As over 300 people gathered in historic Bexley Square for the annual Salford May Day Rally, Ian Stewart got a taste of what to expect, having now become the city's first elected Mayor.
Before even beginning his first day in office, Ian Stewart had a copy of a 1942 newspaper announcing the birth of the Welfare State waved at him by Alice Searle of the Salford Pensioners Association, who read out a few lines…
`This is profound in its significance for the lives and happiness of the British people - a plan not surpassed or rivalled in the world, a plan to guarantee security from want…'
"That was written 70 years ago" said Alice "And 70 is the average age of our pensioners today. Those people believed this, they felt secure with this, but what has happened to that ideal? We now have pensioners anxious because of what's happened to the health service and their social care. Elderly people are not just bothered about themselves, they're worried for their adult children who might not have a job, who can't get a mortgage, and their grandchildren who haven't got a job, or can't afford the debt they'll get in from their education."
Turning to Ian Stewart, she asked if he was a pensioner…
"I speak to you as a man and a pensioner, and someone who we have just employed" she said "We're going to pay you a salary, possibly a big salary..."
"I don't know" he replied sheepishly...
"We are his employers, remember that" she told the crowd and turning back to Ian Stewart added "It's our money, so I've got a message for you. Remember this document, remember the principles upon which the Welfare State was founded, don't forget that. Every time you make a decision into your mind should come morality, should come justice, should come ordinary people. Do not be conned by academies, do not be conned by the money, forget that, money doesn't give you what we need. We need security for the people of Salford. If you don't do your job Mr Stewart I'll be the first person knocking at your door…"
Ian Stewart nodded agreeably. A few minutes earlier he had told the Rally that when he starts in his office tomorrow "I'm one of the lucky ones that has a job now…It's wrong that there are still people in Salford and in other cities who have to live in deprivation, without affordable decent homes and without a decent wage and income."
Almost acknowledging that some of his policies will be unpopular with trade unions and the left, Stewart urged the movement to work in partnership with him to "safeguard the people of Salford…and to try to find alternatives to the savage cuts that this Government is making".
He added: "I know that we will have arguments and fall outs but that's what happens within a family. You don't get divorced every time you have an argument with your partner…We must make sure we keep our collective voice strong, how else are the people of Salford and this country who have no voice going to be represented? Who gives a voice to the people in our city? We in the labour movement first and foremost have a responsibility to do that…"
Fire Brigade Union General Secretary, Matt Wrack, addressing the Rally, spelled out what was expected for there to be no divorce…
"This past week we've seen a huge rejection at the polls against the austerity agenda of the Coalition Government" he said "But I think the message that has to go to Labour councils across the country is that people didn't vote to see someone else implementing the cuts, they voted against the cuts and we want to see them standing up against cuts and the services and jobs that we all rely on."
Making reference to Salford's unique Working Class Movement Library which documents workers' struggles over two centuries, and the Battle of Bexley Square (see here), Wrack urged people to "learn the lessons of the past so we can organise for today, and build for tomorrow because the agenda we are facing is about rolling back all of the gains that have been won by the Labour movement in the past 200 years…
"Thatcher used to say there is no alternative and that's what they're saying today" he added "Even after the local elections the Tory right is saying what we need is more deregulation in the labour market to allow them to force wages down even more to bail out the profit system...We now have hospitals in the NHS run by private companies, we now have private companies moving into education, the fire service has got private company parasites moving in to take control – it is a scandal that all these gains of civilisation that we've made are now under attack.
"If we listen to those people who say there is no alternative we are doomed" he concluded "We have always said that `If you have no alternative then we will build our own alternative', that's what working people have done in the North West and that is what working people in the North West have got to do going forward…"
The attacks on working people across the globe, as well as in Salford and Britain, were at the centre of the May Day sentiments. References were made to what's happening in Greece and Spain; while a message of support was read out from workers in Iran facing "terror and violence".
Hilda Palmer of the Manchester Hazards Campaign spoke passionately about the Coalition Government's attack on health and safety at work and how Workfare Minister, Chris Grayling, wants to abolish 84% of health and safety regulation…
"You ask any family of someone who has been killed or injured at work and they will tell you that they weren't killed or injured because of too much regulation, it's the opposite" she said.
Hilda quoted frightening figures - in Great Britain last year 1400 people were killed in work related incidents or committed suicide because of the stresses of work. Up to 50,000 people died through work related illness, which is six people an hour, and two million people said they were made ill by work.
"More of our families will be killed and injured as a result of what this Government is doing" she said "No-one voted to die at work and that is what this campaign is about…"
For those who haven't got work and its health and safety issues, Alex Halligan of the Salford TUC Unemployed Centre, promised to take the fight to the Government…
"52% of people under the age of 27 are unemployed in Broughton where I live" he said "It blights this city, one of the worst affected in the country…"
Steven North, Secretary of Salford City Unison stressed the importance of May Day…
"In a time of austerity and attacks from the Government, not only hell bent on destroying the living standards of working class people but also the traditions that we depend upon, it's important that we recognise this day and it's place in our movement…"
After the Bexley Square Rally, a colourful, noisy march featuring two bands, a sound system and a red rainbow of flags and banners snaked into Manchester, via Chapel Street and Deansgate for a further rally at Cathedral Gardens.
* Main photo shows Alice Searle showing Ian Stewart a copy of the 1942 newspaper proclaiming the birth of the Welfare State
** Thursday May 10th Pensions Strike Rally
On Thurdsay public sector unions PCS, UNITE and UCU are on strike in support of their pensions. There is a Rally in Manchester 12:15-1:30pm at the Mechanic's Institute on Princess St, and a march setting off at 11:30am from Salford Central Station on Gore Street.