The big society says no!

For the best part of a year, the trade union and anti-cuts movements have been building up to the big one – the March for the Alternative. Many criticised the TUC at the time, for the timescale, feeling that the wait was too long. A large-scale national demonstration six months ago, could have meant that our movement would be stronger now, but the TUC may indicate the very size of yesterday’s event as justification for the wait.

March for the Alternative banner

Diversity and anger

The turnout was probably not as big as the February 15th march against the war in Iraq, but it was of the same order of magnitude. The best estimates of the numbers attending are between 250,000 and 500,000 people. I am not sure that anyone really knows how many people went down from Leeds, but local Unison branches alone laid on 11 coaches. And the march was diverse, in terms of age, gender, sexuality and ethicity. Union banners and flags were there¬† in large numbers, but also banners of trade justice and religious organisations, community groups, political parties and many hand-made placards expressing individual perspectives. And the march was noisy – whistles and vuvuzelas, chants and cheers, and many bands. There were brass bands, steel bands, dhols and drum groups. There was, of course, anger, but also positivity and a good atmosphere.¬† Despite Cameron’s rhetoric, this was where the big society was on the day.

Banners on the march

As reported on the news, some of the anger was vented at the main corporate perpetrators of tax evasion (including Next, RBS, Boots and Vodafone), as well as the symbols of privilege (particularly the Ritz and Fortnum and Mason), led by UKUncut as well as some anarchist groups. However, while windows were broken and paint thrown in some places, others saw well-controlled protests (such as the shutting of a branch of Boots on Oxford Street, the doors criss-crossed by UKUncut “crime scene” tape). The occupation of Fortnum and Mason was peaceful, in contrast to the kettling of the protesters by police, when they finally left.

At 11:40, the march was heading along Picadilly, and reached Hyde Park shortly afterwards. The rally there was addressed by speakers including Labour Leader Ed Milliband, John McDonnell MP, Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union and actor Tony Robinson, and entertainment provided by the likes of folk duo Show of Hands. However, as this was taking place, the demonstration was continuing. After four hours, marchers were still passing Trafalgar Square, and protests in Central London continued well into the night.

Where next?

A key question, after an event like this, is: where do we go next? Following the big anti-war marches, people came back inspired, but for many this soon lapsed into disillusionment, as it became clear the government would pay no attention at all. Marching is not enough, and this demonstration, in itself, will change nothing. However, it does show the number of people who are opposed to the government plans, and willing to take action. This is something we can build on.

For some, the answer will be to trust in the Labour Party, and hope that they will be successful in forthcoming elections. Others will believe that the only thing that will make the government and the super-rich listen, is direct action, breaking windows or occupying buildings. Many more believe that the answer is a deepening and broadening of industrial action, and are calling on the unions to organise a General Strike.

Come and join us on April 9th for the Anti-Cuts Convention, to discuss the way forwards.