Today marks the two hundredth anniversary of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester which resulted in the upheaval of the political system which only allowed wealthy landowners to vote. The elitist representation meant that Manchester and Salford where 150,000 people lived had no representation in Parliament while both Oxford and Cambridge universities had a representative in each and ‘rotten’ boroughs such as a field in Salisbury where no-one lived had more representation than the entire working class.
On the 16th August 1819 60,000 people almost half of Manchester’s population marched to St Peters Field now a built-up area in in Central Manchester to listen to speakers and have a good time whilst demanding the right to vote. In response Manchester’s magistrates ordered a private militia paid for by rich locals to attack the crowd with sabres killing an estimated 18 people and injuring more than 650 peaceful protesters. The Conservative government at the time blamed protesters for the massacre claiming that they were violent revolutionaries. The massacre led to the formation of both the Chartists and Suffragettes who demanded and eventually won the vote for working class men and women respectively.
Today 3,000 people took part in a memorial which included singing and speeches. At 1:30pm the exact time troops descended on protesters the names of those who died were read followed by 18 bells which rang out from Manchester’s town hall. There are also screens around the city displaying their names while a monument which is designed to be a speaker’s platform was quietly unveiled on Tuesday unfortunately the monument is not accessible for disabled people which has led to little fanfare but will hopefully be redesigned to right this wrong. There are also loads of events happening throughout August and my favourite museum the peoples History Museum has a special exhibition commemorating Peterloo and activism which I intend on visiting on Sunday.
It is a travesty that we are not taught about this incredibly important event in schools who focus far too much on the victories of the elite throughout history and ignore the victories of the working class. Last year finally saw this event put on film in Mike Leighs Peterloo which you can find on Amazon Prime or more dubiously. The enforced ignorance put upon us by the education system makes it that much more important for us to commemorate these occasions and promote solidarity for a cause and working-class peoples struggle and power. We are no longer fighting for the right to vote but I think the Labour Party members calls for deselection is a fight for us to represent ourselves and dismantle the political elite that fill parliament.