Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A most abysmal May Day

May 1st is International Workers Day. It started in honour of the Haymarket Martyrs - the anarchists framed and murdered by the state whilst fighting for the 8 hour day. This year, it was a day for inspirational struggle against austerity and oppression around the globe. Except in Liverpool, it seems, where what actually happened was beyond abysmal.

Photo credit: David J Colbran
Firstly, it should be noted that May Day in Liverpool is often shit and I am judging this one against an already incredibly low standard. The formula is pretty much the same every year - Merseyside Trades Council organise an A to B march, nodding obediently as the police give them the route that will cause next to no disruption, invite a bunch of useless bureaucrats to give droning speeches, then fail to publicise the event at all so that hardly anyone turns up.

There have been attempts to break out of this formula in the past. The anarchist-organised Merseyside May Day Festival in 2010 was very successful. There was a full day of festivities for people to enjoy, even as the organisers of the TUC march reneged on their promise to lead workers to the festival and instead decided to beg for votes for Labour councillor and now-chief-cuts-maker Joe Anderson. However, the sheer amount of time and effort that organising the event required, combined with the limited resources of the organisers meant that it hasn't been repeated.

Last year, a number of activists from UK Uncut called for people to breakaway at the end of the march in order to take direct action. This led to Socialist Party members demanding to know where they were in the 80s and trying to get them arrested, as well as Socialist Workers Party members denouncing the whole thing as "factionalist." As ever, the young and angry - looking to actually do something rather than pontificate about it - were marginalised.

This year, that didn't happen. There have been enough fights with officialdom over the past twelve months that most of those who have become active since the crisis erupted know which side their bread is buttered, to the point that the anarchists aren't always the most cynical about the officials at the moment. The Trots and the union tops aren't so much marginalising the radical end of the movement any more as occasionally showing up to embarrass us - whilst we continue to get on with taking direct action at every opportunity. Which is why, if there is an event at the start of May in Liverpool which epitomises the spirit of International Workers Day it will be the direct action against workfare by Solidarity Federation and UK Uncut this Saturday.

Of course, the official movement does realise this to a degree, and does try to harness that militancy for its own ends. But most militants don't like being put in a harness, and it isn't hard to see that even direct action takes on a totally different meaning with the bureaucracy in charge. A case in point being last Saturday's workfare walk of shame - absent nearly all anarchists because we were busy with anti-fascist activity, it lasted a grand sum of an hour and a half, visited just three shops (with the police warned which in advance) and failed to stop trade in any of them.

Returning to the May Day march, the turnout might have topped a hundred. However, most of this number was not down to any effective building on the part of the TUC but because I had set up a Facebook event through the Liverpool Solfed page. The biggest contingent on the march were anarchists, anti-fascists and other radicals, whilst the trade unions were notable by their absence.

The march was due to kick off at Derby Square at 5pm, but was re-directed to the Town Hall on police orders thanks to the fascist shenanigans earlier in the day. Not to mention Merseyside TUC's puppet-like compliance with the police. There, we were told that a Section 60 AA was in force, and all of the youth were ordered to remove their masks. This was beyond ridiculous, of course, but no doubt down to the trouble caused by the far-right being used as an excuse for the police to throw their weight around more generally.

As the march began, the Irish Republican group Cairde na h√Čireann joined the anarchists and anti-fascists in a bloc at the front. It wasn't difficult to dominate the body of the march given its small size. The TUC did try to assert control by sticking their banner in front of ours, but it was clear who had the power when they had to halt because most of the marchers had rushed to the aid of a young activist being confronted by police. As soon as they let him go, with a threat to arrest him if his mask went back up, a "cheer for our young people" drowned out the police before we left them behind. The march continued once its anarchist bulk was back in place.

The march itself was dull as arseholes. Bar a brief jaunt through the main bus station, it went nowhere visible. Radical chants quickly died out, whilst the bureaucrats at the front were pretty much chanting to themselves. When we reached the rally point, most people milled about wondering what to do, eventually choosing between the pub and home. Next to nobody actually bothered to listed to Tony Mulhearn drone on about the 1980s, and the only positive was that the platform was one speaker short.

There is a desperate need for a radical alternative to the TUC march to be organised next year. It is nothing short of an embarrasment, especially given all of the militant action being taken in the city and around the world at present. Not to mention that May Day exists in honour of anarchists, and to let it curdle in the hands of the useless eaters of the labour movement is almost a sin.

This year, I urge everyone in Liverpool to come along to the action against workfare on Saturday. It will be the closest we'll get to a real May Day event. Next year, if we are not able to offer up an alternative to this dreary ritual, then we must be honest about what it really is - and bring a crucifix.