UnionNews asks trade union leaders why they marched against the Tories
Greater Manchester Police estimated there 60,000 people present, although organisers believe there were more than that. One steward, who was at the end of the march route, told UnionNews the protestors and their banners were still arriving two hours after those at the front of the march had finished.
There were four arrests during the day, with police praising protestors, saying: “The overwhelming majority of people have exercised their democratic right to protest with dignity and good grace. I’d like to thank the organisers for taking responsibility and ensuring the demo was planned and delivered appropriately,”
Unions began to line up before midday, where they were treated to a short set by Billy Bragg.
The singer told UnionNews: “I’m here because in 1984 the NUM went on strike. I felt that was an issue I should support and since then I’ve found that when you’re doing organised politics, the trade unions are more trustworthy on issues than political parties, so my allegiance has always been with these people, marching in the streets, standing up for ordinary working people’s rights, looking after the most vulnerable in society, making sure people get decent wages, making sure schools get built, houses get built … it’s the unions who have always done that and today is an important day to send a message to the Conservative government that they may have a majority but they don’t have the support of everyone in the country.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told UnionNews: “It makes me incredibly proud to see so many people standing up for their union, for workers’ rights and opposing the cuts. This is the face of real Britain. This is the real Northern powerhouse.”
She continued: “We’re here in unity to say ‘No’ to austerity and ‘Yes’ to workers’ rights, in particular to say to the government ‘Think again on this biggest attack on trade union rights we’ve seen in 30 years’.
“We must protect the principle of the right to strike. Those workers in steel, in Hovis, in the National Gallery, they deserve our support and it has to be the last resort when people are facing unfair treatment, you’ve got to have that right to strike. So here’s the strong message to Mr Cameron: ‘back off. If you really want to claim to be the workers’ party, then this is not the way to go about it’.”
You can read the full transcript of her speech here.
UnionNews caught up with several general secretaries during the day, asking them why they were here.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We’re here marching against austerity. We’ve got a Tory government, the most vicious government we’ve had in years and it’s our people that are paying the price, our NHS, the care of the elderly and we’re here to say it’s got to stop.
“There is a different way and the thousands of people here are sending a message to this Tory government that they’re not going to get away with it. We’re going to resist what they’re doing and at the end of the day we’l get them out.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serowtka said: “I”m here because I want to be part of this mass demonstration against what the Conservatives are doing, their austerity politics that are forcing people out of their homes, off welfare, not enough decent jobs, not enough decent pay. We want a massive crowd today to shout to the Conservative conference that we should stop the austerity politics or we’re going to take action until we do.”
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “I’m here because we have to absolutely have to say ‘No to austerity’ and ‘Refugees are welcome here’. This government was elected by 24% of the population. They are the few, we are the many. We absolutely need policies for a fair and just society.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “We’re here to send a message to these Tories who think they have nothing to worry about following their fluke victory on May 7th. They thought we were going to go away.
“We’re here to tell them that we intend to continue to fight against their attacks on our heritage, everything we hold dear, our NHS, our welfare state, universal education.
“We’re here to tell them we want decent homes for our people, secure jobs, an end to zero hours contracts and, of course, we’re here to tell them, trade unionists are not going to be demonised. We’re not going to allow them to take away our rights. We’re going to fight this pernicious Trade Union Bill.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “We think it’s important the public is aware of the impact on government policy on working people, on families and on children and young people. It’s about making sure that we’re raising the profile of the dire consequences too many find themselves in as a result of this government’ economic and social policies.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “This is the biggest assault on the democracy of our country. If we have a bill that is going to undermine the right of trade unionists to organise and protect each other at work, that attacks every single principle of this country that we believe in. There are 6m trade unionists in the country and the Tories have just picked a fight with us – and that’s what we’re starting today.”
The event was compared by musician John Robb, who told UnionNews: “I live in Manchester and I don’t understand why the Tories are here. It just seems weird that they’re here, poncing around town inside their ring of steel. There is no ring of steel here, is there? Anybody can join in with this. That tells you an awful lot, doesn’t it?”
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