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May Day tensions put Unite and Govt at loggerheads over rally

May Day IV160419{ seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) at Cafe Solo

The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, will not deliver an address at the traditional May Day union rally this year at the request of Unite the Union members.

Unite responded to the call from its activists and ruled out any political presence on stage during the rally.

But as a result, the union has found itself at loggerheads with the Gibraltar Government, which has in turn refused to allow Unite permission to hold the rally in Casemates Square, according to Vice Chair of Unite Sebastian Sauer.

Unite, together with Gibraltar’s two other unions – the white collar union GGCA and NASUWT Gibraltar - will instead celebrate May Day from the Piazza.

Mr Picardo will address the crowds on the importance of May Day at events being organised by the Government in Casemates.

The decision not to invite him to speak at the union’s traditional rally follows a period of worsening relations between the Government and Unite. This culminated in the demonstration organised by Unite in January in which the union demanded an end to ‘unfair’ employment practices.

“The position was reached by activists at a general meeting,” Mr Sauer explained in an interview with the Chronicle, adding that the decision was made some months ago.

“The activists wanted a May Day rally without the involvement of any political party,” he said.

“We haven’t told anyone to keep away, we just don’t want any politician on stage regardless of what party they are from.”

“He didn’t understand why, obviously, and he has been accustomed to doing it with us throughout the years,” Mr Sauer said of the decision being communicated to Mr Picardo.

He added that the three unions proposed to pay the Government to host the May Day rally in Casemates but Mr Picardo refused.

“That’s why we’re not using the Casemates stage,” he said and the event will now be held in the Piazza.

“We obviously have to respect what the members want,” Mr Sauer said, adding that it was nothing personal with regards to Mr Picardo or the GSLP.

For the union, the May Day rally will represent a continuation of the fight for workers rights and of ‘precarious employment practices’.

“It’s a continuation of the demonstration of January 16, from which we achieved many good things and made progress on a number of fronts,” he said.

Mr Sauer highlighted how the Government has, since the demonstration, employed almost 200 agency workers on permanent contracts.

“But there are still many issues to work on,” he said.

A spokesman for the Gibraltar Government acknowledged the disagreement with Unite over the May Day rally but urged people to attend both the union gathering and the events in Casemates.

“Unite’s somewhat petty actions may have the effect of dividing working people on May Day and we call on the public to attend the union event before moving to Casemates to attend the Government’s event,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.

“We do not want to create divisions amongst working people despite the foolishness of those who wish to politicise Unite and make it veer to the right and stop it from being true to its socialists roots.”

“We would remind Unite that it was this Chief Minister who declared May Day to be a public holiday in Gibraltar and that it was this Chief Minister who has addressed the crowd every year since making that decision.”

THREE UNIONS

This May Day celebration will also be significant for the inclusion of Gibraltar’s other trade unions.

This will be the first time all three unions have come together to share a stage on May Day for nearly five years.

“It’s the first time we have held the rally with three unions together in conjunction without any political party,” Mr Sauer said.

GGCA President Wendy Cumming said it is “wonderful” that the unions would be working together as part of the celebrations.

Additionally, she highlighted the importance of the unions collaborating generally and not just on May Day on issues that advance workers’ rights.

Ahead of the May Day rally, Unite will hold a general meeting for all members on Wednesday April 24 at 3pm.

On May Day itself, Unite will unveil a plaque on the façade of its Transport House headquarters in honour and recognition of the Moroccan workforce in Gibraltar during the Franco blockade at 11am.