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International Workers Day marked with rally and march

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International Workers Day or May Day was celebrated in Stroud on Saturday by the newly reformed Stroud & District Trades Council.

A rally took place in Bank Gardens featuring speeches from representatives of different trade unions and community groups, including Dave Chappel, the chair of the South West Trades Council, followed by a march around the town centre – led by the Stroud Red Band.

Bob Blenkinsop, President of Stroud and District Trades Council opened the event, highlighting that the Trades Council – having had a long lapse – “has reformed last year and is now very active within the trade union and workers community”.

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Among the trade union representatives speaking at the rally was Andy Hudd, Vice President of the ASLEF union which represents train drivers and other railway workers has been taking strike action and banning overtime ‘to get train drivers, who have now not had a pay rise for five years, since April 2019, the salary increase they deserve.’

Hudd said: “I believe that the only way that we can change terms and conditions and workers rights in this country is through trade union activism,” before highlighting a number of victories trade unions had won recently. These included the RMT union stopping ticket office closures as well as protecting rail workers from redundancies and changes to their terms and conditions, the GMB union winning pay rises for outsourced cleaners and caterers, and the bakers union winning a pay rise of more than 15 per cent with Greggs. 

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Hannah David, Chair of the South West Trades Union Congress and the Vice Chair of the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) Union also spoke. She highlighted members of the PCS currently on strike at Liverpool Museums which – like other cultural and heritages services across the country is facing huge cuts – linking this to the wider impact cuts on public services.

Hannah David said: “We’ve seen the NHS, schools, civil service workplaces, public transport are all being destroyed, and we need to make sure that we’re not standing idly by. We’re out voting, we’re taking part in events like today, we’re making our voice heard. Because there’s more money out there than ever, there’s more billionaires than ever. It’s not that [the money’s] not there, it’s that we live in an unfair society – and the only people that are going to stand up and make it fair, the only people that are defending us – are us and each other and our communities, the people here today.”

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Emma Calcutt from Stroud Against Racism spoke about the origins of International Workers Day in demands from Australian stonemasons for shorter working hours, and strikes for a maximum eight-hour working day in Chicago. May Day emerged as an event marked annually by the workers movement in 1891 after some workers involved these strikes were executed. Emma said: “As a community we support and stand in solidarity with each other to ensure that we all get a fair share, not just a privileged few… When we stand together, we can break down systems of oppression that hurt vulnerable and marginalised members of our community, and we can instead celebrate the diversity we have here in Stroud.” 

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Caroline Molloy spoke on behalf of Community Solidarity Stroud District (CSSD) at the rally. Her speech explored the meaning of solidarity – as “standing alongside one another, and saying ‘hands off my friend’, both in the workplace, and beyond the workplace – in our communities, and internationally.” She spoke about the work CSSD has done to expose and challenge far-right organising locally, including the recent attempt by a group called Project Libertas to hold two Nazi Meetings marking Hitler’s birthday and promoting a notorious antisemitic conspiracy theory. 

The rally was closed by Hannah David who said: “Like summer we rise and shine, our movement never dies, we keep the solidarity going. So, let’s follow the Red Band into town, let’s make some noise, and have some fun!”

Performances by the Red Band included There Is Power In A Union, The Internationale, and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

Pictures by James Beecher

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