PCS Samba Band PCS samba band

Dave Vincent explains why the PCS Samba Band strikes the right note with protestors just as the band complete their 200th performance

The PCS Samba Band will be on our 200th protest when we join the TUC’s ‘Right to Strike’ march in Cheltenham on the 27 January. Our first march was on the public-sector pensions strike march in Manchester in November 2011. We were very nervous and I’d got a small group of civil servants together for one rehearsal.

The idea to create the band came from being on the huge Stop the War on Iraq march of 15 February 2003 in London where, stood in a side street with my branch banner and delegation waiting to get onto the march, I heard a samba band passing by. They gave us all a lift with their catchy rhythm. I eventually learnt to play samba, then set up the PCS Samba Band.

The PCS (the low-paid civil servants’ union, known previously as the CPSA) is the union I’ve been a member of for over forty years. Both the unions and the CPGB(ML) then SWP for a while, provided my socialist education. That education, and the sheer range of progressive policies PCS has, are my guide and mandate for what causes we support.

We’ve played for annual events such as the International May Day marches for Manchester TUC and Chesterfield TUC, the With Banners Held High marches in Wakefield, the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign, on the marches against Tory Conference in both Manchester and Birmingham, and the Peterloo Massacre commemoration, on five UN Anti- Racism Days in London. And we have also joined Keep our NHS Public protests, thirteen Climate Change marches, eight PRIDE marches, Free Palestine marches, Union strike solidarity marches for RMT, UCU, NEU, RCN, PCS, UNITE. So many… I’m trying to be brief – 200 is a lot!

Although we march for PCS and its policies, we have players from UCU, NEU, AEP, Unite, Unite Community, Unison as well as PCS. PCS advocates for unity and the band reflects this – as does our majority female make up. My politics are class over identity and we do what unites not divides the working class.

Turnout of the band in numbers is restricted by awkward working patterns, high caring commitments and health so we can field 15 – 30 players, usually fifteen. Anyone left of centre can join, ideally a (any) union member. I provide tuition and drums (free) and the basis is simply if players are available and agree with the particular cause we are supporting. If they don’t agree with a cause, they don’t protest on that one. We all have different views on things, so I concentrate on getting enough players to support every march we do.

We will not do corporate events or charity, we are protest only. We do not charge a fee for playing, but ask for our actual travel costs where an organisation can afford this.

Not surprisingly, we get new players from protests. No previous drumming experience is necessary (though it helps). Some 95% of players have never played a drum before joining us! We do classic samba rhythms but also hip hop, bhangra, belly dance, latino, reggae or Soca rhythms on typical samba percussion instruments.

We’ve been featured on National TV News reports seven times now. I have not seen any other all-year-round trade-union samba band and we were doing climate-change marches years before the creation of XR. I think we are unique and did not plan to last twelve years so far and 200 protests though I am 65. We usually go down a storm with trade unionists and young people and draw a crowd in city centres to see what the protest is about!

We are on Facebook ‘PCS Samba Band’; become a follower and see what we do and what we are doing next!

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