Yesterday I marched with around 250,000 people in central London. The march was billed as a ‘March for the Alternative’ rather than simply being against the massive funding cuts currently in progress by the British Government. Organised by the TUC, the march brought together hundreds of thousands of union members, public sector workers, students and activists. Once again the media have mainly focused on the rogue activities of a few hundred protesters who chose violence and criminal damage rather than peaceful methods of protest. I’m not sure that saying they went too far in their protest gets to the truth of it – while I’m sure some of the Radical Workers bloc are truly passionate about the cuts, I’m sure anarchist groups attract others who don’t think much at all.
There were so many people bunched up patiently in wide queues on the Embankment yesterday – I wasn’t sure that my participation was going to be at all worthwhile. A large proportion of the 250,000 people eventually arrived at Hyde Park although many of them will have missed the speeches by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber (11 mins in), Labour leader Ed Miliband and other union leaders including Len McCluskey from Unite and Mark Serwotka of PCS Union. The clips I can find of Mr Miliband do not impress me but the other Union leaders are more motivating. One of my dramatherapy friends described it as the safest and most inspiring march she had been on.
I started off marching with the UKUncut group, who included a number of students in fancy dress and some rather talented drummers. This group were publicising a wide range of Bail-In events, peacefully targeting banks and shops owned by those who have ‘avoided’ large sums in tax. The one that caught my eye was organised by Christians Against Cuts and was due to involve an impromptu ecumenical service in a branch of Barclays bank. They planned to gather at 2pm and pray “in solidarity with those affected by the cuts and for the banks and government to listen to Jesus’s message of justice”. I gave up waiting to join the main march and decided to head for Barclays instead. I headed up through Covent Garden and found I was being followed by a big group from UKUncut who were heading for a variety of Oxford Street locations. Their chant “You say cut-backs, we say f**k that” was simple enough but not one I felt comfortable to join. Too much?
When I got to Barclays, the branch was closed for the afternoon. A few protesters loitered outside but there didn’t seem to be a back-up plan. For the first time I really wished I had mobile internet to find out what plan B might be. I could have done a lot more, but I wandered around Oxford Street and couldn’t find anything I wanted to join. I also ended up rather close to the more intimidating radical workers/ anarchists federation group who may have been the ones throwing paint, fireworks and hitting out at Police (although it’s possible that another group sabotaged them I guess). I retreated to have a cup of tea and meet my friends who were in another part of the city. I felt like I hadn’t really protested properly at all but I had had enough.
Commentary about the event includes questions about whether the unions are being unrealistic about the need for some cuts. I’m not an economist but I am encouraged at the way some economists have supported the need for transaction taxes (also known as Tobin tax or Robin Hood tax) and the benefits of investing in public services. I wonder if the actions of some wayward protesters distracted from proper consideration in the media of these alternatives. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if wide-scale strike action is the way to get the general public onside for these issues. People (we?) need to protest enough to be heard. How much is too much?