In the Glastonbury Bermuda Triangle, between the repetitive beats of the Glade, the West Holts stage and the Pyramid, lost revellers sometimes find themselves inside a red double-top tent.
On its stage, they’ll often come across musicians who blend pop with politics. But, just as likely, they’ll find a group of people in muddy shorts and festival wristbands speaking passionately into a microphone.
Here, under the Left Field sign in years gone by, they would have found the legendary Tony Benn. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn. This year, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
In any year, they will find the stage’s curator, the Bard of Pilton, Billy Bragg – and plenty of people you’ve never heard of, who are doing outstanding things to change the world.
So, forget Kylie and The Killers, the headline act of Glastonbury this year was, for me, Maritza Castillo Calle. A 33-year-old outsourced cleaner from Ecuador who held the Left Field entranced with the story of how she turned her own exploitation into a mass movement.
Arriving with her family six years ago, she found work getting up at 4am every day to clean a London university building – a job with no holiday pay, no sick pay and no living wage.
A job where pregnant cleaners were working with dangerous chemicals and where being allowed a day off depended how friendly you were with the boss. A job where cleaners often weren’t paid at all – and at one point received no payment for three months.
Despite working three cleaning jobs, Maritza began using the time between to organise other workers for change.
Today she is the President of the University of London branch of the International Workers of Great Britain Union, organising over 600 people in a union that has grown to 5,000 from a handful of cleaners, and is known for its carnival strike actions with vuvuzelas, drums and empanada pasties.
Cleaners now have sick pay, holiday pay, the living wage, and are now campaigning to bring back in-house altogether.
“I was an exploited worker,” Maritza told the Left Field, to huge applause at the panel I chaired with John McDonnell, the TUC’s Clare Coatman and the IWGB’s Emiliano Mellino. “But I didn’t give up.”
Mellino also told of other inspiring fights, organising outsourced Ernst & Young cleaners facing the sack “to save a few thousand pounds from a multi-billion-pound company” and the battle to get fuel and vehicle costs paid for couriers transporting NHS blood around the country.
Coatman, meanwhile told of the inventive ways she’s trying to bring exploited young workers into the union movement – including career coaching apps.
John McDonnell, the ‘People’s Chancellor’ promised Labour would end outsourcing, zero hours contracts and oppressive welfare structures.
And he said it would fulfil the promise of late leader John Smith that every worker would have trade union rights from day one of employment. “We have 4.5 million children in this country living in poverty,” he said.
“The prediction is it will be five million within a short time if the Tories remain in office. Two-thirds of those kids live in families where someone is at work. These Tories have broken the link between work and actually being able to lift yourself out of poverty.
“If you don’t believe me, read the United Nations’ rapporteur’s report. He says it’s destitution we now have in our society. That’s a result of the undermining of trade union rights, the undermining of collective bargaining and the undermining of basic wages.”
There were more people at Glastonbury than in the right-wing garden party currently deciding who will become our next Prime Minister.
And, as we face the 10th year of Conservative rule and bitter Tory austerity, the festival is becoming noticeably more political. Opened by a parade led by Extinction Rebellion, the stunning festival headline act Stormzy had 200,000 people singing “F*** Boris” – whose devastating youth worker and police cuts while Mayor of London were also highlighted by the grime star’s Banksy-designed stab vest.
On the Left Field, Bragg changed the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing: “It’s obvious the climate is changing/But the fool in the White House says no one’s to blame…”
Meanwhile, having Johnny Marr at the festival was a way to sing along to Smiths songs guilt-free, now Morrissey’s gone all National Front Disco.
The 10th anniversary year of the Left Field saw discussions on the hostile environment and reuniting Britain after Brexit.
“We have to hang on to our belief in each other,” Bragg told the crowd.
The stage’s motto – on a green-red background, reflecting the tent’s political shades – is ‘Recharge your activism’.
And escaping from the heat of the sun, people of all ages crawled in exhausted and left refreshed.
This year in the big red tent, lost revellers might also have seen the new Muslim MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Magid Magid, just hours before he was prevented from taking up his seat in the European Parliament because, he believes, he is “visibly different” from other MPs.
If only every institution were like the Left Field – inclusive, energising.