RETRO: By the left for May Day marching

May Day Parade. Picture shows the T.U.C. May Day Parade through Sheffield, last saturday. 2nd May 1981.

May Day Parade. Picture shows the T.U.C. May Day Parade through Sheffield, last saturday. 2nd May 1981.

Ahh, the May Day Bank Holiday...

A date when, traditionally, the sun is in the sky and revolution is in the air.

This is the one Monday of the year when the workers throw off their shackles (until Tuesday at least); and when socialists, communists, trade unionists and anarchists take to city centres across the UK to campaign for a fairer, more progressive society through the medium of marches and speeches.

This – alongside visiting a pub beer garden or heading to some sort of DIY superstore – was once a favourite way for Sheffielders to spend this spring holiday.

If you were lucky, you’d get a warm day full of sparkling rhetoric and genuinely brilliant political ideas.

If you were unlucky, Billy Bragg might have turned up with his guitar (“Put it away lad – the moderates are going home.”)

In the finest traditions of such left-wing activism, a Unite The Resistance march will take place this Saturday in Sheffield.

But it is expected to be a considerably smaller affair than the Bank Holiday marches of yesteryear.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, as these pictures pulled especially from The Star archives prove, thousands would descend on the city centre.

Their causes were varied – from demanding an overthrow of the entire political system to demanding lower bus fares – but they all had one thing in common – they wanted change.

And when did they want it? Before they had to get back to work on Tuesday morning.

“It was fantastic for people from these left-wing movements to get together, share ideas and unite around a common cause,” says Julia Armstrong, a long-standing socialist activist in the city and chairwoman of South Yorkshire National Union of Journalists, as well as editor of The Star’s weekend Retro supplement.

“There’d be a real mix of people and there would often be a real festival atmosphere; lots going on, colourful banners everywhere, old friends meeting for the first time in months, if we were lucky great weather. But there was a serious side too.

“The people who came out to protest were there to campaign for a better world, to fight injustice, to demand a fairer society.”

Different years saw different routes taken by the marches but most generally ended up in Barker’s Pool after filing past both Castle Market and Town Hall.

Similar, though smaller, protests were also held in Chesterfield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley. In Sheffield, they ended as an annual event in the mid-Eighties.

“It’s a shame that those kind of numbers can’t be mobilised today because I do think society would be better if that level of passion was there,” says Julia, of Heeley.

“The march on Saturday is important because there is still plenty of injustice in the world and in this country.”




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