‘A GENERAL STRIKE to bring down the Tories and kick them out now!’ was the main demand on the 100,000-strong TUC march from the BBC in Portland Place to Parliament Square on Saturday afternoon.
‘We are clearly in a class struggle and the battle lines are drawn,’ RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said to enormous applause at the end of the rally.
The huge delegation of RMT members with their branch banners from all over the country was cheered for up to 15 minutes when it arrived in Parliament Square at the end of Saturday’s march, on the eve of the union’s three days of strike action this week, which starts tomorrow.
A delegation of CGT trade unionists which had come over from France to support the railwaymen marched with them into the square.
There were thousands of banners, balloons and placards, huge delegations from Unite, Unison, GMB, NEU, NASUWT, USDAW, UCU, PCS, CWU, FBU and every other union.
The Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists had a lively delegation chanting: ‘TUC get off your knees – Call a General Strike. What do we want – General Strike, when do we want it? Now! Free Julian Assange – Kick the Tories out!’
There were loud and continuous boos from every section and every delegation as the march passed Downing Street.
As the march was assembling and along the route through London’s West End, marchers spoke to News Line.
John Mercer, a residential childcare worker with North West and Irish GMB, said: ‘There must be a general strike. I have affiliations with some food banks in Manchester and it’s appalling when you see a family of two adults and three children living in a small van in the middle of winter.
‘It makes you see the world in a new light. I’m also a member of the Labour and Co-op Party. Keir Starmer is a Tory.’
Nikki Warr, GMB Bucks County Branch Secretary, said: ‘Pay is a big issue. Members are being forced to take a 2% pay rise when inflation is 11%. The people should rise up and make a stand.’
Dennis Nash, USDAW Midlands Area Organiser, who was wearing a Free Palestine T-shirt, said: ‘We’ve got to boycott Israeli goods.
‘Most USDAW members are on the lowest pay. With inflation at 11% our union conference in May mandated us to fight for a 15% rise across the board and we must fight to achieve it.’
Michael Tissington, CWU Rep, Doncaster, said: ‘I’m for a general strike to bring down the Tories. We’re balloting over pay this month.
‘They are offering 2% no strings and another 3% if we accept strings, such as Sunday working as standard, reduced sick pay and annualised hours. We are pushing for an inflation level pay rise with no strings.
‘There’s going to be massive strike action and we’ve got to win it this time. All the unions must unite together and bring the country to a standstill.’
Trev, a Unite hospitality equality rep, said: ‘I would support a general strike to bring down the Tories. It’s awful for hospitality workers.
‘Young people are often unaware of their rights, to the benefit of the companies. We need to bring more people in hospitality into the union.
‘There is a fear of victimisation and we have to have much more widespread unionisation.’
Max Atkins, Wigan NEU Joint District Secretary, said: ‘We’ve pretty much had a pay freeze for the last 10 years. That’s support staff as well as teachers.
‘We’re here today to march with the rest of the working class. We are balloting for strike action in the autumn. When you see teachers using food banks you know the situation is dire.’
Fiona Wild, Unison occupational therapist rep, said: ‘We have hundreds and hundreds of nursing vacancies in our trust and people are leaving every day. It’s the cost of living crisis. Year after year never a pay rise, always a pay cut.
‘I’m 100% for a general strike today and it’s about time. This government is destroying the NHS. We have community nurses and therapists who can’t afford to put petrol in their cars.’
Lawanya Chandra, from the Refugee Rights Campaign, said: ‘The government’s deportation policy is a racist policy obviously. We beat them last week. Asylum seekers have housing problems. They are not allowed to work.
‘We have three main demands: 1 Close detention centres; 2 Allow the right to work for all; 3 Stop deportations.
‘We want to unite our struggle to working class people. This campaign is organised by refugees themselves. It is organised by ourselves.’
The rally in Parliament Square, was opened by PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, who demanded ‘a massive roar if you support the railworkers and every worker taking action’ and he got one!
He continued: ‘We had a fantastic victory this week when we stopped the deportations to Rwanda. But the Tories haven’t retreated. Now they are putting tags on refugees to further treat them as criminals.
‘The Tories have to be kicked out. We are fighting to defend 91,000 jobs and we are balloting for strike action in September.
‘There are strikes breaking out everywhere and they are being won. It shows the power of the working class. We all marched together today, we’ll all strike together tomorrow.’
Mark Dickinson, Nautilus union General Secretary, said: ‘P&O couldn’t even look their workers in the eye when they sacked them over zoom.
‘Then they employed handcuff-trained security officers to evict them from their jobs. We can’t allow this to happen again. We have got to join forces across the trade union movement.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, said: ‘Mr Shapps threatened railwayworkers this week that they’ll strike themselves out of a job. You’re wrong Mr Shapps. The Tories chose to cut nurses and other public service workers’ pay.
‘Don’t you dare tell working families we have to put up with more pain. It is time to act.
‘This demonstration is just the beginning, we’re going to stand up for our pandemic heroes. Together we can win.’
Unison General Secretary Christina McAnea, addressing the rally, said: ‘When they tell us we will ruin the economy if we demand pay rises they can forget it. They were partying in Downing Street while our members were holding the NHS together.
‘Next week, our care worker members at St Monica’s in Bristol are striking against fire and rehire. We have to work together across the trade union movement.
‘We won’t put up with crap pay rises when inflation stands at over 10%. We will strike together.’
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Our union has engaged in 300 disputes in a few months. We are fighting for our members. We stand with you.
‘The trade union movement has to be reborn. They may call it the summer of discontent, we call it the summer of resistance.
‘How dare the governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor accuse workers of causing inflation!
‘Our members are the victims, not the cause of inflation. I’ll tell you the cause of inflation. The biggest companies in Britain have seen their profits increase by 70% since before the pandemic.
‘I’ll repeat that, their profits are up by 70% since before the pandemic. We must take action now. The baton has been passed on to us. We now have to do our job and fight for working people.’
Rhea Wolfson GMB Glasgow regional organiser, said: ‘We have a government that turned our care homes into morgues. Our care workers are taking home a penny more than the minimum wage.
‘Statistics are now showing that half of workers have to borrow money to survive. Power will never be given, it has to be taken. Across the country workers are taking action Workers are not just demanding better, they’re fighting for it.’
NEU General Secretary Kevin Courtney said: ‘This is the biggest TUC demonstration since 2011. Teachers are seeing child poverty and child hunger face to face.
‘In the three years since 2019, the number of children on free school meals has gone up by 49% and these are children of working parents.
‘That shows that the the child poverty crisis is a wages crisis and that people are on poverty wages. Teachers pay has dropped by 20% since 2010.
‘Tory Education Secretary Zahawi says teachers are going to get 3% pay rise. That’s an 8% pay cut.
‘I read in the press today that Boris Johnson is worried about public support for the RMT. He’s right to be worried. We’re coming for them and we’re coming out together.’
Bella Fashola, RMT Churchill cleaners, said: ‘My cleaners at Churchill’s are on the bare minimum wage. We’ve got 40 different nationalities organising on the picket line in 12 days of strike action.
‘End outsourcing. Privatisation is wrong. Everything should be in public ownership. We won’t put up with it any more.’
As Bella concluded her speech, TUC Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak announced that the RMT delegation at the back of the march was at last entering Parliament Square and got everyone chanting: ‘We support the RMT!’
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It has been a decade since we had a massive march like this.
‘We are witnessing class warfare from this Tory government, which is trying to protect eyewatering profits for their shareholders. The Tories are rightly terrified about the RMT coming out next week.
‘Nationalise mail, rail, energy and water. We will not be handed these things, we have to take them. This is a historic moment for the union movement.’
Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary said: ‘This is a huge moment for the trade union movement.
‘Post Office workers have already taken four days of strike action, Telecoms members are coming out shortly and 115,000 Royal Mail postal workers are balloting for strike action.
‘RMT members have support and that support is going to grow. This is different from anything we’ve done for decades.’
Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said: ‘We want a 12% pay rise this year and if we don’t get it we will be balloting our members for national strike action in November to get it.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘We are clearly in a class struggle now and the battle lines are drawn.’
Pointing to Parliament, he continued: ‘There are people over there who have to answer whose side are you on? The message is simple. We will keep this struggle up until we achieve a fair deal.
‘The fight is on and it’s going to be tough. The pundits are against us, the newspapers and the media are against us, the commentators are against us. Who is with us?
‘The workers are with us and that is why we are going to win. Our valiant members are strong and determined and won’t countenance defeat.’
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