‘Tories out’ demo lively – but opportunity for mass mobilisation missed
Andy Beadle, Lewisham Socialist Party
The People’s Assembly demonstration in central London on 12 January culminated in front of a great big banner: “General Election Now!”
Members of the Socialist Party, Young Socialists and Refugee Rights campaign marched together into Trafalgar Square.
This bloc made up the liveliest, most determined, and most yellow vested contingent on the march. Our chants of “Tories out – Corbyn in” and “what we need is socialism” were taken up by much of the crowd.
At the end rally in Trafalgar Square, Unite the union assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Get all the bastards out of power! Get a progressive socialist government!”
John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, brought “a message of solidarity and anti-austerity” from Jeremy Corbyn, including “we stand ready to take power!” John said that the greed of the bankers had caused the crisis for working people. “5,000 people will sleep rough tonight… the Tories with austerity are tearing apart the social fabric.”
He listed examples in welfare, health and education. “Proud people are standing up and saying ‘we won’t take it anymore’.” He promised a government under Jeremy Corbyn “will end austerity, invest in society… Make the rich pay their taxes!” He ended, “Solidarity! We will win!”
Among other speakers were two organisers of the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) movement who brought solidarity from France.
Between them they showed how they were resisting president Macron and his government, which has consistently taken from working people and made the rich richer.
Despite media distortion it was the police who are violent, not the protesters they said.
The spirited march, down Regent’s Street and Haymarket, attracted attention and applause from shoppers and tourists.
This positive reception revealed the potential that existed for this to have been a massive demonstration, rather than the few thousand who turned out, had it been organised under a clear programme putting forward the possibility of mass working-class action to win a general election.
If John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn had issued a clear and prominent public call for people to attend in advance, as well as for the trade unions to act decisively to mobilise for and organise the demonstration, he could have been speaking to a much larger audience.
Indeed, a noticeable feature of the march was the lack of any large trade union contingents – evidence of a real failure on the part of the trade union leadership to organise the fight to kick out the government – even when the Tories are on their knees.
Those I asked agreed our trade unions should be visibly campaigning nationally at the front of the movement to oust the Tories instead of subcontracting the business to the People’s Assembly.
The importance of this is only increased by the fact that a very small but threatening far-right presence came to the protest with the aim of intimidating demonstrators.
This shows that it is necessary to have democratically organised, trade union stewarding in order to help ensure safety and boost the effectiveness of the action.