Saturday 23rd October saw the largest demonstration in Cambridge for many years with over 500 trade unionists, students and community activists marching through the city centre in opposition to the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The march, organised by SERTUC and Cambs and District Trades Council, drew in trade unionists from across the region, with workers from other trades councils in the region, Cambridge Labour Party members, pensioners’ groups and students.
Following the march there was a rally in the Guildhall (the town hall), which heard from an array of speakers including Jerry Hicks – Unite General Secretary candidate, Dot Gibson – National Pensioners Convention, Lewis Herbert – Labour City councillor and Carol Gerrard – PCS.
Jerry Hicks has a strong track record of supporting struggle in Cambridge and has been involved in the Hands Off Hinchingbrooke campaign, the fight to save Marshalls, and the campaign to save jobs at Cambridge University Press. In a typically stirring speech, Jerry highlighted the profligacy of the bankers and the failures of the labour movement to change the anti-trade union laws, despite 13 years of a Labour government. He called on the leaders of the trade union and labour movement to show some genuine leadership, and cited the fact that they failed to get John McDonnell, the candidate closest to the policies of trade unions, on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership.
Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners Convention spoke of the importance of a strong labour movement in fighting the ConDem government. She reminded people that the country was deeper in debt following the devastation of the Second World War, however still built the welfare state, the NHS, and embarked on a house building programme.
PCS speaker Carol Gerrard gave a speech dispelling the myth that “there is no alternative” – a mantra first propagated by Thatcher in the 80’s. She pointed to the fact that there are £120 billion in taxes that are avoided or evaded. Instead of collecting this vast sum of money, the ConDems are cutting staff in HMRC and making those who collect money from the super-rich redundant. At the same time, the governent are chasing those dependent on benefits, and sending teams into areas with high welfare claimants to clamp down on so-called “cheats”.It is no mistake that while Osborne announced £7 billion cut from the welfare bill, the bankers announced £7 billion in bonuses!
We know, however, that the ConDem government won’t ask for the tax money. We cannot rely on appealing to the Tories’ better nature.The cuts need to be fought by a mass movement of workers and youth. As the class polarisation sharpens and the cuts bite, presssure will be place on the leaders of trade unions and the labour movement to take action. Socialist Appeal had a strong presence on the day, and a leaflet highlighting the role of the banks and the need to take the financial institutions into public ownerhsip proved popular. In addition, 40 papers were sold. This was an encouraging first step, as is the ‘Fighting Conference’ called by Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts for the 20th November.