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



Spotlight (nationwide). A fantastic film about the importance of investigative journalism in rooting out the abuse of power in high places. Set in Boston (USA) in 2001 the film  is about how the local paper, The Boston Globe, exposed the institutionalised abuse of children by RC priests and the way in which the RC hierarchy not only covered up for the paedophile clergy but used all its power in Boston to ensure that everyone who could do something about it looked the other way. The film cleverly shows the way in which, for people brought up as RC’s, it is difficult to go against the hierarchy of the church even if you are a journalist with concrete proof against morally  compromised cardinals and bishops. There is nothing glamorous about being a journalist uncovering such an important but harrowing case: in the film we are shown the daily grind of investigative journalism and that sometimes it means going against everything you used to believe in. At the end of the film we see a long list of other places across the world where similar abuse cases have been uncovered. It’s not big news anymore but what is important about this film is the bravery of the journalists in following a story that shook the foundations of the RC church, not just in Boston but across the world.


some short films at Kino Film on 8 February at Manchester Central Library. There is an interesting range of films including one about Kino Film itself, as well as documentaries about lives as diverse as a 65 year old man who has worked on a street stall in London since he was 10 to a science fiction drama about a dying scientist who is offered the chance to live on in his clone’s body. Find out more at

Find out

about a revolution in Rojava. Rojava is in northern Syria; three cantons where the Kurds have set up their own democratic state and, for once, free from the control of Assad. In Rojava the Kurds have brought in social changes focussing on local democratic control of services. Is it a revolution? Find out more about what is happening there at this meeting on Saturday 6 February at 8pm. Book at


with banners held high 2016
the Miners Strike 1984/5 at With Banners Held High on 6 March from 11am-5pm. Take part in a day of events ranging from an exhibition, discussions, poetry and music. Keynote speaker is Tony Garnett, producer of many political dramas, as well as campaigners from the fast food campaigns talking about present day workplace struggles. Missing from it though, particularly on the run up to International Womens Day, is any event that reflects the massive attacks on women particularly as workers in 2016. IWD has become an event when middleclass women winge about their sad lives instead of reflecting the importance of women challenging the state for better lives for themselves and their partners, children and comrades. It is women such as Mary Quaile and the modern “Marys” of the trade union movement whom we should be raising the profile of during these dark days. Find out more about them here see.  And from 18 February see a new exhibition; SOLIDARITY and the 1984/5 MINERS STRIKE – all you need to know on 26 panels created by the TUC Resources Library. Further info  see


Classical music but cannot afford the concerts at the Bridgwater Hall? Go to a free classical music concert on Monday lunchtime February 1 at the RNCM. You can listen to some top notch musicians at a wonderful venue. But get there early as it is very busy! See



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Hotel and Catering Workers Unite!



Reading these two pamphlets reminds me of a poem by Bertholt Brecht, Questions from a Worker who Reads. In it he points out that real history is made by the people at the bottom of society; in this case it is the catering and hotel workers who feature in this history of the   TGWU 1/1647 International Catering Workers Branch 1972-2002 called “This Is Our Story” and Barbara Pokryszka’s Tale of Two Cities.
Both publications are set in London and the story of this TGWU branch reflects the history of the city; a place where many migrant workers arrive, hoping to find decent work, pay and conditions. They don’t – and that is one of the reasons why trade unions exist and why they are still necessary because of the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in this society.

“This is Our Story” is about how a group of migrant workers in 1972, Portuguese to begin with, who went to the TGWU to get union support because of the exploitation they were facing at work. Like many other migrant workers, they had been politicised by events in their own country; the Portuguese had fled the dictatorship which was then ruling the country.
Over the years the International Catering Workers Branch 1/1647 has supported many diverse ethnic groups; from Portuguese to Turkish, Irish, Malaysian and Ethiopian. It is inspiring to read their stories in their words. It’s inspiring to read the way in which the TGWU got them justice; not just in terms of decent pay but in ensuring that they were not bullied but treated with respect at work.
Again and again these stories impressed me because they show the real power of workers and trade unions. And how this union branch offered hope to other vulnerable workers. In the 1980s they recognised that young people from northern areas of the UK with high unemployment were taking the jobs usually done by overseas migrant workers so the union stepped in stop them being exploited.
Last year a new publication by a hotel worker, Barbara Pokryszka’s Tale of Two Cities, was published by Unite. In it she brings the situation of hotel workers up to date but this time in the format of a graphic novel. Barbara spent four years working for the Hilton Hotel in London and became a shop steward to demand better pay and conditions. In the novel she explains why the big hotels want migrant workers- because they think they are easy to exploit. But she also shows how trade unions can organise workers to obtain not just a living wage but also enforce laws such as Health and Safety at work.

It has never been easy to organise workers in the hotel and catering trade and much of this history has never been recorded. That is why these publications are important. Knowing your own history can give workers confidence in demanding decent pay and conditions and of giving hope to migrant workers in particular who are often targeted by employers because they think that they can exploit them. Using the format of the graphic novel is also a good way of recruiting migrant workers whose first language is not English.
Trade unions are not good at promoting their own history and the copy I have of “This is Our Story” is a series of photocopied pages which have been stapled together. I suggest that Unite should republish it in the modern day format of a Tale of Two Cities and use it as a promotional tool to recruit and organise workers.
Contact Hotel Workers Branch at Unite see

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


winifred carney
Winifred Carney: A reflection on the life and times of the suffragist and trade unionist. In this fascinating documentary we learn about a woman who was a revolutionary socialist feminist. She was born into a lower middle class family in Belfast in 1887 but she threw up this respectable background to spend her life in the trade union and socialist movement. Her commitment to an Irish Republic led her to join socialist James Connolly in the Post Office in 1916 as his secretary; one that also knew how to fire a gun. Radical historians Bill Rolston and Margaret Ward remind us of a woman whose role in Irish history has often been marginalised and the documentary is made more interesting by the comments of Winifred’s relative Desmond Cassidy.



public libary
Public Library by Ali Smith. She wrote it in protest at the closure of public libraries. I was able to borrow it from my local library but whenever I go there what strikes me is the fear on the faces of the staff. Fear about losing their jobs as the council slashes its way through the public services. Each chapter of the book opens with a comment by a user of libraries as to what it means to them. It chimes in with my experiences: about being able to access books that my parents could not afford; about learning from the library staff about interesting books to read; and most of all providing a sanctuary away from large noisy families in small houses. The stories in the book are not about libraries but about the surreal experiences of modern life. I love the one about the woman who loses her partner to the dead author Katherine Mansfield or the one about the man who is mistakenly reported as dead in the local paper – twice. Ali sums up our distorted relationship with all things modern from automated telephone systems to endless emails. It’s a bit like trying to get local councils to appreciate our libraries; talking to the dead. Join the national protest about libraries at Parliament in London see Buy it from
Find out

chicago teachers
about the Chicago (USA) Teachers Union and their strike in 2012 which pitted teachers, parents and students against a local Mayor who wanted to further privatise the public school system. It’s a fantastic and uplifting story of how teachers got together with local communities to demand a better education for all, and particularly for the poor children of the city. The play is performed by Banner Theatre who tell the story with music, song and video footage from the participants. It’s sponsored by the NUT whose members are experiencing similar practices in schools over here. See it, for free, at the Octagon Studio in Bolton on 27 January. Book your ticket at


hg 2
a new blog about science fiction which informs you about books to read and films to watch. Obviously from a left wing perspective as the author is radical historian Michael Herbert see


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




AmaZulu The Children of Heaven (2006) (youtube), a documentary  made in South Africa about a high school, its Head Teacher and seven students. Velabahleke High School in Durban South Africa is the best of schools: it is a community. Children race to school at 6.30am in the morning, determined that education will free them from their slave existence in 21st century South Africa. Many of them still live in shacks with limited electricity, some faint in school because they have not eaten for several days, their lives outside the school are harsh and violent. But the Head Teacher, Mr Mtshali, is their father figure, for many of them their real father is dead or absent. We follow the lives of the students as they inspire us with their determination to achieve an education and make a better lives for them and their family. The odds are against them but it would be interesting to find out where these seven young people ended up.


black against empire
Black Against Empire The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin JR.  Reading this book reminded me of Gil Scott Heron and his classic song  The Revolution will not be Televised. Today it could be updated to say it will  not be on Twitter, Facebook or  written on a blog  The BPP reflected the anger of black working class women and men in the USA in the 1960s. They joined it in their thousands; even though it meant death and years of incarceration in prison. It was led by charismatic leaders including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale – as well as lesser known women such as Kathleen Neal Eldridge, Ericka Huggins and Elaine Brown. BPP was a revolutionary party that took up guns against the US state and was successful to begin with  because it addressed the injustices faced by black people including unemployment, poor schools and housing, and a police force that targeted and killed many black people.

At home the BPP sought alliances with other groups including  poor white people,  other ethnic groups and radical groups.  Abroad it had an internationalist perspective  opposng US policy in Vietnam and making links with its enemies, including China and Algeria. By the early 1970s the party was in decline due to a number of reasons; one of the main ones being the way in which the American  state sought to address some of the social and economic problems faced by the black community by nurturing a black middle-class. Within the BPP ideological problems led to splits and a decline in membership. In 2016 we need to learn the lessons of the BPP: that it is the people at the bottom who will change this society.  Political change will only come through local community based campaigns that will really turn this unfair society upside down, a message that comes out loud and clear from this tremendous history of a unique revolutionary organisation. Buy it from

rogue report
to the NUJ Film Club at 3MTheatre. The first night is Thursday 28 January at 7pm and they are showing Rich Peppiatt’s One Rogue Reporter. Each month they will be showing old films, new independent documentaries, Hollywood blockbusters, black and white classics, comedies, true-to-life stories and even a musical … all about journalism and all for £4 a viewing. What a bargain!


at Saving a Century: an exhibition by The Victorian Society  showcasing the highs and lows of an organisation that has tried to save our Victorian and Edwardian buildings. London and the south dominate the exhibition but some of our local buildings that have been saved, including Liverpool’s Albert Dock and the Victoria Baths in Manchester, are featured. Something that hasn’t changed over the years is the philistine attitude of governments (and local authorities) and there is an interesting story about how the VS tried to get Prime Minister Harold McMillan on side over London’s Euston Station. It is a fascinating story about how the VS changed the public’s attitudes to 19 Cth architecture. Unfortunately the exhibition is hidden away in a dark gallery in the John Rylands Library, making it hard to find and even harder to read the display panels. But it’s well worth seeking out and persevering with reading about an important aspect of our history and an organisation that has really made a difference to our cities.

And  finally this week I am speaking about my book Northern ReSisters at Tameside History Club on Wednesday 20 January at 2pm. It would be great to meet up!

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



bridge of spies
Bridge of Spies (nationwide): the latest Steven Spielberg film. It is 1962 and the Soviets have captured Gary Powers, the pilot of a US spy plane. In New York the CIA have arrested Rudolf Abel a Soviet spy. This is based on a true story and set in  a time that was dubbed the “Cold War,” when politics did seem more black and white. The Americans were the goodies which made the Soviets the baddies. Tom Hanks plays Donovan,  a  James Stewart type character – an insurance lawyer appointed to be the attorney for Abel. Hanks is supposed to be the star of the film but Mark Rylance as Abel steals the show. And one of the more interesting aspects of the film, with reverberations around the status of Guantanamo Bay “detainees” today, is Donovan’s attempts to mount a real defence of Abel based on the American constitution. Bridge of Spies centres around Donovan’s negotiations to get Powers and another US student Frank Pryor exchanged for Abel. Knowing a lot about this period of history, I understand the differences between the Soviets and the East Germans but, I am not sure many other people going to this film would, but does it matter in the end? Probably not. It’s another spy film, but one that treats the filmgoer with a degree of intelligence: unlike the latest Bond offering.


scrap trident
to a meeting about Trident, supposedly Britain’s nuclear power system, but although we pay for it, it is the USA who are in charge. The government, and many in the Labour opposition, want to build a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines costing £100bn. Crazy! At this meeting organised by CND find out more about why this is wrong and what you can do about it. Further details see


the crows
out about the Somalian community in this country. Somalians have been coming to the northwest since the 19th century; then as workers but in more recent times as asylum seekers fleeing war in their home country. In this new play  The Crows Plucked Your Sinews we learn about the history of Britain in Somalia and its links to the community in this country. It is based on real events, it’s a one woman play, that uses the lyrical tradition of Somalia to tell the story through live music and visuals. Here is a trailer
It’s only on at Contact Theatre in Manchester from 27-29 January book here


proletarian poetry
some Proletarian Poetry. Poetry has never been so popular for people to write and read. But this blog provides more than another individual’s search for the meaning of their sad, usually middleclass life: it  transcends it by publicising poets who have something important to say about the world. I loved Sorry by Amir Darwish see  And found out about Manchester poet Tony Walsh and a great poem about the Clash….. see

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


jim allen
And start the year by being inspired by northwest writer and socialist Jim Allen at a retrospective at Home.Jim would have hated it. In the 80s he did make an appearance at the Cornerhouse (now Home) but he said a few words and then scarpered back to Middleton in time for last orders at his local pub. Jim believed that drama should make people angry enough to want to go out there and change society and this message is writ large in his films. From the historic Days of Hope to his one-off dramas which seem very up-to-date including Spongers and United Kingdom. Central to his work is his politics as a socialist and that is why the working classes are at the core of all the stories. Jim believed that its only through them that society will change. And today in 2016 Britain that is a radical message; one that many on the Left have still to grapple with.


turning sideways
At Turn Sideways in the Wind: an exhibition about the Roma (gypsy) community in the northwest. Local photographer and journalist Ciara Leeming has produced this fascinating exhibition at one of my favourite art galleries; the Salford Museum and Art Gallery. Unfortunately its not that easy to find the exhibition, and when you get there, you find the photos are displayed spread across the walls of two staircases which makes reading it difficult. Through photos and text, Romana, Lubos and Lida tell their story, about their lives in this country and reflect on their lives in their homeland. The project is a collaboration between Ciara and the local Roma community and this is shown in the intimacy expressed in the photos. Find out more from Ciara’s blog see


j stewart 1
About women’s history on, one of the few adult education courses still left, at Aquinas College in Stockport: Radical Women 1914-1979. Taught by radical historian Michael Herbert so it is a course that will hopefully inspire people to get active in present day campaigns. In this 10 week evening course, which will begin on 4 January, you can learn about women as diverse as peace campaigners during the First World War to the fight for equal pay and the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s. For more information or to book places, please contact Sheila Lahan; Tel: 0161 419 9163. If you are a member of a trade union you may be able to get funding from your union for the course.


A New Manchester Alphabet; an illustrated collection of poetry. Edited by Jean Sprackland. In 1906 Roger Oldham, a member of the Manchester Society of Architects wrote and illustrated a small booklet called; A Manchester Alphabet. They were reproduced as postcards and sold in Manchester Art Gallery for many years. I have always loved them and have sent them to friends as a truly unique message from Manchester. 2015 was the 150th year of the Manchester Society of Architects and to mark it students from the Manchester School of Art and The Manchester Writing School have updated it with their modern view of Manchester life. Unfortunately the original MA included derogatory comments about working class areas such as Ancoats as well as pandering to the elite of Manchester with its inclusion of Bowdon (actually Cheshire) and eulogies to the Lord Mayor and Robert Peel. But I love his descriptions of Belle Vue Zoo and Shudehill; the real heart of the city as far as I am concerned. The new Alphabet brings us into the 21C with references to the new football elite (boring!); Alex Ferguson and the Etihad Stadium as well as the bohemian Afflecks Palace and Johnny Roadhouse . Loved the new illustrations although, like the original, the poems are a bit naff. Buy it at

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Reasons to be cheerful in 2016!

Soviet banner given to TUC women's  delegation in 1925

Banner given to Mary Quaile by Soviet women in 1925

Dear Friends
This is my last post of 2015, a year in which I had my first book published; Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women. The women in my book have changed their lives and the history of this country through the various campaigns that they committed their lives to. Speaking at meetings across the north west I have met other sisters whose stories should also be recorded; many of whom continue to work in grassroots organisations which challenge some of the worst attacks on working class people and communities.
This year I have also been active in the Mary Quaile Club, promoting the life of a trade unionist who has been unfairly forgotten. Mary is one of the many women who  made a tremendous contribution to their trade union and to society generally. In 2016 we are publishing a pamphlet and commissioning a play to draw the links between Mary’s era and today’s trade union women activists. Her spirit lives on…

Here are my highlights of 2015.
Campaign of the Year

Fast Food Rights….if things are to change in this country it is because the people who are really affected by the austerity fight back.This is a campaign for trade union rights for people working in the fast food industry  that has links with American organisations campaigning for better pay and trade union rights. During the last year I have interviewed several of young women active in this campaign and they have inspired me, and they are the hope for real change in society.

Book of the Year

dockers 2.jpg
Dockers by Dave Sinclair. A photo history of the 95-98 Liverpool Lockout. Unfortunately in 2015 we accept zero hour contracts and a casualised work force as the norm but in 1995 the Liverpool dockers refused to accept what was a return to a nineteenth century life at work. This book is a pictorial history of the dispute, saying more in images than thousands of words might. Not sure how many copies it has sold, it was produced by a small publisher, and unfortunately it is indicative of how hard it is to get working class history published. But the dockers story is an important one for those of us who want to turn this society upside down. Buy it at

Film of the year

girlhood 2
Girlhood. It would be hard to find a film made in this country with the insight this has in the lives of immigrant communities; particularly of girls and young women. Maybe one of the reasons is that in France the French African community is so marginalised and the complexities of the relationship between France and its former colonial subjects are rarely discussed. This film is about one young woman and her life in the banalieu or ghetto on the outskirts of Paris. It is hard growing up given these circumstances and made more so if your single mother works long hours as a hotel worker and the education system has already marked you down. This is a honest film, often shocking but at its heart is a truism about many young people at the bottom of society…that they too can have hope.

CD of the year

Animism by Tanya Tagaq. She is a Canadian Inuit and dubbed a polar punk. Tanya  follows in her indigenous female tradition of singing but there is nothing demure about her music as she growls, gasps and chants throughout this record. Her music reflects her anger about the way in which the Inuit community have been treated by the Canadian government; pushed off their land; the degrading of their culture and even their children being taken away and put in residential schools. Tanya has survived all this and through her music and her campaigning she reflects the way in which the Inuit community are at the forefront of activism around issues such as fracking. Listen to it here

Hope you have a relaxing festive break and see you in 2016 to continue the fight!

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, drama, education, feminism, films, human rights, Ireland, labour history, music, Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women, political women, trade unions, Uncategorized, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment