Marching for an alternative

The TUC’s anti-cuts protest was a good start, but much remains to be done to turn this widespread opposition into a movement that can really challenge the government.

Saturday’s TUC march against government cuts exceeded most expectations in terms of size and the good nature of the protest. Giving a proverbial two fingers to smug media cynics like the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, well over 250,000 attended the March for the Alternative.

In evidence among the placards, banners and hand-painted signs were an inspiring range of causes. This was clearly a gathering of people, not just from across the public sector, but beyond, including many thousands who were roused to hit the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the socially-destructive programme being unleashed by Cameron’s government of millionaires.

TUC March 1

To his credit, and taking something of a political risk, Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke to the rally and gave a competent speech, reclaiming the ‘big society’ mantle for the hundreds of thousands who had turned out to defend their communities (Miliband’s speech is available here). Despite rather luke-warm backing from the Labour Party until very shortly before the march, other Labour front-benchers such as Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn were also present.

While not surprising, it was still galling that media reports concentrated overwhelmingly on the vandalism caused by small groups of anarchists. The ‘trouble’ was relatively minor, with only just over 200 arrests made, yet it seemed our public service broadcasters were happy to give some eighty per cent of their coverage to 0.1 per cent of the people.

Far be it for them to let political speeches, debate, or views critical of the government get in the way of more ‘news-worthy’ pictures showing the odd window being broken or photo-friendly paint balls hitting bank walls. (The web site Labour List is encouraging complaints to the BBC and Sky News over their routine bias in reporting anti-cuts demonstrations, see here.) .

TUC March2

Welcome though it was to have a chance to say ‘no’ to the Con Dems, the protest amounted to little more than a good start in a campaign that needs to become more cohesive, more broadly supported, and more popular as we seek to fight spending cuts and the destruction of the NHS.

Such a campaign requires much more work, especially in fashioning an alternative programme, and that’s a task requiring Labour’s front bench to play a much more forthright and critical role.


  1. […] it was signifcantly smaller and less broad-based in social and political make-up than the TUC’s ‘March for an Alternative’ held 18 months ago. Yes, there was a message from Danny Boyle, architect of the shrewdly radical […]

  2. A Future that Works - ILP
    8 October 2012

    […] march, called ‘A Future that Works’, will follow the same route as last year’s March for the Alternative which attracted a quarter of a million people. The TUC are hoping for a similar turn-out this year […]

  3. Kate Mattheys
    29 March 2011

    I went down to the march on one of the Coalition of Resistance coaches put on from Newcastle. I thought it was a fantastic show of opposition , it was really interesting seeing the sheer diversity of what people were demonstrating against. It actually put a bit of warmth back into my soul to see such a mass of people who all agree that what this government is doing is hideous. There’s just no need for it and it makes me furious that so many people’s lives are going to be made worse by this government’s demented policies.

    It didn’t really surprise me that the Labour party didn’t unite in support of the marching (although good on Ed Milliband for making a speech). I think Labour was in power so long that it’s forgotten that it might be a good idea to do something as “radical” as campaigning about such draconion cuts They need to sort themselves out. Maybe then people will start to believe in them again.

    There is evidently mass opposition to what the Condems are doing and we do need to build on this. More protests, more action.

  4. Kath Connolly
    29 March 2011

    I agree with you. We attended the march and it was the “big society” – a real cross section of people from all parts of the UK – museum workers, firemen, nurses, doctors, students, social workers, teachers – really good natured, despite the slow progress (we arrived at Hyde Park after 4 pm with still many behind us).

    The press and BBC coverage (apart from the Observer and Mirror) was a disgrace – hundreds of thousands gather in London, many travelling overnight to get there, united in their opposition to the cuts, and they prefer to highlight the disruptive minority. Did we expect anything else?

    I was also annoyed with those who chose to smash up the place – it gave the media the excuse they were looking for to ignore the massive opposition to these cuts. If they want to mount this sort of protest then that’s their right but don’t do it on the back of a march that wanted to show this was about the strength of feeling of ordinary workers not just political activists.

    I was also pleased that Ed Miliband chose to attend and speak – I had a very lukewarm response from my MP Kevan Jones. What are the Labour Party doing? As well as delivering a clear alternative they have to take more of a campaigning role or suffer the consequences.

    Let’s build on this opposition. It has drawn in thousands of people who have had no previous experience of political activity. It can’t stop here!

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