LONDON—Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the British capital in a noisy but peaceful protest at a government austerity drive aimed at slashing the nation’s debt.
Children dressed-up as all kinds of trade workers like chefs, traffic wardens and nurses, as various adult trade union members gather in a protest under the title of A Future That Works, in London. AP Photo
Unions, anti-war campaigners, left-wing leaders, community groups and other activists poured down London’s streets in a demonstration against reductions to public sector spending which officials are pushing through in order to rein in the Britain’s debt, which stands at more than 1 trillion pounds ($1.7 trillion).
Although the austerity program has had some modest successes—the country’s deficit has dropped slightly—the UK economy has shrunk for three consecutive quarters amid cuts at home and economic turmoil on the continent. Brendan Barber, whose Trades Union Congress helped organise the march, said that the message of Saturday’s protest was 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,” he said. Britain borrowed 13 billion pounds in September alone, and with other European countries—including next door neighbor Ireland—struggling to make good on their debt, and there is a general consensus that the UK budget needs to be rebalanced.
But the right-leaning government did little to endear itself with ordinary Britons when it reduced income taxes for the country’s wealthiest citizens earlier this year. And its leadership has struggled to fight perceptions of elitism which rankle many in this class-conscious country.
Following the rally a splinter group of demonstrators—some wearing the Guy Fawkes masks associated with the Anonymous movement—ran through the streets of London with officers in tow. There were disruptions along London’s busy Oxford Street shopping area throughout the day as police and protesters played cat and mouse, but no property damage was reported. A Scotland Yard spokesman said there had been no arrests.
Official crowd estimates were not immediately available, although Associated Press journalists at the scene said the protesters were tens of thousands strong. Organisers said that more than 250 buses were booked to bring people to London. Similar protests were also held in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, and Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city.