May Day, May Day

As always, May Day was a busy day in London. For once May Day was actually a Bank Holiday (I suppose it happens on average every 7 years) but this didn’t seem to make much difference to the numbers for the May Day March and other events. When I worked as a full time teacher, around 5 years out of seven I had classes to teach on May Day. Now I always work on May Day, but as well as taking pictures I’m also celebrating International Workers’ Day.

It’s a day when I don’t need to get up too early, as the May Day march only begins to gather at noon:

Class War didn’t actually go on the march, but they had come to Clerkenwell Green to sell copies of their newly launched newspaper – and quite a few people were keen to buy a copy.

They had a new banner too, celebrating Simon Chapman who died earlier this year in his early 40s. He never really recovered from being arrested and imprisoned in Greece where he was fitted up by police who switched his rucsac for one containing petrol bombs in anti-capitalist protest in Thessaloniki, in 2003. Held in terrible conditions in prison he took part in a lengthy hunger strike which had a permanent affect on his health, and eventually due to international protests he and the other ‘Thessaloniki Seven‘  hunger strikers were released and sent home. The Greek government knew the police evidence would not stand international scrutiny they could not afford to create martyrs, though the UK Labour government refused to take any action to protect its citizens. He continued to campaign and protest after his return to the UK – and returned to Greece for a further trial  with three of the seven in 2010, when all of the original charges were thrown out after being completely discredited by  the defence evidence but he and four others were found guilty of the offence of ‘minor defiance of authority’ with Simon getting a suspended six month sentence.

By the time the march was ready to depart the area was pretty crowded, and as the march left, Class War made their way to The Crown Tavern, a pub with an interesting history, where Lenin and Stalin are said to have first met in 1905, and serving some fine local beers.

May Day March Gathers

Stalin and Lenin were of course on the march today, along with Marx, Mao and others including Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish leader still languishing in a Turkish island jail; as always there were many from London’s migrant communities taking part. But the best banners are still some from branches of UK trade unions and it is quite a sight to see them, along with all the others, marching along the CLerkenwell Road, and I tried to photograph most of them without walking too far from the start.

May Day March

As the last of the marchers passed me I turned and made my way towards The Crown. If it was good enough for Lenin and Stalin it was good enough for me to have a pint there too. I’d intended to leave after a short break and take the tube to go to Trafalgar Square for the rally there, and some of Class War in the pub were also intending to do the same. Somehow it took us rather a long time to leave, and the tube system is designed to make the journey from Farringdon to Charing Cross difficult.

I think most of the rally was over when we reached the square as John McDonnell was coming to the end of his speech, but I was pleased to be able to photograph Mark Serwotka, who can speak about the NHS form some considerable experience following his heart transplant. I took a few pictures, including some of John McDonnell as well as of Class War with the third edition of their election banner, ‘All F**king Wankers’ featuring Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and some Liberal Democrat and UKIP guy. The police seized one of the earlier versions as evidence – and then lost it; I hope Class War claimed compensation.

May Day Rally

Once the mainly rather boring official rally had finished on the plinth at Trafalgar Square people carried on the celebrations in their own way, but soon I had to leave as the May Day F**k Parade was scheduled to start shortly a few minutes away in Leake St, London’s ‘graffiti central’ in the wide pedestrian underneath Waterloo station.

It really was dark in there, much darker than my pictures suggest. Several photographers came up to ask my advice about taking pictures there as it felt rather edgy, but I told them not to worry too much – and if they were worried to ask. There were quite a few people there that I knew (and more that knew me) and the main problem I had was simply the lack of light. I used flash for a few action pictures of people playing games, but it really didn’t capture the atmosphere there. Except for the flash pictures, the others were taken at ISO 6400 with the lens fully open, quite a few at 1/30s. Unfortunately I hadn’t though to take my LED light, which would have been useful in the darker corners.

May Day F**k Parade Meets

I was please when we left the tunnel and started on a walk around London, though by now I was getting rather tired. There were a few flares set off and the march was accompanied by a large group of police, but wasn’t causing any great problems. As it was a Bank Holiday there was little traffic actually in central London.

On Waterloo Bridge I was standing next to a group of police when one of the protesters set off a flare. An officer shouted to the others ‘Let’s grab him’ and they rushed into the crowd, surrounded him and made the arrest. It was a deliberately provocative act, and looked for a while as if they had started a riot, but most of the protesters were there to enjoy themselves, not to start trouble. It was a parade, not an insurrection, and the police action seemed excessive.

The parade continued, going through Covent Garden and making its way to Leicester Square, going to a recent squat in Soho (though we only knew that later.) But as it made its way out of the square I decided I’d had enough and headed for home.

May Day F**k Parade


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