May Day. M’aidez. In Gibraltar

‘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).

Nothing changes.

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.

More irony.

I entertained myself by listening to five speakers at today’s May Day rally in Gibraltar.

Manuel Cortez

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%.

I'm not sure the chief minister likes me taking notes. Or photos. Or anything about me. He's the one on the left.
I’m not sure the chief minister likes me taking notes. Or photos. Or anything about me. He’s the one on the left. Cortez is next to him. Stuart Borastero is speaking.

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’.

Fabian Picardo speaking and Manuel Cortez now glaring at me.
Fabian Picardo speaking and Manuel Cortez now glaring at me.

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.

We all need a few freebies. Or cheap clothes from Bangladesh. Sadly the pencils had gone when I walked back :(
We all need a few freebies. Or cheap clothes from Bangla Dash. Sadly the pencils had gone when I walked back :(

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.

Good article about the Bangladesh incident

Chief Minister’s May Day Press Release


45 comments on “May Day. M’aidez. In Gibraltar

  1. Unions are alive and well if you work for VA system in the US. My son worked for 10 years or more as a machinist for a defense company that contracted with the US military. (plant moved to Westr Virginia (cheaper labor) He was a union member there. My husband was a union member. I never did join the union for I felt no need. But the union in the VA system where I worked was a strong one and kept the powers that be more or less accountable.

    I like this post a lot. I thought your photos captured the the speakers poses quite well. They gave me the appearance of defiance. Stances with arms folded. Reminded me of how staff stood when having to confront an out of control patient. A stance such as that kind can be viewed as threatening. When I viewed your pics , I had a good laugh. :-) Body language mostly tells others what you are really about.


    • VA? Veterans Association? I joined unions as a point of principle rather than because I needed them. Despite his conflicting views, my father was big on them, and I grew up with ‘the first day you get a job you join the union.’ Just as well he told me that, because when I did get my journalism job the office staff told me to join the union on the first day too.

      I took loads of photos, so only posted a few to lighten up the post. But yes, the body language and facial expressions were great. Perhaps I was the out of control patient taking notes at the rally?


      • Too funny. All of the Brit bloggers to whom I seem to have gravitated have such a keen sense of humor. I envy that quality.

        But there is no denying that unions are a definite need. I will not argue that one iota. Unions saved lots of jobs for many people and more than helped with wages, benefits, etc.


        • Part of the national psyche. We’re good at poking fun at ourselves, we know ourselves better than anyone else so might as well get in there first. A bit like being good losers and rather embarrassed if we ever win anything.

          I think unions have helped with wages too. Much better negotiating from position of strength representing the whole workforce than individuals doing their own negotiating (I’ve done both). The other major role they play is in enforcing health and safety which again is far better done with a trained health and safety union officer than everyone just muddling along (I worked in health and safety).


          • Since you worked in health then you are, I think, qualifed to address health and medical problems that I suppose are plaquing Europe just as they are in the US. Have you written anything with that topic in mind?

            Someome asked me per their blog if I write or had written about my work place experiences. I replied that I had not and that maybe at some point I might. :-) But probably not.


          • You’re welcome. I’m righting not from a clinical perspective, but an I want to improve services within available funds perspective. Although there is clinical info in some posts.


  2. Hello there I’m a Cross border worker & have suffered an industrial injury whilst working for Admiral Security. I need help! Any suggestions? Regards GregPS Keep up the good work xx Date: Wed, 1 May 2013 14:49:43 +0000 To:


  3. Hope u enjoyed may day. I worked today and was the last working day at the cos. Been working on May Day for three consecutive years. Somehow, I feel political group have hijacked May Day.


  4. Hi again,, I cannot comment about your fab report on your political speakers, not up on it enough to give a valid remark, but did enjoy the read, but I can say I remember days back in my New Forest, when there were floats and parades, and ending up at a local football club ground where there were sideshows and buffets and a local vicar saying his hello’s and the bar open and if the weather was good enough there would be an open air band playing.. quite a pleasant day at the time,, typical village life. Now you are lucky to get a band to play in the local club or thank you for you comment on mine last week appreciated it very much…


    • The political resumé was really to add a bit of topical news and to compare it with the old May Day holidays in the UK, which as you say, was a fun day for everyone.

      I like the pagan origins of May Day. There has been music on today but where we live we can’t hear a thing. Luckily :D


  5. Happy May Day – which is rarely recognized in the US these days.
    When I was a kid, schools did have a May Pole during the May Fetes performances for parents.
    Wrote post on that somewhere about my brother refusing to wear a kilt – his grade was doing Scottish fold dances that year…the oldest grade, 6th, wore nice clothes- girls usually in their first heels- and watched the performances like royalty in chairs before standing to do the may pole dance. It was sort of a end of year going on to secondary school, leaving childhood behind ceremony. Not done any more. Nor do kids gather small flowers and leave them on neighbor’s doorsteps as MAy Day surprise.
    Today there’s a smaller than usual immigration march in DC. The usual Mexican flags waving.
    Maybe on the east coast or Chicago area there is more union influence and more May Day for Labor celebrations…but probably most here honor labor unions on Labor Day (first monday in Sept) .
    I’ve been in unions with a couple of jobs. it’s gotten a bit uneven here with membership ( but not always need) declining. They are a big lobbying group in politics anyway.
    Interested in Gib’s event. Body language is revealing.
    Well, need to wander back and catch up – you are so right about the working 8 hour days, buying clothes, and the oh, it’s more worthy to help starving poor in other places and ignore our own. (But I won’t get started on that.)


    • Isn’t it odd that the rest of the world celebrates an American incident of more than a hundred years ago and your Labour Day is in September?

      Loved Scottish dancing at school although we didn’t wear kilts. Never heard about May Day posies though. Nice idea.

      Odd that it becomes a day for immigration marches though. I can see the tenuous link but to me, not the same thing.

      Only real need for it for me was in journalism, but that was always big on unions anyway especially with the print unions, so there was a very strong culture and tradition of virtual closed shop.

      Haha, the body language is great isn’t it? So revealing, well not too revealing of course but good enough. The wind direction has just changed and we can vaguely hear the music drifting up the street as people still party on.

      Don’t get me started on ethical shopping! There is little choice. Especially in Gib. And how many people, apart from me, look at labels to see where it has been made and reject the garment if they want it? I don’t think anyone was helping the 400 dead in Bangla Desh and even more injured. They were just a politically useful statistic.


      • Wonder if the images of Russian tanks and military May Day Soviet Union parades had anything to do with Labor Day in the US being different? I should really refresh my memory on that holiday beginning here.
        I don’t think the immigration marchers really understand – there’s a big push by the one of the service unions to enlist the non-English speaking new arrivals and are quite loud about demanding rights…and demonizing anyone with money (even middle class who are “rich” by comparison). It’s very emotional with lots of unrealistic promises – so many do not take those marches seriously around here- most of the marchers have no idea what’s going on
        Blah blah blah about human rights. Much wringing of hands and blustering…until you ask them, “Oh? what about those shoes you are wearing – and that logo shirt, and the fancy pants” They just don’t want to hear…just rather emotionally talk and talk and talk. I’m not a big shopper, but like you do look at labels and consider before buying. Funny I had an aunt who did that 30 years ago and people thought she was nuts…


        • Having only just learned of the origins of May Day this year, I’m amused at the thought of Communist Russia in its heyday celebrating something that originated in wicked capitalist America. That’s probably why my father didn’t approve of May Day as a bank holiday (the communist image). I suspect you may be right about it being moved due to political reasons. Personally I think America should have reminded everyone that it was a holiday commemmorating THEIR workers and stuck to May 1st.

          They probably enlist the non-English speakers because it’s theoretically union policy not to racially discriminate. Here, the local union represents Moroccan workers and fights in a big way to ensure their rights as workers are equal eg they have recently negotiated a pension deal for them that they weren’t getting. Which was pretty stupid from a Gib perspective as the money just goes straight to Morocco. Still, on the other hand, if they have worked – why not?

          It was very much a rally of rhetoric. I would have liked to have seen the labels of each and every one of the speakers out of sheer pig-headedness. I would prefer to buy all my products local to home for a number of reasons:
          1) supporting the local economy
          2) not involving massive transport costs and damaging the environment
          3) not supporting slave labour, bad manufacturing policies, or oppressive regimes.


  6. I remember the Maypole at school….and someone being wound up in the ribbons like a mummy.
    I have had a lot to do with U.K. unions in my time….and they used to strike me as being quite good on the welfare and representation side for individuals with problems, but, I suppose as with everything, posturing has taken over from practicality.

    Mark you, the national public employees union here have just addressed a letter to Obama stating that they think the U.S. does nothing about the drug trade because it keeps their banks afloat….so there’s life in them yet.


  7. No Maypole here in NL. I suppose, historically, we would have been too busy trying to find fish, lobsters and a few scraps of food. Besides, May here is nothing to celebrate. There’s likely some pole dancing somewhere but now’s not the time to talk about that. maybe another time when we both have lots of time to spend. Did I mention I’m currently making my way through “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby? Chapter two alone is worth the price of the book.
    Lord, the local big-shots sure did look displeased. Just what did you do to those two? :>)
    It’s worth mentioning that we have two similar ‘days.’ Just last week across Canada the Union movement marked the annual day of mourning for all workers killed or hurt on the job. Even in the cynic in me admires the effort to keep attention on workers’ safety, a topic that many ‘bosses’ just wish would go away as it so inconveniently cuts into profits. We also celebrate labour day the first Monday in September. That said, even though Canada is a fairly reasonable place (but far from perfect) as far as workers’ rights are concerned I am noting with time that the union movement is becoming less and less important here. My feelings about that are far to complex to summarize…


    • Perhaps NL wasn’t as pagan as the UK which is the origin of our maypoles. Similarly Gib which has either been – in recent history – Moorish or Catholic. No you didn’t, and I’ve never heard of it so will have to look it up. I’m expecting a post from you now about it.

      I took notes. And didn’t clap. Nor did I look impressed with the hot air that was coming off the stage.

      We also have a workers’ memorial day – also last week, the 28th I think. It was introduced by the current government last year. The chief minister’s (the glaring one on the left) father was killed in an accident at work, so it was a pretty personal national day to introduce. I happen to agree with it as I don’t think either employers or employees take H&S seriously enough. Remember my comments about your roof work? :D

      I think I had better write a separate piece about the union(s) here or this reply will be longer than the original blog post.


    • It was more obvious in the photo than when I was standing there. But perhaps the only person taking notes out of hundreds of people, and standing in the front row to do so was slightly obvious?


      • Why would they object to you taking notes? You’re interested in what they’re saying. You want to remember what they’re saying. It’s important enough to write down! Isn’t that what a normal, ego-driven politician would think? They should be flattered, not looking at you like they want you to burst into flames.


  8. Interesting post, and intriguing the amount of attention you received by taking notes and photos… as well as the glares at you, I noticed some of the body language of the others in the pics, they don’t seem to be as engaged as you were.
    I haven’t been a union member for more than 20 years but the G.O. is, working in the construction industry which is still very unionised, although he won’t be marching.
    As well as dinners and toasts on Friday and Saturday evenings it appears
    “The highlight of celebrations in Sydney will be the parade on Sunday 5th May.”
    “May Day is a celebration of International Workers Solidarity. Come together on Sunday 5 May 2013 and show your support for the struggle for your rights, peace and socialism.”
    “May Day is a celebration and acknowledgement of the achievements of workers” but there will also be the opprtunity to protest “Injured workers and their families are invited to take part in this year’s May Day Rally in protest of O’Farrell Government assault on injured workers rights and entitlements.” “Various May Day protests are planned across NSW by university staff seeking a better deal for themselves and students”
    You’ve piqued my interest, and if I was around I might have gone along to the main rally for a look.


    • Democracy is what it is, or isn’t, but I can hardly criticise it if I don’t take the opportunities to listen to people spouting off in public. And just because I voted for the current govt and have always been a union member doesn’t mean I won’t criticise them. And because I was planning to write about it and take photos, I had to take the notes to give a brief summary of each speaker, plus get their names right of course.

      Personally had I been on stage and seen someone enthusiastically taking notes I would have beamed at them, so the glares from them were a rather immature political move.

      Dinners and toasts at the weekend? Sounds like International Womens’ Day. I wonder if there are freebies? You could pick up a balloon, a pen or a pencil, if they are as generous as the Gib unions. You’re not in TA are you?


  9. Hmm…. so stop buying garments from Bangladesh and then nobody will have a job and they can all starve to death. An interesting idea. Not.

    No maypoles that I remember. The big thing in Herefordshire was the Morris dancing. I was never terribly smitten with it but my father used to like photographing them. And of course often it took place outside a pub so I dare say a pint would have been in order. We had the May Fair – 3 days of traffic chaos and a chance for the kids to drive their parents mad.

    I am deeply ambivalent on unions. To me they say “Red Robbo”, Arthur Scargill and a host of others that brought Britain to its knees in the 60s and 70s. On the other hand I come from an area of coal mining. My father worked for The Coal Board in South Wales although he didn’t go down the mines. We knew plenty of people who did. And there were pit accidents. And slag heaps. And then in the glory of 1966 came Aberfan. Killed 116 children and 28 adults (wikipedia) – a colliery slag heap that collapsed onto a school. All the pits from our village are gone – as Max Boyce sang, “And the pit-head baths are a supermarket now”. I remember the slag heaps on the right as we drove into Llanbradach to see our grandparents. Now all grassy hills and parkland. There are two sides to every story.

    A good, thoughtful post for May Day.


    • That’s like the dilemma about buying South African produce in the days of apartheid isn’t it?

      These days with the vast amount of clothing being made somewhere in Asia, I try to choose the least worst option, ie they are all unsound, all sweatshops, so I go for a political regime that is least oppressive (contradiction in terms I suppose) and possibly slightly nearer geographically so theoretically less travel costs. I remember when everything used to say Made in Hong Kong. Do they still make clothes for export? I guess it would have to be marked PRC though nowadays.

      Perhaps maypoles and Morris dancers don’t go together. We never had Morris dancers to my regret. I’d forgotten about the fair. We had that as well at the same weekend. It was all go on the first Saturday in May.

      Goes without saying that I don’t agree with the view that the unions brought Britain to its knees in the 60s and 70s. Were you studying union politics at junior school? That’s impressive, wasn’t on my junior school – or senior school – curriculum. I would take the opposite point of view and say that poor management ruined British industry, just as Thatcher destroyed the pit industry and the unions.

      Anyway, to save me re-writing it all, here you go, on coal, Scargill, and South Wales:

      Oh, and thanks :)


      • We shall have to agree to differ on the unions and I put it down to your youthfulness.

        Hong Kong has a limited G&T (garments and textiles, not gin & tonic) industry these days. Many are ‘assemblers’, that is they do the finishing so a Hong Kong label can go on the garments rather than Made in China. Most of HK’s industry crossed the border into Guangdong long ago, mainly around Shenzhen. Labour costs drove industry out. Now Shenzhen is expensive too so a lot of businesses are moving west in China. And so it goes on. China tends to have poor quality control though and as a general rule we avoid buying anything made in China that could be a safety risk. Electrical goods, food etc all fail the test of acceptability for us and for many Chinese. That is why the hordes cross the border each day to buy baby milk powder from HK as they don’t trust local products and the big overseas manufacturers struggle to keep up with supply and cost more in China than in HK. Parallel trading is a big issue here now.


        • I would put it down to your old age but sadly as Partner is older than you, I can’t use that excuse for you, so I shall go with lack of union activity instead.

          Spain has a very good gin industry. I would recommend Larios if you weren’t sober. The best gin I have tasted. Not that I drink spirits these days in my semi-sober state.

          I can’t remember the last time I saw a Hong Kong made product, so goodness knows where they are exporting to. If they are. I assume they can still put HK on due to their special status. I haven’t seen anything made in Macau either. Did buy some good cycling grips made in Taiwan.

          It’s good you have a choice about what you can buy. For many of us it’s buy something made in China (that’s if you even get to see where it is made on the box) or do without. Power of the consumer? Ha.


  10. In all honesty I don’t remember May 1st as any sort of holiday as a child, could be dementia is setting in mind ;-) I always thought it was a new bank holiday brought about well into my working life.
    I do remember Whitsuntide as I always had a new dress and shoes, no idea why though.


      • What an interesting link.
        My new attire certainly wasn’t to go to church in, but reading the link, it was obviously an old tradition that was being continued.
        What I did find interesting was the mention of Morris Dancing at Whitsun, I seem to remember maypole dancing at Whit too.


        • I assume, given that Whitsun is the Sunday on the 50th day after Easter, that also marks the end of Eastertide. In fact, it does. Just checked.
          Always ask an atheist if you want to know anything about religion :D
          Must remind my easter cactus that it needs to get all its flowers out before Whitsun.
          My parents talked about getting new clothes for Whitsun too which is why I knew vaguely what you were talking about. Anyway, you can write about Whit at the end of the month :)


  11. Oooo where to start.

    NASUWT is the National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers who merged many years ago. More moderate that the NUT.

    Bangladesh. Interesting snippet from the news talking about the concept of seasons within fashion. Apparently you are supposed to go out and buy new clothes every three months as the new season arrives, at that rate even moderately wealthy people would need to buy from Primark and the like. Blu and roughseas just wear a coat in winter, no new clothes for us until there is an unsightly hole.

    Working hours. I always had arguments with my boss about business trips. I took the view that I was working 24 hours a day for no extra pay. I didn’t expect to be paid extra, but I did expect a decent standard of hotel and meals at least as nice as I would cook for myself at home. He took the view, especially when the travel involved being away over a weekend, that I was getting a weekend break at his expense and I should be paying for my own food and refreshments over the weekend.

    It was a small company, and generally expenses were a big bone of contention as he clearly showed that he felt any money I spent on myself I’d ̶s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶n̶ taken directly from his wallet. He was a very volatile character, and if he was running a company today he’d be taken to endless tribunals, but back in them days you just had to judge they day you handed your expenses in.


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