A vibrant coalition of trade unions and social movements took to the streets of London on Saturday for the People’s Assembly National Demonstration, reports Cici Washburn
After over a year which has seen this government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic give the UK one of the highest rates in the world, employers push the economic costs on to ordinary workers and attempts to clamp down on the right to protest, numerous campaigns united to send a clear message that they are not fit to govern and that we need a new normal.
Assembling behind the huge ‘united against the Tories’ banner, 20,000 participated in a loud march down Whitehall before assembling for a rally at Parliament Square.
At the heart of the energetic march was a huge and vibrant Freedom for Palestine bloc displaying a sea of Palestine flags, making it one of the most visible and energetic parts of the demonstration.
NHS workers and campaigning groups, including Keep our NHS public, raised the demands for a 15% pay increase and an end to privatisation of our NHS. Many protesters wore ‘Nurses not nukes’ T-shirts. The breadth of campaigns represented was inspiring as Extinction Rebellion, Stop the War, PSC, CND, Don’t extradite Assange, Black Lives Matter and Kill the Bill all joined forces to chants of ‘Kill the Bill’ and ‘What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!’ echoing across the demonstration. Trade union members from Unite, PCS, CWU, NEU, RMT, Aslef joined the protesters demanding a new normal.
Gathering in Parliament Square, an excellent line up of speakers included Zarah Sultana, Dave Ward, Jeremy Corbyn, Steve Turner, Howard Beckett, Richard Burgon, Laura Pidcock, Lindsey German, Alex Kenny, John Rees and more. All speakers stressed the importance of us coming together and building a movement to fight this government.
Jeremy Corbyn explained that political power comes from many places, not just parliament:
“But those that set out on the road to free housing, education and healthcare, set out in the Southern states in the US on the road to achieve democracy, set out on the colonies of 19th Century to achieve independence, or in the 18th to abolish slavery didn’t hold political office, all they held was the ability to unite each other together in a common cause.”
John Rees called out the government’s phony attempts to portray themselves as champions of free speech by reminding us that Julian Assange remains locked up in Belmarsh Prison. He also added “There is no freedom worth a damn for working people unless they can protest, unless they can organise, unless they can get on the streets.”
Speakers and protesters called for the resignation of Matt Hancock who has seen 150,000 dead on his watch as health secretary, making the news of his resignation only hours later all the more welcome. In spite of its brutality, this government remains full of weaknesses, and can be pushed back further by a strong and united fightback of which Saturday’s demo was a crucial part.
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