Austerity brings out the protesters

Tens of thousands marched against government cuts in London, Glasgow and Belfast yesterday

Across Britain, tens of thousands of people marched in protest at the Government's austerity programme yesterday. At the biggest rally, in London, union leaders called for general strike plans. Similar marches took place in Glasgow and Belfast.

In London, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the massive turnout showed how unpopular the coalition's policies were. "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 country had to "make a choice between a future of growing inequality or a future full of fairness". "One thing's for sure: cuts, privatisation and attacks on employment rights are not the answer. They are the road to nowhere," he said.

Despite all the marches passing off peacefully, police in London said last night they were dealing with a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour in the Oxford Street shopping area and that some arrests had been made. Shops, including McDonald's and Topshop, as well as the Salvation Army charity, were targeted by some protesters.

Earlier, the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, received a mixed reaction when he addressed the crowd in Hyde Park, after warning that cuts were necessary but the Government was guilty of cutting "too much, too fast". He received a warmer response when he called the Prime Minister "weak" and "clueless". He said the coalition "thought they were born to rule" but "were not very good at it".

Mr Miliband was also cheered when he referred to the incident on Friday when George Osborne tried to sit in a first-class train carriage with a standard-fare ticket. He was cheered again when he spoke about Andrew Mitchell's resignation as Chief Whip, having admitted swearing at police officers during a Downing Street confrontation but denying calling them "plebs". "Andrew Mitchell may have resigned, but the culture of two nations runs right across this government," Mr Miliband said. "They cut taxes for millionaires and they raise taxes for ordinary families."

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT rail union, was cheered loudly when he called for a 24-hour general strike. He called on Mr Miliband to oppose all spending cuts.

The Government bore the brunt of criticism in Glasgow and Belfast, but speakers warned that the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Stormont were also to blame.

Young unemployed people led the march in the capital, which began at Victoria Embankment. Dwayne Foster, a 21-year-old from Dudley, who has been unemployed for more than a year, was at the front of the rally.

He said: "I have tried to get a job since leaving college. I was working in sales for a bit, but they let me go, and since then I haven't got any of the jobs I've applied for. There are always more experienced people than me. I send off CVs every day and don't get any replies. I still want to go to university, but it's unsettling when I think about my future. The Government needs to invest in young people, because they are the next generation to lead this country."

Another marcher, Anjie Sawton, from Cheshire, brought her mother, Frances, 70, and her two children, Olivia, four, and Amy, two, to the rally. Ms Sawton, a secondary schoolteacher, said: "I'm here for their future; I am terrified about what is happening, especially in the school system. I only made it to university because of a grant I received, and that probably won't be there for my children. I don't even know if I'd advise them to go to university any more, as I wouldn't want them to secure a huge debt."

The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, who was also taking part, said the coalition's austerity measures were "socially devastating" and "economically illiterate".

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