May Day march highlights the necessity of trade unions in today's challenging work environment
Transport workers striking for better pay and conditions, picketing Piccadilly train station, joined the Manchester May Day Festival. The colourful banners, held aloft by proud union members who marched from St Peters Square through the city to Sackville Gardens on Sunday, for the May Day Festival, reflected in their designs not only working class champions of the past but modern and on-going struggles for workers’ rights and equality in today’s society. One such banner was held aloft by the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) union whose members are currently in an ongoing dispute with TransPennine Express (TPE) over pay. A RMT union member who attended the march (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of disciplinary action by his employers) explained. “Currently we don’t get any payment for scanning tickets even though we work alongside Northern where they get 2p per scan. The RMT plans further strike actions running into June if the dispute cannot be resolved. “Overall the strike is very well supported and there are big picket lines at our depots: Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Airport, York, Scarborough, Newcastle, Glasgow, Preston, Liverpool, Sheffield, Cleethorpes and Hull. “The union is currently in exploratory talks with the company but the action will remain active until we get an acceptable concrete deal. The May Day Festival in Manchester was part of the International Workers Day celebrations, observed in over 80 countries across the world, that take around the 1 May each year.
As John Morgan, President of the Manchester Trades Union Council (MTUC), puts it. “There are many reasons why trade Unions are relevant in the modern work environment but two major reasons stand out. Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that the workplace is still too dangerous for many employees. The Trafford based CHEPS dispute ended on 27 April with an Inflation-beating 14% pay package increase agreed, while the Retail Price Index of inflation stood at 9% in March. “Solidarity gives these workers strength that they don’t have as individuals and helps prevent exploitation,“ Morgan said. Manchester has been at the forefront of union formation and recognition with the national TUC being formed in 1868 at the Mechanics Institute, on Princess Street, following a meeting between the Manchester and Salford Trades Councils. “As a TU officer in the public sector, I know how important input from trade unions remains in Manchester, especially in, but not limited to, the public sector. The TUC has supported the current RMT dispute with publicity involving union branches on social media, organisation of rallies on their behalf, attending their picket lines and generally trying to emphasise to them that they are not fighting alone. With the controversial policing bill, which criminalises elements of protest and marches, soon to become part of UK law after it was voted in by MPs in the commons, Morgan has concern for future marches and demonstrations that may face a restricted or uncertain future.
“This is a real worry! The decision, to ban or not, will be made by individual police officers. When Sundays march finally made its way to Sackville gardens via Canal street the supporters had reached several hundred in number and a relaxed atmosphere ensued. Cookie had composed a poem dedicated to the MTUC which was well received, while Bev Craig confided to the crowd that on first arriving in Manchester she had little knowledge of the trade union movement. The attendees included members of the Manchester Young Communist league, Trans equality supporters and members of the UK Branch of the KKE (Communist party of Greece) as well as the major trade union regional branches. The festival emphasised the important role trade unions have in today’s world, striving not only to promote workers collective representation, but also performing a wider role in fighting for social equality and the improvement of people’s lives beyond the workplace. To those that dismiss the trade union movement as “dinosaurs of the past” and not relevant in the modern world one is put in mind of the words from Martin Niemöller’s poem, First They Came. “…Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist…Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. To learn more about trade unions and union membership – click here
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