More than 60,000 people joined a TUC march on Sunday (October 4) during the Tory Party Conference in Manchester to demonstrate against government austerity and the trade union Bill.
The march was led by workers from the SSI steel plant in Redcar, which, after going into liquidation last week, resulted in 1,700 job losses. The Tory government has so far refused to step in and support the steel industry and a community that depends on it for their livelihoods.
Singers and speakers at the rally included Charlotte Church, Billy Bragg, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady as well as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, among others.
McCluskey railed against what the Tory government has done to working people.
“We are here to send a very clear message to the Tory government,” he said. “If they thought on May 7 that we were going to disappear then think again. Because we’re here to fight for everything that belongs to us,” including, he said, “the welfare state, the National Health Service, universal education, decent jobs, and secure jobs, and decent homes.”
McCluskey also highlighted that the fight against the government extended beyond fighting austerity.
“No sooner was the ink dry on the election results than the first attack [the Tories] made was on trade unionism,” he said. “The trade union Bill is pernicious – it’s designed to change trade unions into nothing more than advice agencies.
“My message from Unite is clear – we will stand by our members in the struggle,” McCluskey went on to say. “If that means taking us outside of the law, then so be it.
He noted that the Tory government has no mandate from the public to batter through its austerity cuts.
“If they think a fluke victory in which 75 per cent of the electorate did not vote for them gave them a mandate to continue their cuts, then they’ve got another think coming,” he said. “If they think they are going to have a smooth ride over the next five years, they’ve got another think coming.
“There will be hundreds of thousands of people hounding them, snapping at them and resisting them.”
McCluskey called on prime minister David Cameron to prove his claims that the Tories are the party of working people by intervening in Redcar to save the steel plant and support the steel industry.
“That’s exactly what the French government have done and that’s exactly what the Italian government have done. If it’s good enough for Italian steel workers, where’s our government for our steel workers?”
He called on the crowds to “build an alliance” and link up with direct action groups, community groups, faith organisations and the Labour party, which, he said, “finally has a leader who will stand shoulder to shoulder with working people” in order to successfully fight back against Tory attacks.
McCluskey later met workers attending the rally, including father-of-two Martin Blane, who was one of the 1,700 Redcar steel workers whose livelihood is now on the line. Blane has worked at the Redcar plant since he was 20 for nearly two decades.
“This is our heritage,” Blane said. “If this fails then when will the next one be? China Germany and Poland all have steel industries subsidised. Why can’t we be the same?”
Watch Len’s full speech in the video below: