Workers struggle to enjoy holiday: Strike, delays, poor weather - the Tories could have a point about May Day

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The Independent Online
THIS YEAR'S May Day bank holiday weekend has followed what its detractors might say was a familiar pattern. Customary protestations from thousands of disgruntled passengers delayed at a strike-bound airport; ritual conflict between management and workers over pay and conditions and, perhaps most galling of all, the usual prospect of indifferent weather threatening to take a turn for the worse.

If the Government has its way, the holiday is not destined to last much longer. Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, is expected to announce that May Day, long regarded by Tories as a focus for Socialist skulduggery, will be replaced by another bank holiday in October.

Supporters of such a move could point to this year's bill of fare. Yesterday, 4,000 people were affected by a 24- hour strike over pay and conditions by British Airways cabin crew at Gatwick. BA took 2,000 passengers by bus to flights from Stansted, saying the dispute cost it 'several million pounds'.

Combine that with distinctly iffy May Day weather - a cold, foggy start with a fair smattering of cloud and some showers later - and many Conservatives might feel that they have a watertight case for axeing the holiday.

But the Government may not have reckoned with a formidable alliance of opponents. Outrage from the Labour Party and unions has been bolstered by direct action by militant morris dancers from all over Britain.

In a two-pronged attack, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union yesterday demanded that employers maintain the holiday despite the Government's wishes, while on Friday Jack-in-the-Green and his band of morris men besieged Parliament and spoke of grave fears for Britain's folk heritage.

Their supporters, mindful that Britons traditionally bemoan the lack of May Day sun, are openly scornful of the prospect of better weather in October, with its shorter daylight hours. They maintain that Britain's tourist industry is best served by a spring, rather than autumn, bank holiday.

Norman Willis, the TUC general secretary, was adamant that the threat to scrap the holiday was based on hostility towards the labour movement. 'For over 100 years, millions of people around the world have celebrated May Day in the struggle for workers' freedoms,' he said.

Gordon Newton, of the Campaign for the Preservation of May Day, somewhat ambivalent about the workers' struggle, focused instead on the holiday's even longer associations with the nation's flora and fauna.

'For 2,000 years May Day has been celebrated by the people. It's the arrival of spring,' he said. 'The trees are in blossom, there are flowers everywhere and the birds are building nests.'

Forecast, page 2

Leading article, page 15

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