Protest at Tory conference: report

On Sunday October 2 over 35,000 workers, students, pensioners and anti-cuts campaigners marched outside the Conservative Party conference. This is a sizeable increase from the 7,000 demonstrators at last year’s conference, underlining the growing, yet still sluggish, moves to resist the austerity measures. The conference itself was ringed by steel walls, barricades and hundreds of police. Despite this, the demonstration was peaceful and no arrests took place. At the start the Liverpool Socialist Singers led the demonstrators in ‘The Internationale’, with many left activists and trade unionists joining in.

Earlier in the day hundreds of students gathered at the University of Manchester before joining the demonstration. They marched behind a banner which read, ‘Students and workers, unite’, pointing to the fact that some students at least are making the necessary connection between the austerity attacks and the importance of unity in organising the resistance. Another feeder march brought hundreds of activists and trade unionists from Salford. There were calls for a general strike from the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, and other small Trotskyist groups – though when this chant went up it was largely confined to the student contingent led by the SWP.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, speaking at the rally, said that mass strike action will be taking place on November 30 and “If you never fight, you lose every time”. His view was: “Now’s the time to fight, now’s the time to defeat the government.” The majority of speakers not only condemned the attacks on their members, but went on to call for an alternative plan for growth. Notably Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted pledged further support for strike action and warned Ed Miliband’s Labour Party that if it “doesn’t support us Labour will be a disgrace as well”. Which got one of the loudest cheers at the rally. Len McCluskey from Unite declared that coordinated action could be considered a general strike and asserted: “We need civil disobedience – the oldest form of democracy. We should take the lead from the students.” Tony Lloyd MP was heckled by some local trade union activists, as he failed to oppose Miliband’s anti-strike rhetoric and the vicious cuts being brought in by Manchester’s Labour-run council.

A couple of conclusions can be drawn from the demonstration. Firstly, it has been clear for some time that the baton of leading the struggle has well and truly passed from the students to the organised working class. Secondly, there is growing support for a strike – a change in mood across the working class is taking place, as the reality of the Conservative-led government’s assault begins to bite. Thirdly, the movement is still relatively weak compared to those in Europe.

As we move towards November 30, the revolutionary left needs to strain every sinew to help organise workers to ensure that as much pressure as possible is placed on those union leaders who have not yet organised to join the action to do so without delay; and on those who have to stand firm – if they pull out, we must fight for strike action to go ahead without them

Chris Strafford

first published here.

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