150,000 WORKERS, trade unionists, students and youth marched from Embankment to Hyde Park in central London on the TUC’s ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ march on Saturday afternoon.
Marchers carried thousands of balloons, banners, placards and flags from Unison, Unite, GMB, PCS, RCN, RCM, USDAW, Equity, RMT, NUT, NASUWT and other unions.
There were Palestinian flags and placards on the march, the ‘Shrewsbury Campaign for Justice – Framed by the State’ banner and the ‘Crook Branch UCATT Construction Workers Union Socialism Through Revolution’ banner and many others.
There were hundreds of Royal College of Nurses members wearing white t-shirts saying: ‘What if nurses just said no?’ Members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy carried two huge balloons.
A loud and lively delegation of Young Socialists carried their ‘No Slave Labour for Youth! Defend NHS and Welfare State! TUC Call General Strike!’ banner at the front of the Workers Revolutionary Party delegation.
Hundreds of other nearby marchers joined in as they chanted: ‘Low Pay No Way – Trade Union Rates of Pay! TUC Get off your Knees – Call a General Strike! No Privatisation – Kick this Government Out! No Zero Hours Contracts – Kick this Government Out! Youth Demand a Future – Youth Demand Jobs!’
Marchers spoke to News Line as the march assembled and en route to Hyde Park.
Kelly Ralley, RCM Kings College Hospital, London, said: ‘I’m a newly qualified midwife and to be with all the other unions shows we can make a difference.
‘Especially as I’m new to the job I understand there has to be a change. We need more midwives, the birth rate is going up. Midwives make a difference. I trained up north and they are closing units all over the country, making women have to travel at this vulnerable time when they are in labour and in pain.
‘I’ve heard about the announcement of the closure of Ealing Maternity Unit and the impact it will have on Paediatrics and the A&E at the hospital. It has to be resisted, as have all the closures. Midwives have been on strike this week for the first time in their history.
‘But if everyone came together in a general strike to defeat this government it would show that everyone except the government values the health service.’
Bronwen Ryan, RCM St George’s Hospital, Tooting, south west London, said: ‘My unit is not immediately threatened, but in south west London they are threatening to close St Helier.
‘The policies they are pursuing are not benefitting patients, especially mothers and their families. There should be further action. The TUC must take it seriously. There’s too much inertia; it comes from the top.’
GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny told News Line: ‘Millions of people who keep this country running are having pay cuts and pay freezes. They have been assaulted over the past ten years, not five.’
News Line asked: ‘You have been quoted as saying the call for a general strike is “unreal”. Is that what you believe?’
Kenny replied: ‘People say a general strike and it’s a very easy phrase. It’s our job to make sure of jobs.
‘I think a general strike is unreal at the moment. Every policy has its time. A general strike may come. What drives it is anger, frustration. People are being forced to face up to their choices.
‘If we end up with the government seeking to ban the right to strike anywhere, a general strike will ensue and I’ll be first out of the gate.
‘And if they put me in jail then so be it. It might do me some good and get some of this weight off.’
Simon Toft, GMB Ministry of Justice, Petty France, London, said: ‘Enough is enough. We need a pay rise, especially considering the MPs are getting 9%. This country’s in a mess. Something has to be done.
‘We have to start thinking outside the box because the current system blatantly isn’t working. There needs to be a revolution.
‘To vote every four or five years for people who’ve got absolute power over you! We need a general strike to kick this government out.’
Stephen Kirrelly, NUT Preston, said: ‘The teaching profession and education is collapsing under workload, stress, long hours, the use of unqualified staff, cover supervisors, who are taking lessons but are not qualified teachers.
‘Academies and Free Schools are a disaster. They are divisive and are a deliberate attempt to break down the state system and replace it with the private sector, people like Carphone Warehouse in Preston, where they are taking vast amounts of public money. We have to drive out the privateers.’
General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Steve Gillan, said: ‘We’re here marching for Britain Needs a Pay Rise in the public and the private sector and it’s a valid march.
‘However, in my opinion we need to be doing more than just marching. There needs to be coordinated action in the public and private sector to combat the austerity measures of this government.
‘My union, along with the RMT, were movers of motions passed at the TUC in 2012 and 2013 calling for the examination of the practicalities of a general strike.
‘But as far as I’m concerned they’ve only paid lip service to acting on our motions. We’re now taking action at our secure hospitals over the disgraceful way the government has ignored the recommendations of the pay review body.’
Shenagh Govan, Chair of the North and East London Equity Branch, said: ‘We’ve got to do something, it can’t carry on like this. The NHS is being destroyed. It’s an integral part of our country, no other country has it.
‘Low pay is endemic in our industry. Equity has just launched a Low Pay No Pay campaign, which is a very hot topic in our industry.
‘Fringe theatre is a huge employer of actors, but in the majority of fringe productions actors are not paid.
‘There are very strong feelings about this. Fringe is a showcase, not just for actors, but for everybody – director, writer, designer, stage manager. In my view everyone should be paid.’
Jemma Harding, South Staffs RCN, said: ‘This has been long overdue. We are making our voices heard, but whether they listen is another matter.
‘The way they are merging the hospitals and trusts is leading to a shortfall in services which is having a knock-on affect on patient care. Doctors and nurses are being expected to treat more patients with increasingly limited resources. It’s just wrong.
‘We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary and none of the unions are. But actually, they just don’t care. Ultimately, I don’t know what we can do other than hold a general strike.’
Jas Taggar, Unison Equalities Officer South Derbyshire Healthcare, said: ‘There has to be an equal economy. The grafters are being screwed over.
‘There’s too much oppression of the working class. This government is getting away with far too much. Bring back Marxism. And solidarity should power the fight.’
Arron Jones, Unison, RJAH Hospital, Oswestry in Shropshire, said: ‘The government refuse to recognise the policy of its own pay review body, a body that it set up.
‘We’ve had a pay freeze for four years now. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. The top chief executives earn 175 times the average wage, which is disgusting.
‘A general strike is needed to prove that working people won’t put up with it anymore. We will organise, we do care. Unison leaders have let us down. The four-hour strike proves a lack of fight at the top. Look at this march, thousands of grass roots members would come out.
‘But the leadership needs changing; it has become too polite. This government is trying to undermine the working class completely. It needs fighting.
‘But we need a concise and clear leadership and we haven’t got that. The passion is there, the leadership isn’t. We need a general strike now, and a prolonged general strike at that, to kick out the government.’
Elisa Eames, carrying a Palestine Solidarity Campaign placard, said: ‘We are against the cuts and austerity and when they are arming Israel, our taxes are being used to torture and kill Palestinian people.
‘It is very important that the trade unions enforce a boycott and arms embargo on Israel. Also they must investigate Israel and hold Israel responsible for war crimes against the Palestinian people.
‘The vote in Parliament this week, when MPs voted 274-12 Yes to recognise the State of Palestine, was wonderful. Now it has to be acted upon.’
At the rally in Hyde Park at the end of the march, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady spoke about the Tory plans for new anti-union laws, saying: ‘We will defend our unions. Standing together we will win.’
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘150,000 out on the streets today marching against austerity, austerity which takes from those with little and protects the rich. We need to do more than march, we need to organise and mobilise.
‘The Tory mission is to dismantle the NHS, devastate local authorities, slicing care into 10-minute blocks. We say to the rich and corporate bosses, pay your taxes you greedy bastards.
‘I say to Labour, don’t be frightened of your own shadow. Be brave, be inspired by this march today. Comrades, the achievements of our forefathers are in our hands. Hold on tight to them and victory will be ours.’
Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, said: ‘It’s not just the 150,000 here today, in Scotland and Northern Ireland there are thousands demonstrating as well. That was no Freudian slip that the disabled should get £2 an hour – that was the true voice of the Coalition.
‘There are 85 people on this planet that have the same wealth as 3.5 billion. We don’t need an austerity-lite Labour government, we need a Labour government that will break with austerity.’
Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, flanked by members employed by the privateer Care UK, said: ‘I’m proud to be with members from Care UK who have been in dispute for 90 days, fighting against pay cuts of 35-40%. We will stand with them until they win.
‘I’m also proud to be here with our colleagues from the Royal College of Midwives, who struck on Monday for the first time in their 130 year history. What is the world coming to?
‘600 public sector jobs have gone every day during the lifetime of this coalition. £30 billion of contracts have gone to private companies this year alone. 400,000 health workers took their first pay strike action in 32 years on Monday and they will take action again in November.
‘If we do not win a pay rise this year then we know what we have to do next year – get this government out of office in May,’ Prentis concluded.’
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