Monday, 22 October 2012

'If there's money to bail out the bankers, there's money for public services'

"If there is money available to bail out the bankers, there is money available for the NHS and our schools and to get young people back to work."

That was at the heart of the message that UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis gave the huge crowd gathered in Hyde Park for a rally after the London leg of the 20 October March for a Future that Works.

Stressing that the march was not an end in itself - "Today we march - tomorrow we march on" - he told the crowd: "We march for decent pay that people can live on."

Mr Prentis went on: "We march to defend the NHS. We march to defend our community services. We march for a future that works."

And to a huge cheer, he told the government: "Hands off our public services, they are not yours to destroy".

To the crowd, he said: "We're told there's no alternative - but there is. The government could have the guts to go back to the banks and say: 'You got us into this mess - you get us out of it'.

"We're not here today for the millionaires - we're here for the millions."

Mr Prentis had started off by saying that "David Cameron and Nick Clegg are forming a boy band called No Direction" to great laughter, but on a more serious note, he had pointed out that "inequality is at levels not seen since Victorian times".

And he was cheered as he paid tribute to UNISON members marching in Glasgow and Belfast, as well as London, and welcomed South African and French trade unionists marching with the union.

Incoming TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady told the crowd: "Thank you for marching today in your tens of thousands. Thank you for standing up against the tax dodgers, the greedy bankers and this government.

"At the Conservative conference, Cameron said he wanted to spread privilege. We know what he is spreading - and it doesn’t smell good!"

And she added that, when she becomes TUC general secretary next year: "I will fight as hard for our people as that lot fight for theirs. Stay strong: united we stand."

Current TUC general secretary Brendan Barber laid it on the line when he said at the conclusion of the rally: "Britain faces a choice - a future of despair or one of hope and recovery.

"Our choice is clear: we want a future that works. Cuts, privatisation and attacks on employment rights are the road to nowhere.

"Tens of thousands are still walking along Piccadilly and coming into the park. Tens of thousands have marched in Glasgow and Belfast - all with a united message to this government: 'Austerity isn't working'."

To huge cheers, Ed Miliband said that Labour would "tax the bankers' bonuses" and "end the privatisation in the NHS".

The Labour leader added: "One nation is a country where we give hope to our young people ... A country with a future that works."

There were no cheers, though, when he said there would still be "hard choices" under a future Labour government.

In Glasgow, people gathered to hear UNISON Scotland secretary Mike Kirby speaking at the rally.

"Ordinary people are being asked to pay too high a price," he declared. "Key public services are under attack and politicians need to be told that 'enough is enough'.

"Trade union members, their families and friends know that the drastic spending cuts and attacks on benefits are hurting them and are hurting the most vulnerable people in society."

And in Belfast too, UNISON members were at the heart of the march and rally organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.