As 50,000 took to the streets of London, protesters signalled a step-up in the fight against austerity and comedian Russell Brand called for a ‘joyful revolution’.
Firefighters, homeless mums, health workers and disabled activists were among the sea of people who made their way from BBC Bush House to Parliament Square on Saturday for a march and rally organized by The People’s Assembly.
They were demanding an end of the transfer or wealth from the poor to the rich that the public spending cuts are all about.
‘We rescue people, not banks,’ was the writing on the firefighters’ shirts.
Today in Britain, the seventh largest economy in the world, one in three of the population is living in poverty and more than half a million are reliant on foodbanks. The wealth of the rich keeps growing – a trend that will continue as the state sector is dismantled and sold off to private companies.
‘There is plenty of money,’ said Kate Hudson of the CND, ‘it’s just spent on the wrong people and the wrong things.’ The £100 billion (US$170) to be spent on a new Trident nuclear submarine system, for example.
The coming weeks will see:
- A mass co-ordinated strike of teachers, firefighters and civil servants on 10 July, involving 1.5 million members from six major unions.
- A People’s March for the NHS, from Jarrow in the North East of England to Parliament, from 16 August to 6 September. This has been organized by a group of mothers who will retrace the steps of the 1936 Jarrow marchers against mass unemployment.
- Anti-war and military spending protests at the NATO summit in Newport Wales, from 30 August to 1 September.
There will also be a comedy benefit gig, Stand Up Against Austerity for the People’s Assembly on 7 July. The 11-strong line-up includes Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Shappi Khorsandi, Marcus Brigstocke and New Internationalist columnist Kate Smurthwaite.
At the rally on Saturday, several speakers, including comedian Mark Steel and backbench Labour MP Diane Abbott, referred to the ‘blame culture’ that has taken a grip of Britain as a corollary to austerity. People who are poor, or disabled or immigrant are treated as though they had caused the global economic crisis. ‘Migrants don't cause low wages,’ said Abbott. ‘Predatory employers and anti-union legislation, do. Without migrants Britain would not have an NHS.’ One disabled man carried a placard reading ‘They don’t give ATOS,’ referring to the private French company contracted (at great cost) by the government to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefit.
But there were also inspiring examples of fightback. When homeless mothers living in an East London hostel were evicted, due to spending cuts, they set up the E15 campaign and fought to be rehoused. ‘We are fighting for social housing, not social cleansing,’ said one of the mothers.
The People’s Assembly, which was celebrating its first birthday, brings together a wide variety of organizations, groups and individuals, ranging from UK Uncut to pensioners groups, as well as unions and political parties, including the new Left Unity and National Health Action parties.
Find out more about the actions being planned and The People’s Assembly.