May Day

The London Marathon, and then May Day.  In the big city, it’s certainly easier to be at happenings.

We decided to get to the great rally, because an email had given me the impression that it was going to be focused this year on a human rights campaign called #TruthForGiulio.  Such were the numbers flowing toward Trafalgar Square that buses had to stop many blocks away and let their passengers walk.  We encountered the march, which had started from Clerkenwell; followed it along the Strand.  As you can see, it was colorful and the dominant color was red.

May Day march in the Strand

Yes, as you probably know, May Day is also International Workers’ Day .  Though there were contingents of Tibetans and Kurds

MayDayMarchStrandTurkKurd and others with lost rights to demand, most were trade unions or branches of the communist party.  A leaflet they handed to me, pointing out that the current woes of Britain’s proud health service are due to the return of the profit motive, was rather convincing in light of recent financial scandals.

We took a short cut to the Square and so were there early enough to be right at the front, so I’m afraid you don’t see the crowd behind us, said to be record-breaking.

May Day rally in Trafalgar Square

You can really see only marshals, possibly the speaker – and one of the two massive and impassive lions, on which I remember perching at some earlier gathering.

A very small part of the crowd was the Amnesty International contingent.  I saw Shane Enright taking their photo, and he’s let me use it.

Amnesty International at May Day rally

Shane is Amnesty’s Community Organiser (Unions and Workplaces)  and Global Trade Union Adviser.  And here is his photo of Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Council.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of TUC

Which reminds me (forgive the digression) of Kipling’s

The Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skins

which you could consider egalitarian- and feminist-leaning.

The fate of Giulio Regeni was not the general theme of the May Day rally, though it was mentioned by some of the speakers.


An Italian aged 28, Giulio had been in Britain for ten years and was a graduate student at Cambridge University.  He went to Egypt for fieldwork for his doctoral research on independent trade unions, and on February 3 his half-naked body was found in a ditch on the outskirts of Cairo.  He had been tortured to death with an incredible number of savage blows, cuts, and burns.

Authorities tried to blame it on a gang, but it turned out Giulio had been seen in police custody.  Because of Italian investigators, a worldwide petition by academics, a vote of condemnation by the European Parliament, Amnesty’s campaign, and pressure on the U.K. government to do more, Giulio’s case sheds a spotlight on the many such disappearances of ordinary Egyptians each month.  So much for the “Arab Spring” that removed dictator Hosni Mubarak.  The miitary is back in repressive power, and it crushes dissent whether from the Islamist or the socialist direction.


6 thoughts on “May Day”

  1. I think the term “worker” is demeaning, producing an image of a helpless second rate citizen, or an animal such as a worker bee. I prefer employee to worker. The term “employee” is more dignified and suggests that the person has skills that are employed in return for wages.

    Profit is the motive behind capitalism. Competition to make a better product at a cheaper price is responsible for our improved standard of living. Capitalism does have its flaws, but communism has never worked .

    1. However, “worker” is the term preferred by those it applies to, including such union members as teachers and nurses. I don’t think “Employees of the world, unite!” would have much resonance. And “Labour” is just a Latin-derived synonym for “work”, but it is the term chosen by the socialist (or originally socialist) party in Britain.

      I need to learn more about socialism and communism myself, since they are quite elaborate theories, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about (and may decline to get into further argument): but I believe a socialist would say that things necessary to the well-being of society as a whole, such as health care, railways, prisons, should be governmed by society as a whole, rather than by profit-makers. Profit, certainly, is much of the incentive behind the development of the means used, such as pharmaceuticals. I don’t think communism has ever really been tried; Soviet Russia was not communist, it was almost the opposite, an authoritarian oligarchy.

      1. Not all socialism is Marxist, but understanding Marx is the best possible starting point. And the best introduction I know of is the comic book (yes, seriously), “Marx for Beginners” by Rius.

        I think that Marx’ biggest conceptual failure was that he believed that the Earth’s natural resources were effectively inexhaustible — clearly, this is not the case. But Marxist dialectical materialism is a great tool for understanding history, economy, and politics. And the younger Marx’ work on alienation, and his vision of a non-alienated society, is really quite poetic.

        As for the semantics of “worker” vs. “employee”, I don’t think it’s helpful to overgeneralize. A highly skilled worker with advanced education, specialized knowledge, a professional license, etc., who does a job that requires a great deal of independent judgment and that cannot be automated, in an advanced economy with robust legal protections may have a lot of bargaining power and be well thought of as an employee. Somebody sewing shirts in a Vietnamese factory is a worker.

        And some new-age capitalists are trying to euphemize even the term “employee”. E.g., Whole Foods Markets here in the US calls their workers “associates.”

        And anybody who goes to a May Day march in a big city and expects it to be focused on one issue clearly hasn’t been to too many previously!

  2. Al-Sisi is concerned at the development of a new militancy among Egyptian workers. It was the oil-workers’ strikes in 2010 that precipitated the uprising in February of 2011 that overthrew the 30-year Mubarak dictatorship. Hence the barbaric torture and killing of Giulio.

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