The Battle of Bexley Square took place on 1st October 1931 when 10,000 Salford people marched on the old Town Hall in Bexley Square demanding no cuts to unemployment benefit, no cuts to teachers' salaries, free coal for the unemployed in the winter, free milk for children under five and, interestingly, the abolition of `educational classes and training centres'.
As the march reached Chapel Street it was cordoned off, and when organisers asked for a deputation to be allowed through to put their demands to Salford Council, the protesters were attacked by mounted police previously hidden behind the Town Hall. Meanwhile, plain clothes and uniformed police attacked the demonstrators with batons. The Battle of Bexley Square was well titled.
While the definitive account of the Battle was written in 1994 by Ruth and Eddie Frow, based on Eddie's eye witness writings (he was not only there but got a broken nose and imprisonment for his troubles), a new pamphlet is aiming to draw comparisons between 1931 and 2011, with lessons for the left.
Written by Paul Gerrard of the Salford branch of the Socialist Party, the thirty page booklet – The Battle of Bexley Square: Fighting the Cuts and Unemployment in the 1930s – sets the Battle in its political and social context…that protests and demonstrations were kicking off all over the country at the time as unemployment approached 30% of the working population.
Gerrard also notes that in 1931 there was a `Coalition' government, that Salford Council was trying to impose cuts on the city's poorest people worth £19million in today's money, and that people had lost trust in the Labour Party leadership.
"In 2011, as in 1931" he writes "the burden of the crisis in the bosses' system is being offloaded onto working people by a Coalition government pretending to act in the `national interest'"
While some people might not agree with either Gerrard's analysis or `Lessons of Bexley Square for today's anti cuts movement' – calling on the Council not to impose cuts, arguing that `Labour no longer commands the support and loyalty of workers on a large scale', and that everyone should join the Socialist Party – at least this pamphlet is trying to give what is happening today some historical roots.
The details of the Battle are also really interesting, like how people built the demonstration by whitewashing and `bluemolding' the details on walls (now we have Facebook walls) and having a street theatre group, Ewan MacColl's Red Megaphones, touring working class areas in the run up to the protest. Everyone knew about it and 10,000 people turned out.
"Those of us active in the trade union and anti-cuts movement have a duty to remember the battle of Bexley Square" writes Steven North, Secretary of Salford Against the Cuts in his foreword to the pamphlet "It offers us a lesson in what it means to stand up to the state in defiance of a Government determined to drive us down and a Council unwilling to stop them…"
Paul Gerrard: The Battle of Bexley Square 1st October 1931 80th Anniversary: Fighting The Cuts and Unemployment in the 1930s
£2/£3 (`solidarity price') published by Salford Socialist Party
For £3 Paul will post or deliver a copy to you e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Edmund and Ruth Frow: The Battle of Bexley Square, published 1994, is available at Salford's Working Class Movement Library on The Crescent.