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  October 21, 2012

Britain's Unions Bring London to a Standstill

100 thousand workers march on the capital as unions warn austerity isn't working and threaten a general strike for the first time since 1926
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Britain’s Unions are on the march again. More than a 100 thousand union workers, students and supporters converged on London to have their voices heard.

Hassan Ghani

“The unions have called in their workers from across Britain, leading a march on a massive scale. Their message is simple: austerity isn’t working. But the question, as always, is will the government take notice?”

This certainly isn’t the first time the unions have brought London to a standstill under this government. Last year even larger numbers came out to oppose David Cameron's austerity measures - but the Conservative led government clearly hasn’t been swayed from its course. It says it plans to continue slashing billions of pounds across public spending in order to reduce the country's massive budget deficit.

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister

"We are in a global race today. And that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim. Do or decline." "Let us here in this hall, here in this government, together in this country make this pledge - let's build an aspiration nation. Let's get Britain on the rise. Deficit, paid down. Tough decisions, taken. Growth, fired up.”

Well that plan, so far, doesn’t seem to be working. The British economy has been shrinking throughout 2012, with three consecutive quarters of falling GDP.

On the ground, protesters believe the government’s strategy is guided by ideology rather than necessity.


“We can see the people at the top, they’re making profits, they’re expanding. But somehow there is that constant pressure on the people at the bottom to make cuts, make savings, suck it up. We don’t want to do that anymore. We know that they can find the money, they know that they can invest. There has to be a way forward, and that’s invest and work with the people from the bottom to improve society for everybody in general.”

“They’re using this as an excuse just to actually bring us down, and we’re a first world country, we can’t have a cheap labour economy - there’s no need for it.”

“There isn’t anybody in the parties that are willing to stand up and make a real effort, try a different approach. They’re all in a small bubble together, and it doesn’t represent the needs and the aspirations of the people on the ground. They’ve lost touch.”

“The cuts that they’re introducing are going to disproportionately affect those at the poorer end of society. They’re not taxing all sections of society in a fair way. They’re allowing, for instance, large companies to get away with enourmous tax fraud, or loopholes that create almost legitimate tax avoidance.”

And others fear that if the government continues to ignore workers, things could nasty.

Hassan Ghani

“The government’s not going to change course is it?


“I’m not expecting them to, but all you can do is apply as much pressure as you can. Our parliamentary politicians can’t do much more either. So this is about mobilising as many people as possible, showing the rest of the country that next time we need even more of you. If Greece is anything to judge by, you can’t just keep cutting and cutting from your position of power, before something violent occurs, I’m not looking forward to it.”

Union organisers are confident that growing numbers of people are backing their call.

Paul Nowak, Trades Union Congress

“This government has made very clear political choices. It’s spending 1.6 billion pounds on a re-organisation, a privatisation, of our national health service that people didn’t vote for and don’t support. It cut the top rate of tax for those earning over a 150 thousand pounds a year, and at the same time it’s cutting hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and devastating communities up and down the country. And I think that the British public is swinging behind trade unions and swinging behind our analysis, which is that this is a government governing for the rich and not for the majority of people in this country. And we’ve got to put that right.”

On the podium, furious words from union leaders who say the 99% are being forced to pay for the crimes of the 1%.

Len McCluskey, Unite Trade Union

“We’re marching against this millionaire government, who are deaf to the protests and to the suffering of their people, but are all too ready to listen to the cackle of the rich who demand tax cuts. We’re marching against the whole rotten elite, who are responsible for this crisis and take us from one scandal to the next, wasting money on wars while pushing millions into poverty.

Dave Prentis, UNISON Trade Union

“We are told there is no alternative, but there is. David Cameron, Nick Clegg could have the guts to go back to the bankers, the spivs, the speculators - tell them, on our behalf, ‘you created this mess, you clear it up’.”

And, they offer their own manifesto for growth, arguing that austerity has led to Britain’s double-dip recession.

Len McCluskey, Unite Trade Union

“Let’s tackle the tax-dodgers, let’s invest in manufacturing and house-building, let’s bring banks under proper public control, let’s freeze energy prices, let’s boost the minimum wage by a pound an hour - in short, let’s go for growth, growth that fills the needs of the people and avoids the errors and the crimes of the neo-liberal past.”

And just to show they mean business, the Unions, with six million members have threatened a general strike across the United Kingdom - the first since 1926.

Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers

“When the time is right, and all the practicalities have been considered, we need to strike together, because we need to oppose welfare cuts, and health cuts, and education cuts.”

There was also an appearance from the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband. But his words received a mixed reaction, with some in the crowd furious at party’s past under Tony Blair, and others angry with his assertion that some cuts are necessary.

For now, the unions are considering their options over a general strike, and preparing for a Europe-wide day of action on November 14th. Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, London.


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