Tuesday, 29 March 2011

March 26 Demonstration

I marched proudly in London this Saturday, on the TUC organised demonstration against the reckless cuts in public services that the ConDem government has inflicted on the people of this country, in their ideological push to minimise the state. The gathering had a carnival atmosphere, with lots of families and pensioner groups, as well as the heavy union membership turn out. Unison and the GMB were particularly noticeable in the cavalcade of protesters with their banners and airborne balloons, as far as the eye could see.

The authorities accepted that at least 250,000 marched and the organisers claimed 500,000, and being a veteran of marches in recent years, I would put the figure at much nearer half than a quarter of a million people on this demonstration. The police worked closely with the TUC on arrangements for this march, so it was no great surprise to me that it passed off peacefully. At times though, I felt as though the TUC stewards were forcing us to walk on this side or that, when there was no real reason I could see for doing this, but I complied with their wishes quite happily.

I didn’t see all of the speeches at Hyde Park, and missed Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader’s contribution, but when I saw it later on television, he didn’t seem to capture the moment very well, and it seemed to fall a bit flat to me. At one point, when he said that there needed to be some cuts, he was actually jeered by the crowd.

Of course, events away from the main march have made all the headlines, with direct action type protests by maybe a thousand or so people unleashing a torrent of condemnation from mainstream media outlets and the Home Secretary herself, Theresa May, labelling these events around the main march as ‘violent’ and ‘mindless’.

Violent is something of an exaggeration, with no one seriously injured, but there was damage to property, with many smashed windows around the west end of London. Whilst I do not condone this behaviour, it is wrong to describe it as mindless. Banks and other corporate interests were targeted for their symbolic value, drawing public and media attention to tax avoidance practices and the way that government policies pander to these companies.

It is also important to draw a distinction between the actions of some who caused this damage to the likes of Starbucks and HSBC, and members of UK Uncut, who peacefully occupied commercial premises such as Fortnum and Mason, many of whom were arrested and charged with ‘aggravated trepass’, and spent twenty four hours in police cells. This type of protest is perfectly legitimate, and probably more effective than just marching from A to B.

Obviously, the ConDem government has ignored this demonstration, but this is just the start of a massive campaign to win over public opinion to reverse these damaging cuts. I hope the unions call coordinated industrial action, which they can do legally over changes to occupational pensions, but this should be seperated from community campaigns to save public services, which should include more peaceful direct action protests.

Everyone who values our public services and the welfare state itself, must support whatever demonstrations and protests that are organised in the coming months. What is at stake, is the very fabric of our society, and we must not let this deeply reactionary government get away with it.

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