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Belfast May Day Rally

A higher turnout, but a weak political message

2 May 2023

Mick Lynch addresses the Belfast May Day rally.

The high point of Belfast's May Day rally on the 29th of April was a larger turnout of trade unionists and applause on the streets showing broad public sympathy. The turnout was larger than normal, but at a few thousand, far from the mass turnout needed to impress the Tories. The overall march slogan, the utterly meaningless Workers Demand Better, did not help.

The low point of the rally was a speech by Patricia McKeown of Unison.

Patricia said that 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement had been 25 years of cuts and austerity for the workers. But, not to worry, the power of the trade unions would make everything right. The answer was another 25 years of the agreement.  A bizarre moment came when, to cheers from the crowd, Patricia called on Jeffrey (Donaldson) of the DUP to do his job - a reworking of the constant calls from the trade union leadership for the return of the local administration.  Not only does this ideology fly in the face of experience - when has the local assembly taken any steps to improve the lot of workers?  It sets the union leaders up for another huge sellout.

In the 2015 Fresh Start agreement the restoration of Stormont was tied in to a massive austerity programme. Union leaders decided to accept this as the price of a new local assembly.   All the signs are that the British secretary of state is lining up a new austerity programme around water, transport and prescription charges. On past form union
leaders would also accept this as the price of the magic dust of local politicians to lobby.

Mick Lynch of the RMT added a note of colour and emotion with his call for class struggle and defence of socialism. Unfortunately, his strategy advanced by left unions generally, was for unity.  We have to unite with union leaders who sign up with the bosses. That unity extends to politics. We unite against the far right, which in practice means uniting behind Starmer.

Belfast's May Day saw an uptick in militancy and class struggle.  We have a long way to go before we undertake the task of building a class struggle movement in the unions and working-class parties in both Britain and Ireland.

The march in Dublin was small, a few hundred at most with the largest delegation from the Unite trade union.  One of the biggest banners on the march was a trans pride banner.  The speakers had little to say, mentioning but providing no answers on issues such as housing.  Mick O’ Reilly spoke at the rally and made a plea for peace in the war in Ukraine.  He said that peace activists don’t support Putin but that they shouldn’t remain silent on torch led marches in Ukraine to commemorate fascists.  This he said had to be done, not because they were taking sides in the war but because such marches were wrong in and of themselves.  He was heckled by some former leftists who have thrown their lot in with Ukrainian nationalism.

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