Sunday, 27 March 2011

Revolting for 40 years

40 year’s separate the Kill the Bill demonstration against the Industrial Relations Act bought in by the then Tory Government of Edward Heath and the demonstration against the cuts held in London last Saturday. I was on both of them and it is interesting to reflect now in my 50s and as a 15-year-old the great gulf that divides these two events.

 There are similarities as about the same number of around 300,000 were on both marches and Hyde Park featured in both marches. When I marched through London last weekend I could not one major and telling difference- the music. In the 70s most Trade Unions would have had their brass bands. My fathers union the POEU definitely did. And I recall as we marched through the West End fellow three floors up dressed in a dinner jacket conducting the brass band below him. There were many cheers at this. The only sound that was heard was incessant drums and whistles which reached a crescendo outside Downing St. The demise of the union brass band reflects the decline in the trade union movement which was approaching its high water mark in the 70s with a membership of 11 million. It is barely half that figure today.

Another indicator of the changes was the absence of trade union banners. I did see an old ASLEF (Doncaster) branch which must have dated from the 50s, but the magnificent works of art especially from the Miners Union- for obvious reasons- were absent from the demonstration last Saturday. A report of the 71 march recalls the names of the unions that took part that Sunday, the boilermakers, engineers, miners, shipbuilders, and steelmakers. We lined up to start the march in Hyde Park and the POEU found itself close to the actor’s union Equity. I have a photograph union as some of the acting fraternity stood chatting to each other including Robert Morley, Marius Goring and Alfie Bass. The cult of personality was evident then.

But the main difference between the 1971 and the 2011 was the dominance of the public sector unions. I would estimate that there were only public service union banners on display last Saturday although someone told me that they had seen my union USDAW banner on the march.

The General Secretary of the Trade Union Movement that day in 1971 was Vic Feather an affable Yorkshire. I recall him being heckled by the Spartacists. There was no violence back in 1971 but I cannot help but think that the largely middle class memberships of the Spartacists were mirrored by the anarchists that caused mayhem in Oxford St last weekend. I can safely bet that many of the Trotskyists who gave the working class Feather a hard time went on to have successful careers in the City and advertising. One of the leading Trots at York University had a father who had a senior position in Barclays. The son was jailed for throwing a petrol bomb in the Brixton Riots in 1981.

I have been on many demonstrations in those 40 years. I was at the big CND demonstration against Cruise in 1983. I went on a number of the march for jobs in the early 80s. I supported the ANC in the same decade and I went on the anti war march in 2003.

I think such events can change things and I am equally sure that direct action has its place. Both marches went by the National Gallery. About 100 years ago a supporter of the Suffragettes attacked a painting by the Spanish artist Velaquez the Rookeby Venus. Do people think that the Suffragettes cause was not helped by taking the fight to the Government? I rest my case