Britain: Huge march against austerity; defiant protest is only part of the answer

Peoples Assembly march, London, June 20, 2015. Photo by Steve Eason/RS21.

Socialist Resistance editorial

June 22, 2015 -- Socialist Resistance, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- One home-made banner on the Saturday, June 20, London demonstration against austerity seemed to put into words the inarticulate howl of anguish of millions. In colourful letters it read “Fuck the fucking fuckers”.

It was a reminder of just how visceral hatred of the Tories [Conservative Party] is and just how all-encompassing their social counter-revolution aspires to be. The People’s Assembly is claiming 250,000 marched from the Bank of England to parliament.

There was a strong trade union presence, lots of families, groups of friends, environmentalists and activists from across the progressive spectrum. Mainly though it was a gathering of the young, the angry and defiant who were announcing that they understood what a Tory government means and are ready to stand up to it. Singer Charlotte Church is representative of this generation, with her passionate, reasoned expressions of contempt for the new government.

If one person could be said to be the personifcation of the majority opinion among the crowd it was Labour leadership challenger Jeremy Corbyn. People supporting him had a very high profile, which was pleasantly surprising given that his leadership campaign was barely a week old and the Labour left isn’t always very good at organising outside the party. If the decision were to be made by the marchers, Corbyn would be certain to win the party election by a landslide.

This is unlikely. If he did win the party’s right would push the self-destruct button within days and, in any case, most of the marchers were the sort of people who gave up on the idea of changing the Labour Party from within a long time ago – even if many of them do still vote for it.

This is the strategic dilemma facing the movement.

The immediate aftermath of the general election saw a small wave of local anti-austerity demonstrations and a significant increase in Labour Party membership. These were defensive reactions.

However, it’s hard to find evidence of sustained and successful anti-austerity industrial action -- and the Tories are changing the rules to make it virtually impossible to have a legal strike in England and Wales. They know that the union leaders won’t defy the law and that changes in working conditions are destroying mass understanding of the power of industrial action.

The Tory response to the demonstration was the same as the one on the multi-coloured banner. They were all over the press the next day bragging of their determination to push through £12 billion in welfare cuts and are confident they will get what they want.

This leaves us with a strategic impasse. The People’s Assembly did a remarkable job organising the demonstration and building the coalition that made it possible.

However, there is nothing that resembles the movement against water charges in Ireland, the astonishing self-organisation we saw in Scotland during the independence referendum or the repeated mobilisations in the Spanish state to challenge Tory and Labour support for austerity. More and bigger demonstrations are valuable but they are not a substitute for the molecular campaigns that are the sign of a real mass movement.

The other major absent factor is the emergence of a political expression of the movement. Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign will end shortly after the summer. Those of us who argue that Labour is now part of the problem, and it certainly will be if Cooper, Kendall or Burnham win, are on the same side as the Corbyn supporters inside and outside his party.

The movement that will defeat the Tories and the pro-austerity Labour Party  leadership is one that brings us together politically, encourages the winning of victories in local and national struggles and retains the youthful, irreverent defiance of that now famous banner.

Hundreds of thousands march against austerity in London

Photo: Steve Eason

Photo: Steve Eason.

By Amy Gilligan

June 21, 2015 -- RS21, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London from the Bank of England to Parliament Square yesterday on the “End Austerity Now” demonstration, organised by the People’s Assembly. The demonstration was so large that getting an accurate figure for the number taking part is difficult, but the organisers’ estimate of 250,000 is probably not far off. This makes it one of the biggest anti-austerity protests in recent times, and the largest that hasn’t been organised by the the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The mood seemed hopeful, and many people will have gone home feeling more confident, feeling they are part of a large movement.


Photo: Steve Eason.

Trade unions did have some presence on the demonstration, but it was not organised into the same big, visually impressive blocks as has been seen on recent TUC demos. This is not to say there weren’t lots of trade unionists and workers on the demonstration, but it seems that the majority had come as individuals, with their friends and family or as part of other groups they were involved in. This gave the demonstration a community feel.

Many people carried home-made banners, including ones with references to the film Mean Girls, and several that simply said “Fuck the Fucking Fuckers”. There were lots of people who were demonstrating for only the first or second time. Some of this was because many of those attending were perhaps too young to have been on a demonstration before.

The Green Party had a lively block that was young, vocal and organised, and the left of the Labour Party were there, building support quite successfully for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. CND, Stop the War, Left Unity, Plan C and Keep Our NHS Public were among other groups that had an organised blocks on the march.

A friend asked me as the demo was beginning why were so many people now mobilised when they hadn’t been before the election. This an important question to try and answer. The election of a Tory majority government, somewhat unexpectedly, I think means people have realised that we have little option but to organise and mobilise if we do not want to see welfare cut further, the National Health Service privatised, Trident nuclear submarines renewed, migrants demonised, education marketised and our rights at work destroyed.

The People’s Assembly have played a very important role by calling the demonstration nationally, and, through local groups, organising large meetings, protests and arranging coaches to actually get people to London. The People’s Assembly probably had less of a direct effect in mobilising people from London itself.

Well-known figures such as Charlotte Church and Russell Brand supporting the demonstration beforehand probably also played an important part in giving people the confidence the march wasn’t just the preserve of the far left, and meant it got more publicity, both before and after, than other comparable demonstrations have, notably being showcased in the Daily Mirror earlier this week.


Photo: Steve Eason.

The other question that we need to ask is what next? There are several dates that already seem obvious for various kinds of action, such as the budget on July 8 and at the Conservative Party conference in the autumn, where protests and days of action have already been called.

Several people I spoke to after the demonstration mentioned that there were people at the demonstration – not those they’d necessarily expected – from their workplaces. It will be important to remember in the coming months is that workplace organising isn’t simply about signing up union members. This is obviously important, but there is also space for trying to link the struggles both inside and outside of work.

Locally, the political situation and potential are likely to be variable. We shouldn’t be too prescriptive. Many people are being radicalised by local campaigns around things such as housing, trying to save particular services and responding to racism. We should be seeking ensure there is support and solidarity between campaigns, and try to ensure there is unity in action.