Speeches and class war

Alan Stevens reports from this year's May Day march in London

As usual, the largest contingent on the London May Day demonstration was made up of various Turkish and Kurdish groups and, again as usual for a working day, overall numbers were very poor - at best a couple of thousand.

There were a dozen or so union banners, some with a contingent that was just big enough to support both poles. Then there were the comrades of the myriad groups of the revolutionary left - plus some 30-40 anarchists, half of whom sported fetching black scarves which covered their lower face.

But they had not come to take on the forces of the state - the police photographers snapped away at all the contingents and banners, not just the young anarchists. No, they had come to disrupt the closing rally when the marchers arrived in Trafalgar Square after the walk from Clerkenwell Green.

They gathered in the area immediately in front of the stage, which was supposed to be for union banners and photographers, blew their whistles and shouted "Class war!" in an attempt to drown out the speakers. They then decided to burn a poster - which caused some interest on the part of the police. After a while their stamina waned - they went quiet and eventually dispersed and drifted off.

As for the rally itself, there were just seven speakers - all trade union functionaries apart from Tony Benn - a much more manageable number than the overkill of endless speakers at Stop the War Coalition events.

Introduced by rally chair Anita Halpin, TUC president Alison Shepherd reminded us that all the wealth we saw around us had been created by workers. We "celebrate" those who travel the world looking for work (migrant workers), we commemorate the abolition of slavery and remember those "forced to work against their will". We also "speak up for those trying to set up a proper union movement in Iraq" (aided by those nice occupation troops?). She ended with a silly appeal to Blair for justice, equality and respect - I am sure Blair would be happy to mouth such platitudes.

Anyway, her speech seemed to inspire comrade Halpin, an officer of the South East Regional TUC and a member of the Communist Party of Britain: "One word sums this up," she said: "solidarity."

Sertuc secretary Megan Dobney warned against the electoral threat of the BNP - "they only need 5% to get a seat". In Barking and Dagenham they are the official opposition - this must not happen in the capital as a whole. London is, after all, the most diverse city in world.

I must admit I missed most of the speech delivered by a Turkish trade unionist - our young anarchist friends were in full voice at this point and this demonstration of how to conduct the "class war" almost ended in a fight with one of the stewards.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear made one of the better speeches. In particular he praised PCSU workers who were on strike that day (although the demonstration was not exactly overflowing with them). He called for the repeal of the anti-trade union laws - the Trade Union Freedom Bill sponsored by John McDonnell is "just a start".

By the time Tony Benn spoke the anarchists had worn themselves out and were no longer a problem for those trying to listen. Comrade Benn pledged his "100% support to the PCS strikers" and also saluted "the birth of a new international unionism" that was promised by the merger of TGWU and Amicus into the two-million-strong Unite, symbolically launched on May 1. Unite is seeking a link-up with the United Steelworkers of the USA and Canada, along with other unions in Europe. "We need a global trade union movement," declared Benn.

He went on to list a series of demands, including "absolute withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan", the "withdrawal of all Israelis from Palestine", "an end to all privatisation", "no student debt" and "trade union rights entrenched in law".

Mark Serwotka ended the rally with a weak speech full of plaintive appeals. He thought it was "a disgrace that the Labour government is turning on its own public servants". If there was no money for decent pay, "What about the billions for Trident and war?"

Labour should "change course, stop privatising and stop cutting services". PCSU members have said loud and clear they have had enough, but they have "a message for every other union - we are stronger together than fighting separately: if all public service workers stand together, the government will have to listen."

He ended with a proposal for a national demonstration - "Let's hope next time there will be hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in Trafalgar Square".

Tehran report

Workers managed to intervene in the 'official' demonstration and gatherings of May 1 in Tehran. They also organised their own independent demonstrations after the official gatherings.

'Pro-reformist' speakers were booed and met with slogans such as 'incompetent minister, resign! resign!'

'Government, parliament stop your slogans, act!' 'End  contract work', 'decent wage!'

Many teachers and student activists joined the protests. Security forces tried to stop the protests but they were faced with workers who shouted: 'death to the supporters of capitalists'. In the ensuing street battles stopped traffic in Taleghani Avenue, one of the main streets in central Tehran. As the protests moved to adjacent streets at around 11am civilian and military security forces intervened to arrest known labour activists.

Mansour Ossanlou (president of the Tehran Vahed bus workers) was arrested. He was released after protests and  interventions by demonstrators and passers by. Yagoub Salimi of the Vahed bus company union was also arrested and is currently in custody. Subsequently 30 busworkers staged a sit in outside Tehran prosecutor's office demanding the release of their fellow worker.