” …. Two hundred years ago today (16th August 2019), on St Peter’s Field in Manchester, armed cavalry charged into a crowd of peaceful protesters.
At least 18 people were murdered in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre, among them children, a pregnant woman, and an Army veteran who had served in the Battle of Waterloo. Hundreds more were injured or mutilated.
More than 60,000 working class men, women and children from Manchester and the surrounding towns had gathered to demand an end to child labour, low pay, and rule by the rich. The meeting had the feel of a huge community festival – full of families, with local bands playing music and speakers giving voice to the desire for change.
The response from the authorities was carnage and bloodshed. They feared the people speaking up for themselves.
As the shock-waves from the massacre reached across the world, the establishment and the Tory government closed ranks. They branded the protesters violent revolutionaries and clamped down on the newspapers that supported their cause. It was not the murderous cavalrymen who were later imprisoned, but the speakers who had addressed the crowd.
But repression could not hold back the emerging working class movement. Survivors of Peterloo went on to help form the Chartists’ movement and the early Suffragette movement, campaigning for the right to vote for men and women respectively.
This is our history. A direct line runs from Peterloo to the foundation of the Labour Party, which exists to represent the interests of the majority against the elite at the top.
It’s why we use the slogan ‘For the many, not the few.’ It comes from Percy Shelley’s poem, The Masque of Anarchy, written in response to Peterloo about the power people have when they come together for change:
Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!…. “