Article published: Sunday, May 24th 2015
More than 2000 people attended a rally in Piccadilly Gardens in protest against the Conservative government and their programme of austerity yesterday. As the crowd gathered in the afternoon sun to express their opposition to another five years of cuts and privatisation, the atmosphere remained optimistic, with a range of speakers and singers leading the demonstration.
The event, organised by two young locals, Mike Atkinson and Liam Callacher, and backed by the Manchester People’s Assembly Against Austerity, was intended to be as inclusive as possible. Mike emphasised the “diversity” of the demonstration, explaining that they hoped to draw in first-time protestors by covering a variety of issues and “remaining peaceful”. A broad range of organisations were represented at the rally, from trade union members, anti-nuclear campaigners and free education activists to anti-TTIP campaigners, homelessness outreach groups and local residents fighting the Bedroom Tax.
“We as a city are a community”, said Annette Wright, president of Manchester Trades Council, from the steps of the Queen Victoria statue. “The common philosophy in this city is that we hate the Tories.” As the crowd erupted into chants, it was clear that, despite their diversity, the demonstrators were united by an anti-Tory sentiment.
Diane, a Stretford resident, criticised the government’s austerity policies, arguing that the “most vulnerable” are always hit hardest by cuts and privatisation. “The Tories don’t support working-class people”, she said. “They’re all for profit-making.”
The organisers were determined that the demonstration would be more than simply an expression of distaste for Tory policy. “We are angry with austerity and we are expressing our anger”, said Mike, “but we wanted to do something that would be productive and pragmatic.” In an expression of solidarity with the homeless camp currently set up in St. Ann’s Square, they encouraged demonstrators to donate whatever they could, collecting piles of food throughout the day and raising £1600 for the homeless.
This desire to escalate the fight-back against austerity was felt throughout the crowd. Phoebe, a member of Stockport for Peace, emphasised the importance of organising within communities in order to build a sustained opposition to cuts and privatisation: “It’s about talking to your friends and neighbours, finding people you can work with. We can’t have peace in our community while we have injustice and inequality”.
The organisers are hoping to build on today’s event, with future demonstrations set to be more focused on discussion, organisation and action. “We can go and help the homeless”, said Mike. “We can raise money to help pay people’s fuel allowances. It’s about organising together.”
But, above all, they are determined to develop a sense of unity in the struggle against austerity. “We want to bring communities together”, said Mike, “because we can’t look upwards for help anymore. We’ve got to look to each other.”
The national demo End Austerity Now will take place on Saturday 20 June 2015 in London, more details can be found here.
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