Pinoys join protests against UK austerity measures

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Oct 24 2012 09:03 AM | Updated as of Oct 24 2012 05:03 PM

LONDON – Filipinos joined thousands of workers from across Britain in a protest march against budget cuts and austerity measures adopted by the coalition government.

Dubbed as “March for the Future”, protesters slammed the Conservative-Liberal Democrat (Con-Dem) government for its “ineffective” policies on the economic crisis, opting to tighten its spending in a bid to curtail the country’s budget deficit, estimated between £67-95 million in the 2011-2012 financial year.

Over 100,000 activists marched from Victoria Embankment along the River Thames all the way to Hyde Park, passing the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

From healthcare to civil service, protesters from various professional sectors chanted against budget cuts, waving banners and placards condemning the failure of austerity measures.

Many also alluded to recent government scandals, including “Plebgate”, resulting in the resignation of senior minister Andrew Mitchell following an outburst with police officers, as well as the tax controversy involving multinational corporations like Starbucks and Facebook, who are allegedly paying inadequate UK taxes in comparison to their profits.

Workers march to protest against austerity measures in the United Kingdom/Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

“We are trying to voice out that there are other ways to deal with this crisis, ones that will not cause people to lose their jobs. The government needs to find solutions to create more funds and investments to help the common workers,” said Marites Medenilla, a representative from the Filipino Activist Network.

She added: “Austerity measures are affecting everyone, including Filipinos, most of whom work hard in this country and have responsibilities to send money back home in the Philippines. This is affecting many people, especially the NHS, the crown jewel of public services which employs a lot of Filipinos.”

Since 2010, government public spending has been slashed to its lowest since World War II, with a four year austerity strategy that aims to save approximately £83 billion, the BBC reports.

The plan, currently in its third year, includes cutting 490,000 public sector jobs, with budget cuts of roughly 19% across government departments, affecting key public services like education and the health service.

“This past two years, we knew that this policy of austerity is not really effective. Other countries have started to recover, but us here in the UK continue to sink. Many people are losing their jobs. Young people are losing access to libraries, school facilities, and playing areas.” observed Rommel Abellar, a Filipino campaigner from UNISON labor union.

Jamima Fagta from Kanlungan Filipino Alliance also added: “They are cutting too much of their budget, especially in NHS, education and legal services, which is having a huge effect on migrants. They must junk this policy because it’s not helping the majority of workers in this country.”

Opposition leader Ed Miliband supported the march and delivered a speech to a crowd in Hyde Park, taking the opportunity to slam Con-Dem while promoting the Labor party.

“[The government’s] old answers just don’t work anymore. Trickle down economics. Cutting rights at work. [Prime Minister] David Cameron calls it a ‘sink or swim’ society, but you don’t build a successful country with sink or swim. You do it by building one nation,” he said.

Yet, as the economic crisis endures, he also warned of “hard choices” ahead for Britain, which was met with boos from a crowd that rejects any form of austerity.

Miliband explained: “With borrowing rising not falling this year, I do not promise easy times. I have said whoever was in government now, there would still need to be some cuts. But this government has shown us cutting too far and too fast, self-defeating austerity, is not the answer.”

Protesters are calling for alternative means to deal with the financial crisis, many of whom favor higher taxation for the richest in society, as well as encouraging investments on various industries to create jobs and a much needed economic boost.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cut its growth forecasts for the UK, warning it will miss its deficit targets for this year.

Despite all this, however, the government insists that austerity is still a necessity, claiming that its policies are working and will yield better results in the long run.

Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that spending cuts helped reduce the UK budget deficit from 11% to 8% so far, according to Channel 4 News.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics also suggest that unemployment rates are down to 7.9 percent from 8.1 percent, raising a record-breaking employment level of 29.59 million for June to August 2012.

The Conservative leader remains defiant that there will be tough times ahead. He told The Telegraph: “I don’t see a time when difficult spending choices are going to go away. We are in a very difficult situation. There is some good news, but I don’t deny for a minute that it is a lot tougher than the forecasters were expecting.”

“March for the Future”, organized by the Trade Union Congress, took place in key cities across the UK including London (England), Glasgow (Scotland), and Belfast (Northern Ireland).