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……….
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

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

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

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
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

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


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 :

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






…… 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…..




..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





…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














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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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review;Getting By, Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain. by Lisa McKenzie

G By

It is 30 years since the end of the Miners Strike in March and looking back, for those of us who were involved, has been a mixture of being amazed by what happened during that year and being angry when we look around at the state of Britain in 2015.

Lisa McKenzie’s family were part of that struggle. She grew up in north Nottinghamshire, part of an honourable tradition of the mining community: she is from a family where generations were miners and during the 84/5 strike her mum was chair of the Women Against Pit Closures. In her new book she tells the story of the St. Ann’s Estate where she went to live as a single parent. We get an insider’s viewpoint of what life has been like for her community over the last 20 years.

It is a story from the inside, but also one that aims to challenge the simplistic and uncomplicated way that council estate life is often represented.”

Like many working class people, including myself, she was brought up with a belief that she was just as good as anyone else;
“I knew I was working class, and I had been taught that we were the backbone of the country, strong and proud, and it never occurred to me that ‘others’ did not think the same.”

Lisa left school at 16, became a single parent at 19, and later on went onto an Access course at the local college.

“Like most working class women I wanted to do something more worthwhile with my life – I thought I could do more than make tights in a factory….I wanted to work in my community, to give something back.”

It was while she was at University she found out that her estate had been the subject of research in the 60s by Ken Coates and Bill Silburn (The Forgotten Englishmen,1970) and this led to her changing her study from social work to social policy. In 2010 she completed her PHD and in 2015 she published this book.

“This book is the outcome of nine years’ academic research; it is the fruits of that labour, and the fruition of my goal, to tell my own story of council estate life.”

Today council estates are seen as the epitome of everything wrong in society and as Lisa points out:
“The council estate appears to have become the symbol of the Conservative Party’s vision of what ‘Broken Britain’ looks like.”

She shows how the reality is that it is the consequences of long term disadvantage and inequality that has affected the lives of the poor and working class in neighbourhoods such as St. Ann’s. It is not just about the economic dimensions of inequality but the cultural dimensions of how people are looked down upon and the effect that this has on their lives.

The St. Ann’s estate is north of Nottingham. Nottingham has been until recently a thriving industrial city:built on the wealth of coal mining, manufacturing and engineering it attracted a new proletariat to work in the mills, factories and mines. New Town, or as it is now called St. Ann’s, was the place where these people went to live. Over the years it attracted people from all over the country, as well as immigrants from eastern Europe. Ireland, and Jamaica.

Lisa says; “Very rarely is a city’s history mapped through the everyday lives of those who have gone unacknowledged for generations, and who are still barely acknowledged today, and even then only through reports showing their “lack of ” everything from education, employment, culture and morality.”

Getting By is a fascinating book because we sit with Lisa as she talks to individuals and groups of women and men about their lives on the estate. We discover what it has meant to women and men who are the descendants of Irish and Jamaican families, we learn about the lives of the men who no longer can be part of the workforce and how they deal with it, and the problems of money and drugs.

She has no problem in defining where the problem is – and it is not the people of St. Ann’s;
“What does exist here, in Nottingham, and within communities across the UK, where the poorest people live, are hardships caused by the consequences of structural inequality, a political system that does not engage those who have the least power, disenfranchisement relating to the notion of fairness regarding their families and their communities.”

Lisa is proud of her working class credentials and her academic career but she is firmly on the side of her community. In the General Election she is standing against Ian Duncan Smith, Conservative Party Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, one of the chief architects of the ongoing war against some of the poorest members of society. Let’s hope he knows what he is up against!
lisa class war

If you want to find out more about Lisa please vote for my proposal to write an article about her and her book on Contributoria

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women, young people | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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

One Rogue Reporter
.One Rogue Reporter…Rich Peppiatt, was a Daily Star tabloid hack who was so angry with his paper’s obsession with sensationalism and dishonesty that he decided to turn the tables on his bosses and use their own tactics against them. Originally he created a stage show which was made into this documentary. Join the local NUJ at a screening and meet Rich to discuss what can we do about the corruption in our press media on February 17,at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge St, M1 5BY Manchester.Further info see

Tickets: £6 general admission and £3 for students and unemployed.

…..StopG4S campaign…you could not make it up. Manchester City Council, after forcing thousands of its workers to take voluntary early retirement or be privatised into organisations run by private companies such as G4S, are organising a demo to Stand up for Manchester (Council) against the Cuts! Its like Marie Antoinette calling for starving people to eat cake. Just another symptom of the rotten borough status of our local authorities. The Stop G4S campaign who are calling for Manchester to boycott G4s as a contractor have organised a protest on the same day. Join them on Tuesday 3rd Feb 2015 Albert Square Manchester. 4.30 to 6pm
You can sign their petition if you live or study in Mcr at

mary wo
about Radical Women; from Mary Wollstonecraft to Votes for Women Michael Herbert will be teaching this 10 week course starting on Wednesday 4 February at the Working Class Movement Library, 11am – 1.00pm. It will explore the role of women, both in radical movements in the 19 and early 20 Century and in movements for women’s rights. Michael’s definitive history book on local women’s history is “Up Then Brave Women”; Manchester’s Radical Women 1819 to 1918 was published in 2012. He is a radical historian who has been researching, teaching and writing about radical history for many years. For more information or to book a place on the course, please contact Michael :

lisa mck
…to a modern radical woman. Lisa McKenzie is a working class woman and has a doctorate in sociology. She got it the hard way, she didn’t have middleclass parents or an Oxford education. In this interview with the Artist Taxi Driver she talks about her life, politics and new book; Getting By. Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain. See

Go to
Mainstream Modern website launch on 12 February. Richard Brook, is the Principal Lecturer at the Manchester School of Architecture and at this event he will launching his new website It collates nearly twenty years of architectural research and photography. It features many of the most well-known buildings from the Greater Manchester area and the less well known including Blackley Crematorium and the Ritz Ballroom. A fascinating photographic history. Further details see

Posted in anti-cuts, Communism, drama, education, feminism, films, labour history, Manchester, political women, 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

ewan mccollit is a 100 years since Ewan MacColl ( 25 January 1915 – 22 October 1989) was born in Lower Broughton. He had a love/hate relationship with the city-  mostly hate. This is one of his most  famous songs, it’s about Salford, of course,  Dirty Old Town. Love the film that goes with it. MacColl is known for being a singer and songwriter but his career in the theatre was  outstanding,  in particular bringing the theatre to the people and making it relevant to their lives. Looking at the next show at the Royal Exchange you can see the entirely opposite view of working class people in “Scuttlers”. More cardboard cut outs of working class people with a tokenist reference to the 2011 riots. MacColl would throw up in disgust! You can find out more in Ben Harker’s excellent biography. Class Act – The cultural and political life of Ewan MacColl

Listening to this song reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s comment:
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”

Listen to a wonderful version of this by Chumbawamba see

Find out about….
carl packmana new book; Payday Lending: Global Growth of the High Cost Credit Market. The author, Carl Packman,  is a writer, researcher and blogger, join him at this meeting to discuss his research. The book asks questions about the growth of the payday lending industry at a time when millions of us are facing financial hardship. Packman offers strategies to challenge this predatory industry and stop the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
4 February 5pm – 6.30pm (doors open at 4.30pm) 24/26 Lever Street, M1 1DZ Manchester
Further info see

mad in pursuitMad in Pursuit by Violette Leduc. She was the “illegitimate” daughter of a servant but she went on to write novels and an outstanding biography. This is the second volume ( 1945-49) which I found on the internet as most of her books are not available. She writes like a poet, it’s surreal, fantastic and beautiful. Don’t get her obsession with Jean Cocteau but totally understand her hero worship of Simone de Beauvoir. It was Simone who encouraged and promoted Violette’s books which led to her national prominence. Here is an example; “1947. An autumn evening. Seven in the evening and autumn in Paris. I was light, I was dawdling over the city’s roofs. I was tipsy without having a drink, I hugged the chimneypots in my arms.” There is also a fabulous film made in 2013 called “Violette” which is worth getting hold of. see

bbc phil…to an evening of exciting music with the BBC Philharmonic: Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 8 and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major. The conductor is the charismatic Gianandrea Noseda and there is a pre-concert workshop; Journey Through Music at 6.30pm which is free to ticket- holders with children aged 8-16 year olds. Further info see

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, drama, education, films, labour history, Manchester, music, Salford, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment