750,000 marched on a national demo in 2011. Photo: Senan
750,000 marched on a national demo in 2011. Photo: Senan

Linda Taaffe, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

Something’s in the air. Masses of workplace strikes are bubbling everywhere – bin workers, bus drivers, education workers to name a few; and rail workers in RMT now threaten a national strike, the first for 30 years.

At long last, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) – forced to respond to the increasingly desperate situation facing millions of workers – has convened a national demo.

Will it successfully tap into the seething working-class anger at the spiralling cost of living and mobilise hundreds of thousands onto the streets? Will it use the opportunity to kick-start the serious class struggle needed to beat the bosses?

A letter from TUC leader Frances O’Grady, that I received as secretary of Waltham Forest Trades Council, announced a national demo, described as a “We Deserve Better” march.

Ok, at least some action here, but hmmmm… not exactly the slogan to set the world alight; more than a ring of Oliver Twist about it. “Please sir, may I have some more?” Well, we know what happened to poor starving Oliver, he got a bash over the head with a ladle from the master!

I later received a bundle of TUC demo leaflets. The event had now become a “We Demand Better” march. Ok, a step in the right direction, a bit more anger, despite appearing to copy the despicable Boris Johnson’s ‘Build Back Better’ catchphrase.

The leaders of the individual unions themselves must step up and inspire members to get along to the demonstration.

The approach of public sector union Unison leadership is to list seven reasons to be on the London demo. It’s a day out to see the sights. Get some sun, as you can’t afford to go on a real holiday.

Get physical – get out of your chair and move around a bit, stop being just a keyboard warrior. Find love – after all there’ll be thousands there to choose from, including other Unison members. And finally, what a wonderful opportunity to get dressed up – in union colours of purple and green of course.

I didn’t know whether to fall about laughing or just fall down in despair! The left-led national executive of Unison urgently needs to get a grip of this campaign.

Fortunately, thousands of active trade unionists in their workplaces and trade union branches will do their bit to persuade members to protest.

We understand that, as well as having a nice time, it’s going to take more than a fun day out to beat this capitalist class of British bosses and the rotten Tory government.

Yes, we the working class most definitely do deserve better. We keep the wheels of society turning all the time, even during the pandemic, while the only job the super-rich have is to stuff their own pockets.

We also agree that we must demand better! But here’s the rub. We must be clear what it is that we are demanding, not leave it hanging in mid-air. We must be clear on how we can organise together in our unions to achieve those aims.

What about raising clear slogans demanding:

  • Pay workers an RPI inflation-proof pay rise
  • £15 minimum wage now
  • Introduce rent controls, freeze council and social housing rents
  • Scrap student debt, establish free education at all levels
  • Restore the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift
  • Restore the triple lock on pensions
  • Take fuel companies into public ownership so all profits go back into the system and not into private pockets
  • Nationalise P&O
  • Drive private companies out of health and social care

Many workers – young and old long-standing union members and those who never even thought a union was for them – could be inspired by these aims to come along and then be active in campaigns to fight for these goals.

The TUC leaders must come to the demo armed with plans for the next stage: to build up co-ordinated action, to explain to the crowds what is coming next. Most importantly, bring plans to convene a conference open to all to discuss how we can link up, take the fight forward, win our demands and stop the billionaire class from ruining everyone’s lives.

This is a serious fight. A national demo is a good start. Woolly slogans and half-hearted platitudes from the leadership of six million trade unionists will not cut the mustard. The bosses are preparing for a fight. Our side must be battle-ready too.

Come to the conference of the National Shop Stewards Network on 2 July to plan for what comes next.

March with the socialists 18 June!

The Socialist Party will be joining thousands of trade unionists and workers marching against the cost-of-living crisis on 18 June in London, join us!

  • Saturday 18 June
  • Assemble from 10.30am at Portland Place near Oxford Street, London
  • March departs 12pm
  • Rally 1pm at Parliament Square
  • Visit tuc.org.uk/DemandBetter to book transport from your area
  • Text ‘TUC demo’ to 07958032071 with your name and post code