We came in tens of thousands, UNISON members from all across the country, to defy the wet weather and step up for public services as part of the national TUC march and rally on 12 May.
UNISON South East members were out in force, joined by a samba band, a giant flag, maracas and vuvuzelas, glitter, giant balloons and UNISON banners standing proudly against the rain. There was a festive air to a decidedly grey day in London’s West End as we made our way from the Thames Embankment at Westminster to the rally and speeches in Hyde Park.
And we marched with a serious message: after eight years of austerity and cuts, working people and public services need a new deal.
UNISON South East Regional Secretary Steve Torrance thanked all members from the South East who had supported the demonstration saying:
“This was a great day for our union and we delivered an impossible to ignore message to the government. Public services matter too much to people and we will not allow them to continue being decimated.
“Our members’ efforts continue to keep UNISON’s public services message high on the news agenda and it was refreshing to see this march lead the day’s coverage in so many media outlets. That’s down to members turning out in their thousands and people making their voices heard on social media. And we’ll continue to shout until the government’s austerity policies are finally consigned to the dustbin of history, where they’ve always deserved to be.
“Thank you so much to all our amazing members who turned out and braved some terrible weather. The heavens may have opened as we got to Hyde Park, but the atmosphere never dampened. You’re a credit to our union!”
Steve and UNISON South East members joined General secretary Dave Prentis towards the front of the huge UNISON section of the demonstration. Dave 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.”
Dave added in his speech that, “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.”
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.”