Today was the long awaited TUC-led “March for the Alternative” in London, calling for jobs, growth and justice, in the face of the savage programme of public sector cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition government, which I have been covering since October in a series of hard-hitting articles under the heading, Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology.
Those of you who have been following my work closely will understand that I was not able to be on the march today, as I’m in St. Thomas’ Hospital, where I’m undergoing treatment for a serious and painful blocking of the blood supply to the toes of my right foot, caused by arterial damage. However, with my magnificent overview of the march from the 11th floor window of my hospital room, overlooking the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and today — crucially — the Embankment, where the march began at 12 noon, I’m able to confirm that this was undoubtedly the biggest protest I’ve ever seen, with the noble but ultimately doomed exception of the February 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War, which, with an estimated two million attendees, was by far the largest protest in British history.
For four hours today, however, the crowd of protestors surging purposefully along the Embankment, waving banners, bringing rainbow colour to the West End and making a lot of noise before heading west for a rally in Hyde Park, more than adequately fulfilled hopes that hundreds of thousands of protestors would turn up, and as I was writing this, mid-afternoon, the Embankment was still awash with protestors, all the way down to Hungerford Bridge and Charing Cross station. As a result, I’m very much hoping that the ideological butchers of the Tory government (plus their Lib Dem hangers-on) got the message that the British people are not happy with the cuts, and are not happy with the smug arrogance of David Cameron and George Osborne, who have no political experience and no mandate from the voting public for their savage cuts, whose targets include:
From the turnout at today’s protest — and the wonderful atmosphere that I heard about from friends on Twitter, and from guests dropping by in person — it’s clear that hopes that it would become an influential event have come true. As a result, we have had — as I and others always hoped — a protest much larger than its trade union origins, providing an opportunity for groups, organizations and individuals from all over the country to come together, to network, and, above all, to send a united message to the government not only that its policies are being introduced too fast, are too indiscriminate and too savage, and will cause widespread misery and suffering that is not necessary, but also that a significant proportion of the British people have seen through all the talk about “necessity” and “fairness” and “all being in it together,” and want to see a revised economic basis for society.
This has not yet been adequately addressed by the mainstream political parties — and is only part of Labour’s message, however much Ed Miliband tried to pretend it wasn’t, by turning up at the rally in Hyde Park to deliver a speech in which he stated:
Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the best of the services we cherish because they represent the best of the country we love. We know what the government will say: that this is a march of the minority. They are so wrong. David Cameron, you wanted to create the big society — this is the big society. The big society united against what your government is doing to our country. We stand today not as the minority, but as the voice of the mainstream majority in this country.
These were good points, and well expressed, although Ed Miliband’s problem, of course, is that he was limited in how much he could praise Labour for “defend[ing] the best of the services we cherish” when — although Labour had indeed expanded the public sector, to great effect — the party had also done all it could to encourage and facilitate the robber barons responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 that created the excuse for austerity and cuts in the first place.
A harsher critic, speaking a more direct oppositional language, was Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, who told the crowd, “You represent a spirit of resistance in every workplace and community that says we are not going to have our way of life killed so that the rich and greedy can live as they please.”
Again, great words, but had I been able to take part in the protest today, I know I would have been on the lookout for opportunities for new coalitions of resistance to be created, not just including the trade unions and the best of the Labour Party. but also involving others, outside of or alienated by the mainstream, and/or unrepresented by unions, who need a more visionary project — a new politics, and a new political movement drawing on the lessons of the past but dealing with the present and the future, in which ordinary people’s jobs are valued, in which working people are not scapegoated for the crimes of the financial elites and the tax evasion of the corporate giants, and in which those responsible for the financial crisis and for systematic corporate tax evasion and tax avoidance are made to pay up instead.
As is noted in the manifesto of UK Uncut, the biggest campaigning organization to have grown out of the cuts programme, which was involved in a number of occupations in central London today, including Fortnum & Mason’s, and which essentially functions as a galvanizer and franchise for direct action against the banks and the corporations:
We are told that the only way to reduce the deficit is to cut to public services. This is certainly not the case. There are alternatives, but the government chooses to ignore them, highlighting the fact that the cuts are based on ideology, not necessity.
- One alternative is to clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and the rich, estimated to cost the state £95bn a year
- Another is to make the banks pay for a crisis they created: last year they paid out over £7bn in bonuses and just four banks made £24bn in profit
The tax avoided and evaded in a single year could pay for the £81bn, four-year cuts programme.
To provide a little more information about today’s protest, here’s an explanation from the TUC’s website:
Why We’re Marching
Government spending cuts will damage public services and put more than a million out of work. They will hit the vulnerable, damage communities and undermine much of what holds us together as a society.
Ministers say there is no alternative.
But both of the government’s two key decisions are political choices, not economic necessity.
Eliminating the deficit in just four years is a savage timetable that does not give economic growth the opportunity to raise the nation’s tax take. Indeed the deep cuts promised will depress the economy making deeper cuts necessary to meet this timetable.
Raising four pounds through cuts for every pound raised through tax — and doing most of this through a rise in VAT that hits the poor and those on middle income the most — is deeply unfair. The recession was made in the finance sector, yet banks and those now enjoying gigantic bonuses once again, are not being asked to make a fair contribution.
Yet none of these policies were put to the British people at the election, indeed we were told that there was no need for cuts in front-line services.
People round the country are already campaigning against these deep, rapid cuts. Students have shown their opposition to cuts, the end of EMAs and increases in fees. Parents and teachers have opposed cuts in school building. School sport, libraries and public woodlands all now have strong defenders. Few towns now don’t have their own campaign group.
The TUC’s March for the Alternative has two key aims.
First we want to give a national voice to all those affected by the cuts. This will be a huge event that in its breadth and support shows just how much opposition there is to the government’s programme. It will bring together public service workers and those who depend on good public services. Those involved in national campaigns, and those defending what is special in their own community.
Second we want to show that people reject the argument that there is no alternative.
Of course the recession did damage to our economy. But these deep rapid cuts are not the best way to solve our problems, and may well make them worse.
That is why it is the March for the Alternative — an alternative in which rich individuals and big companies have to pay all their tax, that the banks pay a Robin Hood tax and one in which we strain every sinew to create jobs and boost the sustainable economic growth that will generate the prosperity which is the only long term way to close the deficit and reduce the nation’s debt.
And finally, to follow up on that, here are some messages of support, also from the TUC’s website:
Messages of support
On housing benefit cuts and homelessness:
“The Government is creating a perfect storm for poor, vulnerable and homeless people who had no hand in creating this financial crisis and recession. Housing benefit cuts that could leave a million households struggling to pay the rent kick in next month. Local councils are already decimating hostel funding, day centres and other vital homelessness projects. Budgets for new social housing have been halved and rents for new tenants are set to rise with tenancies less secure. David Cameron must rethink his plans, otherwise Crisis fears homelessness will surge across the country.”
Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive, Crisis
On the disabled:
“Disability Alliance will be marching on 26 March as disabled people require additional support from public services and will be disproportionately affected by almost all Government cuts. Disabled people will lose £4.1 billion in essential welfare support alone, despite the banking levy contributing £2.5 billion to tackling the national deficit. This cannot be fair when disabled people are already twice as likely to live in poverty as other citizens.”
Neil Coyle, Disability Alliance
“Daycare Trust, the national childcare campaign is proud to lend our support to the march. We believe it is imperative that children are protected from the spending cuts. All children deserve the best start in life, and cuts to childcare provision mean that this is under threat. Our recent research with 4Children found 250 Sure Start Children’s Centres face closure over the next year. These hugely valued centres provide a lifeline to so many parents and we know that they have a positive impact on children’s development, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Families across the country are devastated at the prospect of losing one of their most important local services. We reaffirm our call for Sure Start Children’s Centres to be protected as we join others to March for the Alternative.”
Anand Shukla, Acting Chief Executive, Daycare Trust
On the arts and arts funding at universitites:
Many of us in the arts deplore the Tory obsession with cuts. The effect of this short sighted and doctrinaire policy is devastating on culture and creativity in this country. The very small amounts of money involved make it especially ridiculous given that the arts in the UK are so successful and bring in such huge rewards. Visitors from abroad come here for our museums — amazingly 8 out of our top ten tourist attraction are museums. Our theatre is acknowledged to be the best in the world. The arts give Britain an international edge as an exciting and creative place to live, work and do business. Let us not forget that the arts give us all a sense of belonging and citizenship. They generate jobs and are one of the fastest growing parts of the economy with a commendable track record of regenerating cities and contributing to communities. But all this is in jeopardy if the Tories are allowed to do what they plan. Art schools and the arts and humanities departments of our universities will be set back at least 50 years. I condemn this short sighted policy which will take us backwards as a nation.
Anish Kapoor, Artist
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Hélène Lomenech wrote:
Yes overview indeed… And I hope you’re getting better everyday…
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’ll share this in a few minutes Andy. Good luck for your continuing recovery.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Hi Andy. Great article. I just posted it. Here is one thing I noticed, a matter I might have gotten wrong. The first sentence of Ed Milliband’s speech refers to “..the best of the services we cherish…” This seems slippery to me. What does he think are the best services, and is he willing to drop the rest? In my experience such broad words as “best” are so nonspecific as to leave a lot open for being *not* best and hence not worrying too much about preserving. Worse yet, I’ve seen such words used as signals to the Cabinet that compromise is on the cards. Such compromises have, in my time, almost always favoured the government, industry, and the bosses.
Thanks, Helene and George, for continued good wishes for my ongoing recovery. All is progressing well, and I hope to be home early next week, but I wouldn’t describe myself as “well” yet. Still lots of healing to be done and to be hoped for, and right now I’m still in pain.
George, I meant also to comment on your observations, which look very careful and considered to me, revealing the kind of code that politicians don’t want revealed. Certainly I wondered about Miliband’s exact choice of words, as everything politicians say these days is so carefully managed, especially on significant occasions …
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Thanks Andy. I hope you can use my observations. Time for me to turn in now.
William James Hudson wrote:
Get Well soon Andy – Great article – vibe on the ground was (is?) the Revolution that didn’t happen…yet
Re Heubel wrote:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Yl05fj4HVg ……. TARP and Corporations avoiding taxes w/ off-shore accounts
William James Hudson wrote, regarding my location during the march:
If I’d have known earlier – I would have dropped by
Chris Dorsey wrote:
Why not just go round up the super rich like the old bag and the Rothschilds? You know where they live. That is what I advocate in America for the US Constitution’s Capitalist enemies.
Chris Dorsey wrote:
500,000 people is more than enough to do so.
The austerity measures being proposed in Britain are like some in the States. In Wisconsin you may know there the governor has been trying to remove the union bargaining rights from many public workers, including teachers, and snow plow drivers. In Minnesota a Republican legislator is proposing that trees be logged from Park lands, and in Maine the Governor had an artistic mural showing the struggles of workers removed from a Labor office. The greedy and powerful are seeking to rake off more for themselves at the expense of anyone smaller. We have no money for social services yet lots of money for war. The earth is dying and we are the killers. Sad however I am very pleased to see the people responding, perhaps we can make things turn around and create a better society. peace and hugs get well
Thanks for the comments, Robert. Good to hear from you, and thanks for the kind wishes for my recovery.
As for cuts in the US, I wrote about the inspirational people’s solidarity in Wisconsin here:
Thanks also for mentioning other threats to workers and recognizing the causes. People are slow to realize that, in their voracious desire for more — more money, more returns — the greedy and powerful have indeed gone beyond caring how many of us must be sacrificed so that they can keep their slice of the pie. We are moving beyond the exploitation of the workforce to something that more resembles economic cannibalism.
Virginia Simson wrote:
I hope you have a nice smiley markered on your toes !! Just to give you some satisfaction about the SOLIDARITY around the world, here are some pics of our action(S) in support. There were two: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2090165&id=1224101604&fbid=1728125682664
Great article, as always.
Sabena Siddiqui wrote:
Great article,Andy !
Hope you are feeling better…wish you a speedy recovery…
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
You are on form as ever Andy…good article… I shall be meeting Anne Milton Under Sec State Health mid May so will be hammering home peoples concerns re NHS disability and welfare cuts yet again… anything you want passing over to her personally just e-mail me…
Jason Leopold wrote:
Hope you’re on the mend buddy! Figures you continue to do great work from your bed
Najam Mahmud wrote:
When you go around waging illegal wars it is only a matter of time that your own back yard gets impacted. I have all the respect for these people who have come out and rejected a failed set up, again majority of the people in Britain I believe want peace and would prefer minding their own business, they need to get rid of the corrupt ruling elite that has been imposed on them.
FogBelter Sfo wrote:
I love people power … there is no sanitizer for bullshit from leaders like the people hitting the streets. Give me more, more, more. To Fight is to Win.
Neil Gordon-Orr wrote:
We were on the South London feeder march from Kennington Park which came past St Thomas’s and over Westminster Bridge. if we’d know what room you were in we could have waved!
Thanks, everyone, for the good wishes for my health. I’m on the last stretch of treatment before my release back into the world, but still have doubts about the status of one of my toes, and will need several meetings with various experts tomorrow before proceeding any further.
Specifically — Jason, I kinda figured you’d recognize the urge to continue writing, even in a hospital bed, and Neil, I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of your trajectory. I could indeed have waved!
Also, thanks Virginia for the photos of the USUncut actions, Fogbelter for the incitement to further protest, and Najam for that great perspective on the warmongering western powers and their manipulation of their own people.
Lizzie Cornish wrote:
Maybe ‘The Plan’ was always to give you those poorly toes, so you’d be able to write such an excellent piece about the view from your room yesterday, Andy.. :0) Sharing it..
Fee MercuryMoon wrote:
Yes Lizzie I already said I thought that. Thank the Gods ‘The Plan’ wasn’t for ‘poorly fingers’!!!
Lizzie Cornish wrote:
Too true, Fee….Sorry, I didn’t see your post. I guess he may have then typed it with his toes though. ;0)
Fee MercuryMoon wrote:
It might have been on another thread Lizzie.
Lizzie Cornish wrote:
xx :0) xx
Sand AndFoam wrote:
Hats Off, Mr. Andy!..A well written and well thought out article!
May God bless you and hope you recover soon.
Best regards from Egypt!
Thanks, everyone. And Sand AndFoam — what a great name! — it’s lovely to hear from you. I was so happy to have readers from Tunisia and Egypt and other previously “closed” countries over the last year or so. It made me think that something was changing, but I had no idea how much change was bubbling beneath the surface. I am so proud of the achievements of my fellow citizens of the world so far this year — in Tunisia and Egypt, but now rippling out not only across the region, but also across the world — and I hope with all my heart that with constant pressure we can actually make the world a slightly more just and fair place.
Fee MercuryMoon wrote:
And don’t forget the increasingly concerted ‘push’ of armed settlers assisted by the Israeli Army as they continue to steal more than in the West Bank while at the same time using the fact that western media is so focused on Libya and other areas of the Middle East that Israel feels safe enough to go back to the random slaughter and injury of civilians including many children in Gaza, who have no where to run. No where to hide. Please, please watch these two videos and Share and Share again. Thanks.
Mezentian Gate wrote:
if government is so incompetent, why do the people want more of it?
Sylvia Martin wrote:
More power to y’all. . . we’re with you in spirit.
Peter B. Collins wrote:
sorry to hear you are laid up, Andy, but always on the scene! wish I could stop by to distract you. NYT reported London protest at 250,000 and CNN just said “tens of thousands”. They are using the same playbook on both sides of the Atlantic.
Good question, Mezentian, and thanks for the encouragement, Sylvia.
And Peter, I too wish you could have dropped by, although I’m glad to report that I haven’t been short of company here at the hospital. Perhaps we can talk soon — about this revolutionary year, and why I’m writing less about Guantanamo because of the seemingly complete triumph of the cynical scaremongers in Congress, the weakness of the government, and the complete indifference of the American public to the ongoing existence of this moral and legal disgrace.
Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:
Hope you get well soon, Andy…
[...] on this panic, to force the government to back down before it ruins Britain’s universities. After the TUC-led “March for the Alternative” on March 26, which drew in 500,000 people, I’d suggest that to do so we need national gatherings [...]
[...] that point alone, I approve of regular protests against the government — whether, like the huge TUC march and rally on March 26, it takes place on a weekend, so most people don’t actually have to go on strike, or whether it [...]
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