Around 300 people took part in the Tyne and Wear May Day March and Rally in Newcastle on Saturday.
The event coincided with the 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ international May Day celebrations.
Back in 1890, the international demand was for an eight-hour maximum to the working day. This call united workers in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and many other countries.
One of the organisers of the Tyneside event, Martin Levy, said:
“There’s a lot of people on zero hours contracts today who would love to get the chance to work eight hours.”
“The march is as relevant today as it was 125 years ago. It’s very important as a statement of the principles of the Trade Union and Labour movement – solidarity, fighting inequality and fighting for social justice.
“These issues don’t just go away.”
Speakers at the event included Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity; Ian Mearns, Labour’s candidate for the Gateshead constituency at the forthcoming general election and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of Unite the Union and deputy president of the Stop the War Coalition.
Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had been due to speak but had to cancel at the last minute.
His place on the platform was taken by Ann Schofield of the Tyneside Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
Those taking part assembled at Princess Square then walked along Northumberland Street and then past St Thomas’s Church towards Exhibition Park, where the rally was held.
Music on the march was provided by the Backworth Colliery Band, while local musicians DrumDin (OK) and The Backyard Rhythm Orchestra performed at the rally.
Mr Levy added:
“This 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ May Day was an opportunity to make clear our opposition to austerity and privatisation, and to express solidarity with all those struggling for a better world, particularly the people of Palestine.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015
Organisers of a counter-march against a planned “anti-Islam” demonstration in Newcastle say they are expecting more than 2,000 people to flood the city centre this Saturday.
Newcastle Unites say representatives from the Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Islamic communities will unite in one voice against Pegida’s first UK demo, due to be held this weekend.
Under the banner of ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, Pegida claims it is trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants.
This Saturday will be the first UK demonstration by the British branch of the organisation.
But counter demonstrators say they are expecting low numbers to turn out in support of Pegida.
Councillor Dipu Ahad, from Elswick and part of Newcastle Unites, said:
“Their Facebook page suggests more than 700 people have agreed to come but the reality is there will probably only be a couple of hundred.
“As far as they are concerned, it is looking as if it will be a bit of a damp squid.”
> Damp squid ? I think he means damp squib.
Northumbria Police have met with both groups to discuss policing on the day.
Newcastle Chief Superintendent Laura Young said:
“It will be a busy day in Newcastle on Saturday with a number of events taking place and with lots of people coming into the city centre for things like shopping, socialising and the football.
“The city is a busy place on a Saturday anyway and with all of the extra things taking place then we are advising anyone who is thinking of driving into Newcastle to give themselves extra time and be aware of how their journey might be affected by the delays.
“To minimise disruption to the public we will have motor patrols officers out on the roads to ensure traffic flow and we will do everything we can to keep the roads open and to reduce the impact on the public.
“We have spoken with the local authority and local bus and travel companies about the road closures and we are looking to have all roads re-opened as soon as possible on Saturday.”
Councillor David Stockdale, Newcastle City Council’s Labour ward member for Blakelaw, will be one of the counter-demo’s speakers on the day.
“I will be talking about Newcastle and how it is a city of sanctuary; how it is a community with a proud and long history of standing up to injustice.
“I intend to tackle some of the brutal misrepresentations of Islam which Pegida paints. I think it’s important that a non-Muslim stands up and does that.
“I do wish Pegida were not coming on Saturday but I believe everyone has a right to express their views, no matter for distorted and wrong they are. The best way to deal with these kind of views is to challenge them.”
A public meeting by opponents of Pegida will be held at the city’s central library on Thursday. The event will take place at the Bewick Room at 6pm.
Journalist Yvonne Ridley, who converted to Islam after she was arrested in Afghanistan, will be speaking at the event along with Coun Ahad.
The meeting is intended for supporters of Stop the War Coalition and those who oppose Islamophobia and racism and begins at 6pm.
John and Jennifer Martin, of North Shields, are among those planning to take part in Saturday’s counter-demo.
Mr Martin, 36, a car showroom manager, said:
“My wife and I feel like we have an obligation to take part on Saturday because Newcastle is our home and we don’t want groups like this thinking they can come here and disrupt the harmony we have.
“I don’t know much about where Pegida have come from but I know we don’t want their messages spreading in the North East.”
On Saturday, the following roads will be closed to allow for the demonstrations to take place:
- The Bigg Market will be closed to traffic from around 10am.
- A small section of Gallowgate will be closed from around 10:30am to 10:45am Newcastle Unites march begins.
- A section of Newgate Street will be closed from 10:30am.
- There are no plans to close Clayton Street or Grainger Street.
Officers say they may need to temporarily close other roads on the day depending on activity, however they will look to re-open them as soon as possible and keep the city road network flowing.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Feb 2015
We haven’t yet ordered our coffee and already Shirley Ford, a school administrator and lead campaigner for the North East Green Party, is racing through her lines.
“As of this morning, we had 22 candidates selected with another five possibles,” she says, as we find seats at a quiet South Shields seaside cafe.
“But things are changing so rapidly now. If you had asked me before Christmas, I would have told you something entirely different. We are a small party, we don’t have much money so it is all about candidates’ enthusiasm.”
She seems nervous, but it is an extraordinary time for the Greens. The so-called surge is in full swing.
Calls for Natalie Bennett to be included in the TV leaders’ debates intensified until the dam broke and broadcasters changed their stance in what has been celebrated as a watershed moment for the party. Now, after 20 years on the sidelines, the region’s handful of Green councillors find themselves in the spotlight and, sometimes, the firing line.
“Yes, but that is exactly what we wanted – to be taken seriously,” said Shirley.
And, it seems, times are changing. The party in the region has tripled its number of parliamentary candidates since 2010 and, Shirley, who is sporting a fern green jumper and matching coat, does not by any means predict a win, but she is brimming with optimism.
“Five years ago, we ran just seven candidates and that tells you where local parties’ strength was at,” she says, with a wry smile.
“We stood someone in South Shields, Gateshead, the three Newcastle seats, Tynemouth and Wansbeck. This time round we are looking at standing candidates in all but two seats. We might struggle to stand in Sunderland but things are changing every day.
“We didn’t think that Blyth Valley would have a candidate but suddenly we have had some key people joining there that have made it possible for members to select.”
The media glare, she says, is winning the party support but the Greens’ operation on the ground is gathering strength.
“I think that national and local media does make a difference as to what people think something is happening,” she said. “We don’t have very much money. It is up for members of each local party to raise the money for their deposit and for any research or materials.
“We have to be creative. We don’t have the resources to go and knock on everyone’s door or to carry out a poll of the constituency, but we are doing what we can.”
Shirley, who will stand in South Shields, was an organiser for the local Stop The War Coalition and has lobbied government as part of the Women in Black campaign against injustice, war and militarism.
“I joined the Green Party 11 years ago but I grew up in a family interested in politics,” she said. “I campaigned against apartheid when I was a student and I was always interested in human rights.”
She says people are finding the party via the Greens petitioning on specific issues, such their campaign against the Newcastle/Gateshead One Core Strategy, which could allow for homes to be built on greenbelt.
Greens are renowned for their passion for the environment and so have been smart in joining with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage to organisation clean-ups.
But what does it all add up to? Where does she think the Green Party will do well in the North East?
“Newcastle East is one to watch – we have been focussing campaign work in the Heaton area and we are very active in Jesmond,” she said.
“We campaigned during local elections on local issues, including on transport and housing. We have been in that area for two or three years building that campaign level up.
“We have been championing more affordable housing and we have seen a good response in the Newcastle North area. I think in Northumberland, in Hexham and Berwick, we will do well. The two parties wanted to link up on energy campaigning issues, such as the Druridge Bay opencast coal mining campaign.
“There has been a lot of – what’s the word – a lot of synergy. They have been linking up on local issues that they are passionate about and I think that comes across.
“We want people to get the message across we want renewable energy projects that are small scale that are not going to be having such a huge impact.”
While it isn’t likely the Greens can unseat the former Labour Minister Nick Brown in Newcastle East, it shows which demographic supports the Greens – students.
“In Durham, the party had been quite dormant but in the county council local elections we stood 15 candidates and we came second in the City of Durham division of Neville’s Cross,” she said.
“A good number of student residents live there. We also did well in other wards in the city where there is a high proportion of students.
“We have maintained the momentum that that gave us.”
So, the Green Party is relying on the region’s student vote?
“That is part of the strategy, to engage students and to encourage students to stand. Some of our parliamentary candidates are students. Middlesbrough and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are students, while others are Young Greens.”
The Greens are also popular among socialists after announcing the party would scrap Trident, renationalise railways and offer everyone a single payment ‘citizens income’, though the party has yet to set out exactly how that will be paid for.
> Well, just scrapping Trident alone would save around £1.5 BILLION a year, not to mention the plans to spend over £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.
But, Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT Union, is standing for the party in Redcar as a result, proclaiming that “the Greens are now the party of the left.”
Shirley said the move was welcome news:
“Peter has been a member for quite a long time now and he spoke at the Green Party conference 18 months ago on the whole railway issue. The national part is very excited about it.
“It is really exciting.”
It comes as the Greens announce membership nationally has grown by 120% this year. Now, their leader will share a platform with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
“It gives people a sense of a change and there might well be a place for a smaller party,” said Shirley.
“This lets people hear our policies and gives people a chance to make their own mind up.
“Last time, we imported the American presidential debate but that isn’t how our system works. You vote for your local candidate on policies and the debates last time didn’t reflect that.”
And it is on local issues that the Greens stand to make the most ground in this election.
The Coal Authority has granted licences for companies to explore parts of the North coast to see if underground coal gasification is possible.
The Green Party is mobilising its forces and it is when talking about this that Shirley is most animated.
“We are going to campaign on this off-the-coast, underground coal gasification because this issue has been bubbling along,” she said.
“We are keeping an eye out to see if there are any actual planning applications for anything onshore for both the drilling rigs and the processing plants.
“The argument that is always made is that we have got to have jobs – jobs jobs jobs – but they don’t think about the jobs that will be put at risk, such as tourism jobs and fishing jobs.”
Shirley is keen for the party not to be seen as an extension of eco-charities but as a party with a social agenda.
“We have petitions on particular issues in lots of places,” she said.
“Here in South Tyneside we have a schools campaign to bring back glass bottles and in Jarrow we have a petition to save the walk-in centre.
“We are trying to find solutions to the things that really matter to people.”
Winning in a region where Labour is so strong will be tough. On this issue, Shirley found herself agreeing with the leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who branded the North East a “one-party state” ruled by Labour.
Shirley says because of this dominance by the big parties, the Greens’ long game will be to campaign on voting reform.
“It is sad,” she said “It is partly our electoral system. All of the focus is on those marginal seats and if you are in a safe seat then you are very much taken for granted.
“That is one of the things we want to change.”
She added: “In 2010, a lot of people in the North East told us that they support Green but that they were going to vote Labour because of fear that the Tories could get in.
“Well, the Tories did get in anyway.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Feb 2015