Monday 2 May 2016

Aberdeen May Day - Collective action in the struggle against inequality and injustice around the world

Hundreds of trade unionists, community activists and politicians, four beds and three dogs joined the Aberdeen May Day March on Saturday 30th April, calling for workers' rights around the world.

It also called for the ARI Trauma Centre to stay open for the people of the North East of Scotland.

The march was led off once again by the uplifting beats of the Guarana Drummers, stopping at regular intervals to lead the marchers in a chant of “Save our NHS” – a reference to the campaign to save the trauma centre in the North East of Scotland.

Four UNISON members and activists representing  the Grampian Health branch had dressed up as beds to highlight the campaign to ensure that Aberdeen Royal Infirmary can keep its trauma centre for the people of the North East of Scotland.

Humphrey the basset hound brought health activist Sandra-Dee Masson on the march with him, where he was joined by two other politically active dogs!

Passersby once again stopped to watch and wave as the colourful procession of banners, placards and flags marched by on its exuberant way down the whole of Union Street to the rally in the Castlegate.

The rally began with a call by Tommy Campbell, on behalf of the off-shore unions, for a minute's silence for the victims of the Norwegian helicopter disaster, the worker killed on the new Forth Bridge and for all those who have lost their lives at their work in the past year.

Alan Robertson
The speakers brought a range of topics to the rally but the over-riding message was the central importance of collective action by ordinary people – by trade unions, community activists and politicians -  to fight the growing inequality and injustice in our society and around the world, wherever it raises its head. 

ATUC Vice-President, Alan Robertson, welcomed the marchers and thanked Aberdeen City Council for making the march possible.

Lewis Macdonald, Labour politician and consultative member of the ATUC, highlighted the threat to the trauma centre at the ARI. He reminded us that 25 years ago, the John Major Tory government made ARI the first Trust Hospital in Scotland.

Lewis Macdonald
“This was clearly with a view to privatisation,” said Lewis, and the Labour and trade union movement set up the People’s Hospital campaign to resist that threat.

“We saw off the threat of privatisation and reversed trust status at ARI at our earliest possible opportunity,” said Lewis.

He warned however that the biggest threat faced by the NHS in Aberdeen and Grampian today is the threat of closing the major trauma centre.

“The people who work in ARI, our unions and the general public are backing the campaign for a major trauma centre in ARI.

“We will fight just as hard now as we did in 1991 until we win that struggle,” promised Lewis,

Shelley Milne
Shelley Milne from Aberdeen Solidarity with Refugees gave a rousing speech pointing out that we should see refugees as people the same as us, with the same hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children, who through accident of birth have had to flee war, poverty and oppression.

Shelley said, “It is great to see the trade unions and community groups join together to fight inequality and for people’s rights wherever they are denied.

Collective action is the way forward whether we are fighting for the rights of refugees or against attacks on benefits and workers rights,” said Shelley, commending the day’s  positive energy.

“It’s refreshing to see people exercising their democratic rights here today,” she added, “Something denied to many others in this world.”

Amanda Murray
Amanda Murray from Aberdeen Anti-Fascist Alliance again warned us against complacency pointing out that the far right are fielding four candidates locally from UKIP and the National Front.

She called on us all to challenge the apparatus of intolerance, not just at election time but all year round.

“Every single one of us here are the alternative to hate, prejudice, cuts, persecution and oppression, in whatever form it takes,” said Amanda.

“We recognise that all oppression is linked and we can challenge it together.”

Councillor Lesley Dunbar brought greetings from Aberdeen City Council. She pointed to Aberdeen’s long history of trade unionism and reminded us that back in 1834, a group of young women went on strike at the Broadford Works following a 6pence cut in their wages.

Cllr Lesley Dunbar
“These brave early trade unionists associated together to fight the injustice of another pay cut from their wealthy profit driven employers,” said Lesley.

“Today our trade union movement continues its bold fight in the struggle to win its members justice for terms and conditions, pay and the rights to strike.”

She slammed the Trade Union Bill, “which will see us return to conditions similar to some of those faced by those women at the Broadford Works in 1834,” and called for the struggle to continue.

Munir El-Omar from Aberdeen Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign paid tribute to the work of the Aberdeen Trades Union Council in pushing for and defending workers rights.

Munir El-Omar
He reminded us of the horrors still facing the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation – the terrible onslaught on Gaza in 2014, and the rise in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

He condemned the Wood Group who make a profit out of the Ashkelon Power Plant which supports the illegal occupation by Israel. “Let the message be clear,” said Munir, “The tide is turning and they will be known for standing arm in arm with criminals and thieves.”

He called on us all to embrace the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign and told us that the movement is already having an effect. Last month G4S announced that they will end the contracts complicit in Israel’s abuse of child prisoners, because their reputation has been so damaged.

“This is socialism and internationalism,” said Munir. “It is only working people that are capable of wiping out injustice of this scale. No diplomat can negotiate this conflict away, no politician, no religious authority, not even an army.

“The only people that can turn this tide are working people all over the world.”

Martin McKay
Martin McKay from Grampian Health then spoke, highlighting again the need for a trauma centre in the North East of Scotland. He called on us all to think about what politicians are promising before we vote in the Scottish elections and to make sure that we are satisfied that they will deliver on these promises.

Tommy Campbell brought the rally to a close with two stirring and moving poems that he had written.  The first is “A Ploughman” written for a friend who retired last year but, said Tommy, it represents us  all when we carry the flags.

It is based on a quote from James Connolly who said, “The Irish people and workers will only be free when they own everything from the plough to the stars.”

A banner was then made called The Starry Plough, which is the flag of the Irish Socialists which originally belonged to James Connolly's Irish Citizens Army that was formed to protect the Dublin Tram workers from attacks by Police and scab strike breakers in 1913 and of course the ICA  played a prominent role in the 1916 Easter uprising.

A Ploughman

A head with furrowed brow
digging deep into your mind
sowing the seeds of good ideas
with a pierced stare
not to the ground
with shoulders limp to surrender
but  a straight tall  look
towards those stars
that found their way onto our Flag
it waves and flutters along
held high by the Citizens
putting right what's wrong
those  clasped hands
gripping and strong
as you plough forever onwards.

Tommy Campbell
20th March 2015

Written in honour of recently retired Unite Officer,  Jim Quinn, Irish Socialist and Trade Union Organiser.

The second poem was written by Tommy as a tribute to Jimmy Brown who introduced him to the Trade Union and Labour Movement in Fermanagh and beyond. The description of a “Delightful Subversive” comes from Marian Hyndman, the author of a book about protestant workers in Northern Ireland, who interviewed Jim about his life and struggles in rural Fermanagh.

A banner has since been created in his honour and can be seen here.

Tommy dedicated the poem to all the “delightful subversives” on the march today who continue to fight for the rights of ordinary people.

 A Delightful Subversive

Smiling eyes shine their light on a life
full of struggle and strife
no Leprechauns or fairy tales in his book
just stories that stretched our minds
and lifted us from our behinds
to stand tall with him
as he looked us straight in the eye
that Giant born from amongst
the real little people.

Thomas Campbell  (UNITE RIO - Aberdeen)