Thousands join austerity demonstration and call for general election

Thousands of people have joined a demonstration calling for a general election amid the worsening cost-of-living crisis.

A coalition of trade unions and community organisations took part in the “Britain is Broken” protest in central London, which was organised by the People’s Assembly.

Demonstrators marched in the rain from Embankment to Trafalgar Square, where a rally was held with speakers including Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).

The People’s Assembly said protesters are demanding an immediate general election, action on low pay and the repeal of “anti-union” employment laws.

Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary, addressing the demonstration
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, addresses the demonstration (Yui Mok/PA)

Protester Adam Robinson said people would “keep shouting” until the Government listened, and likened the movement to the 1990 poll tax riots, which he credited with causing Margaret Thatcher’s fall from power.

The 51-year-old secondary school teacher from Maidstone in Kent, who is among those who may go on strike early next year, told the PA news agency: “I’m really starting to feel the pinch, as I know a lot of people are.

“The current Government is an absolute shambles, it is not fit for purpose, it is damaging our country, and I think it’s important that we stand together to make our voices heard and to say that we’re not going to put up with this stuff any more.”

“We keep shouting until they have to listen,” he added. “The trouble is, historically, that when it comes to a point like this when the people really have had enough, the protests start and the protests build and then something big happens.

“I was at the poll tax riot, and that was the one that forced the change and brought down Margaret Thatcher.

“I don’t want it to get to that point, but the powers that be need to understand that they cannot push people indefinitely, they cannot squash people forever.”

People’s Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration
People take part in the People’s Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration in central London (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking on stage in Trafalgar Square, Mr Lynch vowed to “strike and strike again” until a “fair deal” is brokered for rail workers.

He told the crowd: “I want to guarantee you one thing – our dispute is paused, the action is paused to allow for talks – but this dispute is not over.

“We are pressing on for a fair deal for our members, on pay, conditions and job cuts.

“We will not stop until our members decide that this dispute is resolved.

“If we don’t get a deal from Network Rail and the train operators, we will strike and strike again until we bring them to the table and get a deal.”

People’s Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressing the People’s Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration in central London (Yui Mok/PA)

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also spoke on stage, told PA afterwards that the Government will “eventually be forced to listen” to protesters calling for improved pay and workers’ rights.

Mr Corbyn, who sits as an independent after having the whip removed by his party, said he was there with three Labour MPs, and he believed members of the shadow cabinet should also have been present.

“The Government is of course eventually forced to listen, as are the rail companies, therefore they have reopened negotiations with the RMT,” he said.

“The people out here are very determined. They’re not going to see people with disabilities discriminated against, they’re not going to see growing impoverishment in our society.”

Protester Michelle Uden brought her seven-year-old twin boys to the demonstration and said she wanted a change in leadership after struggling with the cost of living.

People’s Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration
Protesters marched from Embankment to Trafalgar Square (Yui Mok/PA)

The 34-year-old, who cares for her husband – who has epilepsy – at their home in New Eltham, south-east London, told PA: “Enough is enough.

“If we don’t stand up and fight we’ll sit down and cry.

“We want to get rid of Rishi Sunak, we want more funding for the NHS, we want that to stop being privatised.”

Ms Uden added she did not believe a general election would be called, but wanted her children to see “democracy in action”.

Demonstrator and retired nurse Claire Dawson, 66, from Crouch End, north London, said she is “absolutely sick” of the Government, and she hoped the protest would show voters that “there is opposition”.