Tuesday, 1 May 2018

International Workers' Day, 1 May 2018

Reading's International Brigades Memorial Statue
1 May 2018 saw the perennial gathering of socialists, trade unionists and internationalists at the International Brigades Memorial Statue in the Forbury Gardens to mark International Workers' Day. Organised largely by Ray Parkes and Keith Jerrome, two Unite members of the Reading Trades Union Council and key figures in the Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee, a range of speakers educated and entertained the amassed audience.

Ray Parks (Reading International Brigades
Memorial Committee, Unite & RTUC)
The event commenced at 18:00 with Ray Parkes reflecting on what has become a local tradition - the honouring of Reading volunteers who went to fight fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) as soldiers, medical staff and administrators. Ray, the co-author (with Mike Cooper) of We Cannot Park on Both Sides (2000), the definitive history of Reading's role in the conflict, was a key campaigner for the memorial statue and - since its relocation from the old Civic Centre forecourt to the Forbury Gardens - the statue has acted as a focal point for socialist and labour events in the town.

Sergio Casado Suarez with John
Partington (TSSA & RTUC)
The first speaker Ray introduced was Sergio Casado Suarez, a railway engineer from Spain, who spoke about the contentious position the Spanish Civil War holds in memory today. In Spain, it is impossible to hold a dispassionate position on the conflict - if you show an interest in the civil war, you must take a 'Communist' or a 'fascist' position, or be labelled one or the other by friends and foe alike! Sergio discovered the memorial statue in the Forbury Gardens on his arrival in Reading and researched its history. Even before his interest was known among the Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee, he had produced two podcasts on the subject: 22 Las Brigadas Internacionales vol. I - Relatos Históricos & 24 Las Brigadas Internacionales vol. II – Relatos Históricos description.

Maria Pilar Morales Gonzalez (Podemos)
Following Sergio, a second Spanish speaker representing Podemos took up the microphone. Maria Pilar Gonzalez was making a return visit to Reading's May Day event, having joined us two years earlier. Maria made an appeal for compassion and peace, suggesting that harmony at the geopolitical level starts with grassroots solidarity and love.

Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU & RTUC) representing Merry Cross (DPAC)
The third speaker was Nada Al-Sanjari of Unite and RTUC, a member of Maidenhead Constituency Labour Party. Nada stepped in to represent Merry Cross (DPAC) who was too unwell to attend and she read a poem, 'Teddy', which was written for Merry's uncle, Teddy Cross, who died fighting for democracy against Franco's fascists at the Battle of Gandesa in 1938. The emphasis in the poem is on selflessness and internationalism.

Merry Cross's poem, 'Teddy'
In 2017, Oxford erected a monument to the Oxfordshire volunteers who served democracy in the Spanish Civil War. Two activists in the campaign to commission, design and install the statue at the foot of Headington Hill came to Reading to share their May Day thoughts.

Chris Farman of the Oxford International Brigades Memorial Committee
Chris Farman spoke of the Oxford comrades' campaign to establish the memorial in the face of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, Oxford University and the Conservative Party. The Labour-led Oxford City Council and the Oxford and District Trades Union Council supported the campaign, however, and after compromising on the statue's location (a city centre venue was initially proposed), the monument was established.

Robert Wilkinson of the Oxford & District Trades Union Council
Robert Wilkinson of the Oxford and District Trades Union Council spoke next, reminding those gathered that the heroics in Spain were not an historical phenomenon alone but that the shadow of the International Brigades is cast into our present time. The blood-thirsty foreign policy which has seen violent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has also provoked the response of solidarity fighters from around the world joining the Kurds in their struggle for peaceful autonomy in northern Iraq, despite opposition from the governments of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and elsewhere.

Labour Councillor John Ennis
Bringing a similar message closer to home, Labour Councillor, John Ennis, spoke about the continuous need to fight fascism and racism in our own neighbourhoods. John cited the current threat posed by Islamophobia in Tilehurst, where racists have used excuses such as lack of parking and traffic congestion to spread anti-Muslim feeling over the creation of a proposed Islamic Centre. To the credit of the people of Reading, the counter-demonstrations in favour of Muslim rights to religious worship and against the spread of bigotry outnumbered those of the racists and Reading Borough Council, despite opposition from the Conservative Party, passed planning permission for the Islamic Centre to be created.
Comrades united at the International Brigades Memorial Statue, including
RTUC delegates Jim Parker (Unite, 4th left), Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU, 7th
right), John Partington (TSSA, 6th right), Ray Parkes (Unite, 5th right),
Keith Jerrome (Unite, 2nd right) and Peter Woodward (Unite, far right)
Following the speeches, the gathering sang a verse of the Internationale before reassembling at 20:00 in the Outlook Pub where songs of the Spanish Republicans and the International Brigades were played.