‘OUR MESSAGE to May and the Tories is: We are going to hound you out! Justice for Grenfell!’ Lucy Masood, FBU, said, to the biggest cheer of all the speeches in Hyde Park at the end of the 25,000-strong TUC march from Embankment through central London on Saturday afternoon.
There were thousands of trade union banners, balloons and flags on the march, including the Shrewsbury-24 campaign, scores of Unite, Unison and GMB health and local government banners from all over the country, UCU, NAPO, RMT, CWU, NEU, NASUWT, FBU, PCS, NUJ, Equity, Bectu, FDA, Usdaw, RCM and RCN banners, the TGI Fridays banner, the London Met University banner, the Merseytravel banner, the Cambridge Acute Hospitals banner, the National Maritimes Museums banner, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists banner and the Save Our St Helier’s Hospital banner.
The lively Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists delegation kept up a loud and constant chant throughout the march of: ‘Shooting Gazans – War Crimes, Gassing Gazans –War Crimes, Trade Unions must Act – Boycott Israel Now! Youth Demand a Future – Youth Demand Jobs, What do we Want? General Strike – When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘One Solution – Revolution!’
As the march was assembling and proceeding, many workers told News Line they want the TUC to call a general strike to kick the Tories out now. Kevin Jackson, Reading Unison Berkshire Healthcare and Community Branch Secretary, said: ‘The first year of the NHS pay offer is okay, but the second and third is a disaster. The Tories have got to go. We are heavily involved in fighting what were called the STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) but are now called the ACSs (Accountable Care Systems). What these do is bring together all health service and social care budgets. In these organisations there’s no accountability, no transparency and it is a big step towards the abolition of the NHS. We can’t survive another four years of this. We need united trade union action now, a general strike.’
Terry Davies, Unison Bristol, said: ‘I’m for a general strike and I’ve been advocating it for two years. The Tories are privatising everything. We had a good turn-out in Bristol last month against the illegal bombing of Syria, which was completely ignored in the media.’
Maureen Marsh, Unison Bristol social worker, said: ‘I’ve seen first-hand that so many people are being crushed by this capitalist system. The Tories have to be thrown out now. Why aren’t we more like the French? I’m 150% for a general strike.’
Malcolm Addison, Derby Unite Local Government Branch, said: ‘In our area they are talking about closing several local hospitals and it’s devastating. The county council has just become an “enterprising council” and they are planning wholesale cuts which will destroy multiple local services. The trade unions need to get together quickly and bring down the Tories.’
Malcolm’s wife, Thea Addison, Derby Health Unison, said: ‘I’m voting against the NHS pay offer. It’s another pay cut. I think members have been wrongly informed about it by my union. I’m absolutely for a general strike to kick the Tories out now.’
Hashi Jarma, Unite Secretary at Greenford Bus Garage, said: ‘TfL (Transport for London) used to get their funds from government but there is no subsidy anymore. As a result working hours have been increased, the competition between the bus companies has been stepped up and they are transferring routes and changing shifts which are badly affecting our members’ family life. We need the renationalisation of the buses.’ Hashi added: ‘I definitely oppose the closure of Ealing A&E department. All my members in the garage, 320 of them, and their families, all totally rely upon Ealing Hospital.’
Taylor Hepburn, a TA (teaching assistant) at Hemworthy Junior School in Poole, Dorset, said: ‘I’ve just been made redundant, a month ago, from the cuts. I’ve worked there for a year and several of us, three TA staff, one PE teacher, one supply teacher and two newly qualified teachers, have all been made redundant. These cuts are disgusting.’
Henry Land, NEU (National Education Union) Poole Youth Rep, said: ‘We’ve brought 40 up on the bus today. I’ve just been made redundant three weeks ago. There are massive cuts across Poole. There is a 12% rise in costs – building, maintenance etc, and a massive deficit. I want a Labour government now. There definitely needs to be a general strike to kick the Tories out and it needs to be before July.’
Amrit Rait, Unison Assistant Branch Secretary Whittington Hospital Health Branch, said: ‘Whittington A&E is under threat. There is always great concern. Everything is financial, with cuts in our trust. They wanted to shut our A&E eight years ago but we stopped them and we will continue to stop them, we are strong and united.’ Amrit added: ‘The NHS pay deal is bad, I’ve already voted against.’
The march arrived in Hyde Park where the stage bore the slogan: ‘We demand a new deal for working people #TUCnewdeal.’ Trade union leader speakers were interspersed with representatives of workers in struggle.
First speaker, Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘Under the Tories the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Over four million children in the UK live in poverty, coming to school hungry, yet the Tories want to spend £50 million on grammar schools. This is a government whose time has come, with a PM with no authority. Over half of teachers leave the profession before ten years is up, driven away by overwork and poverty pay. We have to get this rotten, ignorant government out.’
Lauren Townsend, from TGI Fridays Unite, said: ‘We were given two days to prepare for having our tips taken from us, leaving some of us losing £60 a week. We tried to talk to the company but got no reply, so we unionised. Our first strike is on Friday 18th May and then we will strike every Friday after until we get a fair agreement.’
Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, said: ‘It’s time to end austerity and it’s time for this vicious Tory government to go, to get out. Our communities are blighted by unemployment and low pay. The victims of Grenfell, an avoidable tragedy, are still homeless a year on. The Windrush Generation are suffering from a Tory hostile environment. Well, we’ll create a hostile environment for the Tories. We won’t just sweep the Tories from office, we’ll sweep Corbyn into Downing Street and our people into power.’
Bakers Union member Annalese said: ‘I’m a McDonald’s striker demanding a £10 minimum wage. Life as a McDonald’s worker is not simple, but we’re organising in a union and we know that we are going to win because we are stronger than they are and because we all stand together.’ Tim Roche, GMB General Secretary said: ‘We took on Uber in the courts and we won and our message to these gig employers is that we’re coming for you. We’ve also got to stand up for the NHS. No to low pay.’
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, said: ‘The Windrush scandal is disgusting. We demand that all Carillion workers are brought back in house. Universal Credit is a disgrace. The public sector pay cap is not gone. Our members are facing 1% for the 11th year. If our conference the week after next votes for a strike ballot you will see 150,000 PCS members out on official strike and we will call on all of you to support us.’
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said: ‘Just over one month from today will be the anniversary of Grenfell where 72 died. A year on we have seen no justice. Most of the victims who have survived are still homeless. There have been no arrests. We want justice for Grenfell. We have a government that attacks trade unionists every day, yet those who went into Grenfell on that night were all trade union members, members of the FBU, trade unionists to a man and woman. People before profits. Decent homes for everyone. Justice for Grenfell.’
Penny Smith, Northampton Council Unison, said: ‘Northampton is a Tory council that went bankrupt. Northants is proof that privatisation is a disaster.’ Lucy Masood, FBU, said: ‘All we ask for is a properly funded NHS, affordable safe housing and a decent wage for all. In the days after Grenfell they hailed us as heroes, yet two weeks later they cheered in Parliament as they voted to maintain the public sector pay cap. Our message to May and the Tories is we are going to hound you out. Justice for Grenfell!’
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘May and the Tories are repeating what Margaret Thatcher did, destroying manufacturing. A Labour government will build half a million council homes; a construction industry regulated with proper employment rights and training for young people; good quality training, and employment and homes for our people. The Tories are not interested in rights at work, or the needs of nearly one million people on zero-hours contracts. We’ve had eight years of austerity during which real wages have fallen. They’ve protected the tax havens and cut public services. A Labour government will come after the tax dodgers.
‘And we’ll take rail, mail and water back into public ownership. The hostile environment against the Windrush Generation will end. We will repeal the Trade Union Act and replace it with something very different – a ministry that will look after rights at work. This is a declaration that we are around for as long as it takes to put an end to this and to put things right.’
Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary said: ‘Today is the start of the biggest campaign for a new deal for workers. Workers are under more pressure than ever to work harder and faster for less. Unless we do something about it, it will get worse. We have to come together like never before. We’ve got to get a plan. Unions must cooperate. When we go to the TUC Congress this autumn we have to debate what unified action we can deliver straight after it, or in the new year. Our time has come to step up and deliver and change the balance of forces.’
Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, said: ‘We back Jeremy Corbyn and we oppose those within our movement who are working against him. People have come here in coaches and trains from every corner of the country today. Enough of the toxic Tories, enough of a system that is rigged for the wealthy, the spivs and the speculators, the greedy bastards who won’t pay their taxes. We want a Labour government that will defend our people. We want a new deal.’ Closing the rally, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This is the TUC’s 150th birthday. Let’s mark it by making sure we win a new deal for working people.’