Manchester march: Large protest at Tory conference

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Media captionProtesters surrounded Jeremy Hunt on his walk to the conference site

Thousands of people have attended an anti-austerity protest near the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester.

Police said 60,000 took part in the march close to Manchester Central, where the conference is being held.

Organisers the TUC said the rally was also to highlight an "unfair" Trade Union Bill.

The government said its long term economic plan was "turning the country around" after "difficult decisions".

It added the proposed changes to strike legislation would protect the public from disruptive action.

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Image caption Unions represented at the rally include Unison, the NUT, GMB, USDAW, RMT and FBU
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Image caption A conference delegate was hit by an egg as the demonstration made its way through the city centre

Union leaders and officials from campaign groups addressed a rally in the city centre before leading the procession.

Singer Billy Bragg warmed up the crowd with a set on stage, changing the lyrics to his best-known songs to add topical references such as "take the money from Trident and spend it on the NHS".

Although the protest was largely good-natured, four arrests were made, including one man for allegedly spitting at a journalist.

A conference delegate was hit by an egg as the demonstration made its way through the city centre.

The Conservative conference is under way, with 12,000 delegates expected to attend over the four days.

A so-called "ring of steel" has been built around the conference venue and the nearby Midland Hotel.

At the scene

Kevin Fitzpatrick, BBC Greater Manchester political reporter

Huge numbers of people are winding their way through the city's streets this afternoon in Manchester.

Many of those gathered are holding placards and are chanting slogans against the cuts. Some are pushing prams, others in wheelchairs.

A few hundred feet away from the site of the Conservative conference, the sound of whistles and horns fills the air.

These people are angry, passionate and determined to have their voice heard.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, told the rally the protest was "sending a very clear message" to the government that they faced a fightback.

Paul Novak, assistant general secretary of the TUC, said: "The government is driving through tens of billions of pounds worth of cuts to public services right across the country and at the same time trying to gag the ability of unions to protest and try to defend services.

"There are 6.5m working people in this country who are voluntarily members of unions.

"The government is trying to force through an anti-democratic bill that puts real limitations on the right to strike and people's right to protest. We think that's absolutely unfair."

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Image caption Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne arrived earlier for the first day of the conference

The Trade Union Bill, which proposes higher voting thresholds for ballots, passed its first Commons hurdle last month despite fierce Labour criticism.

The bill, which would apply to unions in England, Wales and Scotland, will also:

  • Double the amount of notice unions have to give before a strike can be held - from seven to 14 days
  • Allow employers to use agency workers to replace striking staff
  • Introduce fines of up to £20,000 on unions for repeatedly failing to ensure picket supervisors wear an official armband
  • End the so-called check-off system for collecting union subs direct from a salary

A spokesman for the Conservatives said: "More people are now also in work than ever before and the trade unions who represent a number of them do have a constructive role to play in representing their rights.

"However, it is vital that these are balanced with the rights of businesses, who have a right to expect that they are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes organised by only a small number of union members."

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Image caption Greater Manchester Police said 60,000 people were in Manchester for the protest

In an email to conference attendees, delegates were warned not to wear Conservative-branded badges and lanyards when walking around Manchester.

Asked if this was a "sad" state of affairs, Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC One's Sunday Politics: "No, not at all. I think all my party members will enjoy very much being in Manchester.

"There are a lot of demonstrations planned, and obviously people need to take care in respect of that, but people will be enjoying all that Manchester has to offer."

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Image caption The protest was largely good-natured, with Greater Manchester Police only making four arrests

On Saturday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: "Ahead of Tory Conference I urge all activists to focus on policy & to take no part in personal attacks."

A two-day anti-austerity "protest rave" in Piccadilly Gardens was shut down by police officers on Sunday morning.

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