By the tens of thousands, UNISON members came from all across the country today to defy the wet weather of London and step up for public services as part of the national TUC march and rally today.
A samba band, a giant flag, maracas and vuvuzelas, glitter, giant balloons and UNISON banners from across the union – and UNISON members – added a festive air to decidedly grey streets in London’s West End as the marchers made their way from the Thames Embankent at Westminster to the rally and speeches in Hyde Park.
But they marched with a serious message: after eight years of austerity and cuts, working people and public services need a new deal.
General secretary Dave Prentis had marched at the front a huge UNISON section of the demonstration and congratulated all who took part for “making yourselves heard, demanding change, standing up for your jobs, your communities and our public services.
“And telling this Tory government once and for all that it’s time for them to go! Time for an end to austerity; an end to cuts; an end to Tory cruelty.”
Austerity had been a political choice, not an economic necessity, he told the crowd at the rally.
And “it’s our people, our class, who suffer” – across the board, from the residents of Grenfell Tower, through public service workers “battered by cuts yet always expected to do more with less,” to the Windrush generation, losing jobs, denied care and even deported by “a callous, racist government.”
“You know, the Tories said they wanted a hostile environment – so we will give them one,” he declared, to cheers. “A hostile environment for Theresa May! A hostile environment for her racist government! And a hostile environment for the politics of austerity, the politics of greed and the politics of hate!”
Because, he added, “our people and our movement … we are the majority now” and he promised that the labour movement would keep up the pressure.
“And the change we seek won’t just sweep the Tories from office. It will sweep Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. It will bring our movement to power.
“And it will change our society into one that works for the many not the few.”
Penny Smith is a UNISON member who works for Northamptonshire – “the Tory council that went bankrupt”.
With the county council now facing abolition by the Tory government, she added “Northamptonshire is the proof, if ever it was needed, that privatisation, outsourcing, low council tax and constant cuts is a disaster for public services … an ideological experiment that was doomed to fail.”
She had a simple message for government, local authorities and employers: listen to working people, listen to trade unions.
And that was a theme picked up by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke to the crowd after travelling down from campaigning in Glasgow.
“Our movement was founded to respect all and include all – that is our strength and that is our watchword,” he said.
“This demonstration today is about working rights, it is about collective endeavour. But above all it is a declaration that we’re around: we’re around to campaign as long as it takes to bring about that social justice … we’re around in solidarity.”