Thousands of students, union activists and tax avoidance protesters are expected to take to the streets across the UK this weekend in anti-cuts demonstrations. Tomorrow simultaneous protests are planned in London and Manchester against the rise in tuition fees and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. And on Sunday tax avoidance campaigners linked to UK Uncut are hoping to repeat the protests that shut Vodafone and Topshop branches last year.
Leaders of some of the UK's biggest unions have pledged to co-ordinate action against the government's cuts. The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said workers were facing a "volatile cocktail" of job losses and attacks on pay and pensions that could spark widespread industrial action.
"No one is talking about a general strike, but of course these attacks on our members could well give rise to industrial action around specific disputes," Barber said. "Today's meeting showed a clear determination for unions to work together on industrial issues including, as a last resort, industrial action when members support it. The TUC will continue its campaign against the deep and rapid spending cuts. Polls show that public opinion is shifting, and people understand just how unfair and damaging these cuts will prove to public services, jobs and the wider economy."
Organisers of tomorrow's demonstrations, which are supported by several unions including Unite, the GMB and the University and College Union, say they expect several thousand people to attend in both Manchester and Leeds. The march in London will start at midday and is due to finish with a rally at Millbank, where thousands of students stormed Tory headquarters at the end of a demonstration in November. Student groups say more direct action is planned and activists have set up a new website and mobile phone application that they say will help them avoid police "kettles" and provide an up-to-the-minute picture of events on the ground.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, will warn protesters in Manchester that the government is "at war with young people and ... at war with our future". She will say the cuts agenda is punishing the poor and the most vulnerable. “I am tired of being told that we face tough economic choices by a chancellor who is more interested in evading tax and helping his friends do likewise, than in helping our nation's young," Hunt said. "How does he expect anyone to believe we are all in it together when he is slashing tax for big business?"
On Sunday at least 30 different tax avoidance demonstrations are planned by UK Uncut. Using the Twitter hashtag #ukuncut, the fast-expanding group has become a rallying point for opponents of the government's cuts. A spokeswomen for the group, Danny Wright, said Sunday's action aimed to "up the ante". She said: "We are trying ... to show how systematic this injustice is. It is not just these companies that are the problem, it is the system that allows this to continue. We want to show this government that despite what they keep telling us we are not all in this together, these cuts are not fair and there is another way."