Thousands are expected to join the TUC protest against cuts on March 26th – Andrew Burgin argues that only a massive protest can reveal the depth of opposition to the policies of this government.

March 26th

When the TUC announced last October that their national demonstration against the cuts would be held in March 2011 some in the movement felt that the date was too distant. However it now looks like inspired timing.

Recent struggles both in Britain and abroad have given this march a dynamic which takes it way beyond the trade union movement and into the broad mass of the population. The march now carries the hopes of many millions and it will be one of the biggest demonstrations in the history of the British labour movement.

November 2010 saw the reappearance of the student movement as a vital radicalising force in politics. The size of the first UCU/NUS march – well over 50,000 – took most by surprise. The determined actions of a large militant minority in laying siege to the Tory party headquarters at Millbank energised the wider movement.

The new student movement emerged alongside and intersected with the direct action group UK Uncut, which uses social media to organise confrontations with big business and the banks on their tax avoidance
and muti-million-pound bonus culture.

Meanwhile the scale of the cuts was seeping into public consciousness. Benefits, the NHS, libraries, EMA, public sector jobs and practically every other social provision faced extinction or privatisation. Local councils drew up the first round of coalition government driven cuts. Throughout the country thousands demonstrated outside town halls and local anti-cuts groups sprang up organising sizeable local marches to defend jobs and services.

Abroad there is Tunisia and Egypt and mass uprisings and protests throughout the Arab world and now in the belly of the beast, almost unimaginable a few weeks ago, a mass movement to defend trade union rights in the USA.

All this since TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber called for a mobilisation that would be ‘the biggest, boldest and best event in our history’. It looks like his wish will come true.

Marches which bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets are rare. In the 19th century and early twentieth centuries they flowed from the struggle for democratic reform. The Chartists brought 150,000 people to Kennington Park in 1848 to demand universal male suffrage. Quite an achievement when the population was only 16 million. The Suffragettes following a demonstration of some 30,000 managed to gather between 250.000 and 500,000 in Hyde Park in 1908. As ‘Votes for Women said ‘it is no exageration to say that the number of people present was the largest ever gathered together on one spot at one time in the history of the world’.

In 1936 300,000 anti-fascists took to the streets to defend the East End against Mosley’s Blackshirts.

CND’s second wave in the 1980s saw two marches of between 200,000 and 300,000. The 1968 Vietnam war demonstration, the poll tax demonstration and the 1990 miners’ march all drew close to 100,000.

The march of 15 February 2003 dwarfs all others. A generally accepted figure for those on the march is between 1.5 and 2 million. That massive demonstration has become a reference point for both those who denigrate marching as a waste of time and those who recognise the need to build on the work of the anti-war movement in the struggle against the cuts.

The result of the refusal of Parliament to recognise the will of the people against war in Iraq, as expressed by the demonstration of February 2003 and a mass anti-war campaign sustained over many years, has been the hollowing out of the authority of that institution. A substantial section of the population has been alienated from the supposed organs of democracy and this, compounded by the expenses scandal, is an irreversible phenomenon in British politics.

Whereas the Chartists and the Suffragettes took to the streets to universalise the franchise and to fight for real democracy, people now increasingly recognise that there is no way to change the conditions under which they live except by taking to the streets. Parliament is seen as increasingly corrupt and there is a crisis of Parliamentary democracy.

These are the conditions in which this march will take place. Not only do we see a weak and divided coalition government but we see also a government operating in a discredited political system trying to impose an agenda not fought for at a general election.

The health reforms were neither Tory nor Lib-Dem party policy. They appeared in no manifesto. No Lib-Dem MP was elected to raise tuition fees or scrap the EMA.

The TUC expect between 150,000 and 250,000 to march, we need to make sure that it is substantially larger then they expect. The Coalition of Resistance has produced 100,000 leaflets and thousands of posters advertising the march. On the day we shall be distributing 20,000 free Voices of Resistance’ broadsheets with contributions from Tony Benn, Caroline Lucas, Len McCluskey and many others.

The size of the demonstration does matter. It will reveal the depth of the opposition to the policies of this government in a way no local or direct action event can. It will be the foundation for all our future anti-cuts work and as we have been inspired by the mass uprisings in other parts of the world we can inspire others with our demonstration on the 26th.