Saturday, 26 March 2011

Workers March In Spending Cuts Backlash | LBC

Workers March In Spending Cuts Backlash

Friday, 25th March 2011 22:47

The Government is facing the largest public backlash against its spending cuts as tens of thousands of workers stage a mass protest in central London.

The march - the biggest union-organised event for more than 20 years and the largest in the country since the anti-Iraq war march in 2003 - set off early from Embankment because of the huge number of protesters.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union, said he believed there were half a million people taking part in the protest.

"This is an absolutely incredible turnout and display of anger which the Government will have to take notice of," he said.

More than 4,500 police officers are on duty for the demonstration dubbed the "March for the Alternative", which has been organised by the Trade Union Congress.

The protesters brought central London to a standstill as they headed towards Hyde Park, waving banners and blowing vuvuzelas.

:: Read about grandmother Tina Taylor who is marching because of cutbacks to healthcare services.

TUC head of economic affairs Nicola smith said the marchers were "trade union members, but also public sector workers, pensioners, people from a whole range of community groups, people with their families, all joining together to send a message to the Government that there is an alternative".

"The alternative is a deficit reduction strategy that focuses on growth and the role that tax can play in making sure our public finances are put on a sustainable footing."

Labour politicians including leader Ed Miliband were also taking part as well as a number of activists planning to take direct action.

Banks and stores in Oxford Street were expected to be targeted by anti-cuts group UK Uncut, as well as a "secret" location, which will be hit by protesters.

In Shaftesbury Avenue, a group of about 150 protesters who had broken away from the main march blocked the road before heading to Piccadily Circus. some tried to get into shops but were stopped from entering

Sky's home affairs correspondent Mark White said the group remained peaceful but were "trying to give the police the run around".

More than 600 coaches and dozens of trains brought people to the capital, with many more unable to get to London because of the massive demand for transport.

:: Read about careers adviser Jayne Bogan who is marching because of cutbacks to education services.

Unite's Len McCluskey said those taking part in the march were the "tip of the iceberg" because millions were opposed to the Government's cuts in public spending.

"There is growing anger, which will build and build as the impact of the cuts take effect," said Mr McCluskey, who warned of more demonstrations and possible co-ordinated strikes in the coming months.

:: Follow the route of the march through London

A new opinion poll has suggested that most people sympathise with the TUC's stance.

Asked by YouGov whether they supported or opposed today's march, 52% said they supported it, 31% opposed it, while 17% said they did not know.

Perhaps surprisingly, 19% of Conservative voters said they supported the march.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told Sky News that the Government was already "actively engaging" with the TUC over many of the issues being highlighted at the march.

"There are six million public sector workers and a lot of them will obviously be worried about the effect of cuts," he said.

"What we are doing is trying to protect jobs as best we can, putting in place lots of controls, we're taking out the overhead costs of government, we're squeezing suppliers, we're coming out of property."

The police operation will be closely scrutinised after criticism of the handling of recent demonstrations.

When student protests turned violent before Christmas, the policy of "kettling" - or containing protesters in a confined space to stop trouble spreading - was called into question.

Human rights group Liberty will be in the police control during the march to monitor the response.

Director of policy Isabella Sankey told Sky News: "We are going to be observing what police are doing and then we are going to be calling it as we see it.

"The police have all sorts of powers at there disposal ... and we've seen that peaceful protest has been undermined by misuse and abuse of those powers."

But Westminster Council has said it is not anticipating trouble and visitors should not be deterred.

The march comes three days after the Budget, in which the Chancellor underlined the Government's determination to tackle the deficit.

With public sector cuts only now just starting to bite, it could be the first of many.

(c) Sky News 2011

(c) Sky News 2011