Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

WatchTwo Days, One Night (Cornerhouse)..another brilliant film from Belgian brothers; the Dardennes. Sandra has just returned to work after being ill with depression only to find that the management have asked the staff to vote for a bonus or for her job. She has the weekend to persuade them to vote again, only this time for her to keep her job. It is capitalism writ large. As she visits her colleagues we see how the management have sought to turn them against each other. Most of them are poor working class people, many are from non-European backgrounds, including Arabic and African. It is heartbreaking as we watch her children as they watch their mother on the verge of a mental breakdown. Luckily she has a husband and a union rep who believe in her, that she can convince her colleagues to change their minds and even at the lowest point of her own misery she offers her friend sanctuary in her home from an abusive husband. This film reminds us of the importance of solidarity at work and that in the end people are more important than profit.
Highly recommended.

Go to a talk…about political theatre at the WCML on 10 September at 2pm. Mike Harris, writer, discusses his own work which has included touring theatre, community and radio drama and the “Great Tradition” of committed political theatre by which I think he means the Red Megaphones and Unity Theatre. The WCML has the archives of both these organisations. Big difference here is that these organisation were created by communists and had a political strategy, so it will be interesting to hear his take on political drama today. Further info see

Support the right to protest….at the Kedem picket in Manchester. Only last week we were commemorating the Peterloo Massacre when 13 people were killed as they demonstrated for the right to vote. But in Manchester in 2014 the head of the council Richard Leese and the police are trying to stop people protesting about the massacre in Gaza. Tight limits have been imposed on the picket at Kedem. So if you want to support the protestors sign this petition

Support… a family in need of sanctuary in the UK. Abiola Famaminwa is a biomedical scientist from Nigeria, she has 3 children, her husband Samuel was a well known journalist in Nigeria who died in suspicious circumstances in Borno State. He is just one journalist of many who are persecuted in Nigeria. Abiola fled to the UK to protect herself and her children and she is now facing deportation back to Nigeria. Support the campaign by signing the petition, write to her MP and make a donation if you can. There is a social for the family on Saturday 30 August 12-6pm, further info see

Find out about the architecture of Manchester….the Modernist Society and the Modernist Magazine have organised a talk on 4 September at Manchester Central Library, From the North: TV in Manchester. They say: This talk will not focus so much on the creative output of the television companies based in Manchester namely the BBC, ABC and Granada but more a narrative relating to the places these television companies inhabited and how their development in the second half of the 20th century symbolised and mirrored Manchester’s wider shift from an industrial to post industrial economy along with the changing nature of television. Further info see

Posted in anti-cuts, Communism, drama, education, films, human rights, labour history, Manchester, Middle East, Palestine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Building a Socialist Library (8) The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox

The Village Against the World

The Village Against the World

Reading this book reminded me of visiting republican areas such as the Bogside in Derry in the 80s and 90s. As I walked the streets of Derry with SF councillor Mary Nelis I saw a landscape not unlike my own in east Manchester, except for the shadow of the British army in the background. The occupation of this part of Ireland spurred on a wonderful rich culture of language, art and history which was part of the republican opposition to the British presence.

Derry Mural

Derry Mural

In The Village against the World there are many parallels, except they are opposing their own government and not an occupying force. Dan found out about Marinaleda from a Spanish travel book and decided to travel there and find out what was happening in a village dubbed a “communist utopia.”

Marinaleda is a small Andalusian village of only 2,700 people. Andalucia is an agricultural region that has not changed over the last 100 years. It has a history of peasants rebelling against the landed aristocracy particularly during the period after the death of fascist dictator Franco. Their actions were undertaken to secure some land so that they could do the basics including feeding themselves and so they took on the might of the Spanish government :
“As Spain began its slow, careful transition from fascism to liberal democracy, the people of Marinaleda formed a political party and a trade union, and began fighting for land and freedom. “

Their actions varied from marches and pickets to hunger strikes which for some meant a prison sentence. But in 1991 they achieved their goal and were granted 1200 hectares of the local noble’s land, for which he was paid by the Spanish government.

Central to this struggle was Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo who in 1979 became the first elected mayor of the town, a position he has continually held since then. He defined his politics; “I have never belonged to the Communist Party of the hammer and sickle, but I am a communist or communitarian.” His influences are as diverse as Christ, Gandhi and Che.

Dan described his interview with the mayor; “He spoke that day with range and passion, for hours about the struggle he has led the village through, its general assemblies and hunger strikes, its cultural opportunities and collective personality, and the inhumanity of the capitalist world outside, as well as the misery of its crisis.”

Andalusia has been hit hard by the economic crisis. In 2013 unemployment was 36% with young people being affected much worse at a rate of 55%. The housing boom has now gone, leaving local people facing eviction from their homes by the banks. The government has freed up labour laws so that employers can hire and fire at will.

Like much of western Europe people in Spain have become disillusioned with the political system that allows bankers to destroy peoples lives and communities whilst not taking any responsibility for the economic crisis. Out of this crisis Spanish people have created their own reform movement – the indignados – with its cry for real democracy now or iDemocracia Real YA!

After the locals got their 1200 acres they went on to cultivate the land producing crops that could be part of a processing industry that would give work to the locals. It is a co-operative that aims not to redistribute the profits but to provide more jobs. It is not just about jobs either: they have created a community with self- built houses, a cultural centre, a worker’s stadium, tennis courts, a gym, an outdoor swimming pool, nurseries and schools.

But Marinaleda is part of a country that is going into meltdown and this is having an effect on their community as funding is cut and they are affected by the same economic forces. But it is also being seen as an alternative for the millions of Spanish people who are rejecting the established political order.

Dan compares the experience of going to Marinaledo to the response of Orwell going to Republican Spain in 1936 as “the strange and moving experience” of believing in a revolution. I think that many people had that response when they went to Derry or Belfast in the 80s and 90s or maybe were involved in the Miners Strike in 1984/5. It is the kind of experience that keeps you going if you are an activist.

For those of us who are socialists we are always looking to create a better world whether it is as trade union activists fighting for decent lives at work or in our neighbourhoods to stop the destruction of trees. Our history is one of people believing that we can create a more equal and just society, the big problem is maintaining the optimism to do so in an increasingly cynical world.

The Village Against the World is a fascinating book because for the people of Marinaleda they have created a little utopia in a small part of Spain. It will be interesting to see how it develops as Spain and the world lurch from one crisis to the next.

The Village Against the World published by Verso £9.99
Buy it at

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, human rights, Ireland, labour history, Socialism, trade unions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch.Cotton Couture….a film and exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery. Cotton was king in these parts until its decline in the mid- 20 century. In the 1950s the Cotton Board, which was based in Manchester tried to promote cotton products as items of haute couture and to grow the export trade. The film shows the reality of the industry in its aerial view of a cotton mill, maybe Oldham, and then swoops onto the factory floor to catch a woman as she minds her looms. Quickly and before we ask any questions or find out anything about the woman worker we are now at a fashion show where models are exhibiting dresses and suits in cotton. It is high end fashion, you only have to look at the women in the audience to see who can afford to buy the clothes. After watching the film there is an exhibition of some of the clothes shown in the film. In real life they do not look as glamorous and you wonder what the designers really thought about using cotton instead of silk. Fascinating film and exhibition more for what it doesn’t say or show ……..further info see

Oppose the victimisation of a pregnant young woman….and join a demo at Ashton Jobcentre on 21 and 22 August at 1pm against benefit sanctions. A 19 year old pregnant young woman (23 weeks) has been sanctioned 3 times in 2 months. Her case is being supported by Tameside against the Cuts and the local Green Party.

Join the People’s March for the NHS….they are a group of mums walking from Darlington to London and inspired by the Jarrow March of the 1930s (which refused to allow women to take part except for Ellen Wilkinson) and next weekend they will be in Leeds. They are marching 300 miles, through 23 towns and cities all the way to Parliament. The easiest leg of the march to join is on Saturday 23rd August – when it sets off from central Leeds to march the 10 miles to Wakefield. The rally in Leeds starts at 930am. Work colleagues in BHA Leeds Skyline – the city’s HIV support centre – will be opening up early on Saturday 23rd at Gallery House, 131 The Headrow, opposite the start of the march, and providing marchers with tea, coffee and toast. Further info see

Were you at... the march against the war in Iraq on February 15, 2003? If you did, you walked beside over 15 million people in over 800 cities around the world. “We are many” is a project to produce a documentary telling the stories of the marchers across the world. You can share your story at

Take part ina Gig by the Green on Sunday 24 August at the Moston Miners..a community festival with music, stalls, children’s entertainment both inside and outside the centre and its all free! Further info see

Go to a play…. last season the Royal Exchange produced a wonderful production of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and this season we can watch a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Salford’s finest actor Maxine Peake. It is going to be popular so get your tickets it starts 11 Sept-18 October. See

Listen of the finest orchestras in Europe; the BBC Philharmonic and they have a new Basque chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, who will open the season on the 27 September with the wonderful Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And the great thing is that if cannot afford to go to the concert they will recorded by BBC Radio 3 and some will be broadcast live. Further info see

Posted in anti-cuts, art exhibition, drama, education, feminism, films, human rights, labour history, Manchester, NHS, political women, Socialism, Tameside, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, young people | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

WatchThe Mill (Channel 4) a series created by left wing writer John Fay and set at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire charting the rise of radical politics. Not the usual its grim up north programme but a series that has real, complex working class characters and one of the most interesting aspects of north west history as its subject. Set in the 1830s it charts the rise of the demands of the majority (but male) population for the vote and better working conditions. Last week we saw how difficult it was to organise the factory slaves, that is what they were, to go to the Chartist demonstration at Kersal Moor in Salford in 1838. They would lose a day’s pay and have to walk many miles from Styal to Salford. Many of them did: 200,000 people turned up to demand not just the vote but a change in the political system. It is a powerful series because at the heart of it are strong characters: Esther Price, the factory girl who wants more than just being a slave in the factory or to a man. Daniel, a clever man, chief engineer in the mill, who organises the trade union and challenges the boss over his right to rule the lives of the factory workers inside and outside work. It is not a dour series but is funny, irreverent and yet challenges every stereotype about working class people. Highly recommended.

Read the Salford Star…about to come out in print but you will have to move to Salford to get a copy. I recently interviewed founders Stephen Kingston and Steve Speed see

Go on a march…on 17 August in memory of the Peterloo Massacre a group of people are marching from Middleton, starting at Barrowfields at 8.45am. Middleton was the home of poet and activist at Peterloo Sam Bamford. It will end at Peter’s Square in Manchester where 18 people were killed by the local yeomanry in 1819 at a meeting which called for the vote. There is also a feeder march from Bolton for details see
Read this interesting article about the women at Peterloo see

More on Gaza…. lots of activities to join in from the daily picket of Kedem, the Israeli Cosmetics Product Shop in King Street which continues daily 12 to 6. Manchester Palestine Action Meeting on Wednesday 13th August,7-9pm, a meeting for people currently involved in actions to learn more about Gaza and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaigns. Friends Meeting House, Mount Street Manchester. Further info see
He is one of our best known singer/songwriters and here he is with a song for Gaza; Leon Rosselson see

Sign the petition….. Please sign Louise Raw’s petition to get UK parliament recalled on Gaza.
as she says I KNOW, it’s a shame to interupt those poor MPs hols, but…see

Remember…working class poet Joe Smythe who would have been 80 this year. Filmmaker John Crumpton has on his blog reminded us of a man who should be better known as a poet. Joe worked as a railway guard and wrote about life on the railways as well as much more. He published six poetry books through Commonword, which was a worker’s writers co-op, that encouraged working class people to meet and share their poetry and give them the opportunity to get it published. Read more about Joe at

Support Stafford Hospital…faced with the closure of its A&E, maternity and intensive care supporters are camping out with over 30 tents and 100 people to build support to stop the closure of an important local hospital. For more info see For those of us involved with the Greater Manchester KONP we watch knowing it is going to be our hospitals next so why not join us

Posted in anti-cuts, Communism, drama, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, Middle East, music, NHS, Palestine, poetry, political women, Salford, Socialist Feminism, TV drama, Uncategorized, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the houseLook

Watch...Finding Vivian Maier (Cornerhouse, Manchester) a fascinating documentary about a woman who was a nanny and a photographer. She didn’t just take photos but made films and recorded her own thoughts on life. The families she worked for and in particular their children were her subject of her camera lens as well as some of the poorest communities in the New York area. Over the years she took thousands of photos but it was only after her death that some of these were bought by John Maloof who decided to find out who Vivian Maier really was. The film really keeps you on the edge of your seat as more and more details of Vivian’s life are revealed and her friends and the children she looked after piece together the life of a very important photographer.

Do something….concerned about bombing of Gaza?.. then sign this petition see Listen to interview with PLO Executive Member Hanan Ashrawi who believes that this is a massacre, not self defence by the Israelis. The interview was done on 21 July and since then things have got much worse. See
Listen to…a song that Sarah Gillespie has put up on her website that has become associated with the brutality experienced by children in Gaza see

ReadThe Sixties by Jenny Diski. Books about this era have been dominated by a small group of middle class people who led a very hedonistic lifestyle, quite removed from the lives of most people in the 60s who just have to get on with the realities of working for a living. Jenny’s book is different because she did do the whole drugs scene but she did also care about the poor children she lived around. She was living in Hoxton in the East End of London which was then a very poor area although it had a close knit working class community (see May Hobb’s biography Born to Struggle). In 1971 she opened up a free school in her two-roomed flat with eight students and two teachers. Unbelievably a local social worker encouraged her to set up the school to stop the children (seven were from one family) from going into local authority care. Jenny was at the time training to be a teacher and she got other people including a local architect, a carpenter and a drop-out physics graduate to teach weekly sessions. It seems incredible nowadays that this could happen without any child protection screening, concerns about health and safety or the content of the curriculum! It isn’t surprising to me that the free school didn’t work out. Life in the 60s was harsh, although there were more jobs, but the reality was that an education does give working class children some chance of getting a better job and life. I have never believed that people taking drugs and dropping out changed anything, history shows us that this is not true. Interestingly whilst Jenny and her friends were trying to prove there was an alternative to state education other activists including socialist feminists such as Sheila Rowbotham and trade unionists were supporting working class women from Hoxton including May Hobbs of the Nightcleaners Campaign to get better wages and conditions. I enjoyed reading this book because of Jenny’s honesty in challenging her own ideas about what being radical really means.

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, drama, feminism, films, human rights, Middle East, Palestine, Uncategorized, women, young people | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heidi Hi!

Like many little girls I read and loved the book Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Heidi lived in Switzerland in an alpine village with her grandfather and was surrounded by cows with cowbells and lush green valleys. Like Heidi I travelled to visit my granny but it was to rural west of Ireland. It seemed like travelling from the technicolour of my imagination to the black and white of real life. This year I went to find out what the real Switzerland is like and here are some of my reflections.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Switzerland is twice the size of Wales but with only 7.6m people. It’s only been a unified federation since 1848. The federation has 26 cantons of varying sizes. I travelled from the west, Lausanne(population 128,200), to the east, Zurich (368,700+). Cantons are divided (60/40) between German and French speaking with one canton, Ticino, having Italian as its main language. But wherever I went and spoke to people from supermarket workers to the crew on a ferry they were also able to speak and understand English. Unbelievable.

Meeting the locals. In Bern (the capital, but only because it is in the middle of the country; population 123,500) I met up with a group of people who for 40 years have regularly met up at a local cafe, Cafe de Pyrenees. They asked me; was I worried about Nigel Farrage? They were worried about the election of a right wing government in Switzerland, of threats to links to Europe including free travel and cuts to the health service. Sounds familiar.



Architecture. The country was neutral during the Second World War so didn’t suffer any bombing and consequently they still have some of the most beautiful buildings. Everywhere I went there were cranes scattered across the skyline as new buildings were being constructed, most notably in Zurich, which is a really rich city. I stayed in a working class area which was slowly being taken over by yuppies working in global financial firms whilst the local people are being pushed out from the neighbourhoods.

Art. Across the country there are numerous art galleries and museums. In Zurich I counted about 37 art galleries and museums, a feast for me. Paul Klee is one of the most famous Swiss artists and there is a unique art gallery built to his honour in Bern where he is also buried. In Zurich I took a tour through Swiss history at the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum. I loved this museum dedicated to Corbusier.

Centre Le Corbusier Zurich

Centre Le Corbusier Zurich

Homegrown. There is no austerity in Switzerland. In the cities there are no charity shops in the main shopping centres and not many global brands except in Zurich which is awash with money, tourists and global firms of accountants and banks. Many of the shops, supermarkets and bakeries were locally owned with only the odd McDonalds, Subway and H&M.

Chocolate art

Chocolate art

A Haven. Switzerland has a history of taking in refugees, from the well-known Russian revolutionary Lenin to Turkish, Indian and now African people. In some cities it was easy to see groups of young African men gathering in parks, it was harder to see where they worked. I glimpsed some young African women cleaning in the train station and maybe if I had stayed in a hotel I would have come across them as room assistants. In the latest elections for the federal government the successful right wing party used the issue of refugees to garner votes. Ironic in a society with a booming economy. The right wing won but only on the basis of a 49% turn out.

The poster was part of the campaign by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) for the parliamentary elections in 2011.

The poster was part of the campaign by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) for the parliamentary elections in 2011.

Train spotting. I travelled to Switzerland by train, my favourite form of transport, and went from train hell (UK) to train paradise. They have a fantastic train service, ironically set up by the British, that is fully integrated across trains, buses, trams and boats. The average day ticket was only £6.


Back to Nature. Like most European countries people have left the countryside for the advantages of city living. The Swiss have kept their countryside by diversifying into providing a haven for tourists and walkers. From Lucerne (population 59,500) I travelled to Mount Rigi and the lush pastures of Heidi country. I travelled up the mountain by train (see below) and then went down on a lovely path scattered with wildflowers (their names helpfully signposted) whilst being watched by the cows with cowbells! Heavenly.

It was hard to see any signs of dissent, in some ways it seemed almost dull because everything was so ordered and orderly. I did notice two demos about Ukraine and the bombing of Gaza. But given the booming economy and a country that spends a large part of its budget on the public services, maybe there is not much to fight against??

grafitti in central Zurich

grafitti in central Zurich

Posted in art exhibition, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, novels, Palestine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch…..Spyship (DVD).Based on the true story of the disappearance of the Hull based deep sea fishing boat Gaul which sank in the Barents sea, near Norway, in 1974. No trace of the ship was found for many years and 36 crew were lost in one of the worst fishing disasters of recent times. It happened during the Cold War period and many people, including the families of the crew, believed it had been sunk by the Russians. Spyship, starring Tom Wilkinson was shot around Hull and its docks was broadcast in 1983. The story feeds into the Cold War mentality that existed at that time and bears resemblance to the better known nuclear drama Edge of Darkness. Tom plays the journalist son of one of the dead crewmen who together with a family friend tries to work out what has happened to the ship and crew. As you would expect the secret services are not going to let him succeed and the story makes for a thrilling drama. The drama is increased by the haunting voice of folk singer June Tabor on the credits.

ReadEleanor Marx by Rachel Holmes. She was one of the daughters of the better known Karl Marx. Brought up and mainly home schooled by Karl and his wife Jenny in their cosmopolitan household she had the best of educations. One thing I really like about this book is that Rachel acknowledges the role of Jenny Marx who wants a better ie freer life for her daughter and encourages Eleanor’s dreams of pursuing a life on the theatrical stage as well as the political one. Eleanor had a very privileged life but she was not a snob and respected and learnt from working class women such as Fredrick Engel’s partners, the Burns sisters. Like Marx she believed that change would only come through struggle by those, women and men, at the bottom of society. It was a belief that dominated her life and her politics. Rachel Holmes has produced an insightful and well written history of one of the most important, if forgotten, women of the late 19th century. It is an expensive book so get it from your library.

Go to…a curtain raiser for the 4th Wigan Diggers Festival on 19 July at the Bolton Socialist Club from 2-10pm with a stella line-up of poets, comedians and musicians to mark the upcoming Wigan event in September, one of the North West’s political and cultural highlights. Further details see and for info about the Diggers Festival in September see

Find out about… women’s role during the Miners Strike in 1984/5.Radical theatre group Red Ladder, who have just had their arts council funding cut, are touring a new play about the women’s role during one of the most significant episodes of recent history. We’re Not Going Back They say; Olive, Mary and Isabel are like any other sisters whose everyday squabbles became a background hum to the strike that forced them to question their lives, their relationships and their family ties. Support radical theatre by giving them a donation and go to the play in September in Oldham. For further details see

Learn more about…the campaign for the vote through this BBC TV drama series Shoulder to Shoulder which was made in 1974. It covers the period 1890-1919 and shows the main protagonists including the Pankhursts and Annie Kenney. Episode two is excellent, telling Annie Kenney’s story, of a mill girl from Oldham who becomes a national figure in the suffrage movement. There is also a book of the same name which includes excerpts from their speeches, diaries, letters, memoirs, other writings and various newspaper cuttings, photographs, and cartoons. Shamefully the series has never been repeated on TV but you can watch it on Youtube see

Posted in book review, drama, education, feminism, films, human rights, Ireland, labour history, Manchester, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment