Newport rises against corporate vandals

Protest against destruction of Chartist mural

A section of the mural before it was destroyed

Over 500 angry people protested against the destruction of the Chartist mural in Newport by the right wing Labour council and Queensberry property developers.

There had been a rising tide of opposition to the plans to destroy the mural which was culminating in the protest on Saturday 5 October, but the council pre-empted the protest by sending the diggers in early to smash the mural and to try and erase the memory of working class struggle from the lives of Newport working class people.

The mural was a wonderful memorial to working class struggle. Constructed in 1978 from 200,000 individual pieces of mosaic, the 35 metre wall cleverly depicted the march of the Newport Chartist uprising of 1839 in which 30 workers were massacred as they rose up to demand democratic rights for the working class. In the mural you can see the individual workers marching as a mass carrying the six demands of the charter only to be shot down by the army. The massacre ranks alongside the Peterloo massacre of 1819 as one of the worst atrocities to attempt to stem the struggle of the working class for democratic and social rights. Read the story of the Newport Rising here.

And when news of the plans for the mural’s destruction began to spread the movement to save it began to grow. So council leaders moved quickly and, protected by the police, smashed the mural to pieces just two days before the protest was planned. Spontaneously stunned passers-by protested as the diggers ripped the mural from the wall. Police officers offered pieces of the mosaic to onlookers many of who threw them to the ground in disgust.

Supporting the mural

Generations of Newport children have learnt about their working class heritage from the wall. Newport people are very proud of their revolutionary tradition and the struggle for a workers’ democracy. But not Newport Labour. Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West had done his best to derail protests saying in February “To suggest that the Council would do anything to disrespect that memory is nonsense on stilts”. But the council turned the memory to rubble. Meanwhile a Labour Party member has been barred from standing for the council for disrespecting Thatcher.

Working class struggle is alien to them and their developer friends. Newport council could have moved the mural. They claim the cost would be £600,000, but even that exaggerated figure pales into insignificance compared to the millions to be spent on the shopping centre and the £40 million of public money spent attracting the Ryder Cup to Newport in 2010.

Hundreds of people turned out to show their disgust. Some like Flynn say there are more important things than murals to protest about. Probably there are. But the destruction of the mural is the most visible expression of working class people being robbed of their NHS, their jobs, their rights. The capitalists want to wrest from our grasp all the gains of the generations who followed the Chartists, like the NHS, the welfare state, protection at work and the rest. And Labour has walked alongside them while they do it.

Dave Reid

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