Central London was besieged Saturday by the largest protest since the height of the 2003 Iraq invasion, with demonstrators from all walks of life calling for an alternative to the government’s austerity measures of public service cuts.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, estimated that there were half a million people taking part in the March for Alternative.
‘This is an absolutely incredible turnout and display of anger which the government will have to take notice of,’ McCluskey said as the march set off in a carnival of festivities with hundreds of police officers lined up outside parliament behind metal barriers.
The march, which was accompanied by students, anti-capitalists and tax avoidance protesters staging a series of occupations and sit-ins, is the largest organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in more than two decades and was seen underlining the strength of opposition to the government’s austerity programme
“Let’s be brutally clear about these brutal cuts. They’re going to cost jobs on a huge scale – adding to the misery of the 2.5 million people already on the dole (unemployment benefit),” TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned.
‘They’re going to hammer crucial services that bind our communities together, and they’re going to hit the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest. Anyone who tells you different is a bare-faced liar,” Barber said.
The protest was supported by many MPs, including opposition Labour leader, who was addressing the culminating rally in London’s Hyde Park, setting out his party’s alternative to the cuts and accusing the coalition government of fomenting the ‘politics of division’ not seen since the ‘rotten’ Thatcher era in the 1980s.
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas also said that the public service cuts, made to help clear the country’s record deficit, were “not inevitable, they are driven by ideology, not economic necessity.”
“We can address the deficit by putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work in low-carbon jobs, implementing a Robin Hood tax, cutting spending like Trident, and seriously cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance,” Lucas said.
Students, who joined lecturers in blockading up to 500 universities and colleges on Thursday in a prelude to the march, were also planning a 24-hour occupation of Trafalgar Square and turn it into Cairo’s “Tahrir Square”.
The anti-capitalist Resist 26 organisation was similarly staging a continuous sit-in at Hyde Park as well as ‘after parties’ at famous London landmarks including Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace under the banner of “Battle of Britain.”
High street stores and banks in London’s Oxford Street were also targeted by Uncut UK in their continuing campaign against corporate tax avoidance that could save the country billions of pounds.
Doctors from across the country also joined the march in protest to ‘Keep Our NHS (National Health Service) Public’ in the face of extensive reforms proposed by the government.
Also taking part were pensioners forming a dedicated bloc in the march amid rising anger about the changes to the pensions system and the impact of the government’s cuts on older people.
Peace groups, including Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), joined calls on the government to spend money on schools, jobs and healthcare not on military intervention in Afghanistan and Libya and on
renewing the country’s Trident nuclear weapons.
Even police, who not among the 3,500 officers on duty to control the march, participated in the protests against cuts that also affect the police forces with job losses.