Anger and disbelief met Waltham Forest Council’s decision to refuse permission to Waltham Forest Trade Union Council (WFTUC) to use Coronation Gardens for its commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day and its first outdoor celebration of May Day.
WFTUC reps were shocked at the refusal of permission to celebrate May Day – an international celebration, a day when workers come together to re-affirm their solidarity in the struggle of the 99% against the 1%. The main themes for the day were to publicise campaigns in support of the London living wage and truly affordable rents. There was to have been a mix of speakers from national trade unions and local campaigns with performers representing the diversity of the community. It was going to be a family-friendly day with children’s activities provided by a local nursery and a face painter.
Workers’ Memorial Day takes place every year on 28 April. Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. Waltham Forest trade unions have organised an event locally for the last 20 years or so.
Dave Knight, (President, WFTUC), said, “We have never had to obtain permission to hold this event previously. If the refusal to allow it to take place wasn’t bad enough, the Mayor’s Office seemed to want to rub salt into our wounds by announcing their own event just over six hours later. It’s no wonder people suspect this was organised to divert attention from the indefensible decision to refuse permission for our own commemoration”.
Tom Taylor, (Assistant Secretary, WF TUC), said, “This event would have provided a brilliant opportunity for people of all backgrounds in WF, eking out a living on low pay and sky-rocketing rents, to come together in unity to celebrate our common struggle to achieve a decent standard of living for all.”
The late decision to refuse permission to use Coronation Gardens wrecked six months planning for this event. Local trade unions were dismayed by the obstructive and unhelpful approach taken by the Council. Approaches were made to the Council leader, Clare Coghill, to intervene to ensure the event went ahead. At first, she appeared sympathetic and suggested that it could be cleared up “swiftly” – but then failed to respond to all efforts made to contact her.
Linda Taaffe Secretary of WFTC said, “We were shocked and also suspicious that there was a political motivation behind this – particularly as it was due to take place in the pre-election period. Why would the Labour council not respond to the pleas of trade unionists for urgent help to resolve issues raised by council officers? Trade unions and the Labour Party have long been regarded as two wings of the same movement. It seems that the Council leadership has fallen out of touch with the grassroots!”
Complaints will be filed both to Waltham Forest Council and to the council leader and deputy. The decision itself and the inaction of the leadership of WF Council does not reflect well on a Labour-led Council and has already caused reputational damage that extends beyond Waltham Forest. The 23 affiliated trade unions organisations and local campaigns that supported the event will want answers.