Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women by Bernadette Hyland

Northern ReSisters: Conversations with Radical Women by Bernadette Hyland
ISBN 987-0-9932247-0-6 £5.95

I decided to write this book because I was fed up with the way that the Left, which I have always been a part of, has  in recent years promoted writers, comedians and actors as leaders of new movements, campaigns or at demonstrations. Ignoring, I feel, a vital part of our movement, the many working class activists who have put themselves, their family and their livelihood on the line. For me it also reflected a fact that many of the new organisations do not have working class people as activists and do not engage with working class communities.

My own experience reflects my lifetime political activity. Growing up in a working class Irish background in the unfashionable east side of Manchester I followed in the footsteps of my family; proud of coming from a radical Irish tradition and being active in my trade union, in my community and my neighbourhood.

Starting work in early 1980s, I learnt from older trade union activists  about the importance of solidarity, collective action and, most importantly,  compassion for those not as lucky as me.

In this book I talk to nine other women who have taken a similar path in life but did not always start from the same background. These include:

Betty Tebbs,  who is now 97, and has spent a lifetime as an activist in her trade union and the peace movement. Her political activity was reflected the exploitative nature of work; “At the age of 14 years I experienced first hand the double exploitation of women in industry and it seemed quite right for me to work to change this situation.”



Alice Nutter, former member of anarcho collective Chumbawamba and now writer,  came from a Tory working class background but  had a mother who encouraged her; “She let me be anything I wanted to be, even when I was a punk.She never thought I should get married, and I haven’t.”

alice nutter 2015In the late 70s there was a culture of radical dissent with people opposing racism, the war in Ireland, cruise missiles at Greenham Common and Tory cuts. This was played out  against a background of high levels of youth unemployment. It defined a whole generation of young people, including myself and Alice.

Pia Feig comes from a London Jewish family and has been an activist for forty years. Like many immigrants her family kept their head down but their children were not going to be the same. As Pia recounts; “Me and my sister would answer back to my father and that was the start of a protest position, right from the family dynamics.”

Pia on save the NHS demo

Pia on save the NHS demo

She became involved in politics when she went to university but it was when she went to a big demonstration about Britain’s role in Ireland that she saw the difference between student and street politics; “My very first demo, which was about Ireland, really frightened me. It was the largest police presence I had ever seen and the atmosphere was the opposite to all the student activity I had been involved in.”

In the second part of the book I have selected a number of articles that reflect the importance to me of being northern, working class and a political activist. These interviews include discussions with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from 1991 and how women of all ages decide where they put their political energies in 2014. Other articles explore the nature of being northern with writers Sally Wainwright, Alice Nutter, Cathy Crabb and Maxine Peake.

But my book is not a nostalgic walk down memory lane for former activists. All the women in my book are still out there on the demonstrations as well as organising meetings and taking an active part in campaigns. Most importantly working with younger generations of women and men in campaigns as diverse as fracking, anti-cuts and Palestine.

The lives of young people who want to be activists is not so easy. Many of them are being harassed through the benefit system or working on zero hour contracts, with large student debts and living a precarious if an independent lifestyle.

Tameside against the Cuts

Tameside against the CutsI

It is important to remind them that change for the better is possible and my northern sisters have shown that through their lives. Their message is one of hope for the future, but not one dependent on expecting someone else to do the work.

Christine Clark, one of my northern sisters summed it up; We should start from where they are. I have some interesting conversations with my granddaughter who is black. I try to be on her side and listen to what is important to her. As activists we must listen to them and what they are struggling with and give them support.”

For details of how to buy my book please go to

Posted in Alice Nutter, Bernadette McAliskey, Betty Tebbs, Cathy Crabb, Christine Clark, Cumbawamba, Maxine Peake, Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women, Pia Fieg, Sally Wainwright | Tagged | 2 Comments

Jennifer Reid; Manchester Ballad Singer

Jennifer singing at Chetham's

Jennifer Reid is a fan of 19th century ballads. In her new eBook “A Selection of Nineteenth Century Broadside Ballads from Collections in Manchester” she says “While broadside ballads physically had no staying power, being sheets of cheap paper, the songs and ideas they contained maintain their relevance to the present day and can teach us a lot about our history.” She chose this selection of ballads because they represent a slice of life for people during the Victorian period; “the pressures of industrial society, differing kinds of leisure activities, unwary visitors, crime and punishment, and visions of the future”.

Jennifer is from Middleton in north Manchester and was influenced by folk legend Mike Harding and the Oldham Tinkers who have used broadside ballads in their repertoire. “I met with Mike Harding for some background from the folk world on broadside balladry and he gave me his thesis which was very informative and furthered my understanding of them.

Rejecting a university education Jennifer has worked as a volunteer at Chetham’s Library in Manchester and the Working Class Movement Library in Salford where she has been involved in giving a new life to these ballads.

Middleton is from where Sam Bamford, radical and poet, led a group to St Peter’s Fields, to attend a meeting in August 1819 pressing for parliamentary reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws. The violent reaction from the establishment led to 18 people being killed and hundreds injured. Sam was arrested at Peterloo and spent a year in prison. Jennifer is a member of “Enlightenment Middleton” which reminds people of their local hero and the importance of Peterloo to the radical history of the northwest.


Jennifer feels that Peterloo should be better known and the annual event should in her view; “Wake up (people)to how Peterloo affected them and the process of liberty in this country.” She has become well known in the northwest for performing at many historical and community events that commemorate different aspects of the region’s history.

Recently Jennifer has worked with Jeremy Dellar on his exhibition ‘All that is solid melts into air.’ “Here I shared knowledge of the ballads, recommended ballads to place in the exhibition, appeared on Newsnight alongside him singing ‘A Prophecy for 1973′ and gave a talk at a Manchester Art Gallery event.”

Next month she is performing at the 56th Venice Biennale “All The World’s Futures” as part of Jeremy Deller’s “All that is solid melts into air” & “Factory Songs”. Apart from performing clog dances she will be teaching a group of Italian singers to perform Lancashire ballads! Easy!!

Further info see

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

WatchA Town Called Panic(DVD)
a town called panic

…its an animation film made about a town run by plastic animals including a horse called Horse, a cowboy called Cowboy and an Indian called Indian. It is Horse’s birthday and his friends decide to make him a present only they destroy the house. Mixed in is Horse’s attraction for a female horse who happens to be the local music teacher. Confused? It is a totally surreal film, obviously foreign, very funny and totally manic!

kersal moor

listening to band Edward II at Band on the Wall on Thursday 23 April. They have taken inspiration from the history of the northwest and the industrial revolution and mixed them together with their brand of rocksteady rhythms, wonderful harmonies and blazing horns. It is a celebration of great political events including the Chartist demonstration on Kersal Moor in 1838. An event and a movement that I think is much more significant than Peterloo. Hopefully the songs may inspire people today to follow in the footsteps of the people who made Salford and Manchester into radical (not shopping or drinking !) cities! To hear the song about Kersal Moor see

…to Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain..a building worker and journalist who have written this really important book Blacklisted The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists.It is the story of how multinational companies could break not just UK laws on employment rights but European ones. And unlike the hacking debacle there has been no public inquiry. I wonder why?? Maybe because working class people do not matter as much as celebs. The northern book launch is at the Kings Arms Salford on 1 May at 6pm. Further details see Read my article about local campaigner against blacklisting see

Join in
Layout 1
…..May Day..traditionally a day for workers to celebrate as trade unionists and political activists. But as trade unions have declined in numbers and political power so has the annual day of celebration. But in Manchester this year the local Trades Council have married together a march plus a series of stalls, talks and cultural activities in the birthplace of trade unions, the Mechanics Institute. Taking part include new organisations such as the Peoples Assembly alongside local trade unions. Further details see Read up about the history of May Day see

Jennifer Reid

…Manchester balladeer Jennfer Reid who has been chosen to take part in the UK section of the Venice Biennale. Jennifer is well known in the northwest for rescuing and reviving traditonal ballads and performing them at a myriad of events.In Venice she will be teaching the Italians to sing the ballads and perform Lancashire clog dances. Easy!! Find out more about Jennifer at

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

miss fisher
….Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries(DVD)…it is an Australian television series based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Murder Mystery novels. Set after the First World War Miss Fisher is a thoroughly modern woman. We do not get to know much about her background except she is financially independent and has links to the British aristocracy. Not that she is the stereotypical upperclass woman. As soon as she steps back onto Australian land she is embroiled with poisoned husbands, cocaine smuggling rings and illegal abortionists. Two of her sidekicks are ex- communist dockers; Burt and Cec. But Miss Fisher is happy to use her own gun, hidden in her garter, to right wrongs with an undercurrent of helping those not as privileged as herself. Great to see such a positive female role and a series that attempts to show a broader range of characters than you usually get in mainstream television. It is also very witty and clothes you would die for!!

fundraising party
….Manchester for Ayotzinapa fundraising party on Saturday 25th April, from 7 to 10pm at The Yard (Hulme). Entrance fee is £ 5.There will be stalls, Latin American music, delicious Mexican food and drink, and an exhibition of posters in solidarity with the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa. Their parents have not given up in their struggle for justice and there is an increasing human rights crisis in Mexico. Find out more at this event.

to a talk by Sheila Cohen, author of Notoriously Militant; the story of a union branch at Ford Dagenham. On 22 April at 2 at the WCML. This book tells the story of Ford Dagenham from 1931 until it closed in 2002. Intertwined with it is the struggle for trade union rights in one of the most anti-trade union companies. What makes this book different is that Sheila tells the story through interviews with leading shop floor union officials and stewards. Listen to Sheila talk about working class politics and socialism at

Artwash; Big Oil and the Arts by Mel Evans which shows how and why the big oil companies sponsor the arts in this country. Companies including Chevron, Exon, Mobil and BP are exposed as trying to use their financial weight to build links with the artworld to try and erase their destruction of the enviroment. They are literally trying to wash away their sins by their involvement with high profile partnerships with organisations such as the Tate. Mel has spent years doing undercover research, grassroots investigations and activism to expose the links between the oil and art world. The campaign against these partnerships has worked as arts organisations are cutting their links with the oil companies. Buy it at
Find out more at

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, drama, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, novels, political women, Socialism, 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


Glasgow Girls

Glasgow Girls

a documentary that shows how even a group of working class girls can stop their friends from being deported. They are the Glasgow Girls, a group of seven school friends, who live in Glasgow. In 2005 one of their friends, Agnesa Murselaj, a Kosovan young woman and her family were, early one morning, taken from their flat by the UK immigration service and put in detention at Yarlswood Centre near London. The girls refused to allow their friend (and other failed asylum seekers) to be treated in this way. Their school, Drumchapel High School supported the girls and their campaign led to Agnesa and her family being returned to Glasgow. The film shows how the girls challenged not just the Labour Scottish administration but the UK government and its treatment of children. The girls’ story went onto inspire a television drama and a stage musical.

in these times

….In These Times Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow…one of my favourite historians. A bit of a dry title that does not give credit to this exciting story of the people in Britain during the twenty years war with the French; the first global war. This is story of how the war affected the people left behind and the way in which this war changed Britain forever. This is not the story of war and battles on land and sea but how ordinary folk dealt with the effects of the war. Loved the story of how communities booted out the army as they tried to take their men and press gang them. Jenny writes in an engaging and forthright style that makes you want to know more. Its an expensive book so order it from your library.

Tameside 2
a demonstration to highlight how Tameside Council, New Charter Housing Trust and the Jobcentre are harrassing poor families. Yet another example of the partnership going on between Labour and the Tories. Another reason to vote Green or any other party (except UKIP) in the General Election. The demo is on Tuesday April 7 at 12.

For details see

private eye
……the victimisation of union representatives. This time it is the University of Bolton and surprise it happened because of the outing of the vice Chancellor and a large loan he was given by the University to buy a house. No evidence has been produced to show that Damien Markey secretary of the Bolton branch of the UCU and his wife, Jennifer, a member of Bolton Unison, had anything to do with the leaking of information but they have both been sacked. This is unlawful and unfair. Both deny any involvement in leaking the stories. .
Further info and sign the petition see

And now for the news……..the latest offering from cassette boy………see

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, drama, feminism, human rights, political women, Tameside, Uncategorized, women, young people | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book review; Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change by Caroline Lucas

honourable friends

Last week I attended the book launch of Lisa Mckenzie’s “Getting By” in a church community centre in Longsight. I am an atheist and reluctant go into any religious venue and it is not a place that I would expect to host a meeting about a book on class and austerity.

But the launch was not organised by a campaigning group but a “think tank”, SARF. SARF is one of the many organisations that have sprung up over the last few years to research on poverty and inequality. Most of their funding is going to come from sources such as Manchester City Council so it is not surprising that one of their workers is standing as a prospective Labour MP.

Across the northwest one can see how the cuts have affected communities, particularly the poor and disadvantage, with the closure of local services, the end of decent jobs in council run services and the closing down of access to further and higher education. Not that this was evident at this event as the local Christian youth service had organised a film show and a presentation from young people about the positive side of living in an area that is officially described as “deprived”. And in innercity areas it is the new churches that are stepping into the gap left by the council, and the left, providing not just services but a Christian based view of the world.

Lisa McKenzie’s view of what do about the austerity is not quite the same! She spoke about her involvement in Class War which is an organisation that was very popular in the 80s and seems to have had a revival, particularly in London, where it is involved in campaigns around housing. Lisa is standing in the general election against Ian Duncan Smith.
class war april

This event made me think about who is representing the poor. Obviously not the Labour Party. The northwest of England is, for many people, seen as a one-party state: Labour holding the crown. But increasingly people are not voting at all as they shun a political system that is broken.

In areas such as Tameside it is the Green Party that is challenging the Labour hierarchy that is happily closing down or privatising services. It is the Labour Party that is setting bailiffs on poor people who cannot afford to pay the community tax. It is the Labour Party in cahoots with the DWP that is persecuting benefit claimants.

In Tameside it is only the Green Party that is challenging this nasty agenda. They have played an important role in publicising and challenging the vindictive nature of the Labour council and the Job Centre. Working class people such as Charlotte Hughes have joined them and become prominent activists in their anti-cuts campaign. She is standing as a Green Party candidate in the General Election.
charlotte mqc

The Green Party only have one MP; Caroline Lucas. In her new book, “Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change”, she reflects on her five years in Parliament. The whole archaic nature of Parliament is stripped bare but most telling is her description of the reaction of MPs in the House of Commons as a large student march gathers nearby.

It is November 2010 and it is the second march of students and, after a previous protest where students surrounded the headquarters of the Conservative Party, the police were determined not to lose control again. Parliament Square was closed off and thousands of protestors were penned in Whitehall as, Caroline comments, “if in a huge police cell.”
student 2010

One of the reasons Caroline is popular is that she is an instinctive campaigner for justice. She had planned to go on the march that day and seeing and hearing peoples’ complaints about police tactics first hand she hurried back to Parliament.
In the House of Commons she stood up to try and get a government response to the mayhem outside. It did not happen and Labour who had instigated student fees in previous administrations were just as unforthcoming.

The responses of both parties reflect the way in which the political system is broken, unrepresentative of many sections of society and distrusted by so many voters. She sums this up. “What people want, on the really big issues of the day, is that there are parties they can vote for who represent, explain and express the differences in view that exist in the country.”

Democracy is at the heart of Caroline’s book she she points out the failures of our political system but also offers a message of hope that it is people who matter, that we can rollback the attacks on the NHS, fracking and “the war against Terror”. Her campaigning outside Parliament on many issues has not made her cynical or burnout. “We need new thinking, a new sense of realism about the threats we face, and above all a new way of working together in politics to tackle the things that really matter. That will only happen if the Parliament we elect in 2015 has radical voices, free from the shackles of traditional politics and big business.”

In the General Election I will vote Green but given the political system that we have it is not likely that they will gain many MPs. The real difference will be made by Scottish voters who hopefully will wipe out Labour and vote SNP. A coalition of Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru may be the best chance of a different kind of politics in this country.

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, education, Manchester, political women, Socialist Feminism, Tameside, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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

Sell-Off-web Sell Off the Abolition of your NHS, a screening organised by Greater Manchester KONP and the Manchester Film Cooperative at 7pm on Wednesday 8th April at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. A film that will make you angry enough to want to join the campaign to stop the privatisation of the NHS and there are plenty of campaigns across this region to get involved in. The filmmakers say; The style of the film is intimate, hand-held scrupulousness. Interviews take place in discreet corners of hospitals, surgeries and streets, the images at times elevated by a powerful soundtrack, leaving the viewer with an overall admiration for the doctors speaking out, combined with anger at what’s happening. Not just a film but there will an opportunity to question candidates from Green, Labour, National Health Action and TUSC parties.

Learn about
man museum…the culture of Fiji, Rotuma, Tonga and Tuvalu. Alice Searle, aid worker and teacher,  who worked in the South Pacific, will lead a talk about the importance of fans, baskets and mats and their cultural significance. You will be able to handle the objects and find out how they were made. Collection Bites: Women and Weaving in the South Pacific Islands is at the Manchester Museum on April 1 from 1-2pm. Further details see

rising of bellaThe Rising of Bella Casey by Mary Morrissy. A novel about the playwright Sean O’Casey’s sister. Never knew he had one. It’s a grim story of working class life in Dublin, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and then taking us to Sean’s debunk to Britain and a life of celebrity. Bella was his only and older sister, who helped bring him up. Like many women there are few historical facts about her life except for Sean’s autobiography, which spanned six volumes, in which he killed her off ten years prior to her actual death. Mary Morrissy has created a believable interpretation of life in Dublin, with its harshness and deprivation for the working classes. Bella is a bit of a victim, which annoyed me, but I love her daughter, Babsie, who brings the factory girls out on strike. You can see why women such as Mary Quaile were forced to flee the city for jobs and a different life. Buy it from

Find out
doctor who and….about the communist, Malcolm Hulke, who wrote scripts for Dr.Who in the 1970s. Radical historian, Michael Herbert, is launching his pamphlet; “Dr.Who and the Communist Malcolm Hulke and his career in television” on 19 April at the Fab Café in Manchester. Terrance Dicks, who worked on Dr.Who as a script editor from 1968-1974, will be taking part in the discussion about Hulke’s career. It,s going to be popular so book your tickets at
Buy the pamphlet for only £4 at

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Catholicism, Communism, feminism, films, human rights, Ireland, Manchester, novels, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments