50,000 march against austerity cuts
Sunday 29th September 2013, 12:51AM BST.
Around 50,000 people marched on a union protest against austerity cuts on the opening day of the Conservative Party conference.
The aim of the protest, which took place in Manchester, was to highlight the impact of Government policies on jobs and spending across the health service, as well as the “rapid sell-off” of the most lucrative parts of the NHS to private healthcare companies, organisers said.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said the protest – said to be the largest ever dealt with by the force – had passed off peacefully in the most part, with just two arrests for breaches of the peace.
Following the march a rally was held where union leaders, politicians, celebrities and NHS workers addressed the crowd.
Shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, addressed the rally calling it an “unbelievable show of action for the best health service in the world.”
He said it was an “incredible message of solidarity” to health service staff who were “under attack” from the Government.
“What a message you have sent today to an arrogant, out-of-touch, Prime Minister,” said Mr Burnham to cheers.
“David Cameron, are you listening? You have never been given permission to put the National Health Service up for sale. That’s the message coming out of this rally today,” the MP for Leigh said.
Mr Burnham pledged to the rally that the next Labour Government would repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and would “put people before profit”.
But as he spoke some protestors shouted: “You must keep your word” and “hypocrite” and accused Labour of privatising the NHS when it was last in power.
A Tweet on Greater Manchester Police’s account described the march as “good natured”.
At one point the protest march was over a mile long as it snaked through the city centre.
Another Tweet on the GMP account read: “Estimations are that around 50k involved in protest. One of the largest ever policed by GMP. No arrests and everyone safe in the sunshine.”
Organisers of the rally said the total number of protesters exceeded 55,000.
Tens of thousands of people streamed into Whitworth Park, where the rally was held, and where a large stage had been set up, draped in banners saying “Save Our NHS”, “TUC defends jobs and services” and “No to Austerity”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the march and rally allowed thousands of ordinary people to show the Government exactly what they thought of its policies.
“Austerity is having a devastating effect on our communities and services, with 21,000 NHS jobs lost over the last three months alone. The NHS is one of Britain’s finest achievements and we will not allow ministers to destroy, through cuts and privatisation, what has taken generations to build,” she said.
TUC North West regional secretary Lynn Collins added: “Our NHS is under attack and we want to send the strongest message to the Conservatives that we will not stand by and let them sell-off our national treasure.”
Leading musicians also helped to organise the event in signs of a renewed link between music and politics.
Manchester musician John Robb compered the rally, while Liverpool band the Farm, and 15-year-old John Lennon McCullagh performed.
Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, told the rally that David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s talk” of “re-organisation and reform” really meant “fragmentation and privation.”
He added: “They don’t value the health of ordinary people. They only know how to put a price on it.
“Our message to Cameron is crystal clear: you will have to come through us, though the ballot box, to take our National Health Service from us,” he said.
Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley Cropper in the soap, paid tribute to the NHS which she said had saved her husband’s life.
The actress said she owed the NHS “everything” and wanted to be part of stopping the NHS from being “dismantled”.
“We are sending a message loud and clear to this Government: do not mess with us. We owe the workers of the NHS everything,” she said.
Unison General Secretary, Dave Prentice told the rally the message of the tens of thousands of protesters was: “Hands off our NHS.”
He added: “We will not stand by and watch the Tories rip our NHS to shreds.”
Chief Superintendent John O’Hare said: “This was the largest protest Greater Manchester Police have had to manage and I would like to thank those who attended for behaving in a peaceful and lawful manner.
“It was clear the intentions of the organisers and those who were involved in the march wanted to protest peacefully as is their democratic right to do so.
“It is pleasing that with a crowd of 50,000 there were only two arrests for low level offences.
“Our officers performed to the highest standards and got the balance right between facilitating protest and upholding the law.
“The roads have re-opened and we are now working hard to ensure that all users of Manchester city centre are able to get back to business as unusual.”
He added: “We have worked closely with the organisers, partner agencies and local businesses to ensure that the city could keep moving. I believe we achieved this as far as is reasonably possible today.
“As we estimate that 50,000 people attended, and that their march covered significant parts of the city centre, we did require a significant police presence, in the interests of public safety and protecting our city.
“We are now focused on delivering the highest standards of security for all involved and affected by the conference, which continues this week.”
Of the two people arrested, one man, 19, was held for breach of the peace, and another man, 36, was arrested for a public order offence.