Britain: Over 50,000 protesters tell Tory conference they are not welcome

Mood for action against ConDem government

On 29 September well over 50,000 protesters descended on Manchester to tell the Tories that they and their policies are not welcome in the city.

Earlier in the day, Socialist Party members from across Greater Manchester had taken part in a 400-strong feeder march from Salford.

Three coach loads of protesters came from Bolton, largely thanks to an inspiring anti-bedroom tax campaign that has united trade unionists and housing association tenants.

Joan Pritchard-Jones, Unison steward and care worker in Bolton, told the Socialist: "It is great to see so many like-minded people here to defend our NHS and to show our disgust at the unprecedented Tory attacks on our public services".

Another protester from Salford told us that: "the Con-Dems are only interested in profit and don’t care for the working class; that’s why we must stop them."

In the run-up to the conference people from Manchester and neighbouring towns and cities were disgusted to hear reports that delegates to the Tory conference were to enjoy free transport around the city.

Meanwhile, a huge area of public space around the conference venue and the swanky Midland Hotel where most delegates are staying had been fenced off, staffed by a massive police presence.

All this in a city where a shocking number of people are living in poverty and feeling the sharp end of the cuts.

Reportedly the biggest demonstration in Manchester since Peterloo in 1819, there was a defiant and angry mood against the Tories’ plans for the NHS, privatisation, the bedroom tax and massive spending cuts that are causing misery to millions.

As protesters gathered at the start of the march in central Manchester, it became clear that the number of marchers far exceeded the 25,000 that the TUC had estimated in the preceding days.

It took more than two hours for all the protesters to reach the start of the march. At its biggest the demo stretched for a mile through Manchester.

As it set off, speakers from the NSSN spurred on the marchers from an alternative platform at the side of the road.

There were massive cheers for every call for mass co-ordinated strike action and the need for a 24-hour general strike to not only defend the NHS but defeat austerity itself.

Link up the struggles

As the NSSN leaflet given out on the demo said: "We lobbied the TUC Congress earlier this month to call on the unions to organise a 24-hour general strike.

"But a strike this autumn that coordinated all those unions and workers currently in dispute – the teachers, firefighters, Royal Mail workers, civil servants and lecturers, alongside the many others taking action every day like the One Housing workers in London and the victorious Wigan Hovis strikers – would be a massive step in this direction."

Marching through the city centre, we received warm applause from Sunday shoppers and passers-by. As we reached the conference venue, the march slowed down as protesters delivered a hail of boos to passing Tory delegates.

It was noted that a number of Labour Party members and local councillors joined the protests. While we are pleased that the Labour Party finally appears to be providing a modicum of opposition to the government, turning up on a march against the Tories simply does not go far enough.

If Labour councillors really were prepared to fight alongside us, they would vote against and refuse to implement Tory cuts that are having a devastating impact on our public services and jobs.

Socialist Party on the march

Throughout the protest, Socialist Party members were chanting slogans and raising the demand for a 24-hour general strike to defend the NHS, fight austerity and sweep away this rotten coalition government, backed up by the huge party banner along the assembly point and many stalls, gazebos, posters and flags throughout the route.

This demand certainly chimed with huge numbers of protesters who were eager to sign our petitions, buy the Socialist and discuss with us how we can make a general strike a reality.

Hundreds of copies of the Socialist paper were sold with dozens of people wanting to join the Socialist Party.

Paddy Dillon, PCS rep from Manchester who attended the march with members from his union branch, told us: "Me and my fellow members have been out on strike a number of times over the last 12 months.

"But it is only by the unions getting together and coordinating strike action that we can kick out this government".

There was a clear recognition from the protesters on Sunday that demonstrations on their own will not bring down the Tory government.

Marches are excellent for raising consciousness among the working class, but it’s only by hitting the government where it hurts, through industrial action, that we can start to make meaningful gains.

We must do whatever we can do to add force to the idea that marching is one thing (and we did that again in huge numbers in Manchester), but that it is mass industrial action that can kick out this government of millionaires.

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October 2013