Half a million people took the streets of London on Saturday in one of the biggest marches since ‘Stop the War’ in 2003.
The TUC organised march against the Governments public sector cuts saw all walks of life come out to protest. The Government is planning to remove the deficit in 4 years by cutting and reducing huge chunks of the public sector, which will damage the lives of many.
I travelled on one of the 8 coaches to leave Portsmouth with members of the NASUWT (a teachers Union) and joined the thousands already congregated at Embankment at 11:15. By this point many had already reached Hyde Park three miles away. Around me were parents with their young children as well as trade unionists and members of political parties and the feeling of frustration was palpable. This was a march for people’s livelihoods and futures. We needed to be there, rather than having a duty to be.
Members of many trade unions were present in huge numbers. T-shirts, banners and even steel and samba bands were present, which helped create the carnival feeling of the day. People were dancing, waving flags and cheering, creating as much noise as possible and make themselves heard. The TUC had suggested that uniformed workers attend the demonstration in their uniforms and many nurses and fire-fighters and others did so. I spoke to one member of a contingent of the Fire Brigades Union who had travelled down from Manchester that morning. He said that he was protesting ‘on two levels; my own job, obviously, but also against the cuts in general’. This was not a march just about the personal impact for each protester but for the common good.
I also spoke to a nurse, Jackie, resting by the side of the road in Piccadilly who was amazed and gladdened at the positive atmosphere of the day. She was protesting with Unison but had bumped into parents from her daughter’s school that had never been on a demonstration before. They felt that fighting these cuts was vital.
Jackie also voiced her opinion regarding the paintballing attack on the Ritz, which she saw as an explosion of the frustration felt buy some. Though many have condemned the vandalism I think that there was something rather tasteful about the subtle colours, which looked like they needed names such as baby’s breath and duck egg. Windows were smashed and anarchist symbols and other slogans scrawled but relatively little damage over all. Fortnum and Mason’s upper floor and balcony was also occupied. At which point the police’s light touch vanished and riot gear appeared, but even then it was only a small number.
I spoke to one of police guarding the Ritz who told me at that point he believed the march to be a million strong, although the news and papers now say that numbers were “more than a quarter of a million” to about “half a million”. It really felt like the voice of the people was being raised. Mostly the slogans were earnest and angry – ‘education cuts don’t heal’ and I saw fewer witty ones but there was some humour – my favourite being ‘get us out of this Eton mess!’.
On leaving London I walked back through Trafalgar Square where hundreds of people had gathered for a sit in. The atmosphere of carnival continued with boom boxes playing and people dancing and singing around the fountain. No matter what the number clearly this march was huge and for me an important factor was that so many groups of society were represented.