Thoughts on 1st May

08/05/2009 by Christopher Buxton

First of May – I wonder how many of my generation find their fingers instinctively curling into fists? – only to blush at the memories of naïve youth – 1968 the year of European revolution and dreams of a better world as across the channel students and workers manned barricades from Paris to Prague, we English marched in protest at the Vietnam war, chanting We are all foreign scum and many young men wanted to look like Che Guevara while women espoused the Joni Mitchell/Joan Baez look.

The peoples’ flag is deepest red!

Dee-dum dee dum dee dumdeedum

This is pretty much what we sang when our university sit-in had to end in 1970. An alliance of left wing and liberal groupings had followed the lead of their colleagues at the University of Coventry, who had “discovered” that secret dossiers about them were being passed between an unholy alliance of Professors, Government and Employers.

It was an article of faith that files on all of us must exist, so we seized the administration building in the midst of a dramatic snowstorm, erected barricades of tables and chairs and the students’ Union set up a 24 hour a day session in the Lecture theatre where we could pass resolutions condemning every reactionary government from Greece to Argentina, and send messages of solidarity to the brave fighters in Cuba and Vietnam. Of course we found no files, the University authorities denied their existence, but we continued to believe with a religious fervour worthy of St Dominic.

But late winter turned to balmy spring and our protests ended in dum-dee-dum. No student was going to continue to occupy a soulless administration block with the Easter holidays coming on. So in spite of our promise to the radical Edgar Broughton band who had come all the way from Coventry to perform a free concert in our honour and a letter to the Vice Chancellor stating that we would never desert the barricades until he produced secret files on all of us, we marched out the Thursday before the holidays and rashly decided to sing the Red Flag, assuming that our comrades knew the words.

No-one knew anything beyond the rousing first line.