Today saw thousands of protestors from across England descend on London for the latest national anti-austerity demonstration, this time under the banner of the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity. As usual, the demonstration saw large numbers of people from various left wing groups (and none) come together in a loud and visible display of anger against the programme of spending cutbacks and austerity currently being implemented by the Tory government.
The RABL were up at the crack of dawn to make the trip down to London, leaving Leeds by coach just after seven o’clock. By the time we got off the bus at one, the march was already well underway. From the drop-off point near Bank we made our way directly to Corn Hill, where comrades from the IWW, Wessex Solidarity and Plan C were already assembled, waiting to move off. Finally, after what seemed like ages, we started the long slow march towards Trafalgar square.
As usual the demo itself was a long, slow affair with a lot of stopping and starting; a constant barrage of leaflets, papers, posters and petitions; and a soundtrack of chanting, protest songs and steel drums. We wound our way along the designated protest route in this way for about two hours, stopping frequently. We passed a banner drop by anarchist group turned political party Class War, who with their characteristic flair for the dramatic had positioned themselves above the route of the match dressed like something out of Mad Max. A few good bits of graf and stickers were also spotted on route.
As we came up to Trafalgar Square, and the march began to spread out, the IWW bloc broke off from the main route of the march and headed towards Westminster City Hall. Rather than the usual tedious speeches from TUC and Labour Party non-entities, the Wobblies and ourselves opted to try and end on a high note with a bit of direct action, in the form of a picket of Westminster Council. The action was called in protest at the victimisation of subcontracted cleaners, who are under attack for organising to win better pay and conditions at work.
Although we were only able to stay for half an hour, the picket was lively and well received, with everyone from protestors on their way home from the rally to passing shoppers lending their support. The cops blocked the doors of the City Hall once the picket began, but otherwise left us alone. After a good bit of chanting and several verses of Solidarity Forever, we made our way back to our coach and the long drive north to Leeds.
Although not a bad day for us, today very much felt like more of the same. Since the austerity officially began in 2010 we’ve seen countless symbolic marches through central London and none of them, even the most militant examples, have brought us any closer to stopping the cuts. Today was billed as a march to “End Austerity Now”. Well the march is over, and austerity hasn’t ended. The question is, what next? If the answer is just another march, and another after that, then it seems inevitable that the cuts will continue.
Only grassroots organising and day to day struggle, outside of big set piece marches, can save us from years of Tory administered misery. In that sense, the IWW action at Westminster City Hall was the most positive thing to happen on the whole demonstration. It might not have been as massive or visible as the march to end austerity, but it was people coming together to offer practical support to their fellow workers. It’s actions like this which we need to see more of if we’re going to survive another five years of Tory rule, and whatever comes after that. The fight against austerity continues.