On Saturday Derby celebrated the anniversary of the Silk Mill lockout remembering the brave men and women who fought for improved working conditions.
In November 1833 a workman at Derby’s Silk Mill refused to pay a disputed fine resulting in him and his supporters were dismissed which culminated in a general strike across the city. At this time trade unions were becoming popular amongst workers and were growing into a powerful force in politics. Employment of children under 9 years-old had just been abolished and the campaign for an 8 hour work week was gaining traction. This obviously threatened employers ability to exploit labourers and create profit. The strike continued for months and by February 1834 2,000 workers from across the city had joined the Silk Mill strikers. They continued to paid via contributions from unions across the UK this unfortunately decreased over time and by the end of March 1884 when the by then starving strikers were losing momentum and the strike began to fade. By June everyone who would return to work had although 600 workers never returned to work for their former employers. Out of the ashes of the lockout and the growth of unions the Chartist movement emerged two years later demanding and eventually winning democratic rights for the working class.
This was one of the first general strikes in the UK and led to greater class consciousness resulting in further rights for the working class. Its important to remember our history so that we can continue to gain rights and stop the reversal of the welfare state and NHS. Before the march speakers from important causes including stopping the universal credit roll-out, Extinction Rebellion, the NHS and the local Labour party. I chose to march with Extinction Rebellion because without a healthy planet there are no workers rights. I believe that tackling climate change is a unifying issue which proved true during the march as people approached us for flyer and information even those sneering at the socialist aspect of the march wanted information about Extinction Rebellion. No matter our differences we can all agree that we have to stop destroying our planet.
Derby has celebrated this event since it happened but it has grown from a march in the city centre to also include a festival in the last few years in an attempt to entice more of the general public to join activists in the celebration. It appeared to work there were many people checking out stalls from groups like Extinction Rebellion, Love Music Hate Racism, and many other political organisations and local ethical and sustainable businesses. There were speeches from Labour politicians, local activists, and Union leaders two of whom spoke passionately about the Windrush generation and the racism still very much present in our society. This was especially important as the event coincided with National Windrush day and we are still seeing stories of these integral British citizens being denied healthcare, welfare, and being threatened with deportation.
There was also spoken word poetry and music from local artists throughout the day all of whom focused on hope and truth in politics, there was a real sense of unity throughout the day and I left feeling upbeat and empowered. Events that unite us are especially important in Derby as it is the only place in the UK that the right-wing UKIP are gaining votes. The party that seeks to divide us must be confronted by celebrations of unity and alternative perspectives if we are to defeat UKIP’s racist, sexist, and homophobic agenda. Its really important to have these types of events where activists and the community can join to celebrate local and important history with good food, people, music and beer.