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Year 2001 No. 77, May 8, 2001 Archive Search Home Page


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Traditional May Day March in Birmingham under Scrutiny by the State: A Serious Infringement of the Right to Demonstrate
South Tyneside May Day Rally and Celebration Held Successfully

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Traditional May Day March in Birmingham under Scrutiny by the State:

A Serious Infringement of the Right to Demonstrate

On Saturday, May 5, the Birmingham Trades Council organised the traditional March and Celebration Rally in Birmingham. The state and media used various strategies to undermine the event falling short of a complete ban. This is in line with the preparations that the bourgeoisie is making to criminalise dissent and ban all political protest throughout the country, especially workers and youth demonstrating on May Day. The workers must take these preparations extremely seriously.

At the beginning of the demonstration, which gathered from around 11.30 am and set off at around 12.30 pm, the police issued all participants with a threatening Police Notice. The marched was dogged by police video surveillance in breach of basic human rights along the route. The police laid down draconian conditions stipulating how the march should proceed and what routes it should follow. The intimidation was backed by the threat of arrest in no uncertain terms by the police present at the start of the procession. Councillor Rice had to spell out the conditions from a megaphone and highlight the kind of problems that he had come across in organising the event. A large banner was carried and displayed prominently at the platform of the concluding rally, which said, "DEFEND THE RIGHT TO PROTEST".

Councillor Rice, who is also Secretary to the Trades Council, pointed out from the platform that he had to liase with the police from the start. He said that under the Public Order Act of 1986, six days’ notice has to be given of any public procession. This was done and Chief Superintendent Raw was informed also that this was a traditional workers’ May Day demonstration of over 100 years standing. Councillor Rice was told that he was going to be made responsible and the Trades Council would have to pay for road closures. The police also said that he personally could be sued by businesses that might claim loss of money including West Midlands Travel. He was told that there was "No Route" between Chamberlain Square and The Irish Centre in Digbeth. Councillor Rice said that he would insist on demonstrating whether or not there was approval. Taking this stand, Councillor Rice wrote to the police and demanded a reply, but there was no reply forthcoming. He said he told the police that he would not pay for road closures, which was a tax on the right to demonstrate. He also said that he raised the issue at a Safety Committee where business managers and police representatives refused to approve a route. Councillor Rice said that he objected to video surveillance as an infringement of civil liberties. It was also pointed out in the rally that the British Legion was not allowed to march through the town because it could not afford to pay for road closures and so the restrictions are being used against all kinds of organisations and people, not just the labour movement.

It was noted that the police had arbitrarily picked out people from the large number that had gathered in the Bull Street area during the protest against global capitalism on May First. They had been incarcerated for no reason other than their presence on the demonstration, under the hoax of "public order offences". A defence campaign has been set up by the Trades Council for the nine people affected.

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South Tyneside May Day Rally and Celebration Held Successfully

On evening of May 1, 2001, a very successful South Tyneside May Day Rally and Celebration was held in South Shields. Around 300 people packed the South Shields Labour and Social Club to take part in the event and hear the speeches of Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers and General Secretary of the Socialist Labour Party, and Eric Trevett, speaking on behalf of the Korea Friendship and Solidarity Campaign.

Jimmy Perry, chair of the South Tyneside May Day 2000 Committee, chaired the proceedings. He spoke about the importance of May Day to the international working class and about the work that the May Day 2000 Committee had accomplished in re-establishing the May Day rally and celebrations over the last two years.

Also on the platform was Roger Nettleship, Secretary of the South Tyneside May Day 2000 Committee, who that day had announced his intention to stand as a health worker politician candidate in the forthcoming general election.

Eric Trevett was the first to speak in his capacity as an Honorary President of the Korea Friendship and Solidarity Campaign. He started by speaking about the significance of May Day for the workers and in particular what it meant in countries like Cuba, Democratic Korea and Vietnam where May Day is celebrated with confidence in the future and where there are expectations of rising living standards. He also mentioned China where he said that the happiness of the people was born of the knowledge that the prospects were good.

Eric Trevett said that Korea was a country that Britain had been at war with on the side of the US. Therefore, he pointed out, it was more difficult to develop the friendship movement with Korea. But, he remarked, workers should note that Korea was an ally in World War II in liberating their country from Japanese imperialism. The US and Britain intervened there when the people of Korea turned to socialism, and it was the US and their allies that divided the country. He pointed out that it was a tragedy that hundreds of British soldiers were killed in this interventionist war of the US and Britain against Korea, but he said it should also be remembered that the US and its allies committed genocide against the Korean people. Korea was laid to waste, and in the city of Pyongyang there was hardly one brick left standing on another. Since then there had been a tremendous development of socialist construction, and that city is now a beautiful testament to the people moving in such a positive way.

The speaker pointed out that the people of North Korea have had their problems and have been through natural disasters, flooding and other serious natural events. He remarked that the difference between the way these disasters are faced there and here is that in the DPRK the people are involved in coming to the aid of those areas that are suffering disasters.

Eric pointed out that in his opinion there is a problem in understanding Korea. He said that in Korea they would say that the leader has done this or the leader has suggested that. However, he said, it is important to understand that there is a collective leadership, and he went on to explain that it was similar to how workers take decisions in their strike struggles with the minority submitting to the majority.

Eric Trevett spoke also about the international situation. Among other things, he said that there was a tendency to demonise any leader or any country which has fallen out of favour with the British and US imperialists. This is done to try and make acceptable the bombing that goes on against Iraq, Yugoslavia and other countries. He pointed out that workers in this country have got to be aware of these things and see the essence of the class nature of the offensive that has been launched. He said that class conscious workers are true internationalists, and we should regard the world as a place where there is a concerted struggle against capitalism and imperialism going on.

On this May Day, he said, we should also remember that the struggle of the Irish people for a united Ireland is a just struggle, the struggle of the people in Zimbabwe for land reform is a just struggle, the struggle of the people of South Africa for cheaper medicines is a just struggle, the struggle of the Iraqi people to lift the sanctions and end the bombing is a just struggle, and the demand of the Palestinians for a homeland is a just demand. Eric emphasised that it is up to the British workers to stand firmly with all these peoples. He concluded to appreciative applause from the audience with the words: "Workers of all lands should unite, we should reject racism in all its forms and we should move forward to socialism."

Arthur Scargill then rose to speak and was greeted with warm applause. He started by saying that he brought May Day greetings to the May Day rally from the National Union of Mineworkers and from the Socialist Labour Party. He said that he knew that the May Day Rally had been put under tremendous pressure of a boycott because he was to be the speaker. He said that anyone who claims to be a socialist and or a trade unionist should be ashamed of themselves in arguing against attendance at a May Day Rally. He thanked everyone from whatever walk of life they came for the very fact that they were there that night to listen to the views of the people on the platform, even though they may not all agree each with each other.

Arthur Scargill said that May Day was first started in 1890 and it commenced as a result of a campaign for an 8-hour day. That was the origin of the Labour Party and trade union movement campaign for May Day, he said. And, he remarked, here we are today in 2001 and we have got people in this country of ours who are working in almost slave conditions. He said there are people who are working in spite of the Minimum Wage at wages that are a scandal in the 21st century. He pointed out that it is right to struggle and that there is an alternative. After speaking about the heroic 1984-5 miners strike he went on to say that the NUM had been fighting for 24 years for equal pay for women canteen workers and cleaners. In 1996, he said, the House of Lords had ruled that there should be a settlement negotiated if possible, and in 1997 the Coal Board met with the UDM and the NUM separately. They offered the UDM a settlement of £1,100 and they accepted it. We rejected it, he said, and last Friday he had spoken to 1,000 women who attended a special meeting at the National Union of Mineworkers’ headquarters in Yorkshire. The agreement that the NUM has secured will give settlements to those women of between £3,000 and £40,000 each. That, he said, is a result of being prepared to fight and not give in or sell out.

Speaking on behalf of the Socialist Labour Party, Arthur Scargill said that as the participants met on the historic occasion of May Day, everyone must spell out where they stand on all the issues of the day. He had been asked only the previous day where the SLP stood with all the rallies that were being held in London and were they prepared to condemn vandalism. He had replied, yes, he condemned vandalism that is caused by capitalism, vandalism that creates unemployment, that creates waiting lists for hospital service, vandalism by a system that creates an education system where there are those that can pay for better education and those that cannot. This is vandalism, he said, vandalism in the extreme. The vandalism that ought to be condemned is that which condemns workers to a possible term in prison for calling a strike or closing down a factory for one day, whereas it puts in the House of Lords the capitalists who permanently close down a steel plant or a coal mine.

As we celebrate May Day, 2001, Arthur Scargill said, one hundred and eleven years on from the inaugural May Day, it should be a national holiday with everyone taking part. He said that the trade union leaders should not be trying to operate the system better than the Tories, or better than the capitalists. They should be out on the streets demonstrating real alternative policies that people in Britain now need to put things right. One of the examples he gave was the NHS, which is itself in need of intensive care. Everybody, he said, has the right to health care on demand and free of charge. He condemned the waiting lists, and said that when Labour came to power in 1997 there were 1 million on the lists, but today there are 1.6 million people who are waiting for an operation. Another example he gave was that unemployment has no place in a democratic society and one that dares to call itself civilised. He pointed out that in Britain today there is poverty on a massive scale. There are ten million people in Britain today living on or below the government's official poverty line. We have 12 million pensioners who have been absolutely betrayed by Tony Blair and this government, he said. He then spoke of homelessness as the scourge of the 21st century. He further condemned New Labour for not being prepared to invest in public transport, invest in health, or in any of the things that would bring real value to our society.

Arthur Scargill warned about the destruction of the manufacturing base and pointed out how fragile society and the economy were becoming, and that any movement of the international exchange could mean that the entire economic system would be shaken to its very foundations. The alternative was to understand what was wrong in society and understand what is required to put it right. He said that in the view of SLP the way forward was to get rid of the corrupt outdated capitalist system so that the means of distribution, exchange and of all production can be taken into common ownership.

Concluding, Arthur said: "That is why I am a socialist, that is why I am a member of the Socialist Labour Party, that is why until the day I die I will go on campaigning on every platform wherever it is arguing like my forebears for those principles and those beliefs that I know are in the interest of my class and not in the interest of theirs." To warm applause, he declared, "It is a privilege to be with you."

Jimmy Perry, as Chairperson, spoke then about the campaign in South Tyneside to immediately get the government to meet its responsibilities to compensate miners suffering from chest diseases and vibration white finger.

Finally, Roger Nettleship gave a short message of thanks to the two speakers on behalf of all the participants in the Rally.

A social followed during which people continued to discuss and engage with the speakers late into the evening.

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