So no surprise that only a handful of dedicated people joined the Trades Union Congress' annual death march, which is in effect nothing more than a sedate procession commemorating our ongoing defeat at the hands of the profit system.
The diehards proceeded from the Casa pub on Hope Street to the Victoria Monument in Derby Square. There they joined a small group of people who had been listening to live music.
The first speech - delivered by journalist and campaigner Ewa Jasiewicz - was by far the most inspirational. This can be put down to two factors. Firstly, she read statements of solidarity from Iraqi trade unionists, who are in constant danger of attack from both the US-led occupation and various sectarian militia. Secondly, because Jasiewicz read it with considerable passion, something a million miles away from the calculated platitudes of the bureaucrats who shared the stage with her. "We look forward to the day when we have a world based on co-operation and solidarity", the declaration ended, "We look forward to a world free from war, sectarianism, competition and exploitation".
By contrast, the addresses of Communication Workers Union bureaucrats Billy Hayes and Jane Loftus were exercises in sickening hypocrisy, only a mile from the Copperas Hill local base of the strike the pair sold out just half a year ago. Last July, General Secretary Hayes gave a speech in the city, and described Royal Mail’s proposed new contract as a "carve up" between Royal Mail bosses and their "rich mates". He then spent the next few months working with those bosses to control and undermine the resulting industrial action (including wildcat strikes in Liverpool), and compelling the postal workers to accept almost exactly the same appalling terms and conditions originally offered. In fact Hayes' rambling May Day speech was remarkable only for the fact that he did not mention the dispute at all! Certainly, none of the Copperas Hill workers seemed to have been there to cheer him on!
The next speaker was Maureen (no surname was given), an asylum seeker originally from Nigeria, who declared that she was "so glad to hear that there's something like solidarity in the United Kingdom". She appealed for help with her case, and support for "human rights" generally.
The contribution of CWU President and Socialist Workers Party member Loftus was perhaps even more two-faced than that of her general secretary. Though she voted against the settlement during the negotiation process, she did not alert postal workers to the sellout that was being prepared in their name. Even when the deal had been agreed and was put to a vote of the CWU membership, this supposed 'revolutionary' did not speak out against it. At Thursday's rally, Loftus only dedicated a few words to the massive struggle her union had taken part in, and did nothing to shed light on her own role in bringing about a massive defeat for postal workers.
The address by Steve Farley was almost entirely nondescript and unmemorable. In a year when the government has handed his Public and Commercial Services union members an effective pay cut, he had nothing of any substance to say beyond the empty buzzwords of "solidarity" and "socialism", and the invoking of former 'glories' such as the rule of the Militant-led council in Liverpool.
There is nothing less radical than the endless repeating of cliches, especially when they are not followed through with sustained and coordinated action. Apart from Ewa Jasiewicz's contribution, all the platform contributions were so vague as to be interchangeable with those made at countless other May Day rallies. This is poisonous, because its effect is to alienate people from a day which originated as a festival of resistance. There is never any analysis of why we are getting hammered, there is just the endless repetition of the fact that we are. This breeds hopelessness, and helps explain the diminishing turnouts.
Every object that is sold or distributed on this planet, and every service offered, is the product of labour. Every penny that a boss makes off that labour is stolen from the person who actually did the work. The people who shape the world - the working class - allow it to be that way, because they feel isolated from each other and do not feel their true power. Anything which obscures this reality is part of the problem, not the solution.
Billy Hayes does not sort or deliver post. Instead, he lives off the membership fees of people who do. It is therefore in his interests for the CWU to have as many members as possible, but he knows that to achieve this he must make sure his members accept Royal Mail's drive for profitabilty, or else Royal Mail will bypass the union, more redundancies will be made, and he will lose his privileged position.
When production and distribution was largely organised on national lines, union members could force their leaders to extract significant concessions from the employers. However, production and distribution is more global with every passing day. This leads to cut-throat competition around the globe, with governments fighting to promise business leaders the best rates of profit. Trade union leaders are fully behind this drive for profits, because of their position relative to the workforce.
With the two notable exceptions of Ewa Jasiewicz and Maureen the asylum seeker, the platform at the Merseyside May Day 'rally' was covered by the decaying corpse of the trade union bureaucracy. The unfolding economic crisis is truly global, and will require international solidarity on a scale that has yet to be seen. Very few of the Liverpool people who will fight that fight were at the Thursday rally. The missing hundreds of thousands are part of the sleeping beauty which must be awakened by economic necessity. When the new working class movement comes, its May Day must sweep away the bureaucrats who keep us apart.