At 11am yesterday morning in London, the TUC-organised event A Future That Works began on the Embankment. The march through central London, culminating in a rally at Hyde Park, is another major step in the country’s response to the current Government’s efforts to break down and sell off everything on which the present and the future of this country depend – the NHS, employees’ rights, housing, education, and police. The cuts are not working and I cannot see their austerity programme as anything other than an excuse for the Tories to promote their agenda of privatisation above all, of considering that things are only valuable if they have a financial cost for those who wish to use them, and of breaking down the infrastructure of this country that promotes equal opportunities for all – in healthcare and in education most of all. The majority of people do pay tax to pay for the rights to these essential public services, but when the Government allies itself with those who openly flaunt their refusal to pay their taxes, even when they are the ones who could most afford to pay, why then would said Government and its cronies place any value upon such services except as commodities? These are the attitudes against which people marched yesterday, and this is why whole families, from toddlers to grandparents stood in a cold park for four hours to listen to speakers defending our rights, values, and institutions, against the very people who are supposed to protect and develop them. It was a national march – people travelled to London, Glasgow and Belfast to make their voices heard. You can see what happened on the day at the Future that Works Tumblr account of the day. You can also look at the Guardian’s live-blogging account of what happened.
The only “Big Society” that really exists is one that speaks against those allegedly running our country, and this was reflected in the range of speakers. They included Sue Marsh, Crohn’s Disease sufferer for 21 years, who has posted a video and transcript of her speech on her blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, and 20-year old Ashley Parsons, out of work since graduating from sixth-form college, despite having applied for jobs in every possible sector. Both are representative of those being demonised by our current government as wasters, fakers, and benefit scroungers. They are being threatened with having the money they depend upon for their basic survival and dignity taken from them, and both are proof that those out of work and those who are ill or disabled are not the enemy. They are not slackers, and not in their situation out of choice; despite what the government would have us believe, the few do not represent the many. Actually, that sums up this government too – they most definitely do not represent the majority in this country, as yesterday proved.
Such personal accounts of why we needed to march and rally yesterday were supported by representatives of the Trade Unions, important groups in making our fight unified and coordinated. Dave Prentis of UNISON spoke of a return to Victorian-era levels of inequality, while Frances O’Grady, incoming TUC Secretary, promises to be fierce in her opposition to the Government, based on her great speech, in which she said that she will “fight as hard for our people as this lot fight for theirs” and advised that we “stay strong, solid and united and we will win”. The speech of Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo ended with Gandhi’s words: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”, and Naidoo added his own conclusion “Well they are fighting us so we must be close to winning”. There were speakers from the UCU, from teachers’unions, from the Publich and Commercial Services Union, from the RMS (Bob Crow), and from the TUC (Brendan Barker), as well as from the current Labour leader, Ed Milliband. The best speaker was undeniably saved for last – the Fire Brigade Union’s Matt Wrack. The full text of his impassioned and very excellent speech is available here, but I will end my blog with what he – and I, and millions across this country – increasingly see as the only way to protect everything about our country that is meaningful, and important, and essential.
We will need industrial action. Yes that will mean greater coordination and generalised industrial action. That debate should take place in every workplace across the country. We need to build the strength of ordinary trade union members in their workplace.
We will need others involved, pensioners, young people, students. We need community action.
We will need direct action – if they plan to close hospitals, schools or youth centres then the local community should consider occupying them to prevent closure. After all, isn’t that just the big society in action?