This month the English Green Left will meet in Manchester. The meeting is timed to coincide with the 190th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, one of the most significant events in British radical history.
by Ian Angus
When I visited Manchester a few years ago, I made a point of visiting the site of the Peterloo Massacre, one of the most important events in the centuries-long fight for democracy in England. In 1819 it was St. Peter’s Fields, an open area just south of the city centre; now the area is occupied by a luxury hotel.
When I was disappointed to find that the only indication of the area’s historic significance was a small blue plaque on the hotel wall:
The site of St. Peter’s Fields where, on 16th August 1819, Henry Hunt, radical orator, addressed an assembly of about 60,000 people. Their subsequent dispersal by the military is remembered as ‘PETERLOO’
Those words disturbed me, because the event was in fact remembered by generations of workers and radical democrats as the Peterloo Massacre. Between 60 and 80 thousand people, one of the largest gatherings in British history, met there to hear speakers call for democratic change. The platform carried banners urging reform, universal suffrage, and equal representation.
Without warning, the entirely peaceful crowd was attacked by sword-swinging British cavalry, ordered into action by Britain’s reactionary government. Fifteen people were killed, and between 400 and 700 were injured. But the plaque I saw said nothing about that.
So I was pleased to learn, a year or so ago, that a public campaign in Manchester had won replacement of the blue plaque by a red one that reads:
St Peter’s Fields: The Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 1819 a peaceful rally of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers, men, women and children, was attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries.
There is a continuing campaign in Manchester for a “fitting memorial to the marrtyrs of democracy.”
I was reminded of this when I learned that England’s Green Left will hold its annual Summer Camp in Manchester on August 15. They have deliberately timed the event so that participants can participate in the commemoration of the 190th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre on August 16.
Joseph Healy, Male Co-Convenor of Green Left, writes:
Green Left will be participating in the events of August 16th as part of a campaign calling for a proper monument to remember the bloody events of that day. We also regard it as particularly relevant in this year when police violence has led to the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demo, the criminalisation of many others, and the attacks on Climate Camp and many peaceful protestors over the last few months.
I can’t be with the Green Left in Manchester on August 15-16, but I’m proud to support them from afar. The 21st Century fight for ecosocialism continues centuries of working class struggle a better world, a struggle which has always been resisted, often violently, by those whose privileges and power are threatened. Honouring our past martyrs is an essential part of our fight today.
For more information on the Peterloo commemoration, see Joseph Healy’s blog.