April 16 demo Anti-austerity protestors on 16 April in London. Photo: Jim Aindow

The fantastic unity of Saturday’s People’s Assembly march demonstrated that the anti-austerity movement is now a powerful vehicle for change

Rage against the government spilled onto the streets on Saturday in an impressive display of popular opposition. The People’s Assembly demonstration was centred around four key demands: health, homes, jobs and education. And those issues were at the forefront – junior doctors and nurses who spoke about the urgent need to escalate to defend the NHS got roars of support. Teachers’ union leader Christine Blower was cheered to the skies when she called for militant action against academisation; there was an impressive bloc of housing campaigners and the steel workers contingent got a magnificent reception.

The demonstration was headed up by impressive union blocs from the NUT, Unite, PCS and others. It also brought to together a huge range of other campaigns – artists against austerity, the campaign to keep open the Carnegie Library in Lambeth, Disabled People against the Cuts, Stop the War, Students not Suspects, Stand up to Racism, CND, the SOAS Justice for Cleaners campaign and scores of trade union branches, Labour and Momentum groups.

The fantastic unity was one reason for the carnival atmosphere on every part of the demonstration. There was music of all kinds, dancing, chanting and singing on stage and off. The mood was also a response to the context. The headline slogan on the demonstration was ‘Cameron Must Go’. Judging by the huge variety of calls for his resignation on placards, badges and posters printed and homemade there was a real sense amongst the hundred thousand or more on the demo that we have a big opportunity for change.

This was reinforced by confident, left-wing speeches from John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn (on video) and by the mood of defiance from leaders and rank and file trade unionists and students who spoke on the platforms.

In particular the junior doctors and student nurses captured the feeling that this is a movement looking to escalate. Yannis Gourtsoyannis got a fantastic cheer when he called for active support for junior doctors’ strikes and for joint action between teachers and doctors. Student nurse Danielle Tiplady got a roar of approval for calls to widen industrial action in defense of the NHS.

There was enthusiasm too for another initiative, the call for a united Convoy to Calais on 18 June in solidarity with refugees. As John Rees from the People’s Assembly announced, a series of unions, along with movements including Stand up to Racism, the People’s Assembly and the Stop the War Coalition, have come together to organise the biggest possible mobilisation of lorries, vans, cars and people to Calais in support the refugees in the run up to the EU referendum.

The anti-austerity movement is now a powerful vehicle for change. Saturday’s demonstration, despite being ignored by the mainstream media, will have further troubled a traumatised government. But the demo was a call to arms at a moment when change is in the air. Politics is moving fast and we all need to organise solidarity with the doctors’ and teachers’ action, strengthen rank and file union organisation, build the J18 convoy, and deepen and widen the reach of the People’s Assembly.   

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