Around two hundred made their way through Bootle on one of two May Day marches and rallies taking place on Merseyside today. While the numbers were noticeably smaller than on the Stand Up in Bootle launch event at the end of February, the moving speeches from working class people outside the town’s one stop shop will perhaps last longer in the memory.
The crowd gathered outside Bootle town hall on Oriel Road at noon before marching for some three quarters of an hour through the area, centring on The Strand. The atmosphere was far less celebratory than back in February – something not helped by the rather sombre choice of music coming from the ‘battle bus’. However, chants of ‘they say cutback – we say fightback’ and ‘axe the bedroom tax’ were raised, winning widespread support from shoppers, people smoking outside Hugh Baird college, and those waiting at bus stops. Cars horns sounded almost continuously, and more than a few people who’d never previously heard of Stand Up in Bootle were persuaded to join the march when they spotted friends.
It say a lot about the times we are living through that two reasonably sized marches were held within four miles of each other today. But in all likelihood few were particularly torn over which to attend. The Bootle May Day was not a ritualistic repetition of lefty cliches about solidarity from class collaboratoan, like Liverpool May Days have been for at least a decade. No – the placards were hand-made, and the passion was real.
The ‘rally’ section of the proceedings were often breathtaking – and I’ve never said that before. Everyone who spoke did so ‘from the heart’. Everyone was either directly in the personal struggle to survive Cameron’s Britain, or the political struggle against the bedroom tax and others of the countless attacks on working class living standards underway. But of course the personal is political – and it really felt like it. Many speakers were inexperienced, but they received great encouragement from those who had come to listen. There was a sense that this is an infant movement, we’re all a bit scared by some of the steps we find ourselves compelled to take, but we seriously are ‘all in it together’. People openly wept in anger at the brutalisation meted out to working class people far beyond the reach of the decayed trade union bureaucracy. A kind of instant comradeship existed between everyone present. In short, it was a small but stunning taste of what could be.
As the alienation of everyday life in neoliberal capitalism melted away, a teenage girl felt the confidence to give a beautiful rendition of Emeli Sandé‘s ‘Read All About It’, adopted as a Stand Up in Bootle anthem by her and a ‘backing group’ of activists off to the side. A young couple who had just happened upon the demo felt the confidence to tell us that they “couldn’t afford a proper meal”, and had experienced severe weight loss over the last few months, yet were very aware of being labelled “scroungers” by bloated politicians and the media. Another guy who’d been sacked for vomiting at work a few months back told of his twin battles with clinical depression and the Department for Work and Pensions. All received an outpouring of warm empathy from the crowd.
Hugely important and valuable though this kind of group catharsis is, if a working class movement is going to grow in Bootle, it will have to demonstrate that solidarity can improve people’s lives. And that won’t happen – as even march organiser Darren Procter admitted – with “poxy A to B marches”, no matter how amazing events at Point B are. Big plans seem to be in the works – a “Bootle general strike” was even mentioned at one point. If that happens, then Bootle will be setting the pace for the entire UK working class, and next May Day will be even more exciting.