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Political educators who will be celebrated today

JEREMY CORBYN on the legacy of two giants of the movement with a vision of a better world

In London today, we will be marching from the historic Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square, and the march will be led by a banner commemorating the lives of Bob Crow and Tony Benn.

It’s appropriate that the RMT members have taken industrial action to protect ticket offices in London, not just for their members’ jobs but also for the security and convenience of the travelling public.  

Bob’s leadership of the RMT was smeared and belittled by much of the media, who simply didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, that he was an extremely well-read, intelligent man under whose leadership the union grew rapidly in membership and the salary levels of its members increased. 

He also confronted the contract culture of the railway industry, and the vulnerable treatment of seafarers who were denied the minimum wage and protection under race relations and equality law.  

I was at a meeting of London Underground shop stewards at the Workers Educational Association recently and we discussed Bob’s life. 

One wise person said that his real legacy has been the huge development of the RMT’s educational service, and the strength of the union tomorrow and in the future will be based on his belief in the abilities of working people to organise themselves and change society for the better.  

In his memory, let’s redouble our campaign for the full public ownership of the entire railway system and end the profiteering by the train operating companies who have benefited so lavishly from public investment in the infrastructure. 

Tony Benn has been such an iconic figure in the lives of all of us on the left, it is hard to imagine him not being at a May Day rally. 

Tony had spent 50 years in Parliament but far from becoming a fossilised adjunct to the British Establishment, he was always a radical free thinker.   

There are not many MPs who after 50 years in the Palace of Westminster could still draw a huge crowd at the Glastonbury Festival, as well as at anti-war meetings all over the country.   

Talking to Tony was like a lively, challenging history lesson as he drew on the real history of ordinary people and the way it was interpreted by great writers such as Howard Zinn in the US or EP Thompson in Britain.  

Tony had a breadth of knowledge and imagination for a world based on peace and justice, not war and greed, and when we march today we thank Tony for all he did. 

But perhaps one of his most important comments was when he said education never stops. 

We must spend our lives learning from the struggles of others in order to achieve our own justice. 

April 28 was Workers Memorial Day in which we commemorate and mourn those who have died in industrial accidents on building sites, in mines, factories and many other places of work. 

We also remember the abominable and wholly preventable tragedy of the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in Rana Plaza in Dhaka a year ago, and the continuing threat to the life of garment workers in fetid factories all over south Asia.  

The struggle of the unions for basic health and safety conditions and an end to child labour is something that many in the West thought had been won decades ago.  

The common thread to this ongoing battle is the economic strategies being forced upon poorer countries by orthodox economics, which requires ever lower wages and hazardous conditions in order to compete in a global marketplace. It’s the same inhuman economics that threatens workers’ protection and earnings levels even in advanced industrial economies, where today the coalition threatens to tear up health and safety
legislation.  

May Day is about workers’ solidarity, but it’s also about peace in the world. 

A century ago the first world war started, a conflict that was initially opposed by workers’ movements in Germany, France and Britain. Ultimately, their opposition was defeated by nationalism and conscription, and the world descended into a bloodbath from which millions never returned.  

Since the end of World War II, there have been countless colonial wars, cold war proxy conflicts such as Vietnam, and wars of aggression such as Iraq. 

Hanging over all of this has been the spectre of nuclear weapons, and the threat they present to the very survival of humanity. 

When we march today it’s a celebration of the achievements of labour movements all over the world, but above all to show to the next generation that the world does not have to be run in the interests of the very rich, the arms manufacturers and those who can think of nothing but war and conflict.  

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