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

Watch
nowhere is home

Nowhere is Home..(watch on BBC IPlayer) Dexys film of their latest show. Totally eccentric, brilliantly brainy Kevin Rowland is one of my heroes. In Dexys Midnight Runners in the 70s he espoused the working class intellectual viewpoint dressed in his donkey jacket and hat. With songs such as Dance Stance he snarled at the people who were anti-Irish. From an Irish Birmingham background he challenged all the stereotypes of what it meant to be Irish. In his latest album “Nowhere is Home” he is still chewing over his identity. Enjoy it at

Oppose racist prisons
harmondsworth
…….you might have seen the footage on Channel 4 about the shocking behaviour of the prison authorities to asylum seekers see .
They are not going to put up with it anymore, many of them are on hunger strike. Send them a message of support to detainedvoices@riseup.net.

Find out about
hague conf

“These Dangerous Women; Manchester Women and the Hague Peace Conference in 1915″. In 1915 women from across Europe (including the UK) joined together at this meeting to discuss how they could influence the end of the First World War and prevent it happening again. Women in this country were stopped attending by the government. Go to this free talk and film learn about these brave women. Further info see

Go and see
burjesta
…”Medea” at the Casa in Liverpool. Burjesta Theatre present an original poetic adaptation by Jon Bibby, a cast of sixteen actors including an eight-strong women Greek chorus, and two child actors. All the money from the show is going back into a fund to provide sound and lighting at The Casa so that it can improve its facilites for an affordable venue in the city centre for local people. Further info see

Read
alex k
Alexandra Kollantai by Cathy Porter. A fascinating biography of one of the most charismatic Russian female revolutionaries. Alexandra fought for women and the family to be at the centre of the revolution. She wrote about women’s lives in the factories and in the home whilst at the same time struggling with her own life as a wife and mother. This biography uses her memoirs and diaries and letters and shows the dilemmas facing many women as they try to combine a personal and political life.

Listen to
clr james
a talk about “Red Nelson; the English working class and the making of CLR James”. James was an enormously influential Marxist writer and activist on politics, culture and much more. In 1932-33 he spent ten months in the cotton textile town of Nelson in Lancashire. He said that they were ‘ten months that shook his world’. On Wednesday 25 March at 2pm at the WCML Christian Hogsbjerg will discuss how James’s experience in Nelson shaped his emergence as one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Britain during the Great Depression.

Posted in biography, book review, Communism, education, feminism, films, human rights, Irish second generation, labour history, music, political women, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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

Watch………

Selma James

Selma James

Selma James speaking about Women, Race and Class. She is still one of the most important thinker, speaker and activist on politics today. Selma asks; where has the women’s movement gone wrong, why is it women are more interested in using the movement to pursue their careers and what can we do about it. Join her at the Mary Quaile Day on 21 March in Manchester see

Listen

G By

to Lisa McKenzie, author of “Getting By Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain”. 26th March 2015 from 6pm. She lived on the St.Ann’s Estate in Nottingham for twenty years and is in a good position to show how her neighbourhood has been affected by government policies and economic changes, much of it for the worst. Her book is unique because she is not from a middleclass privileged background, unlike many of the writers who have become famous off the back of writing about the poor, particularly since the recession began. The people in the book are not “victims” and she shows how people struggle to make a decent life for themselves and their families. The meeting hasn’t been organised by a community group, but a think tank based at a local university, which is a bit of a shame, if things are to change it is important that books like Lisa’s is read by people beyond academia and that they take inspiration from its message to take control of their own lives. Details of venue see
See my review of her book at

Read
lisa croft

Activists; Lessons from my Grandparents written by Lisa Croft. What does it mean to be an activist and can we learn from past generations? In this book Lisa tells the story of her grandparents, their lives and the reasons why they became active in many campaigns local, national and international. Her grandfather fought in the Spanish Civil War, and her grandmother was a writer and activist in many campaigns. Lisa says; “Individually or together with comrades, their personal and public struggles are to me inspirational. This generation stood up to fascists, supported hunger marches, promoted education and welfare for all.” Lisa self published because that is the only way you are going to be able to tell stories about people who were important for what they did and not for whom they knew!
Buy it at

Find out
rule 35

..about Rule 35 at this new play by Community Arts North West Exodus project. Rule 35 says; Detention should be reconsidered if a detainee is experiencing physical or mental health issues or has previously experienced torture. Created with women refugees and asylum seekers Rule 35 asks its audience to live detention in a “unique immersive performance.” Be warned you will be expected to take part in the action and you may find this very challenging. Further info see
Book tickets at

Look
japan
…….Metamorphosis of Japan After the War… a fascinating exhibition of photos taken by Japanese photographers in the years after the Second World War. Their cameras captured the country and society as it rose again after 10 years of war, survived being bombed by nuclear weapons and occupied by the Allies. At the beginning of the exhibition is a picture taken just after Japan has surrendered and it’s a picture of the sun. Reflecting the photographer’s hopes for a new and progressive society to emerge in the post war era. Worth a trip to Liverpool and to one of my favourite galleries; Open Eye see

Posted in anti-cuts, art exhibition, book review, Communism, drama, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Celebrate IWD;Maud Brown and the Hunger Marches

Women NUWM 1_0003What does International Women’s Day mean in 2015? It seems like everyone from the banks to Radio Three can celebrate a day that is now largely devoid of its socialist feminist roots. But for me IWD should be a day to remember those women who can inspire us to change society. Maud Brown is one of those women, who led the women’s hunger marches in the 1930s.

Today the major issue for many women is the effect of the austerity. The attack by this government on our lives. The growing levels of poverty and discrimination. The zero hours contracts, the food banks, the closing down of our Welfare State. Across the country women and men are getting together to oppose and challenge the austerity but it is noticeable that there is no single national organisation that exists to represent the unemployed. In the 1920s the National Unemployed Workers Movement was created by the Communist Party to ensure that workers would not be blamed for the recession.

The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement was formed on 15 April 1921 as, after a short boom immediately after the end of the war, unemployment soared to more than two million with many ex-soldiers were out of work. It’s slogan was “Full Work or Full Maintenance at Trade Union Rates”.

At the NUWM conference in 1929 Mrs Youle from Sheffield successfuly moved that all branches with more than 20 women members should establish women’s sections and that a national women’s department should be established. (A previous attempt to set up women’s section in 1926 had been rejected). This led to the appointment of Maud Brown as national women’s organiser.

Maud came from a working-class family in North London and had worked as post office sorter. She was active in the Labour party in Tottenham in the mid 1920s and had started volunteering at the NUWM offices in London in the late 1920s. Unlike most other leading members of the NUWM, Maud was not a member of the Communist party. She was apparently unpaid for her work.
Maud Brown and other women worked hard to recruit women into the NUWM, holding meetings outside labour exchanges, for instance, and built up sizeable women’s sections, especially in the north where large numbers of women, single and married, were attending the exchanges.

Maud Brown at the front of the 1932 march

Maud Brown at the front of the 1932 march

A minority Labour Government was elected in 1929 with a female Labour MInister, Margaret Bonfield, but they were not sympathetic to the unemployed. No change there!

An added impulse to organising was given by Margaret Bondfield in November 1930 when she told the House of commons that young women must accept “suitable offers” of work as domestic servants. This meant that women who had been cotton operatives on 35 shillings per week were expected to take domestic and canteen work on much lower rates ie 10s and have to move away from home.

At the NUWM conference in Bradford in February 1931 Maud Brown moved a motion on “The Task Amongst Unemployed Women” which called for proper facilities at labour exchanges for unemployed women and for crèches for women who were looking for work. It also called for equal benefits and equal pay for women as well as improved maternity and child welfare services.
Hunger marches became an important aspect of the work of the NUUW. Protesting about the injustices facing unemployed people and the particular issues facing women were taken by with women only marches.

In October 1932 the fourth national march took place with  for the first time a women’s contingent numbering about forty, mostly cotton weavers aged from 16 to 62, which started from Burnley on 9th October. Contingents walked to London from Scotland, Wales and the north, numbering about 1,500.

The march had little support from the Labour party or trade union movement.Their route south took them to Todmorden, Halifax, Huddersfield, Barnsley, Rotherham, Worksop, Alfreton, Derby, Burton-on-Trent, Coalville, Hinckley, Rugby, Northampton, Wolverton, Dunstable, St Albans and London, which they planned to reach on 27th October.

They included Maggie Nelson, a weaver from Blackburn, who was remembered by Marion Henery one of the Scottish marchers, as a “very strong personality” who was very successful at addressing street meetings. She “made an appeal to them, won their hearts and got great collections”. Maggie acted a postwoman for the contingent, picking up their letters on the way. She was separated from her husband and left her three children with friends whilst on this march. The march was led by Maud Brown and Lily Webb. They chanted slogans such as;
Work Work work
We Want work
And an end to the means test

The response to them varied with some places greeting them as heroes, welcoming to the town, organising public meetings but other areas, even trade union organisations , ignored their presence.
Throughout the 30s the women alongside the men took part in many demonstrations and by February 1933 the NUWM claimed to have 1000,000 members organised in 349 branches. There were 34 women’s sections.

The organising core were almost entirely members of the Communist party. Inevitably there was a high turnover of membership as people found work or moved to other areas. In some areas the NUWM did build a solid organisation with their own premises which acted as both organising bases and social centres.
There were further national marches in 1934 and 1936 with women contingents on both of them.

After 1936 the NUWM declined from a mass movement to pressure group as unemployment starting to fall as Britain re-armed while the Communist Party became involved in the opposition to fascism at home and abroad. The NUWM was wound up after the end of the war as there was little unemployment with the economy growing.

Women marchers meet mayor of Islington in 1936

Women marchers meet the Mayor of Islington in 1936

Maud Brown did not write any memoirs and seems to have left politics. At her 80th birthday, in August 1968, Hilda Vernon said that she organised the women’s contingents, “With a stern sense of duty, a kind heart and a sense of humour”.

In March 1975 Maud wrote a short article for Labour Monthly accompanied by some photographs from her archive. She said “Those women who are young now must not fail to remember that what has been won has to be kept. During this International Women’s Day Year, our old struggles should be kept constantly before all women.”

Go to

Further reading
Wal Hannington, Unemployed Struggles 1921 to 1936 (1936)
Richard Croucher, We Refuse to Starve in Silence, A History of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (1987)

Posted in anti-cuts, biography, Communism, feminism, International Women's Day, labour history, political women, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

This week is the beginning of the celebrations of International Womens Week so I have highlighted some of the very few events going on that actually reflect the origins of IWD. It was two German socialist women, Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin, who created International Women’s Day to offer hope to working class women that they could collectively get together with other women (and men) to improve their lives. It was first celebrated on 19 March 1911.

In 2015 IWD has become a series of events that mainly concentrate on addressing the issues of middleclass women, most of the events, and that includes one about Sylvia Pankhurst (great socialist feminist) do not address the reality of lives for most women today including benefit sanctions, foodbanks, zero hour contracts, debt….etc.

Most of the events would have happened anyway, there is no event organised by trade unions or the left, our celebration of the life of Mary Quaile is sponsored by trade unions and is the only one that reflects the true spirit of internationalism and socialism. Here are some other events worth attending……….
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Watch…..
Os Fenomenos
Os Fenomenos a Spanish film about a single mother who is also a construction worker, as she is abandoned by the father of her child, she returns to Galicia, her hometown. The film reflects the bigger issues in Spain of the economic crisis and the destruction of the construction industry. You can discuss these issues with the director after the screening. see a trailer (in Spanish) at

Read….
north country bred
North Country Bred. A Working Class Family Chronicle by C. Stella Davies. She was born in 1896, the fourteenth child of a warehouse labourer who went onto to become a commercial traveller. She left school at 12, worked as a telephone operator in Manchester and was active in the Labour Party. She was involved with the General Strike and progressive organisations such as the Clarion and the WEA. Eventually she obtained a PHD and wrote several books. This is not an autobiography it is a story told from the inside about working class peoples’ lives and the effect of massive change such as the Industrial revolution and the conflict arising from working class peoples’ determination to shape their own future. Sadly the book is now out of print but you can try

Find out about
stitched up

the fashion industry and what not to wear. Tansy Hoskins new book “Stitched Up-the Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion” reveals the exploitative nature of the industry from the overpaid and dodgy designers to the poorly paid and exploited female and male workers abroad. It is not just about reading about how bad everything is but it challenges you to do something. Local ballad singer Jennifer Reid will be performing songs from the archive of the wcml. More details see

Follow….
lorna tooley
an interesting blog by Lorna, a member of the RMT and railway worker. She is an activist, at work, and in LGBT, and is standing for the Green Party in the election. It is wonderful to see the spirit of Bob Crow expressed through his members, particularly the younger end of the age profile. Follow Lorna at

Remember
with banners held high
“With Banners Held High” is an event to commemorate the end of the Miners Strike in March 1985. There are speakers, exhibitions, music, drama and films to remember and inspire people to get involved in present day campaigns. Its all happening in Wakefield on 7 March further details see

Look at
9-22-March-2015-Still-We-Rise-@-Peoples-History-Museum-©-Jenny-White-01
Still We Rise an exhibition about women seeking sanctuary in the UK. Through photographs, dance, song, and drama they tell their story of injustice but also one of determination and resistance to their harsh experiences at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre. There is also a performance by the women on the 14 March see

Posted in anti-cuts, biography, book review, Communism, drama, education, feminism, films, human rights, labour history, Manchester, political women, Salford, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

Watch

Italian partisans

 

 

….a film about women partisans in Italy during the Second World War.“We Weren’t Given Anything For Free”. A fascinating documentary that interviews former Italian partisan Annita “Laila” Malavasi, who was active in the battle for Italy’s liberation from fascism. Laila and her two comrades, Gina “Sonia” Moncigoli and Pierina “Iva” Bonilauri talk about their time in the Resistenza and what it meant to them and many other women. Sadly you can only watch this clip see
But if you want to show the film contact the film maker : eric.esser@makeshiftmovies.info

Also have a look at The European Resistance Archive which was set up to interview women and men who took part in the antifascist resistance in Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Austria, France, Italy and Germany during the Second World War. It made me aware of how many women were involved in the resistance and how little we know about their lives.

Be inspired

Mary Quaile

Mary Quaile

 

 

 

 

 

……..at the Mary Quaile day on 21 March. We can learn a lot from trade unionist Mary and on this day we will commemorate her life and also look at some of the campaigns going on now that are inspiring. The day will be part of the Wonder Women festival and International Womens Day. Our event will remind people of the real message of IWD which was about changing women and men’s lives and achieving a fairer society. Themes will include; the history of IWD, trade unionism today, the Scottish Independence campaign and the role of women, the rise of Podemos in Spain and here, and socialist feminism today. Further info see

Look and learn…..

blacklist

 

 

..about direct action. It is building workers and particularly the Blacklisting Campaign which has led the fight against large companies with millions of pounds of public money trying to undermine rights at work.Watch this film about the way in which they challenged poor health and safety at the Crossrail site in London see

 

Find out about

mule

 

 

 

…working for MULE magazine. Interested in local journalism? Want to get experience as a writer and editor? MULE is looking for people to regularly contribute to the website and join the editorial team. They are offering a free 10-week community journalism course starting in March to train people in weekly sessions. The editor of the Salford Star is running the training, so its going to be good!

The info evening at Subrosa Manchester is for people to find out more about MULE and get more details about the course. Everyone and anyone is welcome on 24 February 7-9pm at 27 Lloyd Street South, M14 7HS. Any questions or if you’re interested in applying to the course, email editor@manchestermule.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in anti-cuts, Communism, feminism, films, Ireland, labour history, Manchester, political women, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Socialist Library (10) Born to Struggle by May Hobbs

Born to Struggle May Hobbs was a cleaner from Hoxton, in the east end of London. In 1973 she wrote a book about her life called; Born to Struggle. She decided to write this book because she was fed up of middleclass writers for whom; “the East End was like a figment of their imaginations. They only saw in the place what they wanted to see there.” Hoxton is in the borough of Hackney. Today it has been gentrified and like many areas of London has been taken over by the monied classes. Even in the early 70s May could see how things were changing; “Hoxton as I first knew it was long before they had moved in to clear away the so-called slums and chivvy the people out of their lives.” For May it was her community; “It was more like living in a village, but maybe even better because of the social equality between people.” And “The thing which made the community so strong through thick and thin was, I think, that people realised no one was going to help them except themselves.”

Her story is fascinating because she is without pretensions and tells it like it is. She recounts a story about Mosley and his fascist hangers on who used to go to the local market to attack the Jewish community. One of her friends was a supporter of Mosley until he saw them beat up an old Jewish lady whilst the police stood by. She says; “From then on he saw how Mosley was just spreading hatred, and today he is a convinced socialist, working hard in immigrant communities.”

May had a hard life. She was born in 1938 and at the age of two was evacuated away from London and her parents. At age six she came back to London but was never to live with her parents again, she wasn’t told why, and she lived her young life with two foster parents. Her second foster mother, Jenny Bailey, became what she had always wanted in a real mother.“Most of the things I learnt that were worth learning came from her.”

She spent her life working in factories and as a cleaner. In the 70s she became famous because of her campaign to get better wages and conditions for herself and the other cleaners. It became known as the Night Cleaners Campaign.

Why did they need a union? Because three women were expected to;” clear up in one night an area the size of at least five football pitches.” When the manager refused to employ more staff May, as the supervisor, took on two more part time cleaners, they then pursued a strategy of only cleaning one section per night so that the staff would then complain and they would get more staff. It resulted in them all getting sacked and May being blacklisted as a union organiser.

This did not stop her.“From that moment going round and organising the cleaners became a full-time job for me, especially the night cleaners, who to my mind were the worst exploited.” The cleaners set up the Cleaners Action Group and went around organising workers in different building across the city of London. May was invited to help organise cleaners across the country. She completely understood how trade unions worked and told the cleaners; “They had to do things for themselves, I said, and then keep the officials up to the mark.”

In March 1972 they took on the Ministry of Defence, asking for a rise of £3 in their wages of £12.50 for a 45 hour week and union recognition. They were supported by the civil service unions and feminists who organised a twenty four hour picket. Other unions such as the GPO engineers stopped servicing the telephones, the dustmen refused to empty their bins, no mail or milk was delivered to the canteen. And on 16 August the management agreed to their demands.“The great thing was we had won in this case and shown what might be done.”
Shrew Nightcleaners

May’s politics were driven by the harshness of her life and of those around her; “I think of my Jenny and a thousand like her who slaved their guts out in return for a raw deal”. In 2015 we are witnessing some of the worst attacks on poor people particularly around housing and benefits.Unlike May’s time people do not have her sense of class consciousness nor her political drive born out of poverty and discrimination.

But campaigns are being driven by a sense of anger at the way in which they are being driven out of their houses by the Bedroom Tax and the greed of property owners to rip off tenants. Campaigns such as the Tameside against the Cuts is one of those grassroots campaigns that has taken off because the people most affected by the cuts are at the centre of it.

Sadly unlike the 70s these campaigns are not being supported by the trade unions who are standing by whilst their own members are being made redundant or having their terms and conditions constantly eroded. The leaders of the trade unions could learn a lesson from the Night Cleaners Campaign and all the grassroots workers who chose to support them.

Unfortunately May’s book is out of print but you can buy it on the internet. May Hobbs; Born to Struggle Quartet Books 1973.

Read… Charlotte Hughes of Tameside against the Cuts blog see Watch….a film about the Night Cleaners Campaign see

Posted in anti-cuts, biography, book review, Communism, feminism, films, labour history, political women, trade unions, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

Watch……
selma
Selma….its 1965 and in this small town in Alabama black people make up 50% of the population but only 2% have been allowed to vote. This is the story of the campaign in Selma to get the vote and expose the corruption that lies at the heart of the political system in Alabama. Central to the story is the role of Martin Luther King and the movement for civil rights for the black population. It shows Martin to be a deeply human and compassionate person. We see him frightened of being killed, concerned about the effect of his political activity on his wife and children and horrified at the killing of adults and children as they oppose the racism which was, and some say still is, endemic in the American state. It is a deeply moving film because we know Martin is assassinated three years later but it is inspiring to see that given the worst of situations people fight back. We need that message in these dark times. Highly recommended.

Find out
shrewsbury 24
..about the Shrewsbury 24. In 1972 building workers, including my Dad, went on strike. It was one of the most violent and challenging to the government . The strike lasted 12 weeks and they won a pay rise but did not get rid of the “lump” a system of taking higher pay whilst waiving rights. The government then went onto to charge. twenty-four pickets with conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. Two men, Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren were found guilty and jailed for two and three years. Many building workers were then blacklisted including Tomlinson and Warren. Today the 24 are still seeking justice. In this new play United we Stand the Townsend Productions use a mixture of song, political skits and cabaret to satirise the strike and the court case. See it at the Moston Miners on Saturday 28 February at 730pm, tickets £7.00 Join the men’s campaign for justice see

Visit
Portico library
….one of Manchester’s most iconic buildings; the Portico Library and Gallery. Situated on Mosley Street in the city centre it was built between 1802 and 1806 by Thomas Harrison of Chester. It is a Grade 11 listed building. In 1806 it was opened as a subscription library and the library still exists in the upstairs of the building with its entrance on Charlotte Street. The library is beautiful and was designed by Harrison and built by David Bellhouse, one of its founders. They host lots of art exhibitions and talks. I love sitting in this unique and beautiful setting and enjoying their homemade lunches. Further info see

Listen…
sibelius
to some of the most beautiful music. Jean Sibelius is a Finnish composer but he is very popular in this country. Maybe it is because his music is so melodic, maybe it’s a northern hemisphere reaction. One of Britain’s best conductor’s, Simon Rattle , is performing them next week on BBC Radio 3 to celebrate the 150 anniversary of the birth of Sibelius. You can watch a documentary about Simon Rattle on BBC 2 Simon Rattle: The Making of a Maestro on Saturday 14th February. Listen to Sibelius’s symphonies 1-7 on 10/11/12 February. Further info see

Posted in anti-cuts, drama, education, films, human rights, labour history, radio drama, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment