It was clear in the build up to 26th March that the demonstration was going to be huge. Trade unions across the country had mobilised and chartered trains and coaches for their members and families.

The atmosphere on the day was carnival like but it was also powerful and of something historic with a wide sector of workers from public service workers, actors, midwives, cabin crews to taxi drivers who came together in a show of strength against the cuts. It was amazing to see, there were over 1,000 banners, there were placards, bands balloons and all demanding the same – No Cuts. People displayed their anger and disgust with the bankers and the billionaires, the rich and the financial institutions who created the crisis and see the cuts as an unadulterated attack on the working class while the rich continuing to get rich and richer.

More than 500,000 demonstrators wound their way from the Embankment towards Hyde Park for over 5 hours but many were not able to make it to Hyde Park before having to leave to get their transport home.

This is Just the Beginning

In the park about 100,000 listened to the speakers, many others joined the unofficial meetings there while a large section stayed in Trafalgar Square. The vast majority of people did not see the day as the end of the campaign but the beginning and when Mark Serwotka, the public sector PCS union said, “Look around you in this park. Imagine what it would be if we didn’t only march together but took strike action together” he received a roar of support. Len McLuskey, the Unite union general secretary was applauded when he said that the demonstration ““must be only the start” and urged everyone to “continue the fight, including coordinated industrial strike action”.

Labour is Not the Alternative

Surprisingly to many trade unionists, Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, was invited to speak and unsurprisingly he held the same position as most of the union leaders, that is, these cuts are too deep and too quick and that workers should now wait for a Labour Government. Miliband was booed when he said, “We need some cuts, but this government is going too far.”

On the one hand the Labour Party, with TUC support, complain in words about the level of cuts, but in working class districts across the country Labour councils are devastating communities and leaving people desperate as jobs are cut and services disappear. In a betrayal of the working class, these councils oppose any serious fight back against the cuts and do not want to see more mobilisations.

On the 26th March Unison, the public sector union, mobilised the biggest bloc of demonstrators who carried over 200 banners on the day. However the leader of that union, Dave Prentis, said when speaking from the platform, “We will march in our thousands and vote in our millions to ditch their coalition once and for all.” The effect of the public service cuts is going be devastating however Prentis made no call for industrial action only for local protests. 

Protests will not stop this onslaught against the working class, what is needed now is strike action and mass mobilisations. Most of the demonstrators recognised this, and if necessary trade union leaders who have no will for this will have to be replaced. If they are not up to their job of representing the interests of the working class then they must go.  

The 26th March was significant in that the majority of the TUC majority, in the September 2010 congress, argued that their members would not be ready for a demonstration against the cuts until the end of March 2011. However the impressive demonstrations against tuition fees and cuts, led by the students, that took place in November 2010, proved this to be completely wrong. March 26th was clearly organised to coincide with the local elections that are being held on 5 May.

Prior to the demonstration there were announcements by council after council, including all those with a Labour leadership, of widespread brutal cuts. So suddenly in the month of March many people from young families to the elderly heard that many of the services they use and depend on will either close, be severely cut or will charge, requiring people to find money that they do not have. It also meant that a million public sector jobs across the country would disappear.

So thousands across the country took to their streets and lobbied their local councils and town halls but were ignored. Noticeably however, trade union and Labour party banners were absent. The consequence of the cuts is that from the 1st April many will begin to feel the direct impact of the cuts and there will not be a working class family unaffected in one way or another. Everyone will experience a significant drop in their living standards.

The main council unions in are Unison and Unite whose leaderships are close to the Labour Party and have been a bloc to developing strike action, by negotiating support for the cuts in the councils with only words of protest. These unions will have to break from the Labour Party policy of…wait, don’t mobilise.

Politically Motivated Arrests

UK Uncut, who have organised many peaceful, creative, theatrical and light hearted protests and sit-ins, joined the 26th March demo. They went on to Piccadilly to occupy Fortnum and Mason, a luxury food store, and inside ”sang songs, read books and played cards, while customers continued to browse the shelves and drink tea in the cafe”. Like all previous UK Uncut actions, it was an entirely peaceful protest. 

UK Uncut have drawn significant public attention to the tax-dodging and strategy of tax avoidance by big business and banks at a time when we’re being told that there’s no choice other than to cut the services and jobs of working people. 

Like many big business owners (Topshop and Vodaphone, to name a few) Fortnum and Masons’ owner, Wittington Investments, dodge £10 million in taxes every year. This highlights the lies and hypocrisy of the government who think they can deceive us into thinking ‘we’re all in this together’.

As the protesters left the store dozens of them were packed in front of the store and were then let out one by one, as they did they were photographed, handcuffed and arrested. Those arrested were imprisoned for over 20 hours, had their clothing mobile phones confiscated and have been denied the right to protest in the near future.  

The ruling class are clearly nervous about the development of the UK Uncut campaign, so by means of “special bodies of armed men” the state exerted its power and arrested 138 protesters. This mass arrest is an unprecedented attack on the right to protest and is without a doubt a political attempt to undermine their success and distract attention away from the tax dodgers and the rich who have caused the crisis. This is an act of oppression against the working class to intimidate and criminalise protesters and to curtail the rights of all protest.    

In his analysis of the state and state power Engels said, “Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class….” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884).

The ISL fully support the actions of UK Uncut and those who in the state’s rush to arrest and charge have been made political scapegoats, it is important for the trade union movement to demand the dropping of all charges and demand an immediate apology.

What Next? Coordinated and Concerted Strike Action

The message on the March 26th was to call for an alternative. But the alternative that is being proposed by the TUC is not enough and many on the demonstration were calling for the TUC to organise further action. The International Socialist League handed out leaflets making it clear we were against all cuts and called for coordinated and concerted strike action. This was endorsed by everyone who stopped and read our material, as no-one was under the illusion that this demonstration would stop the government in its tracks and everyone recognised that industrial action will inevitably have to follow.

The Socialist Party is calling for a public sector general strike but there is hardly a union that organises solely in the public sector. Many of the hospital, education and council services are privatised or run by ‘not for profit’ groups, and for example one of the most militant unions the transport union RMT (transport union) organises its members in the hundreds of private companies who now run the railways. The ISL believes that such a call is partial and misses the crucial point that many public services are being run by private companies and that plans for privatising public services are greater than ever and unions must take up the fight to defend all public services.

The Attack on the Unemployed has Already Begun

The attack on benefits has already started and those on benefits are already suffering, however on 1st April a further £18 billion was cut from benefits which will intensify an already authoritarian regime. In an attempt to cut benefits targets are being set to sanction claimants for the most trivial of reasons, in particular they target young people. When a claimant is sanctioned Job Seekers Allowance is stopped (also, automatically housing benefit is stopped) for periods long as six months.

This is happening when claimants are late for interviews, cannot attend to due illness or other less ‘serious’ reasons. Claimants are increasingly suffering from depression, homelessness and are reliant on food parcels.

Life is hard enough for the unemployed and those on benefits, but now they live in fear of receiving a ’brown letter’ through the door announcing they have been sanctioned. As unemployment inevitably rises and the cuts policies are set in motion these attacks will intensify and the state and its institutions such as the media will exploit every opportunity to legitimise its actions.

The scapegoating and stereotyping of immigrants, workers and those on benefits must be rebutted and attacked because it’s only purpose is to divide workers and take away the focus of blame for the cuts from the rich ruling class who are responsible for the crisis. The trade unions and working class must organise the unemployed to fight for the right to work for all and the right to benefits for all.

Public Need not Private Greed

In April the government handed multi-million pound contracts to 16 private companies and 2 voluntary sector organisations ” … to get the 850,000 who have been out of work for one year back into work”. In a period of high and rising unemployment, with cuts to welfare benefits and where there is a growing culture of sanctioning claimants, to hand services over to private profiteers will only serve to further increase the oppression and control of the working class.

Ken Clarke, Justice Minister, has also just announced the first privatisation of a public sector prison in Birmingham. This is fully opposed by the Prison Officers Association, and the minster has already said that he has contingency plans to use the military if the prison officers’ strike. The POA are facing intense pressure and extreme threats from the Ministry of Justice and their employers and must be supported by trade unionists.

The watchword of capitalist governments is – “let market forces reign”, and the people of Britain are just beginning to see what that really means. It is just another attempt to implement what the ruling class have been trying to do since the end of the second world war, that is, to control the working class and change the relationship of class forces to such a degree that they will be able to do away with all public services and place them in the hands of private business.  The first big attempt to curb the power of the working class was in the 1960s by the Wilson Labour government, now over 40 years later the coalition government is trying to complete that plan.

Crisis of the Greedy Rich 

Since 2008 capitalism has been plunged into a deep worldwide crisis. The crisis in Britain was built up over many years as corrupt politicians, greedy bankers utilising a deregulated international and European system. The speculative frenzy referred to as ‘globalisation’, is imperialism trying to stall the inevitable explosion of contradictions between the productive forces and private property.  This is why the cuts are being forced through but it’s a crisis that the super rich bankers and the billionaires must pay for and workers are not blind to that reality.

The Working Class must take Control

If the ruling class are given an open road we will find ourselves facing the conditions of oppression and depression as in the 1930s. Only strikes, occupations and militant mobilisations will prevent the outcome of such a bleak future.  British capitalism is trying to save itself by extracting as much value from the working class as fast as it can but that also hastens the next crash.

There is a rising anger in work places and in communities and March 26th showed. Just before the London demonstration, 120,000 university and college workers came together in a national strike against education cuts. Other strikes are also on the way but union leaderships will have to be fought.

Communities have mobilised to protest against the cuts in services throughout Britain they have not yet developed from protest into action.  A number of anti-cuts assemblies have been organised which the ISL support and will participate in, and seek to deepen the links between trade unions, workers and community based campaigns.

The local council elections should be used to stir up support for local and national anti-cut campaigns. In a coalition of trade unionists and socialist groups the ISL is standing candidates in the May elections with the perspective of developing a fight against all the cuts and with a message declaring that the only alternative is a socialist alternative.

The alternative on 26th March was not the Labour Party, which way lies demoralisation and defeat. The only alternative is uniting all the struggles into one mass movement against the Government. The alternative is socialism.

–       Unions – fight for your class against job, benefit and service cuts

–       Unite Communities and Unions against the Cuts

–       Right to Work for All

–       Right to Benefits for All

–       Make the Rich Pay