by Daphne Liddle
ONE HUNDRED thousand protesters filled the streets of London last Saturday to demand an end to crushing austerity, an end to the public sector pay cap, an end to Tory rule, and justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire — a result of austerity cuts to building safety regulations.
The march was organised by People’s Assembly and began in Portland Place outside the BBC headquarters, for a march to Parliament Square and a rally outside the Houses of Parliament.
Unions had organised buses bringing protesters from across Britain, including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.
There were contingents from all the major unions on the march and placards proclaiming: “Not one Day More”, “Austerity kills”, “Kick the Tories out” and “Cuts cost lives”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the rally in the square, as they chanted: “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. He criticised the hypocrisy of Tory MPs who praised the work of the emergency services dealing with recent terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower disaster. “The utter hypocrisy of Government ministers and others who queued up in the chamber over there in the House of Commons to heap praise on the emergency services, the following day to cut their wages by refusing to lift the pay cap. The hypocrisy is absolutely unbelievable.”
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell vowed to support the victims of the Grenfell fire, saying: “To the victims of Grenfell Tower we pledge now, we will stand with you and your families all the way through.
“We bring you sympathy but more importantly we bring you solidarity. We will not rest until every one of those families is properly housed within the community in which they want to live. Grenfell Tower symbolised for many everything that’s gone wrong in this country since austerity was imposed upon us.”
Other speakers included Diane Abbott, Dave Prentis from the public sector union Unison and Len McCluskey, general secretary of the big union Unite.
The fight against the one per cent cap on public sector pay rises — which has been in place since 2010 — has seen pay levels fall by an average six per cent over that period, according to a damning new Government report published last week.
It has affected some more than others and has seen nurses working long hard hours being forced to go to foodbanks because their wages are not enough to cover their bills — housing, transport, energy and so on — and have anything left over for food.
There has been a lot of anger, which is rising, over cuts to the real value of wages, when inflation is taken into account, of the emergency service workers who have recently been involved in rescuing people from four terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
And it’s not just the cuts to wages but also to jobs. The fire service nearest to Grenfell Tower had lost 50 per cent of its firefighters along with fire engines under the cuts made by Boris Johnson, the Tory former mayor of London. It can hardly be doubted that if a lot more firefighters and engines had been at Grenfell Tower then more victims could have been rescued.
This is one of the many issues that should be covered by the public inquiry into the fire — along with the decisions to water down building safety regulations to make it easier for construction companies to make more profits more quickly. But Theresa May’s government has appointed former Appeal Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, 70, to preside over the public inquiry into the tower block fire. A recently retired court of appeal judge who specialised in commercial law, he has been given a very narrow remit to discover only what went wrong on the day of the fire.
There is no way such a narrow inquiry could bring justice for the victims — and the survivors know this and are clamouring for a fuller inquiry.
This has just added to the growing public anger with May’s government as expressed in that giant march. She must resign soon.
But her Tory colleagues want her to stay in place — they certainly don’t want to step into her shoes right now — but for them she has an unfinished task, to ensure the Brexit negotiations fail and demand grows for a new referendum.
We must not allow that to happen.