203rd anniversary of Peterloo (16th August 1819). Could it happen again?

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2022 by kmflett

203rd anniversary of Peterloo (16th August 1819). Could it happen again?

On 16th August 1819 in central Manchester the authorities murdered 18 people protesting for the vote. Would they do it again?

It’s the 203rd Anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. A memorial event will take place near Manchester Central (the site of Peterloo) at 6pm.

The details of the day well known which is not the same as saying that there isn’t more to find out. Many thousands marched into central Manchester from the surrounding towns to demand not just the vote but a more democratic society. As the keynote speaker Henry Hunt spoke Manchester Magistrates gave the order to the local Yeomanry (businessmen on horseback with sabres) to disperse the crowd. They did with murderous effect. Its now thought 18 died and many more were injured.

In the Making of the English Working Class (1963) E P Thompson argued that Peterloo marked a turning point in how the State handled protests. The impact of that Manchester day 203 years ago was not to stop protest against the Tory Government but significantly increase it.

Thompson argued that while the Government might still use violence in industrial disputes, for political ones they dare not. He noted that the 1842 General Strike and Bloody Sunday in 1887 were exceptions.

The Making however is not just a history but a book where Thompson makes political points. In 1963 he was promoting the idea of a mass democratic movement for change that was more likely to achieve results than robust alternatives (he didn’t deny the existence of an armed tradition in working class politics in the first decades of the nineteenth century).

Events in Derry on 30th January 1972 when civil rights protesters were shot and killed by the army raises the issue of whether Thompson’s argument on Peterloo still holds. Indeed in the 1980s Thompson warned of increasingly aggressive and authoritarian policing of protest.

If another protest for democracy like Peterloo one wonders if Liz Truss would deem it an ‘unfair protest’ and act accordingly?

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