Saturday, 26 March 2011

Special Protest Report: March for the Alternative

The TUC had organised the 26 March demonstration months in advance. Everyone knew it would be big, but just how many people and which groups would turn up in central London on the day? Estimates of numbers vary between sources, but it was probably around 500,000. It definitely felt comparable to the demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003.

Victoria Embankment was already full of banners and placards by the time EoP arrived at 10:30am. We were pleased to join numerous trade unions, activists, public sector workers, unemployed, disabled people, and protestors. It was interesting to see the diversity of groups extended to women’s organisations, music and theatre unions, physiotherapists, and pensioners all marching alongside revolutionary and political parties.

We started marching just after 12pm. Trade union branches from around the country were represented in their delegations and many workers – from nurses to firemen – marched in uniform against the cuts.

Walking towards Westminster, we caught up with the teaching unions NASUWT and the NUT, protesting against cuts to education.

The route took us up Whitehall and past Downing Street where you could hear the crowd’s deafening boos. The march was apparently 4 miles long, so let’s hope Cameron heard our discontent for a good few hours.

Trafalgar Square was about half way along the route. People took the chance to rest, climb statues to protest, and a large Trojan horse circled Nelson’s Column.

From Piccadilly Circus, we moved along Picadilly – the home of Fortnum & Mason, several banks, and the Ritz. On our right, a stream of about 200 anarchists joined the protest. They seemed very well organised, and we caught sight of them causing havoc at branches of Santander, Starbucks and the Ritz. This was action distinctly separate from the main, peaceful march. We’ve included a photo below, but more can be found in our Facebook photo album.

Amongst a suddenly heavy police presence we reached Hyde Park at about 3:30pm. There were hundreds of thousands of people there already. Speakers at the rally included Ed Miliband, Brendan Barber, and Mehdi Hasan, who all praised the great turnout. We were told at 4:30 that people were still arriving - and information on Twitter suggested that the march still stretched back to Whitehall.

We left Hyde Park for a well-deserved tortilla down Oxford Street. We passed Oxford Circus, and the spectacle that was Topshop’s flagship store. It’s not the first time this store has been targeted by UKUncut, but it had certainly been hit harder than any previous occasion. The paint-splattered windows implied that it had been targeted by the anarchists who had previously attacked the Ritz, de Beers Jewellers and Starbucks. A wall of police was protecting the store, and it certainly wasn’t open for business. Even passing shoppers couldn’t help but take a photo. As I write, there are still reports that police are defending the store.

We participated in the main, peaceful, family-orientated march. We also caught a glimpse of the minority’s actions against businesses and the rich. It will be interesting how the Sunday papers will report the march tomorrow. Will they focus on the 500,000 or the 500?

Click here for our full photo album

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