rs21 member Rachel Eborall reports on demonstrations across Britain against the cost of living crisis, encouraging us to continue the fightback against the companies and institutions that have caused it.

A view from the stage in Parliament Square. London,12 Feb

On Saturday 12 February, thousands of people joined the first day of action against the cost of living crisis. Increases in heating bills, fuel, food, transport costs and national insurance contributions, while pay and pensions are held down, leave workers facing a real cost of living crisis, driving more people into increasing poverty and debt. Rising living costs follow the cut in Universal Credit and the suspension of the triple lock, which means the poorest will be hit the hardest. People are being forced to choose between eating and heating while Britain’s Big Six energy firms have banked more than £7bn in operating profit in just five years.

London cost of living demonstration 12 Feb. Photo credit: Steve Eason, Flickr.

As is so often the case, the cost of living crisis is playing out along unfair lines. Those facing structural oppression who already face even greater challenges are likely to see the biggest impact from rising prices, such as women, who are more likely to live in poverty than men. Asylum seeker support rates have gone up by just £1.22 per week this year (to only £40.85 per week) for a group of people the government prevents from working for an income.

London cost of living demonstration. Photo credit: Steve Eason, Flickr.

In January, rs21 highlighted the cost of living crisis as a major issue for 2022 and then worked alongside other organisations including Manchester Trades Council, Fuel Poverty Action, Disabled People Against Cuts and People’s Assembly to help initiate the day of action. Demonstrations were held in over 40 towns and cities. Protestors in Manchester, London, Aberdeen, Southampton, Bangor, Lancaster and Newcastle had produced placards with a variety of slogans including: ‘Tax the Rich’, ‘Join a Union’, ‘Solidarity with pay strikers’, ‘Tories Out’, ‘Rising Bills, Rise Up!’ Activists in London were addressed by UCU activists and Barts Serco strikers. In Manchester, speakers included strikers at the CHEP pallet factory, a worker from a bus depot recently on strike, and a member of a local tenants’ union, amongst others. Activists advocated for a windfall tax on the big energy firms.

Cost of living demonstration in Edinburgh 12 Feb. Photo credit: Graham Checkley.

In Edinburgh, speakers from Scot.E3 stressed that oil companies continue to receive subsidiaries and argued that gas and oil should be taken into public ownership to control prices and to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Sharon Graham of Unite the Union said: ‘This crisis was not caused by working people and we are not going to take wage cuts to pay for it. Why should the public always bail out the markets and policy makers?’ Activists made it clear that the cost of living crisis is inextricably linked to the climate crisis: demands such as free insulation and free public transport tackle the cost of living crisis and reduce the carbon footprint. 

People on the marches were outraged by the fact that the governor of the Bank of England has asked workers to show wage restraint in the face of rising inflation whilst he earns £495,000 a year.

Walking past Manchester Central Library. Photo credit: Kate Bradley.

This is just the beginning of the movement; the People’s Assembly have called further protests on 5 March and 2 April and the TUC are organising a protest at the Tory party spring conference in Blackpool. The day of action attracted a lot of media coverage, which will help mobilise large numbers to future events.

However, for this movement to be successful it needs to go further. We need to organise in our workplaces and communities. We need to increase the amount of struggle. For example, as a movement, we could coordinate around a high-profit, low-pay company and support the workers to go on strike. We could use direct action tactics and focus on companies such as BP or Shell, who are making massive profits while people freeze.

Cost of living demonstration in Brighton, 12 Feb. Photo credit: L Hay.

We need to link together trade union activity and community organising to increase our strength inside and outside the workplace. In our communities, we can engage in housing struggles to combat rising rents and empower tenants against their landlords’ unfair treatment. We can design posters and stickers that can be used locally. A variety of tactics will be needed to win; over the last few years many movements, such as the Palestine movement and climate activists, have used direct action to raise awareness, exert pressure on policy makers and bring big companies to a halt. 

As rs21’s Jaz said in her speech at the London demonstration: ‘Let’s get organised and make sure that we defeat these disgusting attempts to make us pay for the rotten system that they run.’

If you are based in London, join the open online planning meeting on Sunday 20 February at 2pm! Click here for the Facebook event.

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