Government must change course or face strikes, unions say at London’s biggest march in years
The government faced calls for a major change of direction on public services, pay and jobs on Saturday as tens of thousands of people marched through central London to demand a “new deal”.
Jeremy Corbyn won huge applause from the crowds in Hyde Park when he pledged that the next Labour government would create a ministry to guarantee workers’ rights.
The Labour leader accused the Conservatives of cutting public spending while protecting those who dodge taxes. “We will give workers more power, by strengthening their rights and freedoms to organise together to improve their lives,” he said.
Union members and campaigners from across the UK travelled to the capital for the demonstration, which was organised by the TUC. It said that a decade on from the financial crisis, real wages were still worth £24 a week less than they were in 2008 and were not expected to return to pre-crash levels until 2025.
At that point, real wages in the UK will have been in decline for 17 years, during which time the average worker will have lost out on about £18,500 in real earnings, it said.
The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka, warned of a strike ballot among civil servants in support of demands for a 5% pay rise. “Our members in the civil service have had enough of the pay freeze and cuts to jobs. If the government will not give them what they deserve, we will strike,” he said.
Frontline workers including nurses, ambulance crews, postal workers, teachers, civil servants and cleaners marched to call for a higher minimum wage, a ban on zero-hours contracts and more funding for the NHS and other public services.
Workers involved in current disputes, including those at restaurant chains TGI Fridays and McDonald’s and at rail companies over the role of train guards, also took part in what was the biggest demonstration in years.
The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal for decent jobs, fair wages, to fund public services and for strong trade unions.
“You can’t hand out bumper dividends to shareholders and cut workers’ wages. You can’t fill your boots in the boardroom and tell workers to tighten their belts, and you can’t build world class companies on the back of second class rights. The greed has to stop.”
The general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, Dave Ward, said: “This is the start of a serious challenge for a new deal for all workers. The world of work has become a pressurised environment, based on a flexible labour market and bogus self-employment.”