On Sunday 4th October, dozens of Marxist students from all over the country joined the TUC’s No to Austerity! Yes to Workers’ Rights! demonstration, with over 60,000 marching to give the Tory Party conference a welcome it won’t soon forget! The high turnout and militant mood showed the Tory government that workers and youth are ready to fight back.
The atmosphere on the protest was one of positivity, with vibrant chants and a clear sense that the movement now has a clear political reference point in the form of Corbyn's Labour leadership. Alongside large blocs from all the major unions - including Unite, Unions, and the GMB - there was a strong presence from groups such as the junior doctors, protesting against the attacks on their contracts and the wider NHS, and students, who were demanding free higher education for all. Unsurprisingly, a large number of pig-related puns, as well as a significant number of pig-masked protestors, were on display too!
Yes to workers' rights!
The focus for many of those trade unionists present, and a consistent theme amongst those who spoke - including trade union leaders such as Len McCluskey of Unite and Dave Ward of the Communication Workers Union - was the Tories' trade union bill, which is currently being discussed in parliament. Despite already draconian anti-trade union laws in place from the times of Thatcher, the Conservatives now want to further hamstring the unions, knowing that their programme of austerity will likely provoke a wave of industrial action in the coming period.
The Tory bill aims to further restrict the right of workers to organise and strike, imposing stricter thresholds on the combined turnout and positive vote needed for unions to legally call a strike. At the same time, employers will be allowed to hire scab labour from agencies to replacing striking workers, and those organising picket lines will be forced to wear armbands. Meanwhile, the "check-off" system whereby public sector unions can automatically take subs out of employees wages will be abolished, making it harder for these unions to maintain membership levels.
All of these represent a wholesale attack on the working class, its rights, and its organisations. On the other side of the coin, however, we now have a Labour leadership that has stated its unconditional support for trade unionists and workers who take action against Tory cuts. In this respect, the new leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell will embolden workers to take industrial action, knowing that they now have a strong voice in parliament representing their interests.
Many of Sunday's protestors held up banners asserting that they were "proud to be a union member" and that "a picket line is not a crime". This militant and determined mood amongst those demonstrating was not always met by those on the platform, however. Speakers such as Frances O'Grady, leader of the TUC, and Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, both praised the size and enthusiasm of the protest, telling demonstrators that this would be the beginning of a fight back...when we have already had over five years of Tory-led government. Meanwhile, neither talked about how the fight would be taken forward from here.
Whilst, McCluskey talked about the possibility of taking illegal action in order to defend against Tory attacks, at the same time, reports were released claiming that the Unite leader was willing to accept parts of the Tory's horrendous bill, in exchange for the right to ballot members electronically. Horse-trading between McCluskey and Cameron, however, is not a solution. If the unions give an inch, the Tories will take a mile. Weakness invites aggression.
The only way to defeat the new anti-trade union legislation being proposed is through co-ordinated, militant action, accompanied by an organised effort to defend Corbyn and fight for socialism. The call for a general strike, backed by the new Labour leadership, would resonate loudly across the labour movement and would send a powerful and strong message to the Tories - and the bosses and bankers that they represent - about who really runs society.
Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
The Marxist Student Federation (MSF) was well represented, with over 30 students from Marxist societies from all parts of the country. Forming up into a lively bloc, banners from Leeds, Sheffield, Swansea, Glasgow and many more were held high amid chants of, “Tory cuts are no solution – Britain needs a revolution!” and, “Students and workers unite and fight!” The revolutionary enthusiasm on display proved to be infectious, with many marchers around the bloc joining in with the chants.
The MSF fully supports the TUC’s campaign to protect workers’ rights from the government’s despicable trade union bill. The further erosion of the democratic right of workers to organise and strike goes hand in hand with the rolling back of all the reforms won by the working class in the last 100 years. It shows that the capitalist system is as incapable of providing even basic democratic rights, alongside its attacks on the living standards of ordinary people across the world.
The MSF believes that to beat austerity and protect our future we must fight for an alternative to austerity and an alternative to capitalism. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party, not to mention the thousands who came to hear him speak in Manchester the day after the protest, shows there is an unquenchable thirst for change amongst workers and youth in Britain. But already, Corbyn’s leadership has come under attack from the Establishment and many right-wingers in his own party. This is why we say: Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
What next for the Marxist Student Federation?