Monday, 1 May 2017

RTUC celebrates the Workers’ International Festival!

Reading Trades Union Council Delegates with Emily Thornberry MP

The First of May is Labour Day, international workers’ day. Reading Trades Union Council revived the tradition of May Day solidarity in Reading by organising the town’s march and rally.

The event commenced with words of international welcome in the Forbury Gardens in front of the monument to Reading’s veterans of the Spanish Civil War from Ray Parkes and Keith Jerrome, representative of the Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee. Music was led by the Reading Red Choir.

Keith Jerrome (RIBMC/Unite/RTUC)
Ray Parkes (RIBMC/Unite/RTUC)
The march then commenced, proceeding down Friar Street, along West Street, through Broad Street and back to the Forbury Gardens. As it proceeded, the march, led by the RTUC banner and trade unionists in RTUC t-shirts, chanted a call-and-response: ‘What do we want? Workers’ rights! When do we want it? Now!’ In addition to the RTUC banner, ‘Vote Labour’ placards were in abundance, a European Union flag was flown as were several from the Communist Party of Britain. As the march re-entered the Forbury Gardens it was met by Reading’s crème de la crème of labour movement iconography – the Reading banner of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. The marchers assembled around the Forbury bandstand and awaited the fine roster of local, regional and national speakers.

A real coup for the event was the presence of the Labour Party Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry MP. Just as the country entered the general election campaign, a voice of solidarity from a national Labour figure, promising to repeal anti-trade union laws, was a real shot in the arm.

Emily Thornberry MP, Labour Party
Shadow Foreign Secretary
From the RMT, Steve Hedley, the union’s Assistant General Secretary, overcame an injured foot to attend and – in his usual inspiring manner – roused the crowd to fight the Tory oppression and support the trade union movement. He also raised the banner of international solidarity, speaking of the workers’ struggles in Palestine, Turkey and Ireland as well as at home.

Steve Hedley (RMT Assistant
General Secretary)
Speaking from the heart, Unite member and Labour Cllr Sarah Hacker asked people to consider the International Workers’ Day of the future where tomorrow's workers are today's children under immense exam pressure and following a limited curriculum. She expressed her outrage at the level of debt students are graduating with and then entering a job market threatened with digitisation. She asked ‘What does the future hold for our children?’
Cllr Sarah Hacker (Labour Party/

Nada Al-Sanjari, a member of the NUT and the Vice-President of the RTUC, spoke with passion about the importance of solidarity through trade unions and the need to fight Conservative attacks on working people. She asserted that ‘We stand in solidarity with our comrades all over the world, who are using this day to fight for their rights as workers’. Reflecting on recent industrial disputes and government cuts she declared: ‘Teachers, nurses, doctors, train drivers and conductors, firefighters, an attack against one is an attack against us all’. And referring to the recent Trades Union Act limiting the right to strike, she noted the following:

Now for some irony, the government that won with a pitiful 24% of popular support has made it illegal for us to withhold the only power we have as workers, our labour and strike, unless we secure 40% of the vote. That means 274 out of 330 Conservative MPs who failed to receive 40% of the votes are trying to stop us fighting against our exploitation.

Winding up her speech on a local issue, Nada pointed out that ‘Our committed TUC in Reading recognizes the fact that women make up the majority of trade union membership and has pushed for campaigns on women’s issues, fighting sexual harassment and violence against women by supporting Berkshire Women’s Aid in providing support and refuge for women fleeing domestic abuse’.
Janine Booth (RMT)

Janine Booth of the RMT rounded the event off with poetry castigating Tory cuts, promoting the power of women as a political force, urging support for the RMT’s battles around the country to retain guards on trains – and reminding us all not to cross picket lines. Her performance can be found here:

Chris Reilly (RMT/RTUC President)
The other speakers on the day were Merry Cross (DPAC), highlighting the effects of Conservative policies on disabled people; Paul Britt (Reading Pride) speaking of the disturbing statistics of attacks against LGBT+ people at work and the discrimination they face and the importance of the trade union movement in campaigning for LGBT+ workers’ rights; and Kevin Jackson (Unison & RTUC) speaking about the devastating effects of government policy on the NHS and social care locally and throughout the country. Chris Reilly (RMT), as RTUC President, wound up the event, quoting the Reading RMT banner urging attendees to ‘Educate... Agitate... Organise...’. Referencing the forthcoming general election, he declared: ‘Let’s vote, let’s get it out there on the 8th May and get rid of the Tories from Reading’.
Merry Cross (DPAC)
Paul Britt (Reading Pride)
Kevin Jackson (Unison/RTUC)

In addition to online publicity, the RTUC May Day March and Rally received television coverage in Urdu on channel UK44 (including a slot for Chris Reilly) and in Pakistan on Dunya News as well as a report in the Reading Chronicle (below).

Reading Chronicle, 4 May 2017
Many thanks for the time and enthusiasm of the speakers – but especially for the 200 or so attendees who joined the march, listened to the speeches and joined in with the Reading Red Choir’s renditions of ‘The Red Flag’, ‘The Internationale’ and ‘Jarama Valley’.


From Reading to Leipzig

While the Reading trade union movement was on the march at home, John Partington (TSSA & RTUC Secretary) attended the Leipzig May Day Rally, taking RTUC solidarity to the DGB (the German Trade Union Confederation) and offering Labour Party greetings to the SPD.
The German Trades Union Confederation at May Day in
Leipzig: 'Pensions must be sufficient'

The  Leipzig German Social Democrats