Picture: JESS HURD

ON THE streets of Newcastle

LUCY, GEORGE and Nicol were part of a 120 strong delegation from Sunderland

Ignored by media

30,000 on demo against low pay

THEY DESCENDED on Newcastle from every corner of Britain. Around 30,000 trade unionists marched through the Newcastle streets demanding New Labour introduces a decent minimum wage. Delegations from offices and factories were joined by students, pensioners and campaign groups. Socialist Worker tells the story of this marvellous day.

"IT'S BEEN brilliant. There are thousands of us telling Tony Blair we've had enough." Those were the words of Helen Wylde, a 20 year old textile worker from Tyne and Wear. She spoke as the march wound through Newcastle. It was the biggest working class protest yet against Tony Blair's New Labour government.

Disgracefully the demonstration was completely ignored by the media. Newspapers like the Sun and the Mail were more interested in supporting this week's lorry owners' protests. But everyone in Newcastle knows last Saturday was a success. Sunderland UNISON had one of the largest delegations on the demonstration. They all wore red T-shirts with the slogan, "£5—not a penny less".

Twenty one year old Nicol McConnell is Sunderland UNISON's assistant branch secretary. She told Socialist Worker, "This is the first demonstration I have ever been on. I hate what Labour is doing. The minimum wage discriminates against the young. I hope Tony Blair is watching this march because this is just the beginning."

But this was not only a march against low pay. It was a protest against all New Labour's Tory policies. Tony Armstrong was one of a number of firefighters who came from Northern Ireland to join the demonstration. "It's really good to see so many people coming together to fight for a decent minimum wage," said Tony. I've come on this demonstration because it's time to make a stand against this Labour government."

Voices from the day


Billie and Betty

"WE CAME to the demonstration because we pensioners are so badly treated. This government has dumped us just like the last. They find money for bombs but not for looking after people. Sometimes it seems like we are going back to the 1930s. We are so disappointed with Labour you can't imagine it. But today is brilliant—it's great to see so many young and old people."

  • BETTY SHOTTON and BILLIE CUMMINGS of the North East Pensioners Association

"THE RATE for the minimum wage affects all of us, however old we are and whatever we're paid. It's a disgrace that young people are left out. There are 20 year olds with kids. Is life any cheaper for them because they're young? I'm marching because I work in an industry where people suffer low pay the whole of their working life."

  • ALAN WILSON, postal worker, Cumbernauld

Backing the resistance

Liz Davies at the rally

UNISON tried to play down the political message of the demonstration and blunt any criticism of New Labour. The union chose not to have any political speeches at all on the day. Fortunately local union branches stepped in and organised a rally at the Tyne Theatre. Over 2,000 crammed into the theatre while hundreds had to be turned away. Liz Davies, a socialist on the Labour Party National Executive Committee, told the audience, "This is fantastic. It shows there is a real feeling for a decent minimum wage."

Suresh Grover of the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign and Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky Reel, made moving speeches about their fights for justice. There were gasps from the audience when Suresh revealed that UNISON had tried to pressure Sukhdev not to speak. "We could not betray low paid workers. We must all fight low pay and racism," said Suresh.

The rally was also addressed by strikers from Tameside. Workers from Sheffield and UCLH talked about their recent strikes. The rally ended with speeches from UNISON NEC member Roger Bannister and Mark Steel from the Socialist Workers Party. Tony Blair insists that there is no alternative to his policies. But last Saturday we saw that workers are becoming increasingly angry and determined.

'We wanted politics with our pop music'

HEALTH WORKERS demand a living wage

AROUND 10,000 young people flocked to UNISON's pop concert, held at the end of the march last Saturday. This was a good initiative. But the event was "dumbed down" instead of using it to raise the issues of low pay and why trade unions are important. During the concert interval a film highlighting low pay was shown. But it was held at the same time as a quiz!