Unions vow more protests to follow despite violent clashes
Published 28/03/2011 | 05:00
DESPITE a night of mindless vandalism, British union leaders resolved yesterday to continue campaigning against a biting austerity package.
A massive peaceful Trade Union Congress (TUC) demonstration against government cuts turned ugly after it was hijacked by an organised mob who clashed with police and damaged shop fronts and other buildings in London.
Last night a leading Labour politician described those involved in clashes in the West End as a "tiny minority of violent, parasitic unrepresentative hooligans", while London's deputy mayor said they were "fascist agitators".
Unofficial estimates put the numbers who took part in the protest at nearly half a million.
A group of youths, wearing scarves to hide their faces, started attacking shops and banks well away from the march, causing tens of thousands of pounds in damage and clashing with some of the 4,500 police on duty.
Police said 201 arrests were made and the force is now reviewing evidence collected from CCTV cameras and police officers.
Although much of the debris left by Saturday's carnage had been removed by 9am yesterday, Trafalgar Square was still showing signs of what had gone on.
The words "fightback" and "Tory scum" were scrawled on one of the four bronze lions, while red paint remained on part of the 2012 Olympics countdown clock. A placard demanding "hands off Libya" was placed high on the statue of King Charles I.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said the so-called March for the Alternative exceeded expectations, with nurses, teachers, council staff, NHS workers, other public sector employees, pensioners, students and other campaign groups taking part in the biggest union-organised protest for a generation.
"It now looks like close to half- a-million people came to London to express their peaceful but powerful opposition to the government's deep, rapid and unfair spending cuts," he said.
"We are proud of the way we organised our march and the way our stewards helped ensure a good-natured and friendly event.
"Of course we condemn the small numbers who came looking for violence but we will not allow their actions away from our event to detract from our campaign.
"With the budget a damp squib, the economy faltering and the NHS reforms becoming more unpopular each and every day, marchers will have returned home determined to step up their democratic campaign against policies that neither government party put before the electorate at the last election," he added.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy condemned those involved in the violence as a "tiny minority of violent, parasitic unrepresentative hooligans", while London's deputy mayor Kit Malthouse called them "fascist agitators" as he defended police action.
Unions are planning fresh campaigns in the coming few days against cuts in the NHS as well as continuing to consider the prospect of co-ordinated industrial action.