Nurses, firefighters, teachers and prison officers joined over 150,000 protesters today in huge demonstrations against the Government, loudly cheering calls for a 24-hour general strike.
Union officials and politicians, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, bitterly attacked the coalition’s spending cuts, accusing ministers of being more interested in supporting millionaires than ordinary workers.
The events in London, Glasgow and Belfast passed off peacefully, although activists from the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) group staged a sit-in and cut off traffic close to Hyde Park in the capital.
The TUC said the turnout was better than expected and sent a strong message to the Government about the unpopularity of its policies.
General secretary Brendan Barber said: “We are sending a very strong message that austerity is simply failing.
“The Government is making life desperately hard for millions of people because of pay cuts for workers, while the rich are given tax cuts.”
Mr Barber said the resignation of chief whip Andrew Mitchell and Chancellor George Osborne travelling in a first class train carriage with a standard ticket showed how out of touch the Government was.
He said: “The Chancellor eventually paid for his ticket, but the rest of us are paying the price for his disastrous policies.”
Protesters carried banners which read: ‘Plebs Against toffs’, ‘Cameron Has Butchered Britain’ and ’24 Hour General Strike Now’ they marched through Whitehall towards Hyde Park.
They booed at Downing Street and shouted “pay your taxes” as they passed a Starbucks coffee shop.
Police officers stood outside Starbucks, which has been involved in a row over its tax arrangements.
Activists gathered outside a number of chain stores in central London, some wearing masks, but no major incidents were reported.
Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, said hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs were being lost as a result of government policies.
“We are fighting for a better future. We are not here today for the millionaires – we are here for the millions of people who don’t have a voice. We just can’t take any more.”
Unite leader Len McClusky said millions of people were being pushed into poverty by a Government more interested in supporting the country’s “elite”.
The biggest cheers of the day came when Bob Crow, leader of the RMT rail union, and Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services union called for a general strike.
The TUC is consulting unions on the practicalities of a nationwide stoppage, although it will not be in time to take part in a Europe-wide day of action on November 14 against austerity.
Mr Miliband dubbed the Prime Minister “clueless” and said he was “clinging” to policies which were not working.
He said the coalition was cutting taxes for millionaires and raising them for everyone else.
“It is one rule for those at the top and one rule for everyone else.”
Mr Miliband was booed by a small section of the crowd when he said Labour would have to make “hard choices” if it was in Government.
He pledged that if he became Prime Minister he would tax bankers’ bonuses, support the building of 100,000 houses and end the privatisation of the NHS.
The disabled protesters forced cars and buses to turn around.
Paddy Murphy, a 37-year-old DPAC member, said the group was trying to send a message to both the Government and the unions.
“We want to show our solidarity with all those out there that couldn’t be here today who have been hit by the Government’s cuts.
“We are critical of the lack of a stance that the TUC hasn’t taken – 18 months ago we heard the same people make the same speeches on the same stage, now we want to see action.”
Protesters blew whistles and held up giant balloons and banners, headed by a group of unemployed youngsters from across the country.
Marr Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, suggested taking direct action in support of public services.
“If they plan to close hospitals, schools or youth centres, the local community should consider occupying them to prevent closure.
“After all, isn’t that just the big society in action.”