May Day Scotland

MayDay 3
By Jonathan Shafi

Britain is for the rich, May Day is for the people

May Day is celebrated the world over as a day to remember and take forward the struggle of working people, living in a system pitched against them. The original May Day demand, now over 120 years ago, was for an international 8 hour day.  On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States went on strike in the first May Day celebration in history. Since then May Day has witnessed demonstrations, mass meetings and international workers mobilisations.

In the UK, May Day underwent a brief post Thatcher revival as the rising anti-globalisation movement of the lat 90s, sought to re-energise the radical traditions of May 1st. But the truth is that the May Day events today don’t always feel like moments of inspiration and refreshment, more of ritual and what might have been. It is a good day out, and important, but the beer flows more than any sense of genuine purpose.

In part of course, this malaise exists because there is not much for workers to celebrate. The cost of living is rising, conditions of work are worsening. The new generation of workers are facing an era of austerity, privatisation and of being less wealthy than their parents. Zero hours contracts, monotonous retail based work, low unionisation in the private sector, workfare. The list goes on.

And despite the ruthlessness with which Westminster has unleashed its attack on working people, and its divisive methods of demonisation and alienation, we have not seen the necessary opposition to it. There is no real opposition at Westminster. The cuts supporting, privatisation endorsing Labour party has made sure of that. And to top it all Labour, instead of rewarding the relative loyalty of the unions whose members they have run rough shod over for so long, is sticking the boot in further, formally distancing themselves from the unions who formed the party in the first place.

Our chance

But, this May Day, the progressive movement in Scotland can feel far more upbeat than we have done in previous years. This year, a movement, crackling with ideas, innovation and talent is sweeping the country. The independence movement, because it is by its nature forward looking, is encouraging people to think about the possibility of a different future, outside of the neoliberal grip of Westminster failure. We have a vote to win, and a platform to redevelop a movement of credible progressive ideas that say neoliberalism is not the only way. This referendum has signalled a rebirth left wing values which can connect with the mass of the population.

What makes this especially exciting is the nature of forces involved, and equally, the forces which have chosen to separate themselves off from this rising tide of solidarity and boldness.

The excitement bound up in the independence movement is nation wide. Activists are mobilising on a grass roots basis to re-engage communities who have been deliberately carved out of the political process for years. Public meetings are over flowing, and our sense of direction is back. No more confusion, no more looking back in anger. Instead we are a movement determined to reverse decades of defeat and neoliberalism. Look at this movement: young but learning from experience, outspoken but not without strategic thinking, often frail financially, but burgeoning with ideas. And like all historic movements, this is an educational one, and one which learns from mistakes.

Nothing is off limits, from debating local democracy to discussing land ownership. The atmosphere generated by the sea of ideas is vibrant, but it is also historic in scale and reach. To top it all the establishment and the No campaign don’t quite know how to handle it. The usual tricks, the promotion of fear and division seem blunted when confronted by a confident movement of movements.

Meanwhile the Labour Party and elements of the trade union hierarchy have played a cynical, stifling role in the name of some false ‘unity’. False because the British state by its nature is divisive. False because their talk of ‘solidarity’ is never matched with any action. False, yet again, because Labour are not offering an alternative. That is why they fear our alternative movement that is rising because they know they cannot match it. Can the Labour party mobilise 100 people to Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel, and deliver a message of genuine hope and ambition like the Radical Independence Campaign has? Can they hold hundreds of meetings discussing openly the positive message of real social change like Yes campaigners are doing? And what about the number and diversity of the groups involved  and dynamically engaged in not just a vote, but a process of social change.

Hope is being resurrected after years of downturn and betrayal. And throughout this process, win or lose, Labour has positioned itself to reap the worst of both worlds. Their reliance on the corporate argument for the union, means that even in the conditions of a No vote, the resentment that will follow after the shock of the tidal wave of cuts still to hit, will focus on the Labour leadership.

GLW-MayDayDinner14-5-11Fight for the future

There is a rich history of rebellion and solidarity in Scotland. But this history is only meaningful if it inspires the present. It is indisputable that the inspiration provided by the great figures, moments and movements of our past is best encapsulated by the movement for independence. Whether it is the poll tax rebellion against Thatcherism or the anti-war movement in 2003, it is the Yes camp who are on the right side of history.

Inspired by the past, and determined to fight for a vision of a future de-linked from empire and economic elitism, we can drive forward not back. Next May Day, in an independent Scotland, we will face an altogether different situation. Instead of being on the retreat, looking over our back at Westminster and commiserating each other over the failure of the Labour party in the pub after the rally, the movement can get on the front foot. About time too.

Time to dust off the cobwebs. Our May Day is more than a ritual. Our collective project for a better future for working people cannot be realised in the confines of Labourism, or the parameters of the Westminster parliament. We need to get out there and win this and in doing so win a future where people come before the corporations and hedge funds. The best traditions of our rebellious past will approve.



Categories: Austerity Britain

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17 replies

  1. If I see the word ‘neoliberalism’ once more

    I might just look it up

  2. Can the Labour party mobilise 100 people to Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel, and deliver a message of genuine hope and ambition like the Radical Independence Campaign has?

    No, it cannot.

    Its long lost that sense of purpose. Instead it sits quivering in a corner cry “no fair – no fair”

    Its become instead a party that thinks by it losing in 2007 & 2011 that Scotland is now undemocratic. Its become a party that thinks FMQ’s are there so it can hurl insults at Salmond. Not the SNP mind – Salmond.
    Its become the party that thinks it can tax Scots more than anyone else in the UK to pay for austerity mitigation in England. Its the party that is trying to outflank the rightwing, by being more rightwing. Which has left it in a kerfuffle here in Scotland as its opponents – traditionally right of centre – are looking more like a Leftwing party every day, simply by not chasing UKIP.

    There is a desire – or even a fervent wish that Labour can renew itself post yes. Which the dreary shower of idiots in charge of it right now, that simply isn’t going to happen. The grass roots of the party will have to take it off them and completely de-construct it. Do away with new labour and the third way and get back to its roots. 1st of May 2015 is when the job starts – it will take a while i am afraid. Too many new labour chancers and far too many unthinking old labour fossils standing in its way.

  3. Today’s May Day demo and march in London, celebrating lives of Bob Crow and Tony Benn, had a good few thousand and saw banners from NUT Calmac workers, RMT Scotland, and many English TUs and Trades Councils, Green Party, anti-cuts organisations alongside Kurdish workers, Defend NHS, Nicaragua Solidarity, Cuba Solidarity and many others.
    And the tubes did grind to a halt losing neo-liberals millions [as the Evening Standard screamed out].
    So don’t give up the fight.
    Gordon [a pro-severance supporter in London]

  4. Reblogged this on ¯_(ツ)_/¯ and commented:
    In 1887 four Chicago anarchists were executed. A fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had, in the words of the prosecution put “Anarchy .. on trial” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

    The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886 .

    The anarchist idea did not die in Chicago in 1887. Today it inspires a new wave of struggle against global capitalism. Join in this struggle.

    • . . . my apologies but I did not mean that comment to appear! I reblogged this and it has fed this comment back from my own site, so I am sorry if it doesn’t seem relevant *here* but that is why. It was meant to be seen somewhere else and my editing has not undone it 😦 PB

    • No need to apologise, Peter Burnett, it is very worthwhile reminding folk of the origins of May Day as international workers’ day. It began in Chicago, not Moscow. There was a movement for the 8 hour day in that city, a movement brutally attacked by the authorities. Anarchists played a major role in the movement, as trade union organisers, and their methods of struggle were things like strikes, boycotts, and workplace occupations. A group of them were framed by the authorities for a bombing which was almost certainly the work of a police provocateur, intended to sabotage the movement.

      Albert Parsons came from Texas. He had volunteered for the Confederate cavalry at the age of 13, fought all through the Civil War, even taking part in the very last battle. But he came to realise the cause for which had had fought was unworthy. As a young veteran he took up the cause of fighting against racism. He married a woman of mixed race, black and “red indian” (not just to make a point, she was stunningly beautiful). Like many other folk around that time, Albert and Lucy Parsons moved to Chicago to find work. It was there he became an anarchist, and a trade union organiser. He was a fighter, and an inspiring speaker. He was the only “native” American executed. The others, like the vast majority of the American working class, were all immigrants. Lucy Parsons carried on the fight after her husband’s execution. She took part in the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, the “wobblies”.

      May Day as a workers day spread internationally both as a commemoration of the Chicago Martyrs and to carry on their fight for the shorter working day.

      As for the shite from the so-called “Labour” fakes about independence dividing the working class, it’s them and their policies which have done that. We are for genuine international working class solidarity.

  5. May Day in Ireland. North and South

    Gerry Adams member of the Dail, Parliament of the Irish Republic, leader of Sinn Fein the only party that seriously threatens British rule in Ireland, is arrested three weeks before an election… on suspicions about his involvement in the heinous murder and disappearance of a widow with 10 children – 42 years ago, when northern ireland was in flames.
    Talk about the long arm of the law!!

    Think about it…be afraid, Mr Alex Salmond. Be very afraid!

  6. The difference being – Alex Salmond aint no Gerry Adams.

  7. your words….. “”””””” it is the Yes camp who are on the right side of history.”””””” ……Excelent… first class…. spot on…. simple truth….. and all those previous pioneers of the now defunct labour party and its pale shadow… the unions…. must be spinning in their graves in shame….. after all the sacrifice they made or
    gave up to their cause and now see it punctured and defeated by the class of warrior who states the ” Scots are not genetically engineered to understand politics “….

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