Tony Benn joined hundreds of activists to launch the build-up to October’s TUC demonstration
Tony Benn urged Tuesday’s London rally to build a huge turnout for the national demonstration on 20 October. The Coalition of Resistance president said that the profound impact of cuts means that people are being 'driven into total poverty.'
He said it is possible to mount a major fight back against worsening living conditions and that, at the age of 87; he was 'more encouraged to go into battle now than at any time in my life’.
Unite leader Len McClusky called for the whole labour movement to unite with community groups, local anti cuts campaigns and church groups in order to defend ordinary people from government attacks.
McCluskey said that he supported industrial action and civil disobedience, adding that he considered the Olympics to be a 'legitimate target' for protest, sparking applause from the audience. He praised Coalition of Resistance: 'you are the voice of the 99 percent'.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that the October demo in central London 'has to be bigger than 26 March’. Referring to austerity as 'policies for the few, not for the many,' she observed that working class people are being 'squeezed until the pips squeak.'
Attacking companies like Debenhams and Boots, who have dodged corporation tax due to 'offsetting', Blower commented that families are unable to 'relocate the fuel bill' to avoid plunging into poverty.
Owen Jones quoted former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who observed that rulers should 'never let a good crisis go to waste'. Such crises were seen as opportunities to roll out unpopular policies.
The ‘Chavs’ author said that the left must resist any attempts to 'turn the working poor against the unemployed,' and 'private sector workers against public sector workers': such attempts are a form of divide and rule. Britain is suffering from a 'housing crisis, a low wage crisis and a jobs crisis’, he told the rally.
SYRIZA activist Vassilis Fouskas said that Greece has been used as a 'laboratory' for implementing austerity. He explained that the Greek economy has contracted by 20 percent since the crisis hit its banking system and that 50 percent of Greek youth are out of work. Fouskas said that SYRIZA, which narrowly lost last Sunday's parliamentary elections, is a 'new political formation', grown out of the movement.
Greek academic and SYRIZA member Stathis Kouvelakis said that Greece was fighting a battle which was 'unprecedented' in the last 30 years. The possibility of the first 'genuine left wing party' taking office in Europe for generations was in itself a victory.
Front De Gauche MP Danielle Obono declared Francois Hollande's recent victory an important development in French politics, as former president Sarkozy had tried to smash the spirit of resistance which was the legacy of the legendary protests of 1968 by attacking pensions, education, healthcare and the justice system.
Obono added that Sarkozy peddled Islamophobic policies and rhetoric which gave legitimacy to the far-right. She said that it was necessary for ordinary people to 'take back the power' from bankers and ruling elites and that 'the rules need to be changed as well as the rulers'.
Labour MP Katy Clarke stressed the need for the UK anti-austerity movement to make links with Europe and that it was possible to build a movement that could bring down David Cameron's coalition government on 20 October.
Respect leader Salma Yaqoob drew parallels between the anti cuts movement and the anti war movement which built a 2 million-strong demonstration in February 2003, calling for a new mass movement defined by solidarity and unity. Patrick Sikorsky from the People's Charter said that the mood against austerity was 'incendiary' and that 'a broad based movement' must be built in order to win.
Clare Solomon, a leading activist in the student revolts of 2010, recalled that this country’s movement against austerity began with militant student demonstrations: although the fees battle was lost, this exposed cracks in the Tory-led coalition government and kickstarted the movement which gave rise to the TUC demonstration on 26 March 2011.
Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) activist Mary Cross said that disabled people are 'painfully aware' of the destruction of the welfare state, referring to a suicide note which stated that 'no human or animal should have to go through life as I did'- one of many incidences of suicides resulting from the cuts.
Keep Our NHS Public speaker Robert McGivern said that the 'mismanagement' of healthcare in the hands of private providers was set to be generalised across the country. It is vital to 'reclaim the NHS' from private influence.
Coalition of Resistance Secretary Andrew Burgin recalled that last year’s TUC mass protest had led to joint union activities in the subsequent pensions battle. He said the government has decisively lost the argument that 'we're all in it together': the illusion that cuts will create growth has been shattered in the same way that the anti war movement won the argument against Tony Blair.
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