THOUSANDS of workers and students marched to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, in angry protest against the savage assault on jobs, public services and benefits announced by the coalition government.
Speakers addressing the 3,500-strong demonstration warned that this was only the beginning of what would be an uncompromising struggle to ‘Defend the Welfare State’, as the lead banner on the march declared.
Trade union banners representing just about every section of the public sector peppered the 3,500-strong march, which was swelled by large numbers of students who had travelled from far and wide to reach the demonstration called by Camden Trades Council.
Banners from UCU City Library Branch, Camden Teachers Association, RMT, Unison, PCS, SOAS, University of London, and many, many others were present.
As the march reached 10 Downing Street, a large section of University of London students defied the police cordons and took over the whole of Whitehall, stopping traffic before rejoining to hear speakers at the end of the march.
Speaker after speaker from the platform referred to the general strikes taking place in France, and called for the same intensity of struggle in Britain, to calls of ‘Vive la France’ and ‘General Strike’.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) General Secretary, got a wild cheer from the crowds when he invited the crowd to march with striking firefighters on Saturday.
He said: ‘Our message right at the start is that these cuts are not acceptable.
‘Nick Clegg has been saying we are all in this together, but there is no evidence for this.
‘The bankers are getting richer and are asking the poor to pay for this crisis. So this is a war involving the whole population, a class war on the trade union movement and we will fight all the way.
‘Ten thousand Fire and Rescue workers are under threat. It is lunacy and these people need to be told they are lunatics. We will stop them.
‘Firefighters in London are under a huge attack, with 5,600 being dismissed and only allowed back on new contracts. If they don’t toe the line they will be sacked.
‘On Saturday we will be walking out on strike. Private contractors are planning to break this strike.
‘Working people are in this together. Be at the demonstration Saturday at 11 am and march from Chalton Street RMT office down to the TUC to call for more action.’
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS said: ‘Industrial action is inevitable. If you are going to get into a fight, then get a lot of people my father used to say.
‘All the unions have to get together in this. We are going to fight all the way. If they can do it it in France then we can do it here.’
Steve Gillan, the leader of the Prison Officers Association said: ‘The coalition government has set this agenda. Now the trade unions and the working class have to get our coalition of resistance or we will be defeated.
‘Pensioners are under threat, students and public sector worker too, but we did not cause this recession. The people that caused it are giving themselves bonuses of £7bn. these bankers and tax evaders are a disgrace.
‘This is a magnificent turn out and we must build on it in every city across the UK.
‘My union cannot take strike action legally. But if my members insist on it, that is exactly what we will do. The whole trade union movement must stand together.’
On the march, Paul Malgan from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) told News Line: ‘We have come down from the Midlands in support of this march against the cuts.
‘We went to the TUC on Sunday. They are calling for a Day of Action but their idea is to wait until March. That will be too late.
‘The public need a lead from the unions.
‘If all these cuts are allowed to happen it will be too late. There will be no going back. I think they have realised just what is at stake.’
Marie from Southampton University, who lives in London, said: ‘I am just annoyed. I voted for the Liberal Democrats and now they are putting up tuition fees.
‘They are making savage cuts to the fire services and that’s just not on.’
Her friend, Glynes Lonergan added: ‘The Tories are worse than the Labourites. They have wanted to smash the Welfare State for ages and now they have the excuse they want.
‘This is only the beginning of the fight. We could well see a general strike in the not too distant future once people realise what these cuts mean to everyone across the board, apart from the bankers and the very, very rich.’
Lizzy Pearson, a student from Kings College University, said: ‘People won’t be able to go to university any longer unless they are born rich. It’s not just about tuition – it’s about paying bills and trying to live.
‘But we are the people of this country. The money should come from the bankers.
‘They sit on all that money and it’s not going to help anybody. We pay our taxes and we pay tuition fees, so we are paying twice.’
Her friend Matt Williamson, also at Kings College, said. ‘It’s just disgusting. Along with the rise in tuition fees, the government are to get rid of the London weighting for students. London universities will become the preserve of the rich.’
James Parks and Glen from South Bank University said. ‘Everyone should have a chance to go to Uni, but a kid from a council estate who is a genius in maths won’t be able to go because he hasn’t got money. We need to get a much better leadership in the students union.’
Amina from PCS in London said: ‘The unions need to organise themselves better.
‘We always knew the cuts would happen, but we have not been as pro active as the RMT and firefighters.
‘The TUC need to recognise that they should have called for a general strike back at conference.
‘We need to throw the Big Society back at them – we want them all out.’
Ending the rally, George Binette of Camden Trades Council said: ‘With the loss of £170 million in funding for schools and housing, thousands will face unemployment, and others will be evicted onto the London streets as a result of slashing housing benefit.
‘Thousands of students have joined us and injected a youthful resilience which is has raised the spirit of trade unionists in councils and hospitals and universities to fight the cuts.’
He added: ‘Cuts like these have not been seen since the 1920s.
‘We live in the fifth richest country in the world and we won’t put up with Eton bullies – a tiny number who own over twice the deficit, so if you took 50 per cent off them you would wipe out that deficit. We can and must win.’
A speaker from the University and College Union (UCU) said: ‘One million 16-25 year olds are unemployed. It is a national scandal. Extremists have taken over the government. They are George Osborne and David Cameron.
‘Old people will die of hypothermia, 40,000 teachers and 80,000 lecturers will go on the dole. This demo is just the start; if we are to stop them we need more solidarity.
‘On 10th November, UCU and the NUS are calling for a national demonstration. Bring everyone. We can win against a weak and nasty government.’