Led by unions who organized more than 800 buses... Nearly half million protest in London against British 'austerity' and public sector cutbacks

More than 400,000 people filled central London on March 26, 2011, protesting the austerity budget and proposed cuts to public services and public sector workers that are hitting Great Britain under the new Conservative government (called a "coalition" because the Conservatives have gotten support from reactionary "liberals" in their attack on public services behind the smokescreen of deficit reduction). The following are from various news organizations which are reporting the story while the corporate media in the USA black out the stories of protests against the economic policies of reactionaries across the USA and elsewhere.

London, March 26, 2011.Conservative media and the Associated Press said the marches and rally were a quarter of a million people. Even the police estimated 400,000 people, while rally organizes said that a half million or more had come out for the massive protests, and that many others were unable to get to London because of the lack of transportation.


Anti-Cuts March Swells to 400,000, London hosts largest protest since Iraq war as workers and public demonstrate against government spending cuts (Guardian (UK), March 26, 2011,

Around 400,000 people have joined a march in London to oppose the coalition government's spending cuts.

In what looks like being the largest mass protest since the anti-Iraq war march in 2003, teachers, nurses, midwives, NHS, council and other public sector workers were joined by students, pensioners and direct action supporters, bringing the centre of the capital to a standstill.

London, March 26, 2011.Tens of thousands of people streamed along Embankment and past police barriers in Whitehall. Feeder marches, including a protest by students which set off from the University of London in Bloomsbury, swelled the crowd, which stretched back as far as St Paul's Cathedral.

The biggest union-organised event for over 20 years saw more than 800 coaches and dozens of trains hired to bring people to London, with many unable to make the journey to the capital because of the massive demand for transport.

"I'm sure that many of our critics will try to write us off today as a minority, vested interest," said Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, which organised the march.

"The thousands coming to London from across the country will be speaking for their communities when they call for a plan B that saves vital services, gets the jobless back to work and tackles the deficit through growth and fair tax."

Barber is expected to tell this afternoon's rally in Hyde Park that there is an alternative to the "brutal" spending cuts, which have already led to the threat of 170,000 council job losses and another 50,000 elsewhere in the public sector.

"No part of our public realm is to be protected. And don't believe it when ministers say that the NHS is safe in their hands. With over 50,000 job cuts already in the pipeline - nurses, doctors, physios, midwives - in the name of so-called efficiency savings of £20bn, the NHS as we know it is already in intensive care.

"With David Cameron talking about selling it off to any willing provider out to make a profit, the NHS is facing the gravest threat in its history. Today let us say to him: we will not let you destroy what has taken generations to build. Let's be brutally clear about these brutal cuts. They're going to cost jobs on a huge scale - adding to the misery of the 2.5 million people already on the dole."

The education secretary, Michael Gove, acknowledged the public's concerns about the planned cuts, but insisted they were necessary.

"Of course people will feel a sense of disquiet, in some cases anger, at what they see happening," Gove told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "But the difficulty we have, as the government inheriting a terrible economic mess, is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance."

Labour politicians will join the march, and party leader, Ed Miliband, will address the rally in Hyde


Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, will tell demonstrators that the government faces being wiped out in May's elections.

"Every month when a library closes, a care home shuts its doors, or services for struggling young people are withdrawn, I want them to feel the fear, and anger of the people who have come here today from every part of the UK to vent their frustration and to stand up for a fairer future."

Banks and stores in Oxford Street are being targeted by the anti-cuts group UK Uncut. There are also plans to target a secret location with a mass occupation.

Around 4,500 police officers were on duty, with the human rights group Liberty sending 100 legal observers to monitor their actions.

The senior Scotland Yard officer in charge of policing the protests, Commander Bob Broadhurst, has pledged that the controversial tactic of "kettling" protesters into a confined area will be kept to a minimum. "The issues will be with the fracture groups who might want to spoil the party," he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS LOWBALLS LONDON PROTEST SIZE... The U.S. based Associated Press chose instead to emphasize the small amount of violence during the protests and to low ball the size of the event. The AP story that appeared early on March 27, 2011, is below.

LONDON - A quarter-million mostly peaceful demonstrators marched through central London on Saturday against the toughest cuts to public spending since World War II, with some small breakaway groups smashing windows at banks and shops and spray painting logos on the walls.

Another group of black-clad protesters hurled paint bombs and ammonia-filled light bulbs at police.

Organizers of the March for the Alternative said people from across the country were peacefully joining in the demonstration, the biggest protest in London since a series of rallies against the Iraq war in 2003.

Carl Court, AFP / Getty Images

Police clash with protesters outside a Topshop store in central London during a mass demonstration on Saturday. A quarter-million demonstrators protested against the government's toughest cuts to public spending since World War II.

Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police confirmed that more than 250,000 people had marched peacefully, but said around 500 had caused trouble in London's main shopping streets.

He said nine people had been arrested, for public disorder and criminal damage. Police said 28 people had been injured during the demonstration, and seven were admitted to hospitals for a range of problems, including shortness of breath and a suspected hip fracture. Five police officers were also injured and one of those had to be treated in hospital for a groin injury.

Police said one group of a few hundred people broke away from the main march, scuffling with police officers and attempting to smash shop windows on two of London's main shopping streets. Others threw objects at the posh Ritz Hotel in nearby Piccadilly. Members of protest group UK Uncut later walked into the nearby luxury department store Fortnum and Mason and remained inside for a few hours. Police clashed with other demonstrators outside.

But the protests otherwise had a carnival feel. School teachers, nurses and students all marched through central London and rallied in Hyde Park, one of London's biggest public gardens, with banners, balloons and whistles.

Britain is facing 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) of public spending cuts from Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government as it struggles to get the country's large budget deficit under control. The government has already raised sales tax, but Britons are bracing for big cuts to public spending.

After the country spent billions bailing out indebted banks, and suffered a squeeze on tax revenue and an increase in welfare bills, Treasury chief George Osborne has staked the coalition government's future on tough economic remedies.

As many as half a million public sector jobs will be lost, about 18 billion ($28.5 billion) axed from welfare payments and the pension age raised to 66 by 2020, earlier than previously planned.

The TUC, the main umbrella body for British unions, says it believes the cuts will threaten the country's economic recovery, and has urged the government to create new taxes for banks and to close loopholes that allow some companies to pay less tax - an argument that chimes with many of the protesters.

"They shouldn't be taking money from public services. What have we done to deserve this?" said Alison Foster, a 53-year-old school teacher. "Yes, they are making vicious cuts. That's why I'm marching, to let them know this is wrong."

Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, likened the march to the suffragette movement in Britain and the civil rights movement in America. "Our causes may be different but we come together to realize our voice. We stand on the shoulders of those who have marched and have struggled in the past," he told protesters at the rally.

The Metropolitan police have been criticized for adopting heavy-handed tactics when dealing with demonstrations in the past. In particular, they have been criticized for penning demonstrators up in a small area for several hours without allowing them to leave. Police have said the so-called "kettling" procedure will only be used as a last resort.

The TUC has called for a peaceful protest during which people walk along official routes that have already been cleared with police. But leaflets scattered around central London by other groups have asked demonstrators to leave the official route and stay in central London after the event officially ends in the afternoon.

In another incident away from the main march, a group burned a giant model of a Trojan horse made by art students and dragged into central London.

The students said the horse was a metaphor for deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg. Clegg's party had promised not to raise tuition fees during their election campaign but abandoned that pledge when they formed a coalition government with the Conservative party.


Saturday’s march, organized by the Trades Union Congress, saw between 400,000 and half a million people fill the streets from the Embankment to Trafalgar Square and then on to Hyde Park — showing resistance to the government’s austerity agenda.

400,000 Brits Protest Against Austerity, by D.D. Guttenplan, Release Date: 28 March 2011, Word Count: 845, Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global, 1.336.686.9002,

London — I had two invitations to join the March 26 March for An Alternative to the government’s austerity program. My comrades in the National Union of Journalists were marching in the Federation of Entertainment Unions, which seemed oddly appropriate. I also had an e-mail from my rabbi urging me to “think of my socialist bubbe” and inviting me to join an après-demo occupation of Top Shop, the British fashion chain whose owner, Philip Green, has been a target of UK Uncut for avoiding paying his taxes, with the unarguable admonition that “anyone who can afford to give their son a £4 million bar mitzvah clearly isn't paying enough tax.”

But owing to the operations of a Tory-supporting cold virus which struck the other half of the bureau, and counter-revolutionary activity on the part of the office dog, who declined to sacrifice his walk in the name of solidarity, I missed both groups and ended up marching with the Musicians’ Union. For those of you who think of protest demonstrations as dour, somber affairs I can recommend the experience warmly. We had the usual chants: “Students and Workers, Unite and Fight!” and “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” but we also had a brass band and some very enthusiastic dancers from Equity, the actors’ union, who were marching nearby.

The march, organized by the Trades Union Congress, saw between 400,000 and half a million people fill the streets from the Embankment to Trafalgar Square and then on to Hyde Park, where Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party (and former Nation intern) told the crowd they stood in the tradition of the suffragettes, “who fought for votes for women and won. The civil rights movement in America that fought against racism and won. The antiapartheid movement that fought the horror of that system and won.”

The British, of course, have their own proud tradition of protest, from the Levellers and Diggers in the English Civil War to the Jarrow Crusaders in the 1930s and CND in the 1950s and 60s to the poll tax riots against Thatcher in 1990. Not too many victories there, though. Which may also be why I couldn’t help remembering the last time I’d walked this route, on February 15 2003, protesting against the Iraq War. The government then, a Labour government, managed to ignore a million people in the streets. So why should a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition pay attention to half that number?

Senior Labour Party figures seem to believe the public will turn against the government once the cuts start to really bite. Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor and supposedly Labour’s hardest hitter against the Tories, joined the march today but argued only for a more gradual approach to reducing the deficit rather than a wholesale rejection of the austerity agenda. And in a way the whole day reflected this disconnection between parliamentary politicians, who still seem terrified of appearing “irresponsible,” and the teachers, nurses, librarians, social workers, train drivers and hospital workers who are terrified of losing their jobs and having to rely on a shredded social safety net.

It’s easy for us old veterans to heap scorn on the few hundred anarchist punks in their black hoodies who come to these demonstrations looking for trouble, and whose appetite for mixing it up with the police threatens to hijack the headlines, and the airtime, earned by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters. But when the political system seems sclerotic and unresponsive dissent will find other avenues. The demonstrators chanting -- and singing -- “March Like an Egyptian” or carrying London street signs proclaiming “Tahrir Square, City of Westminster” were clearly engaging in wishful thinking. That has to be preferable, though, to the refrain (sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic) I heard as the crowd passed under Big Ben: “You can take your Parliament and shove it up your arse.”

As I write the police are still battling with protesters inside Fortnum and Mason, a favorite haunt for visiting Americans in need of a cup of Earl Grey. (Q: Why are the anarchists occupying Fortnum and Mason? A: Because proper tea is theft.) And UK Uncut, last month’s media darlings, are taking a lot of flack for not having the discipline to keep their high street protests uniformly peaceful.

But that is where we are: a government carrying out a determined, ideological assault on the welfare state; shell-shocked public sector workers demoralized after a decade of “New Labour” reforms; a Labour Party determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s, which resulted in a long winter of unelectability, but whose alternative to austerity so far lacks either conviction or inspiration. Although he’s already been taunted for it in the press, Ed Miliband was right about one thing. Looking out over the throngs in Hyde Park he said: “This is what the Big Society looks like.” At the risk of sounding antediluvian, he might have said it’s what the working class looks like. It’s also what class war looks like — when your side is losing.

D.D. Guttenplan, who writes from The Nation's London bureau, is the author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Copyright © 2011 The Nation – distributed by Agence Global


Released: 28 March 2011

Word Count: 845


For rights and permissions, contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.212.731.0757, Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Rami G. Khouri, Peter Kwong, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.


March 29, 2011 at 6:19 AM

By: ellen baber


What a perfect symbol of how to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and disabled: the closing of Lewisham library. All the other cuts I've read about are piddling, and they are small operations that enrich society. Cameron is trying to look decisive and powerful, sensible and competent.

How Bush-y he appears. Are the years of 100 dollar wines over for the Goldman Sachs crowd. Not really. They always take care of themselves and their cronies, both here and in GB..

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