Thousands block Westminster Bridge to defend health service

Submitted by AWL on 10 October, 2011 - 9:41

By Emily Muna

On Sunday around 2,500 people turned up, enthusiastic and eager, on Westminster Bridge as a part of UK Uncut's "Block the Bridge" action in protest at attacks on the NHS. The bridge is just opposite St Thomas' Hospital, one of the medical institutions threatened by ConDem cuts and privatisation, and looming in view are the Houses of Parliament, where, on 11 September, the House of Lords will vote on the Health and Social Care Bill for the second time. (The bill has already passed the Commons; the measures it contains were not in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos.)

Despite the urgency of the threat to the NHS, the mood was generally quite relaxed and people on the bridge were enjoying themselves, many dressed as nurses, doctors, or patients. Many had set up workshops or talks. However, many people were becoming frustrated with the lack of action from a group that bases itself on the promise of direct involvement, and felt it wasn’t enough to sit around and discuss.

At around 5pm, a sizeable group of us broke away, headed by Black Block Anarchists and UK Uncut activists from Nottingham, in order to try and occupy the nearby Lambeth Bridge to create a more notable disturbance. They reached the end of Lambeth Bridge before being kettled in a small space, and eggs and glass bottles were thrown by individual members. Despite being kettled, morale was high, and one activist brought out his guitar and started playing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", starting a spontaneous sing-along, prompting photos and videos being taken by curious tourists. People within the kettle started chanting and chatting amongst themselves, and the tension relaxed, until the police were having to force people to get out of the kettle. There were also no arrests.

Overall, the whole demonstration was very good in terms of peaceful direct action, and while there was not as much civil disobedience as some may have hoped, many people stopped and started chatting and got involved.

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