Marching against the Tories in Manchester

On 29 September around 50,000 people joined the TUC march through Manchester as the Conservative Party began their conference at the Gmex centre. Beforehand, the TUC had colluded with police to make sure we ended up a mile away from the Tory conference in Whitworth Park. The march passed by without so much as a short sit-in outside the Tory conference. There were thousands of 'save our NHS' placards, union banners, balloons and whistles but militancy was in short supply. A young man from Italy remarked about how quiet the march was. It felt very much like a 'nice day out' on a Sunday for union members. A Greek comrade asked why there were no political slogans.

From the platform at the end, the intentions of the TUC and its supporters in the People's Assembly Against Austerity became clear. Cherry-picked celebrity and union speakers queued up to issue barely disguised calls for a vote for the Labour Party – in a city where the Labour-controlled council has just announced another £52 million in cuts, on top of the £250 million it has slashed from childcare, homeless support, mental health services, drug and dependency groups, libraries, youth clubs and other public services since 2010.

A National Union of Students leader, Hannah Paterson, said we could beat austerity 'at the ballot box and in demonstrations' before Unite trade union leader Len McCluskey (£122,000 a year) spoke about his attendance at the Labour Party conference the week before. 'We need to make sure the next Labour government doesn't betray us like the last one,' he said. It was already beginning to sound like a Labour Party hustings. And then Andy Burnham MP, Labour's health spokesman, took to the stage. He announced that, if elected, his party would repeal the Health and Social Care act, to rapturous applause from trade unionists. A comrade from FRFI got to the barriers in front of the stage to call Burnham a hypocrite and a Unite member pushed a flag in his face. There was justified anger that Tory delegates got free rides on Manchester trams during the conference. We should be equally angry that Labour politicians are getting a free ride on union platforms.

The writer Owen Jones, a Labour member and leading light in the People's Assembly spoke next came out with the astounding statement that 'Andy Burnham has done a fantastic and courageous job to prevent privatisation' and urged, 'let’s tell Ed Miliband not to move Andy Burnham from his position!' Just to remind readers, Burnham was the last Health Secretary of the Gordon Brown government. Bunham and 'left' Labour supporters like Owen Jones defend his 'record' on the NHS. When he was in office in 2009 he said the NHS had to find ‘efficiency savings’ of £15-20bn. On his watch, Camden NHS signed off a £20 million contract to Care UK, a private company with an atrocious record in elderly care. Another private company, Connect Physical Health Ltd, was given a lucrative NHS contract at Royal Free Hospital, leading to the axing of its physiotherapy services. Burnham also claimed expenses for mortgages on two homes, and defended Labour's racist immigration policies when he stood for the Party leadership in 2010. Putting Andy Burnham on an anti-cuts stage is like putting Tony Blair on an anti-war platform.

The trade union movement in Britain is playing a dangerous game. The day after the march, Tory chancellor George Osborne announced plans for a brutal intensification of the jobseekers allowance and workfare regime. We knew it was coming but the 'movement' has done nothing about it. Not only is the Labour Party implementing cuts in councils across Britain, but its previous governments set the precedent for the ConDem attacks. Burnham and his colleagues attacked the unemployed, brought in the bedroom tax for private tenants, brought in Private Finance Initiatives in the NHS, attacked Muslims and migrants and brought terror to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. We will get more of the same if they are elected. Union leaders and celebrity backers like Owen Jones and Ken Loach are still in bed with Labour. Socialists have to build a real movement of working class people and set this house on fire.

Louis Brehony

Getting cosy. Labour MP Andy Burnham with Unison union leader Dave Prentis (£128,000 a year)

Getting cosy. Labour MP Andy Burnham with Unison union leader Dave Prentis (£128,000 a year)


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