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Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Thousands march to protect public services
by a New Worker correspondent
THOUSANDS of pensioners, trade unionists, public sector workers and socialists from many different parties and groups gathered last Saturday by Temple Tube station on the Thames Embankment in London on 10th April for a march against cuts in public sector jobs and services, ending in a rally in Trafalgar Square.
A similar march and rally, also attended by thousands, was held in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park.
The weather was fine and the march was led by the banner of the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC), who played a leading role in organising the event, closely followed by the RMT brass band and dozens of colourful banners.
The event was backed by over 20 trade unions including the TUC, GMB, Unite, Unison, PCS, the National Union of Teachers, RMT, TSSA, the British Medical Association, the Prison Officers’ Association, and a dozen or so other organisations, including the NPC, RADAR, Keep Our NHS Public, Carers Poverty Alliance, the Disability Alliance, Defend Council Housing.
Their message was for all the political parties standing in the coming general election: “Protect our welfare state and public services”.
“We’re meeting today at a critical time,” Doug Rooney, president of the TUC union umbrella body, told the crowd.
“Our economy remains in intensive care. Our pension system and welfare state is in crisis. And our public services face devastating cuts.
“Amidst this huge uncertainty – and regardless of who wins power in May – it’s the job of all the organisations supporting this event to defend public services.”
All three main parties have conceded that job losses will result from cuts in public sector budgets.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the rally in Trafalgar Square that ordinary people were “paying the price” for the failure of bankers.
He said: “There has never been a more important time to show our support for public services.
“In the current recession, which has been caused by unregulated greed by bankers and speculators, people turn to the welfare state and public services for the help they need – help that will not come from the private sector.
“Yet politicians are competing with each other to cut those very services to pay for a deficit caused by bailing out the very private sector which caused the crisis.
“Today, you are acknowledging the amazing work done by people employed in the public services.”
That was a theme repeated by Unison president Gerry Gallagher in Kelvingrove Park: “In Glasgow and in London today, our key message is that public services should not suffer because of the bank bailout.
“Our members didn’t cause the crash, and neither did the people we serve every day in communities across Scotland.
“Cuts will damage recovery from recession,” he declared. “Cuts will hit public services we all depend on. Cuts will threaten the wellbeing of our members and their families.
“You all have your own stories to tell – and tell them you should. Because it is the combined voice of public service workers and service users that need to be heard in corridors of power!”
In London Doug Rooney, president of the TUC, told the rally that all those in attendance “must make the case for jobs and skills, decent pay and pensions, public services, generous welfare and benefits, and social justice, equality and fairness”.
Frank Cooper, president of the NPC, said it should not be “those at the sharp end who suffer” as a result of the financial crisis.
BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said the demonstration was non-political and he attacked politicians for failing to be transparent over cuts. He added:" There is a lot of rhetoric in terms of protecting the NHS but we are gravely concerned by any potential cuts after the election".
Jerry Nelson of the GMB said:" Since its beginning Labour has supported the welfare state. A decent society is one that recognises and invests in pensions, health care and education.
"But this is clearly now under threat; if the Tories win we will see a concerted attack on the services, services that protect the most vulnerable in society.
"When Labour came to power in 1997 36.6 pence in every pound was invested in public services, 13 years later it is now 41.5 pence. We need to protect this investment; the only way to do that is by returning a Labour government".