Trade unionists, students, anti-cuts activists and samba bands all united to form a 500,000 strong ‘March for the Alternative’ last Saturday. Together they hoped to tell the government that cuts in public sector spending are not the way to tackle the deficit, but rather are a politically motivated choice. They presented alternatives such as more stringent tax laws to tackle Tax avoidance by large companies.
The day began by the river Thames as unions and other groups formed up to begin the march. At the same time several unofficial groups began their routes to join the main event, some representing specific demographics such as students in a feeder march organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) or the UKUncut feeder march from outside the National Theatre. As all the groups converged, the march swelled to the largest since the 2003 Stop The War protest.
Ed Milliband spoke and drew comparisons with campaigns such as suffrage.
Vuvuzelas made a come back and many spent time making their own witty placards. The marchers were accompanied by everything from brass bands to rhythm groups that took full advantage of the amazing acoustics that can be experienced when walking underneath a bridge. Many sung, chanted and danced their way to this accompaniment. The route snaked through London to the rally in Hyde Park where, amongst others, Labour Party Leader, Ed Milliband, spoke and drew comparisons with campaigns such as suffrage.
At the same time as the rally, some groups organised autonomous actions such as UKUncut’s Occupy for the Alternative. The group targeted companies that they say are guilty of Tax avoidance by occupying and utilising their outlets on Oxford Street. Banks were ‘bailed-in’ rather than bailed-out, Soho Square was turned into a comedy club, street theatre was performed in an ‘arts space’ at BHS (part of the Arcadia group owned by Phillip Green) and Fortnum and Mason, the high end grocers, was occupied as the main event of UKUncut action.
…anti-cuts activists continued to recover, party and exchange stories of the day under Nelson’s column.
Some had also organised a 24 hour occupation of Trafalgar Square to turn it into a version of Tahiri Square. Until late in the evening anti-cuts activists continued to recover, party and exchange stories of the day under Nelson’s column. Police later formed a kettle around the protesters and forcefully dispersed them before the clean up of London could begin.
Police have faced criticism primarily for not dealing with the vandalism of banks and shops both on parts of the route march, and away from the march when some split from the prescribed route and policing was much scarcer. The controversial use of the containment technique kettling has also been called into question, specifically, outside Fortnum and Mason where footage has emerged, via the Guardian, showing an officer informing protesters they wouldn’t face charges or arrests.
Much of the media attention after the march has concentrated on the 200 arrested (mostly UKUncut protestors after their sit-in) and the negative images of black bloc protestors clashing with police and damaging both public and private property. However, what the march should be remembered for is the fact that 500,000 marchers came together from all over the country to march for an alternative. They all await the government’s response.