500,000 March Against Gov’t Spending Cuts in London
As many as half a million Britons from all over the UK converged on central London yesterday for a massive demonstration against public spending cuts, the Independent reports. Between 400,000 and 500,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, municipal workers and public health employees turned out to march alongside students, retirees and campaign groups. It was a scene reminiscent of the recent union protests in Madison, Wisconsin— except this one was many times larger.
The British government, led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, last year unveiled painfully deep spending cuts— the largest such cuts in more than 60 years– that sharply reduced welfare benefits, raised the retirement age, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs. Student tuition fees have also risen sharply.
Violence erupted away from the main, peaceful group of demonstrators as hundreds of activists not associated with the union protest battled London police. These decidedly more aggressive protesters attacked stores and banks, with members of the direct action group UK Uncut occupying the upscale Fortnum & Mason store in Piccadilly due to the company’s history of tax-dodging. Thirty people were treated for injuries throughout the day, 11 of them serious enough to require hospitalization. Nine protesters were arrested; five police officers were reportedly injured in the clashes.
But the main protest was a peaceful, often festive, affair which drew such leading political luminaries as David Milliband, the Labour party leader, who addressed a massive rally in Hyde Park. “Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the best of the services we cherish because they represent the best of the country we love,” he declared. “There is a need for difficult choices, and some cuts. But this government is going too far and too fast and destroying the fabric of our communities,” he added, without elaborating on what his Labour party– which ran the country from 1997 to 2010 and who the current Conservative/Liberal-Democrat government blames for much of the financial troubles plaguing Britain today– would do to reverse course.
“These are ordinary families and working people, many with their children, to send a strong message to (Prime Minister) David Cameron to halt the damaging cuts which are leading to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the closure of services including libraries and care homes,” lamented Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, the public employees’ union.
Len McCluskey, a former dockworker and leader of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, decried government cuts in services, old people going without care, libraries, pools and parks going to ruin, and British youth heading for a life of welfare. He told the crowd that they “represent a spirit of resistance in every workplace and community that says we are not going to have our way of life killed so that the rich and greedy can live as they please.” McCluskey also sharply criticized the government’s “assault” on the National Health Service, Britain’s universal health care system, warning that privatization of the NHS would lead to massive protests.
But Treasury Minister Justine Greening appeared unmoved. She said the government would not alter its policies or scale back on cuts just because half a million people turned out to protest. “We do have to get on with tackling the financial problems we have been handed by the Labour Party,” she cynically declared. “We are going to stick with the course we have set.”
And that means sticking it to the working people of Britain.
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