‘You will NOT be working tomorrow on Workers’ Day,’ said our freeholder last night at our quarterly meeting of the block management committee.
[It’s a minor point that I chair the meetings and run the account and send out all the paperwork].
‘No, sir,’ said Partner doffing his cap and touching his forehead. Well, he might as well have done.
In fact, he had been planning to do some more work on the front doors of our block that he is currently repainting, because, bank holidays and weekends are a good time to do that sort of work as less people go in and out of the block.
But once, he’d given his word, that was that. So, no work today.
Back in a previous life, May Day, or rather the first Saturday in May, was a big event in my town. The May procession would come past our gates and at the sound of the noise, I would run up the drive to stand and watch the floats, the horses, the newly crowned May Queen, last year’s May Queen and everything else.
In the 1960s and 1970s it was a big event, and took at least half an hour. Not only did we see the procession on its first parade out into the world, for some reason it also came back our way, so we got two bites of the cherry.
It started in the early afternoon (I think) and came back a few hours later. My parents were out at work but sometimes, depending on when they came home, say 5/5.30 pm, they would catch the end of it. Often holding them up because of the traffic.
In my mid teens, one of their pub friends was chair of the committee for the centenary. Somewhere there was a rather tasteless Maypole Centenary commemorative plate that they had to buy. I would have quite liked it now but thought it was vile at the time.
Apparently maypole dancing started in the 1850s. So ours must have started some twenty years or so after that.
I wanted to be a maypole dancer. I really did. But there are some things money can’t buy. Maypole dancing was done by the kids from the council estate who went to the local village school. I went to the posh private paid-for school in the city. No maypole dancing for me in a pretty white frock winding my way up and down and around with red, white and blue ribbons.
The village also hosts the World Coal Carrying Championship. Rather them than me. Here’s the link about both events.
My father, the formerly active trade unionist, was not pleased when May 1 was introduced as a bank holiday in the UK. Nasty socialist holiday, or something like that, he uttered. He was still suffering from paranoia that the impoverished Tony Benn was going to nationalise the banks and take all his money. (Hello Cyprus).
Here in Gibraltar we don’t have a maypole. We do celebrate Workers’ Day as do more than 80 countries around the world.
Apparently it is to commemorate an incident in America where workers were fighting for an eight hour day back in 1886 in Chicago.
[Inserts irony]. And how many of us have worked for more than eight hours a day for no extra pay, or are still expected to work more than eight hours with overtime at some dubious rate, or otherwise will be sacked? My partner was working ten hours a day on scaffolding last year. Eight hours a day and two hours compulsory overtime. I worked until midnight and/or later in the health service on urgent documents and then delivering them to board members (no extra pay for me).
This is a bit like Boston. Three people died there, four people died in Chicago and the world goes into orbit.
Eleven people (minimum) were killed back in 1819 in Manchester in the UK. Whoever marks that? Peterloo for those of you who haven’t heard about it.
I entertained myself by listening to five speakers at today’s May Day rally in Gibraltar.
A Gibraltarian who apparently has made it in the unions in the UK. General Secretary of TSSA (a transport union). Either he was wrong or wiki was. He told us three people were killed in Chicago in 1897 fighting for the eight hour day.
I have a lot of confidence in union leaders who get their facts wrong. Wiki may not be the best source of info, but it’s good enough for a quick blast.
He went on a
jolly union solidarity trip to Greece and was horrified to see people queuing up at soup kitchens and raiding dustbins. Really? That he was horrified, I add quickly. I’m sure there are no poor people in London needing soup kitchens. And I can tell you the places to get free meals in Gib too. We all raid dustbins. What’s wrong with that? It’s called recycling. Rich git union leader.
A guaranteed crowd pleaser. Let’s have a go at banks. Lloyds TSB bailed out to the tune of two billion. And we are all paying for it. True. But what are you doing about it?
Next up, Stuart Borastero. From the GTC (Gibraltar Trades Council), and the teacher’s union. NASUWT whatever that stands for.
Talked about bullying and harrassment. Gave a few stats. Eighty per cent of UK managers admit to knowledge of bullying. The cost of a tribunal is £16K and rises every year by 25%.
Our next speaker was Wendy Cumming. President of the Gib Civil Service union (GGCA). ‘Fellow workers’ she addressed us. Up the snotty roughseas nose right away. What’s wrong with colleagues, or co-workers? Long discussion about working hours, which was relevant given the original reason for Workers’ Day, but given how many people are unemployed, nice to be able to argue for less working hours with pay.
She was the only one who needed notes to speak. Need to notch up a gear with the political rhetoric darling.
Then we had Victor. Victor Ochello from Unite. We know Victor of old. He stuffed up a claim of ours against a previous employer by not referring us to the union legal officer.
Good speaker. Spoke in Llanito. Never let it be said that Gibraltar is English speaking. Told us about how there was a crisis in Europe. Never! I hadn’t noticed that. Union membership has apparently gone up by 21%. I didn’t notice him saying anything else of interest or relevance.
Finally, our chief minister spoke. Fabian Picardo. Carefully dressed down for the occasion in jeans.
He didn’t fall into the fellow workers trap. ‘Compañeros, compañeras,’ he addressed us. Er, then he did do the fellow worker one. ‘Fellow workers, men and women,’ for the benefit of all the dull ones there who didn’t understand the Spanish.
‘This government is going to deliver on no bullying, improving conditions for care workers and new working hours for civil servants’.
I was waiting for the bit about we’re going to crack down on frontier workers who cross the border daily for black money. I wonder why that one didn’t arrive?
He referred to a previous comment by Victor about the recent clothing factory deaths in Bangla Desh. Don’t buy cheap clothes from Bangladesh because you are continuing to perpetuate the system and are abusing workers’ rights. I think that’s what he meant anyway.
1. So where do we buy our clothes from? China or Indonesia?
2. Globalisation is what it is. Do you seriously expect people (apart from me) to go hunting out ethical goods?
3. Some people can’t afford expensive clothes. Or rather they can only afford cheap clothes.
This gratuitous reference to Bangladesh left a bad taste in my mouth. I looked at the five speakers and wondered where their clothes had come from.
Sadly there was no opportunity for questions. About their shopping habits or what they were doing to stem the flow of cross-border workers at the expense of locals.
M’aidez? I don’t think so.
Note: for those who don’t know, my partner and I have both been/are active members of trades unions. We also voted for this government.
It’s great being good on rhetoric. A little constructive action would be rather good too.