The Government faced calls for a major change of direction on public services, pay and jobs as tens of thousands of people joined a demonstration demanding a “new deal” for workers.
Amid threats of strikes in parts of the public sector over pay, union leaders said there was a new mood sweeping the country after years of austerity.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won huge applause from crowds at a rally in London’s Hyde Park when he pledged the next Labour government would launch a ministry to guarantee workers’ rights.
He accused the Conservatives of cutting public spending while protecting those who dodge paying taxes, saying: “We will give workers more power, by strengthening their rights and freedoms to organise together to improve their lives.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, warned of a strike ballot among civil servants in support of demands for a 5% pay rise.
“Our members in the civil service have had enough of the pay freeze and cuts to jobs. If the Government will not give them what they deserve, we will strike.”
The demonstration, organised by the TUC, was the biggest for years, with the aim of calling for a higher minimum wage, a ban on zero-hours contracts and more funding for the NHS, education and other public services.
Workers involved in current disputes including those at restaurant chains TGI Fridays and McDonald’s and rail companies over the role of train guards, joined the march, along with nurses, ambulance crews, postmen, teachers, civil servants and cleaners.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said workers have had enough of low pay, poor quality jobs and constant cuts to public services.
She added: “There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal, for decent jobs, fair wages, to fund public services and for strong trade unions.”
In a message to big business leaders, she said: “You can’t hand out bumper dividends to shareholders and cut workers’ wages, you can’t fill your boots in the boardroom and tell workers to tighten their belts, and you can’t build world class companies on the back of second class rights.
“The greed has to stop.”
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said it was the most important demonstration for 50 years.
He said: “This is the start of a serious challenge for a new deal for all workers.
“The world of work has become a pressurised environment, based on a flexible labour market and bogus self-employment.”
To mark the event, the TUC published data which it said showed that workers were suffering the longest squeeze on wages in modern history.
A decade on from the financial crisis, real wages are worth £24 a week less than in 2008 and are not forecast to return to pre-crash levels until 2025, said the union organisation.
The TUC said the current stretch of wage stagnation was the worst for 200 years, adding that by 2025 the average worker will have lost out by around £18,500 in real earnings.