“The place of socialists is in every single struggle, whether that struggle be in parliament, in electoral politics, or on the picket line, the industrial dispute, or at the protest”Richard Burgon MP
By Sam Browse
On April 30th, thousands tuned into the May Day weekend online rally – entitled ‘Socialism – Unity – Internationalism’ – organised by Arise Festival and Tribune magazine. The rally heard from range of trade unionists, politicians, activists and journalists from across the international labour movement.
Watch the meeting in full or read the report-back below:
Daisy Carter, a representative on Young Labour’s National Committee and chair of the event opened with a call to build the wide movement of resistance against the Tories and understand that we are not alone in our struggle. The fightback against the far-right is taking place across the globe!
The first speaker, Ian Lavery MP highlighted why we were coming together to celebrate May Day and International Workers’ Day as it is known globally: “It gives us an opportunity for remembering the struggles for decency and for justice in the workplace.”
Next up, Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of Tribune, drew on the importance of class politics in understanding the contemporary political situation: “When we look at the cost of living crisis we don’t just see a crisis; we see a class war”.
“The Government and the establishment and the ruling class are perfectly happy to allow inflation – real inflation – of about 9 or 10% in the prices that people must pay in the things they need to survive – that doesn’t produce panicked responses in the Bank of England, but the second workers begin to ask for increased wages, well, then we’re told we need wage restraint”.
He concluded by calling on everyone to attend the TUC demonstration on 18th June: “our job on the left is to organise that resistance – to remind people that any given strike is not just the battle for one set of workers and their work pace, but it’s part of the broader struggle for justice in our economy and over the question of who owned and runs our society”.
The next speaker, the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Kate Hudson, began with a warning: “we are living in hugely dangerous times. The two great existential threats of climate catastrophe and nuclear war are accelerating wildly, and yet every day more is done to make matters worse”.
She continued: “Echoing the war cries of the Government and it’s NATO-led agenda, backing nuclear weapons, supporting the killing of ordinary people by ordinary people in a foreign land, have no part in the proud history and values of our labour movement.”
Echoing the historic slogans of the labour movement, she said, “now is the time to state clearly that the cause of peace is the hope of the world.”
The first international speaker of the rally was Nathalia Urban, a Brazilian journalist with Brazil Wire.
Speaking about the far right Bolsonaro regime currently governing Brazil, she said “we are seeing the dismantling of the most precious rights that workers have given their lives to achieve.”
However, her criticisms were not restricted to Brazil’s current president: “we are talking about a project that started after the coup against Dilma Rousseff, with Michel Temer destroying our most precious labour laws.”
“The international community needs to unite to support Lula’s re-election as president. We need to support the downfall of Bolsonaro, but not only this; we need to support taking those who destroyed Brazilian democracy and supported Bolsonaro into justice.”
The next speaker, broadcasting from India, was Varsha Gandikota-Nellutia, of the Progressive International. She said, that in the face of trans-nationally coordinated attacks and planetary crises, “the central project before us can only be one of socialist internationalism”.
“You look at the vaccine programme in England where you now have vaccines for children even as the rest of the world has yet to receive a single dose.”
“We can’t fix the health system in the UK first and then look to build a just health system for the rest of the world. The very conception of an internationalist health project has to take into account the fact that the UK holds and steals technology and wealth from the Global South and has been doing so for years.”
Bhaskar Sankara, the former editor of Jacobin magazine, president of The Nation and former vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, was next to join the rally. Sounding an optimistic and hopeful note, Sankara said “the last 150 years hasn’t been a history of defeat; it’s been a history of qualified victory.”
Pointing to the recent success of Amazon workers in establishing a union – a development he argued was one of the most significant in the US labour movement since the 1930s – he said, “they were able to take on one of the biggest companies in the world simply through organising their co-workers, through talking with them, through showing them that they knew more about their lives and their struggles than their managers or this giant corporation that promised them the world.”
“It’s a reminder that as bleak as things seem, the contradiction between labour and capital will never go away.”
The next speakers, Txema Guijarro, General Secretary of Spain’s Podemos parliamentary group, continued the anti-war thread of the meeting. He warned that increasing militarism and a lurch to the right is one of the main barriers our international movement faces.
“The unfolding of a progressive agenda is the only weapon we have to face the rise of fascism that we are seeing in Spain.”
“The situation is critical; I believe that international solidarity is more necessary than maybe it has been before.”
“It’s time once more to unite, to call for the working class globally to resist, recuperate our socialistic rhetoric, objective and goals, to recall the people living under that class struggle and that therefore we are asking that there should not be war among peoples, but amongst classes – class struggle.”
“No paeseran comrades!”
The former Ecuadorian foreign minister, Guillaume long, likewise rejected the militarism engulfing Europe, and argued instead for a new non-aligned movement to resist the “new Cold War” being waged by the US.
“We need to put issues back on the table that are non-aligned – that do not belong to this Manichean idea of two sides of the world fighting each other.”
“I think it is a tasks for activists and for internationalist to refuse this New Cold war that is being imposed on us. It’s very important for us to normalise this notion of non-alignment, and encourage also the politics of regionalism and the surge of regional organisation in the Global South. These regional expressions of a coalition of states are also a way of creating a more multi-polar world.”
In her contribution, the next speaker, Diane Abbott, highlighted the importance of defending migrants and refugees.
She said, “we are seeing right-wing governments around the world using migration and immigration as issues to divide working people’ and quoted the late, great Tony Benn – ‘We should always watch how politicians treat refugees because that’s how they’d treat the rest of us if they could get away with it”.
Criticising the inhuman announcement that asylum claimants will now be deported and processed in Rwanda, she said “This Government is adopting a ‘send them back policy’”.
“Sadly there are some people on the left who refuse to see how an injury to one is an injury to all on migration. We need to see that standing up for migrants is important for standing up for all of us.”
“Internationalism and solidarity are not just buzzwords; they must be our practical policies. Only in that way will we support the human rights of workers around the world and only in that way will we move forward as a British labour movement.”
The Chair of Young labour, Jess Barnard, was the next to take the floor. Pointing to the hypocrisy of ministers’ approach to the covid crisis, she said, “we know millions of us clapped on our doorsteps for these workers in acknowledgement of their courage and their labour, but it feels like we’ve come a long way from that now in a country where the cost of living is skyrocketing and our government is refusing to pay workers a real living wage.”
“It’s so important that we pledge not only to stand shoulder to shoulder with workers but to put our words into action – so, if workers are organising against hostile employers we need to be out there supporting them; if workers are taking industrial action or joining national campaigns, we need to be out there on the picket line standing with them.”
The penultimate speaker, Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the Baker’s and allied Food Workers Union, likewise insisted on the importance of standing together: “it seems like we’ve turned a corner and so many workers have got the confidence to say, ‘we’re not having it anymore’ and demanding better.”
“The more that we come together the more powerful we are, and I don’t just mean standing on a platform, I mean actually putting that into practice – meeting as trade unions, strategising together and getting feet on the ground.”
Enjoining people to join a trade union, she concluded, “we all deserve a decent life. No one’s going to do that for us, we need to get organised and do it ourselves.”
The final speaker, Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East and Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group, insisted on the importance of socialists joining people in struggle wherever they are fighting.
“Politics and democracy isn’t just about general elections – the ballot box and parliamentary elections are a crucial part of democracy but so is industrial action, so is strike action, so is protest action, so is direct action.”
“As socialists and trade unionists, we need to understand that the place of socialists is in every single struggle, whether that struggle be in parliament, in electoral politics, or on the picket line, the industrial dispute, or at the protest.”
“If we don’t support workers in struggle, all we’re doing is bemoaning the current parlous state of affairs, identifying what’s wrong, but not supporting those who wish to do something about it.”
As is fitting for May Day, he concluded: “So we’ve all got a job to do. It’s the moral responsibility of us all to build the biggest fighting trade union movement possible.”