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Nearly 100 trade unionists marched from Hastings Pier through the town to gather for speeches in the town centre. Photograph by Erica Smith.

May Day marchers demand a pay rise for essential workers

Hastings and District Trades Union Council (HTUC) held its annual May Day march and rally on Sunday 1 May. This year’s slogan was ‘Hastings Demands a Pay Rise’. HOT’s Erica Smith joined the marchers to find out what they want – and why.

If you were born in the last 40 years, it’s easy not to know that in the UK, May Day has only been a bank holiday since 1978. It was introduced by the Labour government to coincide with the internationally recognised Labour Day. In Hastings, May Day means many things, from Jack in the Green for pagans and tourists to the annual bikers’ pageant for motorcyclists. But for anyone who cares about workers’ rights – there is always a May Day march through the town led by trade unionists and socialists.

Simon Hester, chair of the Hastings and District Trades Union Council, explained why marching for workers’ rights on May Day is so important. “Hastings is a low-wage town which is already badly hit by the cost of living crisis. With inflation continuing to rise and wages stagnating, the crunch is imminent for many, many people. Hastings TUC is demanding at least a 10% pay rise for all just to keep pace with inflation and a minimum wage of £15 an hour.”

The May Day march was led by a contingent of train cleaners employed by Churchill (a national company in charge of out-sourced workers), who are on strike to demand:
– £15 an hour (they are currently paid minimum wage)
– company sick pay and
– free travel on trains in line with other railworkers.

Sam Evans (right) and the RMT union railway cleaners pictured on their picket line outside the station on Saturday, who were also on the May Day march and rally in Hastings town centre on Sunday.

Bella Fashola of the RMT, right, speaking at Sunday’s rally.

The RMT union representative for the Churchill cleaners, Bella Fashola, called for solidarity in their struggle against their “unscrupulous employer”. The strike continues and the RMT will mount a protest picket line at Hastings train station from 10am to 2pm every day until Saturday 7 May.

Another speaker was Darren Smith, the GMB union convenor for the Hastings and Rother refuse collectors. He explained how workers’ solidarity had won a significant pay rise as the employer, Biffa – the outsourced company in charge of waste collection for Hastings Borough Council – buckled under the pressure of a massive vote for strike action.

Last Monday morning the refuse collectors in Wealden, also in the GMB union, went on strike for a pay rise. Biffa management moved Wealden vehicles to the local depot in St Leonards in preparation for strike-breaking activity by managers. Hastings TUC called a protest over the potential strike-breaking.

Simon Hester said, “We stand in solidarity with the GMB members and wish to make it absolutely clear – strike-breaking is not acceptable in Hastings!”

Councillor Maya Evans, Chair of Hastings Stands Up To Racism, denounced the government for scapegoating refugees in a deliberate attempt to distract attention away from all the crises they are mired in – from Partygate to the desperate housing crisis. She was followed by Stuart Richardson, a UNISON union rep at the Conquest Hospital, who described the pressure that health workers faced during the pandemic.

Richardson said: “Boris Johnson clapped us – but then offered us a pathetic 0.5% pay rise. We cannot take it any more. We have to fight to save the NHS”.

HTUC invited the local branch of Extinction Rebellion (XR) to speak. Lyn Salvage made the links between workers organising against employers who put profit first and governments who put the profits of the fossil fuel companies before the future of the planet and humanity.

Drive2Survive’s Jake Bowers addresses the gathering.

Last week the Police Act became law which will severely curtail the right to protest by environmental and anti-racist activists, and trade unionists on strike. The Act will effectively outlaw the lifestyle of gypsies, Roma and travellers. Romany blacksmith Jake Bowers from Drive2Survive called for defiance of the law: “When freedom is outlawed, only outlaws can be free – the best way to defend the right to protest is to keep protesting”.

The rally ended with more words of solidarity with the RMT train cleaners on strike and the chant of, “What do we want? A pay rise – When do we want it? now!”

On Monday 2 May, at 5am, there will be a protest outside the Biffa depot in Bulverhythe Road, St Leonards-on-Sea. Anyone who wishes to show support and solidarity for the striking refuse collectors is welcome to attend.

The railway cleaners will be picketing outside Hastings Station from 10am to 2pm. Members of the public are welcome to show their support and find out more about why they have been driven to strike.

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Posted 21:31 Sunday, May 1, 2022 In: Campaigns

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