A reported 250,000 people flocked to the British capital from across the country this weekend, in the UK’s biggest anti-austerity rally for years opposing the new Tory government’s program of social benefit cuts and privatization.
Event organizers said that Saturday’s march will only be the start of a major nationwide campaign. “It will be the start of a campaign of protest, strikes, direct action and civil disobedience in the country. We will not rest until austerity is history,” Sam Fairbairn, of the People’s Assembly, as told UK media.
Having started at 12 noon local time, the protesters gathered near the Bank of England in London’s financial district, to then march through the streets of central London toward the Parliament.
“Sheer diversity of people” gathered to protest against British government austerity programs and spending cuts, RT’s UK correspondent Daniel Hawkins reported. The rally united people “from a huge variety of backgrounds,” all angry about cuts to the public spending and public services.
Organized by The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an umbrella group with support from trade unions, anti-war protesters and some Labour and Green Party politicians, the march sees a heavy presence of left-wing activists, but also includes a lot of ordinary workers, people from the public sector, private sector and trade unions.
Activists have been carrying banners reading “No Cuts,” “No More Austerity,” “Cut War Not Welfare” and “Get the Tories Out” among others, Sputnik news agency reported.
“We struggle for every pound,” “the government… is taking money away from us all the time,” and “it’s very disturbing to think where it’s going” protesters told RT.
Anti-nuclear activists and union leaders joined the demonstration, Sputnik reported local media as saying.
“What’s happening is the people who are dependent on state benefits, which is generally people who are very poor, disabled, sick, people with children, people who can’t afford to pay their rent – all of those people will be directly hit [by the government policies]. But it’s all going to affect a much wider group of people,” Lindsey Ann German from the Stop the War coalition, who stood twice as candidate for Mayor of London, told RT.
Demanding a change of policy, German suggested money should be taken “from the corporations, from the rich rather than from the people who really can’t afford to give it.”
Saturday’s march was intended to be peaceful. A small number of protesters let off red-colored smoke flares, but the rally has been almost universally good natured, Reuters reported.
The rally was addressed by left-wing politicians, union leaders and celebrities, including Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who got huge cheers from the crowd as he attacked Tory cuts to public spending and promised to fight against austerity and scrap Trident if elected.
Comedians also spoke, with Mark Steel attacking Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith for axing benefits for the poor, and Russell Brand apologizing for his support for then-Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Ahead of the protest, several people suspected of offenses in previous demonstrations have been reportedly arrested. Citing sources, The Guardian said the Metropolitan Police started a crackdown on activists, preventing them from participating in Saturday’s protest.
“There seems to be a massive crackdown. There is some sort of political motivation behind all of this,” an activist with anarchist group Class War, Lisa McKenzie, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.