A TIDAL WAVE OF PROTESTS

By Daphne Liddle

HUNDREDS of protests against the cuts of the Con-Dem Coalition have happened in towns and cities throughout Britain this week, involving hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and others.

There has not been such a wide outbreak of public political activity since the successful campaign against the poll tax. Yet anyone relying on the main TV channels and major newspapers would hardly be aware of it. There has been shameful under-reporting.

The TUC has announced that it is planning “the biggest demonstration in British history” against the cuts in Hyde Park, London on 26th March next year — and there is a whole programme of activity planned in the five months up to that date.

Last Saturday around 20,000 marched through Edinburgh, led by the Scottish TUC; 15,000 marched in Belfast in the occupied six counties of Ireland; 3,000 marched through Bristol and there were two arrests in clashes with the police; 1,000 marched in Manchester and 2,000 in Sheffield.

In London — which had already seen two major marches against the cuts, 2,000 joined a march organised by Sertuc — while others went to support FBU picket lines as firefighters fought against mass sackings.

There were marches in Cambridge, Cardiff, Derby, Lincoln, York, Colchester, Scunthorpe, Leeds, Southwark, Sunderland, Whitechapel and Norwich.

And there have been more protests this week — including a protest and lobby of Parliament organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention. The government spending review so far has not touched the pensioners’ free travel passes or the winter fuel allowance. But cuts to Disability Living Allowance, housing benefits, NHS services and the coming rise in VAT will hit them hard.

Another demonstration against cuts and the effects they will have on mental health care services took place at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, Lon don on Tuesday — organised by a group called Mad Pride.

The organisers said: “Welfare Benefits under Threat from the new Coalition Government! Those cuts, many of which are not yet announced sound really scary right?

“Putting mental health survivors in the UK under extreme stress — adversely affecting our mental health. This is not good. So Mad Pride folk have decided to join in with other survivors to plan an Anti-Benefits Cuts Campaign of Direct Action in 2010.

“We can’t just do nothing until we find ourselves living in cardboard boxes (remember them?).”

The Edinburgh march last Saturday, under the slogan, “There is a better way” saw the STUC commit to an ongoing mobilisation against Coalition austerity measures and call on Scottish Liberal Democrats to stand up and be counted.

Grahame Smith said: “We launched this campaign to dispel the myth that there is no economic alternative to these cuts.

“There is an alternative. Get people back to work; get the economy growing again; and the public finances will largely take care of themselves.

“We also launched this campaign to expose the lie that it is those with the broadest shoulders that will bear the brunt of the cuts.

“As I watched the Chancellor deliver his speech I don’t know what made me most angry, the policies he announced or the way the Tory and liberal back benches cheered as they slashed £20 billion pounds from the welfare budget and not only offered no hope to those millions already unemployed but condemned another million workers to the dole queue, 100,000 here in Scotland.

“What they have done is an act of inexcusable callousness.

“And they might not want to be reminded of the spectre of Margaret Thatcher — but unemployment is never, ever, a price worth paying.”

In London Bob Crow, general secretary of the union RMT, told protesters that collective action was needed to fight the cuts.

He said the movement needed to be built up “into the housing estates, into the workplaces, into every part of society and say we aren’t paying the price for the corruption of the bankers”.

He added; “When London Underground workers take strike action it shouldn’t just be about Underground workers, it should be about the three million people who use it.

“When firefighters take action, it shouldn’t just be about the firefighters, it should be about the people who rely on their services.

“And when public sector workers and private sector workers fight over the next 12 months to defend their jobs and their communities, we’ve got to build up the biggest resistance possible.”

He predicted the UK-wide rallies would “kick-start a tidal wave of protest”.