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Why we need to get out and march

Last weekend I tweeted a message calling for support for the big anti-austerity march and demonstration this Saturday. Quite a few people quickly retweeted this message – a few thousand people informed in a few moments.

Then I got a reply from someone who said in effect: “What is the point? One day won’t make any difference.” At one level he was right – but at another, completely wrong.

Demonstrations and marches are the best tool we have of bringing people together in a sense of solidarity. And the size of the crowds show the rest of the population that there are people who are prepared to do something. The point is to present an alternative to the austerity agenda.

The banking crisis of 2008 was the end product of the Thatcher revolution of 1979 and new Labour’s refusal to fundamentally alter the nature of our economy.

Thatcher’s government destroyed manufacturing industry, attacked the unions and ushered in the age of financial services and worship of money.

While new Labour did develop some parts of the welfare state, it refused to challenge the structure of the economy or regulate the banking system.

It even refused to intervene to prevent mutually owned building societies being converted into banks.

Northern Rock was the first casualty of this decision when it collapsed under the weight of its own excesses and corporate greed.

Even in the depths of the crisis the “nationalisation” of the banks was a strange mixture of bailout and share ownership – no effort was made to enforce a different ethos on lending or investment.

Directors of state-owned banks were simply told to carry on as before and prepare the banks for later sale back to the private sector.

On the plus side, the last days of the Labour government did increase benefits and pensions to help stimulate the economy. It also invested in infrastructure.

However since 2010 the coalition government has not just aggressively cut but has fundamentally restructured society by increasing the wealth gap and hacking away at the welfare state.

Tory ministers lay the blame for the sovereign debt problem firmly at the door of the benefits system – and the “greed” of the unemployed or disabled.

This is a grotesque attempt to divert attention away from massive corporate tax evasion.

The cuts that have taken place so far have increased unemployment, blighted the hopes of a generation of young people and ushered in a new radical conservatism that blames all economic ills on any form of regulation.

As the cuts in housing benefit deepen, the poorest lose their homes. Through the disgraceful Atos interviewing procedure, those on disability benefits are put through terrible stress and face losing their benefits.

From diminishing health and safety protection and trying to buy out employment rights in exchange for shareholdings to refusing to even grant ILO minimum provision on workers rights, the government’s anti-worker agenda is plain to see.

The other key areas of health, housing and education are all under threat.

Our NHS theoretically remains free at the point of use, but is being converted into a service of last resort through privatisation.

“Efficiency savings” are in reality severe budget cuts, leading to increased waiting times for operations and key medical professionals being made redundant.

In education the role of local education authorities has been undermined by successive governments, including that of Blair.

Academies outside of any democratic control have sprung up, accompanied by a deterioration in staff conditions.

Free schools, the ultimate Michael Gove dream, can simply take huge slices of public money and spend it without regard for planning or local needs.

Just this week all London’s local education authorities complained to the Department for Education about this process.

In higher education the government actively promotes private universities and wants to allow a free-for-all on fees above the current £9,000 per year cap.

The housing crisis deepens with rough sleeping on the rise, no control on private rents and councils being told to raise rents to 80 per cent of market values in order to be able to access any development money.

Council house sales are encouraged by discounts of up to £75,000 and the replacement council homes do not have to be of the same quality or indeed the same area.

The coalition will forever be remembered as the social-cleansers of Britain.

When we march on Saturday it is to protest against all of these things and to show solidarity with those protesting elsewhere.

Contingents from all over Europe will be able to relate their experience of cuts, privatisation, mass unemployment and attacks on workers’ rights.

Every eurozone country that has had a programme of austerity forced on it by the European Central Bank has seen the jobless figures rise, state assets sold off and a massive increase in the numbers of young people who are unemployed and not in any kind of education.

In the depths of despair people can turn on minorities and conveniently blame them for their economic woes. It happened in Germany in the 1920s and there are worrying signs of the same rise of the far-right in Greece and some other countries.

Social democratic parties that preach the supposed “responsibility” of the banks are electorally punished – witness Greece’s Pasok and Spain’s PSOE.

Last weekend left parties, socialist and communist, scored big gains in the Czech Republic’s regional elections.

Saturday’s demonstration is about an alternative – a society that ensures all are protected from destitution and poverty.

A society that does not go to war or build nuclear weapons. A society based on valuing everyone, not worshipping inequality and greed.

To those who see no alternative we have to demonstrate there is – that poverty and inequality are not inevitable, that it is possible to create a society where all can have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

This article forst appeared in the Morning Star.

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