Friday, 1 July 2016
Reading Trades Union Council Hosts a Pro-Corbyn Rally
Forbury Gardens, Reading. 1 July 2016, 18.00-19.00
Following the national referendum decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and the immediate infighting in both the Conservative and Labour Parties around the question of party leadership in the referendum’s aftermath, the Reading Trades Union Council executive met on 28 June 2016 and unanimously decided to organise a pro-Corbyn rally. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate as Labour Party leader, elected by 59.5% of party members in a four-candidate contest in September 2015, the RTUC was shocked and outraged by the mass resignations from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet last week by MPs calling for his resignation.
With only three days notice, using social media, including the RTUC’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ReadingTUC/), and an article in the Reading Chronicle, around 60 members of the general public gathered in Forbury Gardens to show their support for Corbyn, listen to speeches and fraternise in a spirit of solidarity and socialist fellowship. Several trade unions, including the RMT, TSSA and Unison, brought banners and flags, and the Socialist Party set up a stall and distributed literature. Especially pleasing was the presence of a Labour Councillor on Reading Borough Council, Ashley Pearce, who - with Paul Woodward - signed a letter of support for Corbyn from hundreds of councillors across the country. As Chris Reilly, RTUC Vice-President, said in his speech, ‘We salute you!’
The event began with Chris Reilly welcoming all those present and bringing the RTUC to everyone’s attention.
Chris then introduced the first speaker, Jennie Formby, a member of the South-East Regional Executive of Unite the Union and also a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. Jennie, fresh from the large pro-Corbyn rally in London earlier in the week, emphasised the need for Labour to defend workers rights and resist racism and fascism in the aftermath of the ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum. She also highlighted the massive support Corbyn has from Labour Party members – so much so that MPs from the Labour right are wavering in their desire to challenge Corbyn for the party leadership. It is clear from Corbyn’s party support – and from the increase in party membership in the past week – that a challenge to his leadership would simply result in Corbyn’s re-election. But the disruption the shadow cabinet resignations is causing and the distraction which a prospective leadership challenge will cause is letting the Conservative’s off the hook – and allowing that party to consolidate its attacks on working people, the welfare state and the NHS. Jennie's full speech can be found here.
The second speaker was Chris Clark, a member of the national executive of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, an affiliated union to the Labour Party. Chris gave the background to the TSSA’s support of Corbyn in 2015. He backed Corbyn’s position on the EU – not a supporter of the EU ‘right or wrong’ but an advocate of a social Europe. Last year the TSSA put three questions to all Labour Party leadership candidates: 1) would they scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system; 2) would they restore the trade union powers stripped from workers since 1979; and 3) would they renationalise Britain’s railways. The only candidate to answer 'yes' to all three questions was Jeremy Corbyn and on that basis the TSSA threw their support behind his leadership bid. On the basis of democratic socialism – as clearly outlined in the Labour Party’s constitution (see Clause 4 and also the right of members to elect the party leader) – the TSSA continues to support Corbyn, given the overwhelming support he received in the leadership election and the support he continues to carry among the party’s membership. Chris finished by encouraging those present to join Labour if they haven’t already done so and – in the event of a challenge – vote for Corbyn's continued party leadership. Chris's full speech can be found here.
Chris Reilly, on behalf of both the RTUC and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union, took the microphone as the third speaker. Chris explained that, in recent years, he has been a Green Party member but – with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – he has joined the Labour Party and urges everyone not already a member to follow his lead. In contrast to the Labour Party of pro-business and illegal wars, Corbyn has brought principle and ideas back to the party. Now – instead of voting for Labour as the lesser of two evils – we can vote for a leader of integrity in the confidence that a Corbyn government will follow through on its pledges. Corbyn is not engaging in the xenophobia and racism of the anti-immigration debate but instead has argued for a reformed, social Europe – a position that ensured 60% of Labour supporters voted ‘remain’ in the EU referendum. Chris did not advocate slavish support of the Labour Party but encourages a large party membership to hold the leader and its MPs to account. Now is the greatest time to engage in this role as a Labour Party member. And other people appear to hold this perspective. 60,000 new members have joined the party in the past week. The party is now larger than it was under Blair in the heady days of his first election victory in 1997. But many will leave is Corbyn is toppled – because only Corbyn and his socialist allies represent the views of working people in this country. Chris closed by reading from a letter by Labour councillors around the country supporting Corbyn’s leadership – and Chris paid tribute to the two Reading councillors whose names appear in the letter – Ashley Pearce and Paul Woodward. To the gathering’s surprise and delight, Ashley Pearce made himself known in the audience! Chris's full speech can be found here.
John Partington, as RTUC Communications Officer, closed the event by again thanking the speakers for their encouraging and informative words and thanking the audience for assembling to show their support for and solidarity with Corbyn. John also urged those present to follow the Reading Trades Union Council's Blog and Facebook page, where future events are publicised and debate engaged in. He also promoted the RTUC's next event - a picnic in honour of the 1916 women's strike at Huntley and Palmers' Biscuit Factory, which will be held on Sunday, 3 July, from 14.00-17.00 at Kings Road Gardens.