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Year 2001 No. 76, May 7, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

MAY DAY 2001

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

MAY DAY 2001
May Day March in London
May 1st Demonstration in Oxford Street
May Day March and Rally in Tyne and Wear

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MAY DAY 2001

May Day March in London

Over a thousand people marched through London on May First, gathering at Highbury Fields and ending with a rally at Clerkenwell Green.

The contingents of trade unionists with their banners, of many people from London’s Turkish and Kurdish communities, especially the youth, with their banners, red flags, music and militant slogans, and of political parties and organisations displaying their banners and literature – all made light of the pouring rain to celebrate International Workers’ Day.

Workers’ Weekly was distributed in scores all along the route of the march, and the whole of the print-run of the Call of RCPB(ML) on May Day went very quickly.

The singers of the Workers’ Music Association greeted the march as it entered Clerkenwell Green to rally outside Marx House. An impromptu festival of music and dancing broke out, only to end when the May Day Organising Committee called the rally to order.

Anita Halpin, on behalf of the Organising Committee, pointed out that it is 110 years since the first May Day march. As the police were mobilising to hem in demonstrators in the West End, she stressed that some countries still forbade such demonstrations. Underlining the link between the two, she said, "May Day is primarily an anti-capitalist demonstration. This is now more urgent than ever as global capitalism continues to tighten its grip on the planet."

The first invited speaker spoke passionately and movingly against the Plan Colombia of US imperialism. Another speaker referred to the demonstration of the Hackney workers which was also taking place on May First. Among other speakers was one from the Turkish community, who urged everyone to step up their struggles against imperialism, and detailed the struggle of the Turkish people, especially those on the Death Fast, against the regime of torture and bowing to the IMF dictate in Turkey.

Mick Rix, general secretary of ASLEF, in a militant speech condemned the British government for supporting the US-led UN censure of Cuba for alleged "human rights" abuses. He said, "They are attacking a country whose only crime is to want to be different from the US and the capitalist world." He spoke scathingly against the police, both for their campaign to heighten tension prior to May Day, and for their heavy presence on the march itself. "This is because they are scared of workers’ solidarity and workers’ internationalism," he said. After referring to the fact that ironically May 1, 2001, is the day that the government decides which private sector firms will be granted contracts to run the Tube, and urging everyone to fight against the privatisation, Mick Rix rousingly called on everyone to increase their confidence in the cause of the working class, and to adopt an attitude of arrogance in their struggles in defence of their rights and interests.

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May 1st Demonstration in Oxford Street

The demonstration, which had been building up all throughout the afternoon, really took hold around 6.00 pm against a huge police presence. There were more policemen in riot gear and on horseback than the demonstrators. The police were also taking video pictures from vantage points overlooking the demo.

As the number of people increased, the police made repeated charges in riot gear and on horseback forcing people to become trapped and run for safety. This made people throw bottles at police, smash windows and one car was damaged. This only occurred when police began blocking side streets and herding people like sheep in Mortimer Street between junctions of Great Titchfield Street and Great Portland Street.

There was no way out. Some people smashed windows, others made a sit down protest. Eventually the police made another charge forcing people in to Great Titchfield Street, while they had blocked all the side roads. This was a military style blockade and people were trapped up to 10.00 pm. No one could go anywhere, with no food or drink and no toilet facilities. At the end the police, still in riot gear, allowed a handful of demonstrators out at a time, while selectively searching and arresting individuals as they walked past the riot police.

This demo was heavy handily suppressed by the police, as a deliberate tactic. Nevertheless there was strong unity among the people throughout.

The youth tried to engage the police in dialogue, and despite their might, the police were made to look weak and shamefaced.

Article Index

May Day March and Rally in Tyne and Wear

On Saturday, April 28, the Newcastle May Day March and Rally took place. At the front of march was carried a large banner proclaiming Tyne and Wear May Day, People Before Profits, Peace, Jobs, Health, Homes. Behind the banner a colliery band led several hundred marchers through the centre of Newcastle to Exhibition Park.

Among the trade union contingents were the banners of Newcastle Trades Union Council, Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) and Transport and General Workers Union (T&GWU) Retired members. There were contingents from North East Pensioners, North East Campaign for Asylum Rights (NECAR), Trident Ploughshares and communist contingents and banners from the Communist Party of Britain and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).

The people of Newcastle warmly welcomed the march. In the May Day programme, Kevin Flynn, Chair of the Tyne and Wear May Day Committee called on the workers to come forward to join the May Day Committee and silence those who want to abandon the May Day march and open air rally. Among other things, he points out that thousands of working class people are beginning to understand the sinister role of the World Trade Organisation and its attempt to privatise the services of the public sectors in every country in the world.

At 12.30pm, Doreen Purvis opened the Rally and introduced the six speakers.

First of all addressing the rally was Shirley Winter, one of the leading personalities in the Magnet strike and Vice President, United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws. She spoke movingly and with passion about the way that the Magnet strikers were treated. The 350 workers had had a pay freeze for four years and they were then forced to take a pay cut. She spoke about the most humiliating treatment that the workers suffered. She explained that when they were sacked for going on strike they fought for 21 months not just against the employer but against their treatment by government. She explained how in spite of their just cause they were forced into extreme hardship receiving no benefits. She asked how there could be any hope for anyone in such a situation if government does not ensure they get their jobs back and she said: "We have got to stand up to Tony Blair and his Government and tell them that we're not putting up with it." Speaking about the Campaign for the Repeal of the Ant-Trade Union Laws she pointed out that Tony Blair is glad to say that Britain has the most restrictive trade union laws. "We're going to show him that we're not going away." She called on the rally to do their best to stand up and fight for their rights, and show the workers are not going to be downtrodden any longer. Speaking about these rights, she warned people: "I will tell you now that this Labour government is slipping things in the back door whereby it won't be long before we aren't allowed to speak out."

The next speaker spoke representing squatters in Newcastle. She said that Manors Social Club had been occupied protesting against such a large amount of space which should be used for local people being turned in into a lap-dancing club called "For Your Eyes Only". So, she said the club has been occupied to provide a space and free refreshments supported by donations, provide space for theatre groups, a space for making banners for local campaigns, and for meetings and organising workshops and talks. She called on people to support them in the court hearing against eviction.

Joy Mitchell, Anti Trident Ploughshare Campaign, then addressed the rally. She argued against those who think that we are not at war, that there is nothing to worry about, or those that were previously in CND but think they need not do anything now, that it is in the past. She pointed out that there still is a threat of war, in this country and throughout the world. "We need jobs, money for NHS, young and old people, we need homes," she said. "Yet £1.5bn a year is being spent on Trident, or £30m a week. What for? They are not for defence – Trident is a first-strike weapon. It shows how ‘good’ we are in the world, how much ‘prestige’ we have." She said that there were four Trident submarines in Scotland, each carrying 148 atomic bombs, each bomb eight times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. "This is criminal and furthermore illegal. In 1996, the international court at The Hague said that Trident was illegal, as a first-strike weapon. Tony Blair doesn't care and spends our taxes – £5m a day," she pointed out. She said the cost of one Trident submarine was equivalent to employing 75,000 nurses, or 50,000 teachers, or 50,000 wheelchair-accessible minibuses, annual running cost of 1,500 primary schools. She told the rally that the Trident Ploughshare Campaign involved people from 13 countries and believed that it was in the hands of people to do something about it.

Pete Sagar, NE and Yorkshire National Committee Member, Amnesty International, addressed the rally. He said that one thing Amnesty is doing is taking a lot more notice of abuses by companies and nor just by governments. He said that he thought trade unions can play an important role is by keeping an eye on these companies. He spoke about trade union rights not being recognised around world. In a time of increasing globalisation and spread of power of multinational companies, some clearly involved directly and some indirectly, in human rights abuses, he said he doubted whether there has ever been a better time for an internationalist response to the human rights crisis and campaign for trade unionists so that they may not lose their lives or their liberties in fulfilling their rights as trade unionists and for getting involved in trade union activities.

Lin Harwood, NE Campaign for Asylum Rights, was next to address the rally. She said that the campaign had been set up last year in response to the racist 1999 Immigration Act. She pointed out the fact that very few asylum seekers come to Britain. Some 23 million people were displaced last year, and most are in the developing world. For example, there are four or five million refugees in Pakistan. Very few come to Europe and of those only 3% actually come to Britain, she said. She said that government and media hysteria is racist propaganda that would have us believe there are millions waiting to enter this country. They have been used mercilessly as a scapegoat for all the ills of in this country, she said. The 1999 Act says that asylum seekers should only get 70% of income support, and they get it in degrading and discriminatory vouchers (so they can only shop in certain shops, and have limited choice). She said that they were campaigning against forced dispersal of asylum seekers, who are sent anywhere in country to live, where there is empty housing. She said this is a deliberate racist policy because where there is empty housing is where unemployment, poverty, social deprivation are, and resentment against people coming is fired up by the media. She said that asylum seekers are put in housing that is not fit for people to live in, or hostels that are targets of attack. She pointed out that there are more asylum seekers in prison than ever before, people who have committed no offence. The whole immigration system is in chaos. The computer system does not work. In the meantime, people are living in abject poverty and misery with no jobs and an uncertain future. She said Britain sells the arms, to Turkey for example, which creates the problem, then racial hatred is being whipped up and asylum seekers are being used to do it. She concluded by saying that the issue was to stand with these people, they are our comrades, she said.

Bob Crowe, Assistant General Secretary RMT, was the final speaker. He said that he wanted to see the rail industry fully re-nationalised. He said that at the time the railways were privatised in 1996 to 2003, the government has given £9.97bn to the companies who have bought the railway network. He said that the government should also repeal every aspect of the anti-trade union laws. He pointed out that it is even harder to go on strike now under Labour than it was under the Tories. He said that last year New Labour brought in new legislation described as "fairness at work". Before this, you would have to say the names and NI numbers of the people taking strike action (the only piece of law in breach of Data Protection Act). Now you have to give this plus every category of grade and every workplace he pointed out.

Speaking about May Day, he said we should celebrate the victories that we have won over the years and look at those people in struggle. He said the real issues are jobs for everyone, decent schooling, getting our kids off drugs because they see there is no vision in life whatsoever and get them into full time employment, looking after pensioners, creating that kind of social justice system, he said. He attacked the social justice system talked about by New Labour and gave the example of workers still being sacked after being on strike for eight weeks (not necessarily continuous). He gave further examples of how the union laws could lead to sequestration of the trade unions’ funds and pointed out that it should be law that after industrial action if a worker wants his job back he should get his job back. He concluded by saying that workers should fight for jobs, fight for peace. But more than this, he said, because that will not change things in general – the only way, he said, to have a proper, fair and just system is a system based on socialism.

After the rally, the celebration continued with live music and people remained to discuss around the large bookstall tent late into the afternoon. Hundreds of May Day Statements of the Northern Regional Committee of RCPB(ML) were distributed which called on the workers to plant the alternative to the old consciousness and participate in politics on their own account and stop Tony Blair’s "Third Way" programme being carried through. Many copies of the party’s newspaper Workers’ Weekly were sold.

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