. This process has some similarities to the way, over 20 years ago, in which the mass movements for democratic rights and an end to privilege in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe were diverted into the channel of capitalist restoration in these countries, with catastrophic results for the mass of the population.
Today in Libya the absence of an independent movement of working people that could start to build a real, democratic alternative to Gaddafi's rule is allowing the combination of recent defectors from the regime and pro-western elements to attempt to build their power with the support of NATO.
The latest rebel field commander leader, Khalifa Hifter, is a former Gaddafi ally who, until a few weeks ago, had been allowed by the US government to live comfortably near Washington for almost 20 years.
He has spent that time trying to build a military force to combat the regime. Presumably the Clinton and Bush administrations saw Hifter as an ally.
But neither the US nor the other western governments have any genuine concern for the real interests of the majority of the Libyan people; on the contrary they are looking at regaining more control over Libya's oil and gas while also demonstrating their power in the Middle East.
This is one reason why, right from the start, there has been open rivalry between the different powers. The western powers have no fundamental interest in democracy.
Look at how they support the rotten Saudi regime, only last September the US made a $123 billion arms deal with the Saudi Arabian and the Gulf States' dictatorial regimes.
These are the states that have no, or only very limited, democratic rights, yet they are armed to the teeth by the US, Britain and other countries. The ITNC's limited programme is not certain to win support from the two-thirds of the Libyan population who live in the west of the country.
It is simply relying on a combination of Nato air power and the masses' desire for change to secure victory. But this is making it easier for the Gaddafi regime to hang on to power.
Gaddafi can correctly portray the ITNC as being in the lap of the western powers who would like to exploit Libya more. At the same time even western journalists are reporting that many in western Libya fear what would happen if Gaddafi was overthrown; would Libya tend to break up like Somalia, would fundamentalism arise, what would happen to the large social advances in health, education, etc made over the last 40 years? Admiral James Stavridis's testimony to the US Senate that rebel forces in Libya show "flickers" of possible al-Qa'ida presence could help make Gaddafi seem a 'lesser evil' to an alliance of the western powers and fundamentalists.
This is why the key to saving the Libyan revolution lies in the hands of the working masses. Tunisia and Egypt have already shown that determined struggle can overthrow dictatorships.
However the events this year in these three countries have shown that, on its own, willingness to struggle is not enough. The working masses need to be independently and democratically organised in trade unions and a mass party of workers and the poor with a clear programme.
This is necessary to be able to struggle to prevent the gains of their revolutions being snatched away by elements of the old elite or a new elite developing in collaboration with imperialism.
Concretely in Libya the genuinely revolutionary forces of the working masses need to reject any reliance on the UN or Nato and demand an immediate end to this intervention.
To defeat Gaddafi's regime, workers and youth need to build their own force that can carry the revolution to victory, a victory that not only wins democratic rights but which ensures that Libya's wealth is genuinely owned and democratically controlled and managed in the masses' interests.
This would lay the basis for liberation and a genuine socialism, not Gaddafi's fake version, that could appeal to the working masses in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
On 26 March 2011 the British working class rose like lions and took to the streets in an immense show of strength. The massive TUC demonstration against public spending cuts was well over half a million strong, possibly 700,000 or more.
The capitalist media has attempted to completely downplay the importance of the demonstration, concentrating overwhelmingly on the clashes with the police at far smaller protests on the same day.
And the turnout on the main demo was far bigger than has been reported. The BBC, for example, claims there were just 250,000 attending.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the TUC itself has also underplayed the turnout as between a quarter and half a million.
This was the biggest trade union organised demonstration in decades.
It had widespread support from the working class and from wide sections of the middle class.
As a TUC-commissioned poll showed, a majority of the population - 52% - support the aims of the demonstration, with only 31% opposing them. Several Socialist Party members got free or reduced price taxi rides to catch early trains from sympathetic cabbies.
On the journey to London even first class passengers bought copies of the Socialist out of sympathy with the demonstration.
The potential power of the trade union movement was graphically demonstrated as a tidal wave of humanity flooded the streets of London. Among the protesters were pensioners, community campaigners and students, the latter veterans of their own movement before Christmas.
The overwhelming majority of marchers, however, were trade unionists, many taking part in their first ever demonstration. The Unison contingent alone took an hour to pass and it seemed as if every trade union - from the largest to the smallest - had its own lively and colourful contingent.
All of those capitalist commentators that have written off the trade union movement today as a spent force were decisively answered by this demonstration. The power of the trade unions was undisputedly established.
But the question on demonstrators' lips was 'what next?' How can the trade union movement use its power to stop the cuts?
Clearly rattled by the size of the demonstration, Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has declared that marching will not stop the government, which he laughably described as "one of the strongest the country has ever had".
In reality this is a weak coalition government, far weaker than the Tory governments of Maggie Thatcher - the Iron Lady. Yet the Iron Lady was reduced to iron filings by a mass movement of 18 million people refusing to pay the flat rate tax (poll tax) that her government had introduced.
That movement ended the tax and brought down Thatcher. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, was right when in his speech he called the anti-cuts movement the Con-Dem's poll tax.
This government is already rattled and can be decisively beaten by the huge power of the organised working class. Nonetheless, few demonstrators imagined that this savage government of millionaires will be stopped in its tracks by one demonstration, no matter how big.
Correctly, it was widely understood that the demonstration needed to be a springboard for further action.
Alongside the vital question of how to stop the cuts, the other issue of the day was what the alternative to cuts is. The march was officially called the 'march for the alternative'.
For some right wing trade union leaders 'the alternative' is code for New Labour.
Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke at the demonstration. A small minority booed him, but in the main he was politely received.
He was very careful, however, not to put Labour's real programme, of supporting massive cuts in public services albeit carried out at a slightly slower pace than that of the Con-Dem government. Instead he made an empty speech.
He made no concrete promises that a Labour government would reverse cuts. He compared the anti-cuts movement to the struggle of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and civil rights movements without once mentioning the history of trade union struggle in Britain, or for that matter the anti-war movement against the New Labour government.
Unsurprisingly, the man who has said he "opposes irresponsible strikes" did not say a word about what action workers should take to defend their jobs and services from attack.
Many workers on the demonstration will undoubtedly vote Labour in the elections on 5 May in the hope that Labour will, at least, cut more slowly. A significant minority, however, are too angry at New Labour's record in government and the way Labour councils have willingly implemented government cuts at local level to vote Labour again.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) - which is standing anti-cuts candidates across the country in the May elections - received a good response.
And those that will vote Labour understand that doing so will not stop the cuts and that therefore further strikes and demonstrations are essential.
All the platform speakers were in the main greeted warmly by the crowd, but the loudest cheers came for those who called for the demonstration to be followed up by strike action.
Len McCluskey declared that the demonstration would have to be followed by coordinated industrial action. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, summed up the mood of many demonstrators when he said: "Today we've marched together; next we've got to strike together".
The Socialist Party's call for a 24-hour public sector general strike as the next step in the battle to stop the cuts received wide support from the crowd.
At the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) stage many hundreds of workers stopped to hear speeches about how such a strike could be made a reality. If the TUC was now to start seriously building for a one-day public sector general strike it would receive enormous support from trade unionists.
It would also attract millions of non-unionised workers and sections of the middle class towards the trade union movement, as the force in society with the power to stop the cuts.
Such a strike would terrify the Con-Dems and give enormous confidence to the working class. Unfortunately, other trade union leaders speaking from the main platform did not put forward a strategy for strike action to defeat the government.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, put forward local demonstrations against cuts. While such demonstrations can be an important part of the movement they are not a substitute for strike action - both locally and sectorally and coordinated on a national basis.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, rightly declared that the trade unions would not allow public services to be destroyed but did not make any concrete proposals on what the next step should be.
Before the demonstration he had emphasised the role of "peaceful civil disobedience". As the Socialist Party warned at the time, we agree, but not if community campaigns and civil disobedience are used as an excuse to avoid strike action, rather than as an addition.
It should be added that Barber's call for civil disobedience does not seem to have translated into supporting it when it took place on Saturday. It was only a small minority of Saturday's demonstration, mainly young people, who organised sit-ins in shops and other civil disobedience.
Such actions were secondary to the huge power shown by the main demonstration, despite the capitalist media's inevitable concentration on them.
However, unfortunately the TUC has been reported in the media as just giving a blanket condemnation of 'violent protesters', without a word about the role of the police.
We do not support the smashing up of shops as a method of protest, and unfortunately it gives the government, the media and others a way of trying to detract from the magnificence and size of the main demonstration.
But in the main it was the police, not the demonstrators who were violent on Saturday. It seems that the majority of civil disobedience which took place around the demonstration was peaceful, but faced kettling and arrests.
The Guardian website shows film of young people - many singing the international revolutionary workers' song 'the Internationale' - being kettled and manhandled by the police for taking part in an entirely peaceful protest.
Len McCluskey was right when he supported the student protests and demanded "the police keep their grubby paws off our kids". The fact that so many students attended the TUC demonstration shows that they are rightly looking to the trade union movement to take the lead in the fight against the cuts.
If that is to remain the case it is essential that the trade unions support the youth's struggle, including against police repression, but also take decisive action against the cuts.
Opposition to cuts in pensions is one issue around which there is a clear prospect of coordinated strike action. The UCU have already taken strike action and is considering more, and the civil servants union, PCS, is discussing balloting for strike action on pensions to take place in May or June.
The NUT is also discussing action before the summer. To have these three unions - one million workers - strike together over pensions would be an important step forward in the battle against cuts.
However, we need more. Unison has also promised national action over pensions, but unfortunately Prentis made no mention of it in his speech.
Unison members, however, want to see action on this issue. There was support among Unison members and others on the demonstration for the Socialist Party's call for a national midweek demonstration on the day of the next national strike against cuts and attacks on pensions in order that workers from across the public sector can show their support for strike action and to increase the pressure on other public sector unions to build for a one-day public sector strike.
From the platform there was little explanation of the economic alternative to cuts. Much emphasis was put on the need for job creation but without explanation of how that can be achieved.
Almost every speaker criticised the bankers although from the most right wing, like Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, this was no more than a plea for the bankers to "lead by example".
This is like asking Dracula to lead by example in refraining from drinking blood!
Several speakers called for a Robin Hood tax on the finance sector which is estimated would raise around £20 billion a year. Mark Serwotka rightly opposed all cuts and very effectively pointed out that tax avoidance by the rich is equal to £120 billion a year, which is almost as much as the total government budget deficit, £143 billion, to be eliminated over four years.
Therefore, at one fell swoop, it should be possible to cut the deficit!
The problem that was not addressed is how to collect the money. As the unpaid £120 billion indicates, the capitalist class is not prepared to pay even the puny levels they are currently taxed.
To collect the money is virtually impossible unless the government uses wide economic powers. This poses the question of the complete nationalisation of the banks and finance houses under workers' control and management.
Even this would need the cooperation of workers throughout workplaces and industry with the powers - workers' control - to really open the books, discover the scale of tax avoidance taking place and bring offenders to book.
In other words, socialist measures are needed even to eliminate tax avoidance and evasion, which the overwhelming majority of ordinary working people would support.
Unfortunately, speakers at the main platform did not raise the case for socialism; for a society run in the interests of the millions rather than the billionaires.
However, more than 50 Socialist Party campaign stalls put the case for socialism to the demonstrators. For many of them, on their first demonstration, socialism was a completely new and very interesting idea.
Hundreds wanted to join the Socialist Party, several thousand went away with a copy of the Socialist and many tens of thousands went away determined to struggle, alongside the socialists, to go in the coming months from a massive demonstration to a massive public sector general strike.
I spent the day on a Socialist Party stall near Temple tube on the Embankment.
It was taking contingents two hours to get over Waterloo bridge to the start of the demo, a walk which would normally take ten minutes.
Other Socialist Party members met up with union branches and anti-cuts campaigns at local meeting points in London boroughs or in central London.
The range of people was huge - from seasoned fighters in unions such as the RMT and FBU to middle- aged women health workers on their first ever demonstration; from pre-teens with their families to a man in his 80s who said he had had links with the French Resistance in World War Two.
What they all had in common was that they were marching as trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners, fighting for their jobs and their services.
Thousands of people made their way from the North West to London.
99% of those on the Unite train who I asked to sign the petition did so.
Two Unite members looking at the leaflet talking to each other summed it up: "A 24-hour public sector general strike - that is what this country needs!" "It needs to bloody wake up!"
"Well, that'd wake them up!"
We distributed up to 3,000 leaflets on the way to London. We sold hundreds of copies of the Socialist, with one Lancashire Socialist Party member selling 75 by the end of the day.
Hundreds of pound coins (or more) rattled into our collecting tins, with many people interested in joining our party.
A couple who were leaving Hyde Park said they'd been listening to Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary.
When asked whether Prentis had said anything about what to do next, their responses were "No, and that's what annoyed me most" and "They need to learn some tactics".
From the Socialist Party at least, a clear message has reached hundreds of thousands of people about the necessary tactics to defeat the Con-Dems and their cuts.
Members of Swansea Socialist Party travelled up on trade union coaches.
The mood on the Unite coach was one of keen anticipation.
At the National Shop Stewards Network rally at Speakers' Corner there were some rousing speeches from NSSN secretary Linda Taaffe and anti-cuts convenor Rob Williams, pointing the way forward for fighting the Con-Dem cuts.
The coach back was enthusiastic and determined. That over 500,000 people had marched without the TUC even pulling out all the stops shows the potential for organising opposition to the cuts.
Louise from Cardiff said it had been her first big march and had given her a boost to keep on campaigning.
"I was surprised at how many people were there. When we were leaving they were still coming in!" she said.
Taxi drivers taking Socialist Party members to Newcastle station were extremely supportive of the demo.
One had said he thought it was great that people were protesting against the government. Our taxi driver, whose wife is a civil servant and whose job is threatened, gave a discount on our taxi fare.
Three coaches from North Devon - mostly new people who haven't been involved in campaigning before, who can now get involved in North Devon Anti-Cuts Alliance.
The main thing about the march that stuck in the mind was the sheer numbers of people there, and the encouragement that most seemed to get from the events.
Brilliant demo. Lots of leaflets handed out, Socialist papers sold and lots of people spoken to about the Socialist Party.
The highlight of the demo was definitely the NSSN rally at Speakers' Corner. Coventry Socialist councillor Dave Nellist's and Peter Taaffe's speeches in particular were very inspiring.
Bring on the 24-hour strike!
In the evening, the demonstrators in Trafalgar Square had created a positive and relaxed atmosphere.
Lots of people were sat on the floor or dancing to music played by a samba band, while children slept in prams.
Suddenly around 500 police in riot gear charged into the crowd. They created a small circle and faced outwards, slowly made the circle bigger by violently pushing people and using their shields to hit people.
This intrusion had an instant effect on people's behaviour, who started to panic. Some people reacted by pushing back against the violent behaviour while others pleaded with the police to stop.
Police pushed a group of people, who were standing on railings to the floor and kicked people who where sat down. The picture of a violent group of protesters painted by the media was a complete lie and proof that their reporting can never be trusted.
The RMT transport workers' union had a contingent of around 2,000 members from all over Britain.
Members from nearby stations came over to our RMT delegation and offered their support.
'The cuts kill, kill the cuts' t-shirts were handed out, along with special flags and sticks of rock.
The RMT delegation marched off with its own brass band at the front. It was a lively delegation and its huge turnout was in a buoyant mood.
We sold around 25 papers and hundreds of the Red Line newsletter were taken by the delegation. Many signed up to become members or find out more about the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (see page 11).
It took Lewisham NUT five and a half hours to finally reach Hyde Park. We saw Birmingham NUT finally make it at 5pm - six hours after the start.
The last march of this size was the mass demonstration against the Iraq war - but this demo was different. It was a trade union called event packed with thousands of trade union banners and flags.
Now the urgent task is to harness the power of the movement - into coordinated strike action against the cuts to pensions, jobs and services!
7.05 Outside Newport train station.
Unison members arriving with a smattering from other unions. A feeling of expectancy and excitement.
7.55 On the motorway. One old worker at the back of a West Country bus gives us a clenched fist salute. Demo coaches form an informal convoy gathering strength as we chug through the Wiltshire countryside.
8.50 Dozens of coaches stacked up at Membury services. The Socialist is selling faster than the overpriced hotcakes! One woman caught her bus from Ceredigion at 4am.
10.40 As our bus comes into London there are more coaches with placards.
"Banksters to blame," declares a handwritten Unison placard. Socialist Party leaflets calling for a 24-hour general strike are spread over the windows of a bus from Bristol.
11.10 At last we arrive at the New Covent Garden market coach park.
There are no stewards or directions so we guess the way towards the demo.
Along the way cars are tooting their support. It's becoming a march in itself as we merge with other demonstrators.
12noon We get to Westminster Bridge as Big Ben strikes twelve, but we can hardly hear it as thousands cram onto the bridge waiting to get onto the demo. There is a growing sense of excitement as people realise just how big the demo is.
For school and college students, education minister Michael Gove's latest announcement of a scheme to 'replace' the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) will have left a bitter taste.
His new allowance scheme amounts to a mere third of the funding which was available to students previously with EMA.
This is coupled with a complete lack of clarity on how this 'targeted' financial support for students will be delivered, making it likely that many of the small number of students who are entitled to it, will not receive it.
In fact, this was the education minister's attempt to mollify some of the massive, growing opposition towards the government's spending cuts. And from this, young people and workers can take heart.
This was a retreat by the government - brought on by the huge student movement at the end of last year, as well as by the massive 26 March trade union demonstration.
The Tories and the Liberals are beginning to feel the heat, and on EMA, they are already on the back foot.
In some ways, the most important part of Gove's announcement was the promise that those students who began their studies this year will continue to receive EMA until their courses end next year. This is a small victory that has been won by mass protest, and it is very significant.
Significant, because it shows the government is being forced to backtrack. But it is also important because it means EMA will be in existence for another year - we have more time to fight to save it! Meanwhile, Southwark council in south London has pledged to initiate a scheme to continue to provide an EMA-type grant if the government scheme is abolished.
If councils across the country began implementing 'needs budgets' (which included the continued funding of an EMA scheme) and mobilised students, trade unionists and the local communities in support, then the government could be forced to find the money.
These small victories are an indication of what could be to come as the anti-cuts movement gains momentum.
The fight for education and a decent future isn't over, with a mass movement with a fighting strategy, we can defeat the Con- Dems!
Seventeen MPs have signed an early day motion put forward by Labour MP John McDonnell backing the Youth Fight for Jobs Jarrow march.
We will be marching in October on the 75th anniversary of the original Jarrow unemployed march, demanding decent jobs and a free education for youth.
Young people in Britain today are facing the same questions of a lack of jobs and cuts in living standards as they did 75 years ago. This government is intent on making us pay for a crisis caused by the bosses and bankers, by wiping out the gains made by working class people since then.
We have already seen the number of 16-24 year olds out of work rise to around one million, the right to benefits attacked and an onslaught on the right to an education.
At present there are currently one in five graduates on the dole, university is no longer a short cut to a decent job but an expensive detour to the Jobcentre.
The 17 MPs should use their positions of authority to help mobilise and raise funds for the march.
We also call on trade unionists and community campaigners to do the same. We want this march to become a rallying point for the entire anti-cuts movement in Britain.
We will hold protests, demonstrations and rallies in each town and city we pass through.
This October young people will be marching to show this government we won't pay for their crisis. We won't be a lost generation and we will fight for our futures.
See www.jarrow2london2011.wordpress.com and www.youthfightforjobs.com for more details and information on getting involved.
The chancellor of the exchequer's budget speech yesterday came as no relief at all to the many millions of people who are struggling to make ends meet and who are reeling under the onslaught of the government's austerity measures.
There was no deviating from the overall plan of inflicting devastating attacks on living standards and public services. A penny a litre off petrol and the raising of the threshold for paying income tax will not make anywhere near enough of a difference to people's lives.
And in any case these small concessions are given with one hand and taken back with another, as the budget is also cutting tax allowances. The announced help for first-time house buyers was described as a 'fig leaf' in a headline in the Times.
The paper quoted the managing director of 'Mortgages for Business' as saying: "The pool of buyers that qualify is so small you couldn't even have a bath in it".
Big business however was handed a multi-billion pound budget gift with the planned 1% cut in corporation tax next month being doubled to 2%. It will be cut by a total of 5% over the next three years.
Fearing workers' anger, chancellor George Osborne announced that the banks will not be allowed to benefit from this handout to the rich and that there will be a clampdown on a small proportion of the tax avoidance by companies in general and more tax extracted from some of the 'non-doms'.
But these measures will do very little to eat into the mega-profits being made by the multinationals. Bank profits alone have been £28 billion in this financial year.
Many of the top companies have more cash than they know what to do with - HSBC bank has estimated that the FTSE 100 companies are sitting on £110 billion of cash.
So why will throwing more money into their hands lead to productive investment and economic growth as the government pretends it will?
Osborne promised that economic growth will start to transform the overall situation and enable his targets on reducing public debt to be met. But no significant growth is materialising.
Instead the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2010 and in the budget Osborne lowered his expectation for growth in 2011 from 2.1% to 1.7%.
This forecast adjustment means that the government intends to borrow £50 billion more over the next five years than previously planned. Its forecasts of over 2% growth in 2012 and 2013 are also likely to be overestimates or even wildly wrong.
Where is this growth going to come from when the spending power of working and middle class people is being massively squeezed by the austerity measures and there is no rosy outlook for exports?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that households will be £480 worse off on average this year as a result of the government's attacks. The budget surrepticiously adds to the future squeezing of people's incomes, for instance by uprating tax allowances and thresholds annually from 2013/14 in line with the CPI inflation measure rather than the higher RPI rate as at present.
With its ongoing structural weaknesses, the British economy is particularly at risk from new upheavals in the world economy following the Middle East uprisings and Japanese earthquake, so a sudden and rapid worsening could occur.
In any case, unemployment is forecast to remain high; the budget's allocation of 140,000 "apprenticeships" and "work experience" placements will not make up for the one million jobs that are expected to go in the coming year.
Also these new 'jobs' are likely to be low paid (or unpaid) and short term. Trade union leaders who have been waiting to see if the government will reject some of the Hutton Review's proposals on pensions have now largely received their answer - Osborne declared that the pension 'reforms' will go ahead.
He also opened the door to a future state retirement age of over 66 and beyond, with the limit linked to average life expectancy. So there is certainly no reason to delay in building a mass movement of opposition to the pension attacks and to all the government's brutal austerity measures, and every reason to build it rapidly.
Saturday's national TUC demonstration is very important but is just a start.
The budget will only have added to the determination of working people to fight back. The trade union leaders must make further plans to mobilise their members massively - including through coordinated strike action and a one-day public sector strike - to force the millionaire government ministers to back away from the attacks already made and the many they intend will come.
Socialist Party member and former councillor Ian Page received 12% of the vote in yesterday's byelection in the Bellingham ward in Lewisham, south London. This support for Ian is a warning to Labour councils that are making cuts. Working people are growing tired of their excuses!
Lewisham Council is making £88 million of cuts over the next four years, slashing jobs and services. Labour councillors want to put all the blame on the Con-Dems.
In Bellingham, for now at least the anger against this government of millionaires has given Labour a victory - but for how much longer?
Lewisham Socialist Party, standing on a joint ticket with Lewisham People Before Profit, understood that many voters would want to punish the Tories and Lib Dems. But our message was clear - that you can't trust Labour to resist their attacks.
Voting for Ian Page, our anti-cuts candidate, was the best way to send a message to all the main parties that a working-class area like Bellingham needs councillors who will fight for their community and against all cuts.
In a few weeks, we secured a real base of support in a ward where we had not previously campaigned. We could point to Ian's campaigning record as a socialist councillor in Telegraph Hill ward, but Bellingham is at the other end of the borough.
After this result, the other parties will have to recognise that we are a force to be reckoned with right across Lewisham. On the doorsteps and the street stalls there was growing support from local people for our anti-cuts message.
Hatred for the government was mixed with anger at Labour councillors who are carrying out the Tories' dirty work - slashing jobs, closing libraries and privatising children's centres.
The low byelection turnout (22%) reflected a mood amongst many that they couldn't trust anyone to defend them. But our 12% vote - close behind both Tories and Lib Dems - shows that we persuaded many others not to stay angrily indoors on election day but to vote for a real alternative.
While both the Lib Dems and Labour tried to present Ian as an 'outsider', it was the Labour canvassers in suits that looked most out of place in Bellingham.
One Labour councillor was so lost that she had to come up to our stall for directions. 'I'm meant to be meeting the Labour team outside the Housing Office' she explained. 'Yes, but you closed it', came our reply - pointing to the boarded up office behind us!
When Ian finally finished knocking on people's doors, he realised he had dropped the keys to his scooter. A group of lads came out of one of the houses to say they had found them and taken them safely indoors. When they realised it was Ian, they said that their family had voted for him. That's working-class solidarity!
At the town hall election count, Labour looked relieved but we were smiling. Lewisham's Labour councillors know that trade unionists and the community are already organising against their cuts.
Now they will have to start looking over their left shoulders for a socialist challenge at the ballot box as well.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coaltion (TUSC) will be standing anti-cuts candidates across Britain in May's local, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections.
TUSC was set up last year with the backing of fighting trade unionists, including RMT general secretary Bob Crow, leading national officers of the PCS civil service union, and Nina Franklin, vice president of the National Union of Teachers.
TUSC is a federal 'umbrella' coalition with an agreed core policy statement. Its core policies include opposition to public spending cuts and privatisation, student grants not fees, the repeal of the antitrade union laws, and the clear socialist commitment to "bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment".
Organisations and groups that want to be involved in the 2011 TUSC local council election challenge should urgently contact TUSC at: email@example.com
Average take home pay is lower today than in 2004, according the BBC's Panorama TV programme - The Big Squeeze - shown on 28 March. It reckoned that the average worker takes home £1,088 a year less than two years ago after adjusted for inflation.
What this shows is that the bosses have used the recession - with the attendant fear of unemployment - to drive down wages.
The sharpest drop in take home pay has been in the construction industry.
Unemployment and shrinking wage packets mean that 659,000 households are struggling to pay their mortgages, while 117,000 people are in arrears.
State indoctrination and David Cameron's 'big society' may sound like polar opposites, but it seems they go hand in hand.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is being made to spend much of its funding on researching the 'big society'.
Cameron's big society idea is all about axing public services and instead to provide vital services on the cheap with volunteers or by privatising them.
For the past 90 years the 'Haldane principle' has allowed university academics to choose where research funds should be spent.
Now, however, research bodies must work to government objectives to be given public money.
According to the history director of research at Cambridge University, Peter Mandler, the AHRC was told it has to study the 'big society' in order to get its £100 million annual funding.
Though surely it won't take much of that money to find out that 'big society' is really a 'big con'.
The political fallout from Japanese nuclear power disaster appears to have reached Germany after the ruling right-wing, pro-nuclear power party, the CDU and their FDP partners, suffered big reversals in last week's state elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel saw her CDU lose control of Baden- Wurttemberg to a coalition of Greens and social democrats after nearly 60 years. The election result in Baden-Wurttemberg also reflected voters' opposition to the environmentally destructive urban renewal project called Stuttgart 21.
The ruling coalition also suffered reversals in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Greens, having recovered from their discredited governing coalition with the social democrats from 1998 to 2002, are now eyeing the city state of Berlin in forthcoming elections.
Merkel had attempted to take the wind out of the Greens' sails by announcing, after the Fukushima disaster, the shutdown of the seven oldest of Germany's 17 nuclear power stations, pending a three-month safety review.
She also imposed a moratorium on her government's earlier decision to extend the operating life of nuclear power stations by a further 12 years, but to no avail.
Disappointingly, the Left party's electoral drive appears to have stalled, failing to clear the 5% threshold necessary to get deputies elected.
In a magnificent show of determination and solidarity, at 6am on Monday 28 March, 800 construction workers and other trade unionists assembled outside the gates of the Saltend construction site near Hull.
Many of the workers there were still recovering from the journey down to London and back on the previous Saturday to protest against the government's vicious cuts agenda.
But another early morning was needed as 400 construction workers have been locked out of the site by the contractor Redhall for nearly a fortnight.
Delegations from West Burton, Nottinghamshire, Pembroke in Wales and other construction sites, joined the mass picket.
Representatives of the West Burton site reported that all other workers on their site had downed tools on that day in solidarity with Sal-tend workers.
At midday, over 1,000 trade unionists, including public sector workers, joined the demonstration in the centre of Hull to support the locked-out Saltend workers and to protest about the cuts.
The protest was addressed by speakers from Unison and NUT representing public sector workers, as well as Keith Gibson from the Saltend Lock-out Committee and NSSN convenor Rob Williams.
The site is owned by Vivergo Fuels, who have closed the site "for a period of assessment". Red-hall offered the workers £3,000 each in redundancy pay last week, but this was refused as workers vowed to prevent their national agreement NAE-CI from being undermined.
This payment offer has been increased to £3,300, but the workers are standing firm.
PCS DWP group vice president 70% of Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members have voted 'yes' to support strike action to improve working conditions in Jobcentre Plus contact centres across the UK. This was in the face of wide-scale intimidation from management trying to frighten members to vote 'no'.
Many managers told their teams that a 'yes' vote could make office closures more likely. Yet Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) management are considering office closures as part of the Con-Dem government's 26% cuts in funding for the department, not because PCS has run a strike ballot. And PCS members were rightly incensed at this attack on the union.
Our members gave solid support for a two-day strike in January in seven of these offices which have been compulsorily moved from being benefit processing centres into contact centres. This showed the determination of our members to fight for better working conditions and crucially the ability to provide good quality services to the public.
Management has failed to take notice of this strength of feeling about the need to improve the way that we deliver services. So we have escalated the dispute to the whole contact centre network.
PCS members are angry that management believe that the only way to ensure we do our job is by monitoring us for every minute of the day, including trying to restrict us to 12 minutes a day to go to the toilet! We are threatened with disciplinary action if we consistently spend over the strictly limited target time on calls. This is despite the fact that we are speaking to individuals who are very worried and stressed and need our support.
Our members worked flat out during the recession to deliver services to the soaring levels of unemployed.
We did this without needing constant monitoring. The way the job is designed in Jobcentre Plus contact centres is extremely frustrating and soul-destroying for our members.
This contributes, along with the heavy handed management style, to the highest levels of sickness absence in the DWP.
Jobcentre Plus has the largest contact centre network in Europe so we should be leading the way in contact centre job design and services.
Especially as we do not sell products but are delivering vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Instead our management are trailing behind with their archaic obsession with targets and pressurising our members. They just look at targets for numbers of calls answered and the length of time we spend on each call. Our members recognise clearly that the public, when they get through to us on the phone, want their query dealt with.
People do not want to be fobbed off nor to have to wait up to three hours for one of our hard-pressed benefit processing colleagues to ring them back.
We know that the benefit system is difficult to navigate and we want to make sure that advice and guidance is as simple to access as possible.
In many instances it would take us less time to resolve the problem with a benefit claim on the phone.
But instead we have to write an explanation in an email referral for yet another Jobcentre Plus member to deal with.
Unemployment is now at the highest level since 1994. So it is even more important to PCS that the public get the quality services they deserve and that management allow us to use our judgement and skills to help the public access Jobcentre Plus services.
Our group executive meets this week to discuss our campaign and next steps.
Unison health conference is meeting just a week after the magnificent TUC demonstration in London on 26 March. The vast numbers attending the march showed the determination of working people to defend their public services from the cost cutting, privatising policies of the Con-Dem government.
The speakers at the rally in Hyde Park, including Unison general secretary Dave Prentis warned the government that the march was "just the start" of a mass campaign of opposition to the government. Unison health conference is Unison health activists' chance to lay out our plans for a militant campaign of action to defend the NHS.
The Con-Dems are intent on attacking us on every front. Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk due to so-called 'efficiency savings', and the abolition of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities.
This is a result of billions of pounds of 'efficiency savings' initiated by the previous Labour government and carried on with a vengeance by the Con-Dem coalition.
The government will face enormous opposition from NHS workers, trade unions, and the wider community in trying to implement their programme of cuts and privatisation. Unison must be at the forefront of a campaign of opposition to the government.
The massive mobilisation of health workers for the TUC demo on 26 March showed the desire of our members to resist the Con-Dem attacks.
The march and this conference need to be steps towards a one-day public sector general strike in opposition to all cuts and privatisation.
The Tories may pretend to ignore the marchers in London and the massive support for the demo they had from ordinary Londoners but they could not ignore strike action by millions of public sector workers. The time for talking is over. Now is the time for strike action.
Unison members, along with all other workers in both public and private sectors, are facing unprecedented attacks from the Con-Dem government, local councils and employers.
The elections for Unison's National Executive Council run from 11 April to 13 May, when members will have a chance to vote for candidates pledged to turn Unison into a fighting, democratic union.
Unison needs a strategy to defeat all cuts, whoever proposes them.
Labour councils who pass on Tory cuts by slashing jobs and services are part of the problem, not the answer.
Council workers being sacked by Labour councils will be horrified that Unison continues to pump £3 million a year into the Labour Party on their behalf.
Members in areas across the UK have shown a willingness to fight the attacks but each branch is being left to fight alone; there is no linking of the disputes.
The majority of Unison's current national executive have either no intention of leading a fightback or don't know how to develop a winnable strategy and organise. We need a big influx of new blood - activists with a proven track record of defending members and organising to win.
All local government members could have voted for: Glenn Kelly in the local government male seat.
But Glenn is one of the four Socialist Party members being witch-hunted for challenging the Unison leadership.
He has been banned from standing in the NEC elections. This is another indication of the undemocratic methods of the leadership, despite the four winning an Employment Tribunal against the witchhunt.
Now the union leadership will spend thousands of pounds taking the case to an Employment Appeals Tribunal.
Glenn's ban from standing will be challenged. But if Glenn is not on the ballot paper we call on Unison members to vote for Paul Couchman.
All health care members can vote for: Len Hockey health care service group (SG) male seat, John Malcolm health care SG general seat.
All members can vote for: April Ashley black members female seat, Hugo Pierre black members male seat, Kieran Grogan national young members seat.
The following candidates are standing for regional seats: Jean Thorpe East Midlands female seat, Hannah Walter Northern female seat, Roger Bannister North West male seat, Mike Forster Yorkshire and Humberside general seat, Angie Waller Yorkshire and Humberside female seat, Victoria Perrin Yorkshire and Humberside reserved seat.
Ballot papers to elect a new executive committee for Unite have now been sent out and must be returned by 15 April to be counted.
Socialist Party members in the union are supporting the United Left candidates; the full slate can be found at www.unitedleft.org.uk.
Following the victory of Len McCluskey for general secretary, a left executive with a fighting programme is crucial for members facing attacks on their jobs and conditions.
In the fourth strike ballot in four years, BA cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly to strike against management attacks. On a 72% turnout, 5,811 voted to strike, with 1,170 voting against.
This was a re-run of a ballot held before Christmas which was declared invalid through the antitrade union laws.
The original dispute, which started in November 2009, was over management cutting jobs and attacking working conditions.
Workers are angry at travel concessions being removed from staff who went on strike and disciplinary action being taken against union members.
Talks are proceeding between the Unite union and BA. Unite has 28 days to name the dates for strike action.
Between 500 and 600 postal workers from around Britain met at Friends meeting house in central London on 29 March. They were meeting to discuss Royal Mail management's attacks on the postal service through their new business plan. This means mail centre closures, privatisation and more attacks on postal workers' pensions.
Mail centres around the country are threatened with closure. In Yorkshire and the north east of England, six out of nine mail centres are set to be closed. In London Twelvetrees and Nine Elms mail centres will be closed and the remaining centre at Mount Pleasant will see big staff cuts.
These closures and cuts will mean compulsory redundancies, which goes against the national agreement.
The Communication Workers Union leadership are giving Royal Mail management until the end of April to come up with concessions before deciding what further action to take.
The collapse of the Portuguese 'Socialist Party' government of prime minister Jose Socrates came during a period of intense economic and social turmoil. Mass protests and strikes have given a picture of anger and unrest in the face of the austerity measures which the outgoing government, in collusion with the capitalist opposition has imposed, at the behest of the vultures of the financial markets.
The fall of the minority government came after 'PEC IV', a fourth austerity package, failed to pass through parliament in a vote on 23 March. The conservative PSD opposition party, after over a year of faithful support from the opposition benches for the first three 'PECs', voted against the measures, leading to the prime minister's resignation.
This move by the PSD was wholly opportunist. This party, along with its prospective coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, shares the same fundamental political approach, that of attacking working people to pay for the crisis.
However, their voting against the bill has another significance, being the result of the massive pressure exerted by the opinions and actions of the vast majority in Portugal, who have had enough of these savage policies. In the ten days immediately preceding the vote on PEC IV, a combined 400,000 people hit the streets on two Saturdays of mass protest. (Out of a population of 11.8 million).
On 12 March, 300,000 people (including 200,000 in Lisbon) joined the protests organised around "desolate generation", a loose campaigning group on a Facebook page, which demands an end to the precarious exploitative conditions forced on workers, and to massive youth unemployment.
Then, 19 March saw 100,000 demonstrate in Lisbon, called by the CGTP trade union federation.
A wave of national strikes, of transport, postal and education workers among others, accompanied this period of mass action.
These protest actions show both the massive opposition to Portuguese capitalism's agenda, but also the immense potential power of the masses when organised, and the organised workers' movement in particular.
On 24 November 2010 a oneday general strike paralysed the economy when over 85% of workers downed tools. It is this opposition and potential power of the working class that made the capitalist opposition fearful of voting for yet another PEC. This is something which should be registered by working people and socialists in Portugal and internationally: the Portuguese government has essentially been overthrown by the pressure of workers and youth in struggle.
And this is despite the limited strategy of the trade union leaders, who have effectively taken the path of demobilisation since the general strike. Imagine what would be possible with a really effective strategy, armed also with a working class political alternative.
The next likely government will not satisfy the demands of the majority.
European Union/International Monetary Fund intervention beckons, as Portugal looks set to follow Greece and Ireland in accepting 'bailout' packages, to facilitate the continued paying off of the bad debts of European bankers and speculators out of workers' taxes.
Such a package will be attached to brutal austerity as a condition, including the decisive elements of the PEC IV, but also with many more vicious measures included over a long period.
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI* in Portugal) is opposed to any EU/ IMF intervention, and calls for not a cent of public money to be spent repaying the debts of the super-rich.
The nationalisation of the banks, resources and key sectors of the economy under democratic control, would allow massive investment to improve people's lives, instead of endless cuts.
The CWI calls for the left parties (Left Bloc and Communist Party - which in Portugal command over 20% of the vote combined) to put forward a united front based on such policies in the upcoming elections.
With Portugal the probable third bankrupt state to emerge from the chaos of the crisis in Europe, the disaster of the bosses' European Union is being further exposed. The only alternative is a socialist Europe based upon workers' solidarity.
The human cost of the Kanto- Tohoku earthquake and tsunami will be immense.
Two weeks after the disaster struck, over 10,000 are confirmed dead with nearly 20,000 missing.
Police in the worst affected prefecture, Miyagi, expect the eventual death toll to reach over 15,000 in that area alone.
The 'Asahi' newspaper estimates there are over 330,000 people living in refugee centres as a result of evacuations, including because of the state of the nuclear power stations.
Across the whole Tohoku area (north east Japan) there are two million without electricity and probably a similar number without gas and water.
On top of this, the people of the Tohoku and Kanto regions face the danger of nuclear contamination.
Highly radioactive water has been detected outside the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power station. And higher than legal levels of radioactivity have been found in water supplies, (including Tokyo, 240 kilometres to the south) and in milk and spinach.
The government claims that there is presently no major threat to health, although many are sceptical about these claims. It is now advising people not to give tap water to children under one year old.
The authorities are building "kasetsu jutaku" (prefabricated constructions) on school grounds and on public land. This is temporary accommodation though.
Earthquake insurance is expensive in Japan and very few people have it. Most people will have to pay to rebuild their homes by drawing from their savings or taking out fresh mortgages. Those who cannot afford this will probably receive little more than some kind of priority on what public housing is available, maybe with a subsidised rent.
While there has generally been a mood of shock and a certain acceptance of having to cope with the situation, we are now beginning to see patience running out and anger being expressed. It is as yet mild, but it will spread.
The nuclear accident is definitely the biggest issue in Japan now.
Tokyo firefighters have been told to work on the plant for periods that expose them to radiation over the legal safety limit. If they refused, they would be disciplined.
Many unions have been active in organising relief efforts. They have also held a press conference in Tokyo to protest about a statement from the Ministry of Labour and Welfare encouraging employers not to pay workers who are laid off in the present crisis. Under Japanese labour law, they should receive 60% of their wages.
Earthquakes have generally been treated as something beyond the control of the company, but the majority of lay-offs during this crisis are the result of power cuts which could and should have been avoided.
It is widely known that mismanagement and government collusion with the power companies is to blame for not being able to cope with the disaster. The vice-president of the main one, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), actually went round some of the refugee centres apologising. But the governor of Fukushima, reflecting the simmering anger of millions of people, refused to accept Tepco's apology after the government ban on the sale of milk and other produce was announced.
The minister who made the announcement also said the government saw Tepco as legally liable for the losses farmers suffer as a result of the ban. The government is trying to make clear the responsibility for the ban is Tepco's so that anger is turned against the company rather than them! It would not be a surprise to see them use a bank bail-out type tactic and step in to nationalise Tepco. On their terms, this would then entail passing the bill on to the taxpayer - the workers and farmers of Japan.
The underlying anger and resentment amongst working and poor people in Japan at the way their fate is held in the hands of profiteers and corrupt politicians needs an expression. It could become a powerful force if harnessed by a genuine workers' party that fights for a socialist alternative to the anarchic and dangerously unplanned way society and industry develops under capitalism. Nationalisation and democratic planning are the only logical way to provide for people's needs.
As always, it is working people with scant resources who are responding with the biggest sacrifices in terms of donations and offers of help. The world's capitalists merely debate how much will be lost in profits and dividends through this massive human tragedy.
The earthquake and tsunami damage could be as high as $310 billion, the government said, making it the most costly natural disaster on record.
The World Bank expects it to take between three and six months to restore the basic infrastructure of the area and, overall, expect it to shave 0.5% off economic growth this year.
The Japanese economy actually contracted by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2010, even before the earthquake, so growth is likely to be negligible this year.
The earthquake has hit important production networks supplying components to car and electronic companies. Power generation has been particularly hard hit with reports claiming that eleven nuclear and 21 thermal power plants have been shut down.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, three of the nuclear power stations have been written off totally and will never work again.
This amounts to 3% of power production and means Japan boosting its imports of oil and Liquefied Natural Gas to maintain power supplies, helping to push up prices (and profits) of these alternative fuels.
One paradoxical effect of the quake is to send the yen (Japanese currency) soaring to new highs. This is probably the result of speculators buying yen on the expectation that insurance pay-outs and Japanese companies repatriating funds will force the currency higher.
The government is desperately trying to stop this by selling yen (as did the G7 in its unprecedented intervention).
They fear Japanese exports being priced out of many markets.
This will not only affect Japan. According to the World Bank Report, a quarter of long-term debt in the East Asia Pacific Region is denominated in yen. It estimates that a 1% rise in the yen will lead to a $250 million rise in debt servicing.
Prime minister Naoto Kan has held out the prospect that the rebuilding may eventually lead to a recovery of the Japanese economy, as people in the affected areas are forced to spend savings to replace their houses and possessions and the economy also benefits from increased government spending on infrastructure. To a certain extent this is what happened following the Hanshin earthquake in 1995.
However, the crisis facing Japanese capitalism is much more severe than it was in 1995. In particular, government finances are in a much more desperate state. Having increased the amount workers have to pay for their pension, Kan and the Democratic Party government are now proposing an increase in the consumption tax, supposedly to shore up the pension system and welfare in a society with a rapidly ageing population.
While they might verbally oppose it, in practice this policy is supported by all of the right-wing parties. Government expenditure on rebuilding has to come from somewhere. While it may give a boost to the economy, an increase in the consumption tax to pay for it will have the opposite effect.
Even before the earthquake, Japanese capitalism was facing a serious crisis. The government was already unpopular. Nothing it has done has increased people's confidence in it or in any capitalist politicians.
In the past, left parties have been able to make some headway but neither the small Social Democratic Party nor the Japanese Communist Party (which has reached nearly 10% support in the recent past) advocates an alternative to struggling Japanese capitalism.
The years of double digit growth rates and increased living standards are long gone. The declining power of Japanese capitalism on a world scale will usher in a new era of instability and class struggle at home as the ruling class attempts to make workers pay for the earthquake and nuclear disaster.
The future will lead to a questioning of capitalism amongst workers and young people and a radicalisation in the Japanese labour movement.
BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme recently looked at 'Blue Labour' (BL).
I thought we already had 'Blue Labour', given the complete acceptance by New Labour of the Tory Party's 'neoliberal' agenda and many of its social policies. But apparently it's not 'blue' enough! Behind BL is an attempt to shift Labour even further to the right on social issues and, in particular, a further attack on the welfare state.
In the internal debate about the future direction of the Labour Party a group has been formed around Maurice Glasman, recently appointed to the House of Lords by Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Glasman has previously been quoted as saying that Labour needs to 'return' to the values of "a deeply conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity".
On the programme he was supported by the likes of former Labour minister James Purnell. BL is being promoted as Labour's answer to Cameron's 'Big Society', yet another code word for cuts and privatisation.
It certainly sounds suspiciously similar to Tory rhetoric.
In Labour's working class heartlands many voters have broken with their previously traditional party.
Instead of drawing the conclusion that this breakaway is because Labour carried out pro-big business policies, presided over the decimation of jobs, cut and privatised public services, and stopped representing working class people, BL looks for other solutions.
They quote the fears that many people have over immigration, for example, due to the scarcity of jobs and stretched public services.
But instead of answering those fears with a programme of creating jobs and homes, expanding services, and pointing to the real cause of those problems - big business and capitalism - they adopt a British National Party (BNP) style programme on immigration.
The rise of the BNP vote has everything to do with the abandonment of working class people by Labour.
Attempting to wear the same clothes merely increases the far-right, racist BNP's credibility.
The programme tried to categorise Labour's support as middle class graduates who were socially 'liberal' and concerned with equality on the one hand, and working class people, who were socially 'conservative' but were yearning for a return to community values on the other.
The former were apparently won over to Blairism, but it was the latter's fault that Labour lost the 2010 general election! What a false dichotomy!
Blairism brought us such socially 'liberal' things as clamping down on civil liberties and the 'war on terror'.
Of course working class people want equality - it reflects the middle class prejudices of the authors of Blue Labour to think they don't!
Not many people in either of those falsely separated social categories supported Labour's university tuition fees.
The proponents of Blue Labour have in particular attacked the post- 1945 welfare state as being 'bureaucratic'.
Instead they put forward 'mutuals, co-operatives and friendly societies, the creation of local banks and worker representation on company boards'. They want 'more localised provision of services, an end to Labour's obsession with post code lotteries'.
But this sounds to me like a token reference to genuine democratic control of services with an agenda behind it of further privatisation and break-up of services. The 'post code lottery' exists because of inadequate resources being put into local services.
Yes, the Socialist Party supports proper democratic control by the workers and users of services; yes we support real workers' control and management of companies. But that firstly needs public ownership - you can't control what you don't own - and secondly not just a token workers' "representative", but a board of management elected by the workers and users of services.
In reality they are talking about the dismantling of services in the same way that the Big Society does, after all even Cameron talked of "cooperatives".
It is a comment on how far Labour has shifted to the right that Roy Hattersley, a solid right winger in 'old Labour' terms was brought on to criticise Blue Labour from the left! The working class does need political representation, but it will not come from the Labour Party. A new party of the working class is needed, one that opposes the capitalist agenda of cuts and privatisation of all the main parties.
The likes of Miliband can pose on demo platforms, but they are offering more of the same cuts, except 'slower'.
Blue Labour proponents bandy around words like 'solidarity' and 'community', but a real sense of solidarity and working class community will come out of the battles to defend public services we are now embarking on, and a real working class alternative to New Labour will be created out of those struggles.