On Saturday, everything was laid on for a top May Day Festival in the year of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Manchester and Salford Trades Council.
...The PCS drumming band was on hand to lead the May Day march from All Saints Park to Sackville Gardens. There was a `pay as you feel' food tent at the Gardens, plus members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU) handing out free cakes and biscuits within the Mechanics Institute...
...There was a free play, Dare To Be Free, linking food workers' conditions and struggles one hundred years ago to the present day, via the re-incarnation of trade unionist Mary Quaile; plus discussions, debates and more on a huge range of subjects in every room. And it was followed by a closing rally starring Arthur Scargill, the General Secretaries of three huge trade unions (PCS, FBU and NUT), plus representatives from the junior doctors, the Justice for Hillsborough Campaign and the North West TUC.
While the closing rally was packed, the Mary Quaile play `sold out' and there were lots of activists milling around between the events, the reality was that only maybe three or four hundred people in total were involved. Meanwhile, around Europe, tens of thousands of people celebrated International Workers Day in France, Italy, Germany and Turkey, some facing the riot police with hundreds of arrests (see here). In Istanbul, Nail Mavuş, was killed as he faced tear gas and water cannon trying to reach the symbolic Taksim Square.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, a few hundred people marched away from the city centre, with only a handful of trade union banners, and precisely one that had the word `Salford' on it; the Salford District Trades Council with half a dozen people attached. The traditional Salford May Day march from Bexley Square had been cancelled (see here).
While Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, spoke at a rally attended by thousands in London, in Manchester there was not one single Labour Party banner (or Green Party for that matter). As far as anyone could tell, there were no Labour Party councillors or MPs either on the march. Where were all these Corbynites and councillors who claim to buy into his philosophy? May Day is fundamental to Corbyn's principles and fundamental to the labour movement.
"May Day is our day" Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) told the evening rally "It's a day for workers and their organisations all across the world, to remember and celebrate the people who went before us, the people who fought for the things we now benefit from and to discuss how we try to defend those things going forward...
"None of these things have ever been given to us by those in power, they've only been given when people have organised and fought back" he added "We've seen our pay fall, we've seen our pensions destroyed, we've seen our public services wrecked and privatised..."
He invoked the spirit of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who used Manchester and Salford to analyse the system we live under... "A system of class division and class rule, and I would say nothing has changed. When we talk about austerity and us paying the price, what you have is a class agenda by those in charge to make the rest of us pay for the failings of their system."
Matt Wrack added that the current row in the Labour Party surrounding anti-semitism was to "lay the basis for a coup against Jeremy Corbyn; that's what this is about because he is sparking the idea that we don't have to accept this rubbish that they are throwing at us. If we get organised we can put on the agenda the prospect of real change. Wealth and power is in the wrong hands, the world is upside down and our job is to get organised and turn it the right way up."
Inspired words. But where was the local Corbyn Labour Party support, putting on a show of strength and defiance?
Speakers at the rally listed the attacks on working people going on at the moment... Hanna McCarthy of Manchester University Students Union recalled in great detail the job losses, cuts and attacks on local further and higher education, including the closure of campuses and job cuts at Salford City College. National Union of Teachers General Secretary, Christine Blower, talked about the Tories' Trade Union Bill and the need to defend the right to strike, while announcing a ballot for industrial action by teachers against forced acadamisation and attacks on terms and conditions.
The BMA's Me'gan O Redentor Palermo told the rally that 50,000 junior doctors are united in their cause... "We're becoming more political and seeing where we stand in the bigger picture of the fight for the NHS and public services" she said.
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of public services trade union, PCS, blamed other trade union leaders for putting a block on any meaningful fight back against the Tory Government...
"The BMA junior doctors' dispute is the most important in recent times" he said "The PCS and FBU called a national day of action – not only was that not agreed but half the room attacked us! It shows the state of the trade union movement at the moment. If we've got a government ideologically committed to destroy the trade union movement, a government that is making those who have the least pay the price of the follies of those at the top, we have to start realising that the trade union movement in the last five years has not been up to the mark in terms of challenging what the government is doing. They are not prepared to call the action.
"If teachers are striking to stop forced academisation and to defend their terms and conditions; if doctors are striking, if civil servants have to strike to defend their redundancy payments, if local government workers are having their jobs slashed, if people in education are having their pay cut, isn't it obvious that if we all strike together we can stop the Tories?" he asked "If it's obvious to every meeting I address why isn't it obvious to our trade union leaders?"
He told people to go back to their workplaces and communities with the following questions...
Is austerity fair? No!
Who is paying the price? Us!
Is it time we did something about it? Yes!
"Let's come together, ensure the junior doctors win, the teachers win and that all of us stand together, defeat the Government and support Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to see a different type of Britain" he added "If so then 2016 will be the time when we had politicians on the Labour front bench who actually supported strikes rather than condemned them, and a trade union movement that finally found its confidence. Then all of us can come together, look back and say `This is the year it changed'. Or, if we do nothing, we will remember this as a further year of demoralisation and further cuts. Let's stick together and make it happen."
However, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign's Sheila Coleman, who, at the rally, documented the fight and emotions surrounding the unlawful killing verdict this week, posed a further question...
"When I saw that crowd of people outside St Georges Hall it was inspiring to see so many people out on the streets again" she said "But how can we get people back on the streets in such volume as we can get them out for a football related matter? Because that's what we need to do. I work for a union and I can't get people out like that..."
The Manchester May Day Festival was the epitome of this. Where were the local Labour Party, the Greens, the homelessness campaigners, the social housing campaigners, the vast numbers of anti-fracking campaigners and every other organisation with a working class cause?
As Arthur Scargill told the rally in his keynote speech... "You can consign austerity to the dustbin of history but you can't do it by simply moving resolutions; we can't do it by great speeches..."
There were some great speeches. But, alas, on the streets, the Manchester May Day march was a bit of a damp squib...
• See also previous Salford Star article Arthur Scargill Triumphs at Manchester May Day Festival - click here