The First of May is the day when workers across the world march together to celebrate their existence and, often, to highlight a particular issue. This week across Europe workers have challenged growing unemployment levels and shown their opposition to their governments’ austerity plans.
From 1890 May Day became an international Labour Day, the focus of a long running campaign to reduce the working day to 8 hours and highlight the demands of the workers for a better life.
May Day as a workers’ day was first marked in Manchester on 1 May 1892. Workers got together and publicly demanded representation as a political organisation and a shorter working week. Over 60,000 people took part in the march and rally. The Guardian reported that the procession was headed by a white banner calling for “Work for all, Overwork for None”. Other banners said; “Unity is Strength”, “Equality by Right, Justice to All.”
In 1926 thousands marched in Manchester in the pouring rain on the eve of the General Strike when millions struck work for ten days in support of the miners.
The May Day marches continued for a century but, as the trade unions declined and faced defeats, so the marches followed suit. Recently there has been a revival in the May Day marches, but the numbers are small in comparison to those of earlier years.
Other marches such as anti-war, the student protest and pensions strike last November have seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets to show their anger over government policies.
This year a march linking Salford and Manchester has been organised by the Manchester, Salford, Bury and Oldham Trades Councils, with the aim of bringing together the organisations that are campaigning against the cuts: this includes not just trade unions but also community groups such as people with disabilities and pensioners. As well as a march and rally, there will also be a social with food and entertainment for children.
One of the ironies of next week’s march is the involvement of the Labour Party. The north-west is Labour council land and they have been involved in pushing through the ConDem cuts. Not just making the cuts but also privatising services and worsening the terms and conditions of their workers.
In the 1980s the Labour Party had a respectable record of opposing the Tory Government cuts and it will be interesting to see how many people vote Labour on Thursday given their present supine actions. Several Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidates are standing across the northwest and we may have a Bradford Spring effect in the local polls. I will be marching next Monday to celebrate being a trade unionist but not to give credibility to the declining Labour Party. If we want to revive trade unionism we have to throw off the chains to the Labour Party and make new alliances with organisations that share the same ethics, including defending and promoting the rights of workers. I think that leaves out the Labour Party…….Hope to see you on Monday!
Manchester and Salford May Day March and Rally Monday 7 May starts 11am Bexley Square Salford. Nearest station; Salford Crescent Train Station.