by New Worker correspondent
AN ESTIMATED 100,000 trade unionists and other progressives took to the streets of London, Glasgow and Belfast last Saturday in the massive Britain Demands a Pay Rise protest march, organised by the TUC.
The demand, predominantly from public sector workers, was aimed at the Government and also at the Labour leader Ed Miliband to urge him to drop his policy of continuing with most of the Con-Dem Coalition’s pay restraint and general austerity policies if Labour wins next year’s general election.
In London thousands of union banners and giant balloons from all the major unions and from many smaller unions marched with campaigners for peace, for the environment, for civil liberties and for the restoration of benefits for the disabled.
There were huge contingents of local government workers, health service workers, teachers, civil servants, transport workers, firefighters, prison officers, actors and broadcasters and even police civilian staff.
There were many very different marching bands: the RMT brass band, a Scottish pipe band, reggae bands and drum-and-bass bands. The march began on the Embankment and made its way to Hyde Park via Piccadilly and Green Park.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the massive turnout sent out a strong message to the Government.
“'Our message is that, after the longest and deepest pay squeeze in recorded history, it's time to end the lock-out that has kept the vast majority from sharing in the economic recovery.
“The average worker is £50 a week worse off than in 2007 and five million earn less than the living wage,” she said. “Meanwhile, top directors now earn 175 times more than the average worker.
“If politicians wonder why so many feel excluded from the democratic process, they should start with bread and butter living standards.
“We have had enough of boardroom greed and pay cuts – and of politicians telling us this is all the fault of migrant workers.”
Frances O’Grady attacked Ukip leader Nigel Farage for scapegoating immigrants, saying she would not want him moving next door to where she lives.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, pressed Labour to offer a “clear socialist alternative” at the next election, telling the London rally: “I say to Labour – stop being scared of your own shadow. Don’t shrink what you offer the British people.
“The time for being timid is past. Be brave; be inspired by this march today.”
He accused the Coalition of dismantling and destroying every gain working people have made since 1945, adding: “Their mission is to dismantle the NHS – slicing it up bit by bit and handing it on a silver platter to their friends in the private health companies.
Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers Union, said Labour should not be pursuing “austerity lite” policies.
Many health service workers were present including midwives who had been on strike the previous Monday for the first time in their history in protest at the Government's decision not to pay a recommended one per cent increase to all NHS staff, and turned out in force.
Russell Brand joined the Royal College of Nursing during the march today in central London with a placard
The TUC said people are facing the biggest squeeze on their incomes since Victorian times, adding that average wages have fallen by £50 a week in real terms since 2008.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said 600 public sector jobs had been lost every day since the Coalition came to power.
“We have a story of two nations – one where champagne corks are popping for the bankers and boardroom pay is soaring, while in the other world our people are suffering from poverty pay.”