The scale of the protest at the Tory party conference demonstrates that the movement against austerity is growing in strength - Reuben Bard-Rosenberg reports from Manchester
Delegates arrived at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester today to find that Britain was well and truly on the march. More than 50,000 people descended upon the city from across the country to protest against the ongoing privatisation of the NHS, and to vent their anger against the authors of austerity.
“I’m here because our youth service has been cut”, said Lalena Duncan, a young woman from Newcastle wearing a sign that said “please sir can I have a future”.
“We had a good youth service where I live, but it’s been cut and all the staff have been sacked”.
While the march was enthusiastically led by the trade unions – with major contingents from Unison, the civil service union PCS, and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) – it drew in a huge range of individuals and campaign groups from across the country.
CND supporters wore t-shirts saying “cut trident not the NHS” whilst anti-war demonstrators shouted “they say warfare we say welfare”.
Jenny, a teacher and trade unionist marching with the NUT told me she was at the demo to support her colleagues in the NHS:
“Although this is an NHS demo, I want to support my colleagues across the public sector, because there’s not one person in this country who hasn’t been affected by austerity”.
Amongst the crowd was legal loan shark expert and campaigner Carl Packman. “Austerity clearly isn’t working” he said, “but the government is determined to keep flogging this dead horse”.
Sheffield was one city that was well represented at the march with at least half a dozen coaches coming down to Manchester.
Bob Jeffry UCU activist at Sheffield Hallam, said that the level of anger in the city made it possible to build well for the march.
“It’s about the sheer nastiness of this sodding government, with measures designed to hurt the poor like the bedroom tax and Atos’s attacks on the disabled. Telling people ‘you’ve got to get off your arse and get a job when there are no jobs to get”.
He said that demos like this were important if we are going to really mount a fightback.
“While it was important to organise on a local level in order to make it real for people, and to focus on the services they use, we need demos like this to build a national consciousness, and a national fightback.”
Addressing the rally, Andy Burnham pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act when Labour had booted out the Tories. People’s Assembly leader Owen Jones said “not only did the Tories not win the last election, they didn’t even put their plans to privatise the NHS to the British people at the general election”.
The crowd cheered as he called on us to pledge to remain united. “The rights we have were not handed to us from above but were won from below by struggle and sacrifice and we owe it to our ancestors to fight to keep them”.
TUC Leader Frances O'Grady, meanwhile provoked a big cheer when she started her speech by saying that although the BNP and Ukip might not like it, the NHS is great because people from around the world have made it their own.
Many thousands of people showed their readiness to fight against any government – Labour or Tory – that pursues the current agenda of privatisation and austerity, and to build the kind of mass movement that is necessary to carry that fight out.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.