Sunday saw over 50,000 people take part in a protest march through Manchester city centre. The protest, organised by the Northwest branch of the Trades Union Congress, opposed NHS cuts and privatisation, and the wider effects of the coalition’s austerity programme. The march coincided with the first day of the Conservative Party Conference in the city.
The march departed from Liverpool Road in the city centre around 12.15 and proceeded to a rally in Whitworth Park. Nick Logos, a senior TUC steward for the event, believed that it was the “biggest march Manchester’s ever seen.” Marchers tailed back for over a mile.
While a wide variety of anti-government agendas were in evidence, protesters highlighted government policy towards the NHS as a major motivation for taking part. Sarah Wrack, a Socialist Party member, is involved in a campaign to prevent the closure of Whipps Cross Hospital in Berkshire.
She claimed that “the top floor of the hospital is not open yet because of the cost of interest payments” on PFI deals wit h the government. She called on David Cameron to scrap these PFI deals, contesting that they have “bankrupted the trust and handed money to private companies.”
Speaking at the rally, Peter Walker, a hospital worker, said “every year our budgets are being cut. Private companies are interested in shareholders and profits. We’re in it for the patients.”
Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, pledged that the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government would repeal the coalition’s Health and Social Care Act – in an attempt to stem privatisation and “put the ‘N’ back in NHS”. Burnham also attacked the coalition for having “leased out specialist cancer services to a company that is also a Conservative Party donor, and ambulance contracts to a bus company.”
Echoing many other protesters Pura Anza, Branch Secretary of Manchester Metropolitan University University and College Union, evoked the wider issues of austerity and privatisation. She claimed that “they have reduced the quality of education, through the intensification of work and increased pressure on staff.”
She also believes that privatisation “treats students as customers and destroys the educational relationship.” Anza noted that this had put her “university’s commitment to students from non-traditional backgrounds…in jeopardy.” Citing the allocation of funds in one university to the building of an outdoor courtyard, Anza claimed that privatisation of university services meant “management see it as a business and want to attract customers”, resulting in focus on “cosmetic issues”.
While a few protesters had been heard chanting abuse at the police, one police officer told Impact “It’s all seemed good natured to me, some will some won’t. But we agree with the protesters. Obviously we have to be impartial but we all have families, we all use the NHS. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the NHS.”
Marchers also directed anger at the decision to allow Conservative delegates free use of Greater Manchester public transport, with one protester inviting them to take “a tour of poverty” around the North West.