Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, October 2012
Thousands of British Protesters Demand End to Austerity Measures
By Isla Binnie
Sat Oct 20, 2012 9:46am EDT
LONDON (Reuters) -
Thousands of British protesters marched through central London on Saturday against public spending cuts and tax rises enacted by a government fighting accusations it is run by an upper-class elite that ignores the plight of recession-hit voters.
Blowing horns and whistles, protesters filed past the Houses of Parliament behind a banner declaring "Austerity is Failing", calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to revive Britain's struggling economy.
The march comes at a time when Cameron's Conservative-led coalition is reeling from the resignation on Friday of a senior minister accused of calling police "plebs", a class-laden insult for working people.
"If the working class strike for a day, we'll see who runs this country," said Nick Chaffey, 48, a Socialist Party campaigner married to a teacher who has taken a pay cut.
"I've got friends who are in desperate straits, living in fear of losing their job and their house."
Cameron's party has faced a barrage of negative headlines over the departure of Andrew Mitchell - the "Chief Whip" or party enforcer - four weeks after he swore at police guarding the gates to Cameron's Downing Street office.
A separate row involving finance minister George Osborne, who sat in a first class train carriage with a standard class ticket before paying for an upgrade, added ammunition to critics who say the Conservatives are privileged and out-of-touch.
"Who Do They Think They Are?" asked the Daily Mail newspaper in a front page headline, while the Financial Times said the bad news over Mitchell and Osborne capped a "dismal week for the Tories", the centre-right party that is trailing in the polls.
Under grey autumnal skies, demonstrators waved banners saying "No Cuts", "Tax the Rich, Teach the Poor" and "Plebs of the World Unite", poking fun at Mitchell's resignation.
Others handed out leaflets decorated with Wild West-style "Wanted" posters bearing Cameron's picture and the message: "Running a government by and for millionaires".
Nurses, cleaners, librarians and ambulance drivers were among tens of thousands who joined the march and a rally in London's central Hyde Park, in one of the biggest anti-austerity protests this year. Marches will also take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Glasgow, Scotland.
Trade union leaders are trying to use the rally to pile more pressure on Cameron, telling protesters the government's economic plan has failed and only prolonged Britain's recession.
"Austerity isn't working. It is hammering the poorest and the most vulnerable," Brendan Barber, head of the Trades Union Congress, an umbrella group which represents 54 unions, will say in a speech at the rally.
"Ministers told us that if we only accept the pain, recovery would come. Instead we have been mired in a double-dip recession."
COALITION UNDER PRESSURE
The coalition government has responded to calls from unions and the opposition Labour Party to do more to increase growth by relaxing planning laws and boosting lending to businesses.
But its latest attempt to ease the pressure on squeezed households backfired this week when Cameron said the government would legislate to force energy companies to give customers their lowest tariff.
The announcement appeared to take his own ministers by surprise and sowed confusion over what he meant and whether it would actually happen.
Cameron's party staked its 2010 election campaign on the austerity program, calling for deeper cuts to welfare spending in the years to come while dismissing the idea of a tax on the wealthy.
In an emergency budget announced after winning power, his coalition government said it would cut most departmental budgets by an average of around 20 percent over four years.
It announced a public sector pay freeze, set a new ceiling on the total state benefits any family can receive and cut tax relief on pensions.
It has also raised the VAT sales tax to 20 percent from 17.5 percent, increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco and raised payroll taxes for employees.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said the government's policies had damaged the economic recovery.
"They told us austerity would help our economy grow. But our economy has not grown. It has flatlined," he will tell the demonstration in a speech.
But opponents of the unions say the government should stick to its plan to eliminate a budget deficit that stood at 8 percent of gross domestic product last year, the biggest of any major European country.
Sajid Javid, a Conservative Treasury minister, said the government was right to focus on cutting borrowing and data last week indicating a fall in unemployment and inflation showed its economic policies were on track.
"There is a still a lot to do," he told Sky News. "I don't pretend for a second that we are out of the woods, but this government is facing up to the problem, it is not sticking its head in the sand like Ed Miliband."
(Writing by Peter Griffiths; Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Sophie Hares)
No Cuts! Tens of thousands turnout for British anti-austerity protests
Russia TV, 20 October, 2012, 22:11
Nurses, teachers and off duty policemen marched with anti-war activists, politicians and the unemployed in a massive protest against the Conservative led Government’s austerity measures, which they say are killing Britain.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the demonstrations, which was led by a group of jobless young people. More than 250 coaches brought people to London to take part. There were similar protests in Belfast and Glasgow.
Protesters blew whistles and held up flags and banners as they marched though central London. One homemade banner read, ‘Cameron has butchered Britain’. Other banners read ‘cut war not welfare’, and ‘need before greed’.
RT’s correspondent in London, Sara Firth, who watched the march and spoke to some of the protesters, said that cuts to the NHS and the police force were the areas that people were most concerned about.
“People have turned out here today from all walks of life. Families and all age groups are being affected by this,” She said.
The cuts have severely affected the police force, the National Health Service (NHS) and the armed forces.
One demonstrator told RT why he was marching, “We want our children to have a good education and good health care, this is what my grandmother who was a suffragette– [the women who fought for the female vote in Britain] – actually fought for and my father spent six years in north Africa fighting for a decent country and this government is going to destroy it.”
Demonstrators hold placards before the start of a protest marchorganised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) , on the embankment, in central London October 20, 2012 (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett) Children, dressed as public sector workers, hold placards before the start of a protest march organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), on the embankment, in central London October 20, 2012 (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett)
There was a strong trade union presence at all the three nationwide events.
The head of the Trade Union’s Congress (TUC) Brendan Barber said that the message from the protesters is that austerity isn’t working.
“The government doesn’t understand the pain that their cuts and their economic program are having in communities up and down the country. And the government needs to swallow its pride and go for plan B, because Plan A just isn’t working.”
Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union, told RT.
Barber and other union leaders have called for a general strike and further protests to hammer home their message to the government.
Other groups involved in the protest included the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which has slammed the government for what it says are “disastrous” implications for public services financing by committing tens of billions of pounds to a new nuclear weapons system.
In a rally in Hyde Park, which took place after the march, Labour leader Ed Milliband took to the stage saying that if elected his party would
“stand for all the young people in the country who want to work in Britain but cannot find it today.” Demonstrators listen to speakers in Hyde Park at the end of a protest march organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), in central London October 20, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)
An embarrassing week
The march will provide further discomfort for David Cameron’s conservative led coalition, which is reeling from a week of negative headlines.
On Friday Andrew Mitchel, the Chief Whip or party enforcer, resigned after a row in which he’s accused of calling the police ‘plebs’ – a class-laden insult often used by Britain’s upper classes to insult common working people.
In a second embarrassment, the chancellor, George Osborne, was caught sitting in a first class train carriage with only a standard class ticket. This was ammunition for Tory critics who accuse them of being the party of privilege. The unions were quick to pounce on his actions: “The Chancellor eventually paid for his ticket, but the rest of us are paying the price for his disastrous policies.”
But Sajid Javid, a Conservative Treasury minister, said the government must stick to its guns and said that figures out last week showing a fall in unemployment and inflation showed that its economic policies were working.
While Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which describes itself as an independent free market think tank, said the government must not listen to militant union leaders and that relatively the cuts Britain has seen are tiny.
But for many of those voicing their discontent on the streets of London and for people in the UK who have lost their jobs because of austerity, prudent economic principles appear to be just background noise.
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