Thursday, 30 June 2011

'The workers united ...'

Pen at the pre-march gathering
Until today my wife has never been on strike. Her union, the ATL, has never once taken industrial action on a national scale in its entire 120 year history. Today, that all changed. She went on strike and she joined the march in Manchester organised by the teachers' unions. I went with her.

I've been on rowdier marches. As you'd expect, a protest march by teachers is a pretty civilised affair. 'No talking there in the back row!' But there was a genuine sense of solidarity and seriousness of purpose. And also a sense of grievance and indignation at the things some of our politicians have been saying. 'The politicians are telling us that we are wrong,' said the very mild and moderate ATL guy. 'But that has only served to stiffen our resolve.'

Ok - so the calumnies and aspersions cast by Cameron and his cronies pale into insignificance against Maggie Thatcher's notorious, 'the enemy within' comments. But steady on, Tory Boy, you push people too far and they'll push you back. Teachers know how to deal with bullies.

I learned a few lessons today. Firstly that I've lost my way a bit in recent years. I've not been on a protest march since I was a student - although I've been on other kinds of marches since. I'd also ended up on the 'dark side' in management ...

But this was my milieu. Getting out there on the streets to show solidarity in a just cause. The highlight of the march for me was when a train passed over the viaduct alongside the Castlefields Arena as the rally was taking place and the driver gave a hoot of support. Yayy!

Ok - so I don't have a lot of time for the oddballs and the anarchists and all the hangers-on who appear at any demonstration, no matter what the cause. But there were people there today who'd never marched before, who'd never dream of marching or protesting under normal circumstances. They don't deserve criticism from right-wing politicians or the Tory press. They deserve our respect. And they deserve a hearing. Their presence spoke volumes.

Another lesson was that the police can't count. Or, perhaps more accurately, choose not to. They've got their helicopters, their rather embarrassed guys with the cameras to take pictures of the militants - but their estimation of the numbers in Manchester today were around 2,000, as opposed to the 5,000 estimated by the organisers. Estimating crowd numbers is never an exact science, but I was there and I'd estimate the numbers to be somewhere between the two - certainly further towards 5,000 than 2,000.

Surely the police must have sophisticated ways of calculating crowd numbers? So if they did err on the skimpy side, what's their agenda?

More encouragingly, perhaps, I've always found the British bobby to have a very dry and insightful sense of humour. I was both rather perplexed and impressed when a young bobby appeared on the pavement alongside the march taking pictures of some of the activists. He was quickly surrounded by some of the more anarchic types - one of them with a megaphone urging him to take off his 'silly hat and silly jacket' and join the march. He took it in good grace and carried on taking photos. Although he clearly didn't like it when people started taking photos of him. Funny that ...

But he carried on taking pictures of them taking pictures of him taking pictures of them ...

Anyway, at the end of the rally when the organisers thanked everyone who'd contributed, special mention was made of the police and they were given a round of applause. Teachers are aware that the police are contractually unable to strike and that their pensions are just as vulnerable as anyone else's. 'We're standing in solidarity with the police on their pensions too,' the organisers said.

One of the coppers, watching from a vantage point, responded with a slight, elbow level wave. It was slightly cheeky, perhaps a tad ironic, yet also rather furtive and subversive. Very warm, very human, very heartening. Good for him. Well done that bobby. He's just trying to do a job like anyone else. And let's hope he's able to retire with his pension intact.


  1. aha! a shippy marching along Deansgate!

    We were up on the fourth floor of church house ( had an apt there) and the Rev who was talking had to stop as his listeners all rushed over to the window!

    I hope that our smiles of encouragement wafted their way down to you...goodness it looked fun. All that laughter and colour, dancing and singing, whistles and shouting and what an age range. I hope you returned home exhilarated and knowing that you'd been marching for some of us who couldn't ( on that day/ yet....)

  2. Why thank you. I did notice Church House as we passed, but didn't see anyone at the windows - well, not so that I can remember. There were lots of office workers looking out of windows at us, some of them calling out support. The best was one a train driver tooted his support as he drove his train across the viaduct alongside Castlefields.

    Thanks for your support, brother (or sister) or sister (or brother) ...