May Day Scotland
Britain is for the rich, May Day is for the people
May Day is celebrated the world over as a day to remember and take forward the struggle of working people, living in a system pitched against them. The original May Day demand, now over 120 years ago, was for an international 8 hour day. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States went on strike in the first May Day celebration in history. Since then May Day has witnessed demonstrations, mass meetings and international workers mobilisations.
In the UK, May Day underwent a brief post Thatcher revival as the rising anti-globalisation movement of the lat 90s, sought to re-energise the radical traditions of May 1st. But the truth is that the May Day events today don’t always feel like moments of inspiration and refreshment, more of ritual and what might have been. It is a good day out, and important, but the beer flows more than any sense of genuine purpose.
In part of course, this malaise exists because there is not much for workers to celebrate. The cost of living is rising, conditions of work are worsening. The new generation of workers are facing an era of austerity, privatisation and of being less wealthy than their parents. Zero hours contracts, monotonous retail based work, low unionisation in the private sector, workfare. The list goes on.
And despite the ruthlessness with which Westminster has unleashed its attack on working people, and its divisive methods of demonisation and alienation, we have not seen the necessary opposition to it. There is no real opposition at Westminster. The cuts supporting, privatisation endorsing Labour party has made sure of that. And to top it all Labour, instead of rewarding the relative loyalty of the unions whose members they have run rough shod over for so long, is sticking the boot in further, formally distancing themselves from the unions who formed the party in the first place.
But, this May Day, the progressive movement in Scotland can feel far more upbeat than we have done in previous years. This year, a movement, crackling with ideas, innovation and talent is sweeping the country. The independence movement, because it is by its nature forward looking, is encouraging people to think about the possibility of a different future, outside of the neoliberal grip of Westminster failure. We have a vote to win, and a platform to redevelop a movement of credible progressive ideas that say neoliberalism is not the only way. This referendum has signalled a rebirth left wing values which can connect with the mass of the population.
What makes this especially exciting is the nature of forces involved, and equally, the forces which have chosen to separate themselves off from this rising tide of solidarity and boldness.
The excitement bound up in the independence movement is nation wide. Activists are mobilising on a grass roots basis to re-engage communities who have been deliberately carved out of the political process for years. Public meetings are over flowing, and our sense of direction is back. No more confusion, no more looking back in anger. Instead we are a movement determined to reverse decades of defeat and neoliberalism. Look at this movement: young but learning from experience, outspoken but not without strategic thinking, often frail financially, but burgeoning with ideas. And like all historic movements, this is an educational one, and one which learns from mistakes.
Nothing is off limits, from debating local democracy to discussing land ownership. The atmosphere generated by the sea of ideas is vibrant, but it is also historic in scale and reach. To top it all the establishment and the No campaign don’t quite know how to handle it. The usual tricks, the promotion of fear and division seem blunted when confronted by a confident movement of movements.
Meanwhile the Labour Party and elements of the trade union hierarchy have played a cynical, stifling role in the name of some false ‘unity’. False because the British state by its nature is divisive. False because their talk of ‘solidarity’ is never matched with any action. False, yet again, because Labour are not offering an alternative. That is why they fear our alternative movement that is rising because they know they cannot match it. Can the Labour party mobilise 100 people to Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel, and deliver a message of genuine hope and ambition like the Radical Independence Campaign has? Can they hold hundreds of meetings discussing openly the positive message of real social change like Yes campaigners are doing? And what about the number and diversity of the groups involved and dynamically engaged in not just a vote, but a process of social change.
Hope is being resurrected after years of downturn and betrayal. And throughout this process, win or lose, Labour has positioned itself to reap the worst of both worlds. Their reliance on the corporate argument for the union, means that even in the conditions of a No vote, the resentment that will follow after the shock of the tidal wave of cuts still to hit, will focus on the Labour leadership.
There is a rich history of rebellion and solidarity in Scotland. But this history is only meaningful if it inspires the present. It is indisputable that the inspiration provided by the great figures, moments and movements of our past is best encapsulated by the movement for independence. Whether it is the poll tax rebellion against Thatcherism or the anti-war movement in 2003, it is the Yes camp who are on the right side of history.
Inspired by the past, and determined to fight for a vision of a future de-linked from empire and economic elitism, we can drive forward not back. Next May Day, in an independent Scotland, we will face an altogether different situation. Instead of being on the retreat, looking over our back at Westminster and commiserating each other over the failure of the Labour party in the pub after the rally, the movement can get on the front foot. About time too.
Time to dust off the cobwebs. Our May Day is more than a ritual. Our collective project for a better future for working people cannot be realised in the confines of Labourism, or the parameters of the Westminster parliament. We need to get out there and win this and in doing so win a future where people come before the corporations and hedge funds. The best traditions of our rebellious past will approve.