TENS OF thousands of trade union activists, peace and social justice campaigners marched through London last Saturday from the Embankment to a massive rally in Hyde Park to demand better pay and conditions for workers throughout the country in what has been described as the biggest London march for many years. It was organised by the TUC.
The workers were demanding a minimum wage rise to £10 an hour, a ban on zero-hours contracts and higher funding for the NHS, education and other public services.
Workers involved in current disputes including those at restaurant chains TGI Fridays and McDonald’s joined the march, along with railway workers striking to keep guards on trains, nurses, ambulance crews, postmen, teachers, civil servants and cleaners.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said before the march started that workers have had enough of low pay, poor quality jobs and constant cuts to public services.
She added: “There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal.”
Just before the march, the TUC published a new report it had commissioned that showed that workers are suffering the longest squeeze on wages in modern history.
It found workers were suffering the biggest relative real wage loss since the Napoleonic Wars. Even after the Great Depression and the Second World War, real wages recovered more quickly – in 10 years and seven years respectively.
A decade on from the financial crisis, real wages are worth £24 a week less than in 2008 and are not forecast to return to pre-crash levels until 2025, said the union organisation.
The TUC said the current stretch of wage stagnation was the worst for 200 years. By 2025 the average worker will have lost out by around £18,500 in real earnings, it was estimated.
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said it was the most important demonstration for 50 years. He said: “This is the start of a serious challenge for a new deal for all workers.
“The world of work has become a pressurised environment, based on a flexible labour market and bogus self-employment.”
Marchers arrived in Hyde Park just as it started to rain but that dampened no spirits. They gave a rapturous welcome to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who addressed the growing crowd.
He pledged that a Labour government will give workers “more power” to fight for higher pay. “Our whole movement exists to challenge the powerful and stand up for the powerless,” he said.
“We want to see workers across whole sectors, not just individual employers, get to bargain together to get the best deal for the workforce in their industry.
“Why should bar staff and waiters not be able to organise and support each other like London bus drivers can? It's time for a fundamental shift in power in our country – from the few to the many.”
Corbyn won huge applause from the crowds when he pledged the next Labour government would launch a ministry to guarantee workers' rights.
He promised to "take rail mail and water back into public ownership" and warned tax dodgers that a "Labour government is coming after you. We will tax properly".
He added: "This demonstration today is about workers’ rights, it is about collective endeavour but above all, it's a declaration that we're around to campaign as long as it takes, to bring about that social justice and that decency in society."