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Why We Must Celebrate and Protect May Day as the Workers Holiday

MayDayPicIn November 2011 the coalition Government announced that they were seriously considering axing the May Day Bank Holiday and replacing it with a Bank Holiday in October which would celebrate some nebulous concept called “Britishness”, whatever that is. I suspect the Tories would like to use such a holiday as a vehicle to re write the history of the UK, whitewashing the crimes of Empire and the such like whilst lauding military “victories” such as Trafalgar. The reality of these “triumphs” for the UK is that working class people were killed in their droves to consolidate expansion of business as generally wars are fought over resources and the opportunities they afford.

The Wilson/ Callaghan Government did much damage to working people as, in kin with most Labour Governments pleasing the Markets came in as the priority as though a ticking off from the IMF would somehow signal Armageddon and loss of Office. In fact what cost Callaghan the election in 1979 was an aggressive anti Union set of policies where the workers were expected to see their incomes trashed as Healey had become a strangely proto Monetarist. By squashing incomes, and taking money OUT of the economy he somehow hoped that this would decrease inflation, bring down interest rates and stabilise the UK finances and result in a pat on the head from the IMF and the World Bank.

Instead employment relations plummeted to an all time low, and chronic lack of investment in the industrial sector allied to depressed demand meant that exports crashed and jobs were lost; hence the infamous Tory poster designed by Maurice Saatchi, “Britain Isn’t Working”.

But one good thing that this Labour Government did instigate was the adoption of the May Day Workers Bank Holiday. The Tories hate it because it celebrates everything that they loath. It celebrates collectivism over individuality, it is all about the strength of what we can achieve together as exemplified by the NHS, Trade Unionism and lifting the aspiration and achievement of working people via access (now denied) to free Comprehensive education for as long as people need or want it. In the past this ethos extended to the provision of mass, high quality public housing, libraries, not for profit utilities such as public transport as well as energy, progressive Local Government and an economy run for the benefit of the majority.

We must use the opportunities this holiday provides to educate our fellow citizens and to show them the past achievements of Socialism as well as showing them that that there is hope. The lie of the so called deficit crisis must be refuted and the alternative of fair taxation to transform our Society must be put forward to gather the momentum for a Labour Government elected on a Socialist Programme unstoppable. 

Tony Crosland, writing in his ‘fifties book “The Future of Socialism” had a vision for the UK which we would do well to take heed of in our era. For all his bizarre ideas that Capitalism wasn’t the scary beast we on the Left think it is, Crosland had some perceptive observations to make which ring true today.

In Britain, equality of opportunity and social mobility are not enough. They need to be combined with measures to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustices of large inequalities and the collective discontents.”

We need not only higher exports and old-age pensions, but more open-air cafes, brighter and gayer streets at night, later closing hours for public houses, more local repertory theatres, better and more hospitable hoteliers and restaurateurs, brighter and cleaner eating houses, more riverside cafes, more pleasure gardens on the Battersea model, more murals and pictures in public places, better designs for furniture and pottery and women’s clothes, statues in the centre of new housing estates, better-designed new street lamps and telephone kiosks and so on ad infinitum.”

Socialism isn’t just about the economy and struggle, it has to have a vision of how everyday life can be improved for all. Here are one or two ideas, we could start with how 50% of us (women) could have our lives made better;

  • Turn formal gender equality into genuine equality. Socially, economically, politically and culturally there must be equality of opportunity. Open 24-hour crèches and kindergartens to facilitate full participation in social life outside the home: that is, trade unions, political organisations, , cultural activities, etc.

  • Open high quality canteens with cheap prices. The establishment of laundry and house-cleaning services to be undertaken by the state. This to be the first step in the socialisation of housework.

  • Fully paid maternity leave three months before and six months after giving birth (the partner to be provided with six months’ paternity leave).

  • Free contraception on demand.

  • Provision for either parent to be allowed paid leave to look after sick children.

  • Maximum six-hour working day for all nursing mothers.

  • Decriminalisation of prostitution. Criminalize those who attempt to purchase sex. 

On a practical level in 2013 we are coming together this Saturday to celebrate Solidarity in the Face of Austerity. Assemble Mid Day Victoria Square for a Mass March around Hull City Centre to be followed by a rally and speakers back in the Square. We are not alone, we are ahead of the curve as the public support our stand against the cuts to the NHS, the starvation of funds to Hull City and East Riding Councils, the Bedroom Tax, the freezing of wages, pensions being trashed, the crippling cost of living and the tanking of the economy to name just a few issues.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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