History of the Irish in Britain Representation Group by Patrick Reynolds. Part 3: 1983

Patrick Reynolds was one of the founders of IBRG and played a key role in its history. He is now writing up that history and putting it into the context of radical history in Britain and Ireland in the C20th.

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IBRG badges June (2)

Badges produced by Diarmuid Breatnach of Lewisham IBRG

On Sunday 16 January 1983 (1) the IBRG National Executive Council  met at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham with Jim King in the Chair and Judy Peddle as Secretary. Nine members of the NEC attended including John Martin and Nessan Danaher.

The meeting heard that Jim Curran had been elected Chair of the London Regional Council after NEC London member Bridgit  Galvin had resigned.  There was a structural problem within IBRG in that London despite having a number of branches it  had only one member on the NEC because of the way IBRG was set up outside of London.  It was agreed that London could elect three members to the NEC. It was decided to hold the 1983 Ard Fheis (AGM) at Nottingham Town Hall.

In Islington Jeremy Corbyn Prospective candidate for the Labour Party in North Islington had attended the IBRG branch meeting in January 1983 along with Alan Clinton (later Leader of Islington Council) and Cllr Alex Farrell.

IBRG were now represented on Islington Council Race Relations Committee and could put forward items relating to the Irish community. On 26 January 1983 Islington IBRG led a picket of the Sun Newspaper because of their anti-Irish racism and got a good crowd with banners and placards showing the anger in the Irish community over racist abuse in the British media.

On 2 February 1983 Islington IBRG organised their second picket in a week on the Sun newspaper and doubled the number attending.  This time the Sun management came out to speak to the IBRG.

On 17  February 1983 the Labour Party decided to oppose the Prevention of Terrorism Act  in its existing form. This was a major breakthrough for the IBRG and the Irish community to shift the position of the Labour Party on the Act.

On 24 February 1983 (2) Dennis Lynch, an IBRG member, was elected for Labour in Brent in a by election giving Brent Council back to Labour. The IBRG strongly supported Dennis Lynch and went canvassing for him and got the Irish Post to call on the Irish in Harlesden to vote for him. The IBRG became a key factor in pushing the Tories from power in Brent.

It was the second showing of political muscle by the IBRG, the first one was getting  the  Greater London Council  to stop advertising in the racist Evening Standard. It made the point that the Irish could vote politically when needed at local level, and showed a marked difference with the Irish Civil Rights group who advised the Irish community in 1981 not to vote at all. Dennis Lynch was strongly in support of setting up an Irish Cultural centre in Salsbury Road with both GLC and Brent Council funding.

On 24 February 1983 Islington IBRG organised a public meeting at Caxton House Archway to set up a community project in Islington which later became the Irish in Islington Project. Twenty  people attended. On 26 February 1983 Islington IBRG held a social at Caxton House to raise funds.

On Sunday 27 February (3) 1983 the IBRG NEC met at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham with Jim King in the Chair and Judy Peddle as Secretary, also in attendance were John Martin: President and Nessan Danaher: Education Officer along with Pat Delaney and Steve Brennan from London.

Nine members of the NEC attended. Steve Brennan listed the London branches as Fleet St, Camden, Brent, Islington, Braintree (Essex), Waltham Forest, Southwark, Harrow, Ealing, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Paddington, Marylebone and Westminster, a total of fourteen branches.  The meeting decided on the structure of the Ard Fheis (AGM) for March in Nottingham.

On 11 March 1983 the Irish government   set up an Ireland Forum as proposed by the SDLP. This was due to  Sinn Fein becoming the largest nationalist Party in Northern Ireland.  Sinn Fein was excluded.

On Saturday 26 March 1983 (4) the second   IBRG Ard Fheis (AGM) was held at Nottingham County Hall.  Twenty  branches attended :  Birmingham (Two), Brent, Oxford, Islington, Keighley, Waltham Forest, Southwark, Harrow, Manchester, Leicester, Cardiff, Merseyside, Burton on Trent, Nottingham, Lambeth, Westminster, Bradford, Northampton, and Bolton. On the day forty delegates signed the attendance book, but not all signed in on the day.

The Ard Fheis was opened by Nottingham MEP Michael Gallagher who welcomed the growth of the IBRG which opened up possibilities for the Irish in Britain to unite on a wide range of issues, and spoke of how the European parliament had been able to raise a range of issues relating to Northern Ireland. John Martin gave the President’s speech and outlined the growth of IBRG and the room for further growth.

Jim King, Chair, listed the achievements of IBRG so far.  This  ncluded:  forcing Woolworths to withdraw anti-Irish materials from all their shops: the successful lobbying of the GLC in banning advertising with the London Evening Standard because of the racist JAK cartoons: the election of Dennis Lynch for Labour in Brent taking Brent from the Tories:   and securing a grant  for a large Irish centre in Brent.  He spoke out against  anti-Irish racism, and against the PTA having been renewed, and stated that we should never be afraid to speak out on Northern  Ireland on areas of human rights.

Nessan Danaher, Education Officer, talked of his work about getting Irish history and culture into the curriculum and stated that IBRG needed to work with Local Education Authorities, the Catholic schools and adult education to get recognition for Irish language culture and history. He also spoke of getting Irish books into libraries schools and colleges.

The following officers were elected;

Chair: Jim King – Manchester

Vice Chair: Steve Brennan – Waltham Forest

President: John Martin – Burton on Trent

Vice Presidents:  Donall MacAmhlaigh – Northampton, Michael Gallagher – MEP Nottingham and Jim Curran- London.

Runai (Secretary): Judy Peddle – Cardiff

Cisteoir (Treasurer):  Pat Brown -Manchester

Internal co-ordinator: Peter Fallon- Nottingham

Membership: Pat Browne

Public Relations Officer:  Pat Delaney – London

Legal officers: Dennis Lynch – London and Lloyd Tucker

Education Officer:  Nessan Danaher- Leicester

Of the 14 officers elected only one was female.

Nine additional members were elected to the NEC four of whom were female.

Gerry Gallagher – Manchester

Des MacCurdy -Leicester

Bill Walsh- Liverpool

Mary Cahill- Waltham Forest

Joe Mullarkey -Bolton

Rita Lewis -Waltham Forest

Mike Evans- Keighley

Maire O’Shea  -Birmingham.

Mary Duckett – London.

It was agreed that the policy document on Northern  Ireland, produced by Manchester IBRG, would be debated at and agreed at a special conference later in the year and motions on Northern  Ireland were remitted to this conference.

The Ard Fheis agreed motions as  follows:

That  IBRG launch a national campaign against the PTA.

That the IBRG formulate and publish clearly stated policy on the humanitarian aspects of Irish prisoners

 That the IBRG organise a national debate on plastic bullets and conduct an education campaign with a view to the total banning of these weapons

That IBRG sponsor and join the Bobby Sands march with banners in London on 7 May 1983.

That IBRG condemn the raising of the price of Irish passports to £27 and raise this matter on its delegation to Ireland.

That the Irish Embassy did not do enough to help the Irish community in Britain

That IBRG petition Channel 4 to show the hurling and football All Irelands.

That IBRG congratulate Ken Livingstone on all the help he had given the Irish community in London.

That IBRG put pressure on local authorities to provide the teaching of Gaelic Games.

That IBRG call on the Irish Government to provide cheap charter flights between Britain and Ireland and cheaper   and improved ferry services.

That IBRG encourage and foster a sense of identity and an understanding of Irish cultural inheritance among people of Irish origin and their dependents and also to combat all forms of racism within the fields of education noting that 1984 was anti-racism year.

That the European Parliament take on its full responsibilities with regard to Northern  Ireland and Human Rights

Motions on giving Irish citizens abroad the vote, standing IBRG candidates in local elections, and forming a separate Irish trade union section were not passed. Surprisingly the motion on the vote for the Irish abroad was not carried since John Martin had raised it in 1981 as his one single issue to give the Irish abroad more power.

The IBRG NEC met on 9 April 1983 (5) at Brent Town Hall next to Wembley Stadium where the Gaelic Athletics Association used to use for their Easter matches every year. Eleven  NEC members attended with Jim King in the Chair, Judy Peddle as Secretary/Runai,  also in attendance were Steve Brennan – GLC Irish Liaison Officer, Jim Curran – Chair London Region,  Nessan Danaher -Education Officer,  Mary Cahill and Rita Lewis from Waltham Forest and Joe Mullarkey from Bolton.

The NEC decided to hold their special delegate Northern  Ireland Conference at Brent Town Hall on 2 July 1983; to set up a subcommittee to campaign against the PTA which could co-op people from outside IBRG;  to set up a Prisoners subcommittee  to highlight the plight of Irish prisoners  in British jails both political and non-political, with emphasis on the innocence of some of those serving long sentences and the injustice concerning repatriation to raise the  issue with Irish Embassy;  to set up a subcommittee on plastic bullets  for campaigning on the issue;  and finally   agreed to sponsor the Bobby Sands March  on May 7.

The meeting agreed to send an  IBRG delegation to Dublin on 15 April to meet Charlie Haughey,  leader of Fianna Fail, and Independent T.Ds,   including Neil Blaney in the Dail.  It was intended to raise the issue of the cost of Irish Passports, to ask B&I   and other state companies to stop advertising in the London Evening Standard, to take action on the PTA, and the plight of Irish prisoners especially innocent ones in British jails, complain that the Irish  Embassy was not doing enough to help the Irish in Britain, and to explore youth interchange between Britain and Ireland along with cultural  and welfare grants and funding.

The meeting agreed to write to Ken Livingstone, Leader of the Greater London Council,  to thank him  for his principled stance on issues affecting the Irish community both here and abroad and that IBRG looked forward to his continued support.  The NEC passed a  motion from Cardiff  IBRG that efforts to drag Ireland into NATO should be monitored.

The meeting agreed that Don Magee (London), Cass Breen (London), Mary Hickman (London),  Rick Hennelly (Manchester),  Declan O’Neil (Manchester),  Eileen Murphy (Manchester) and Peter Ledworth (Manchester) be co-opted onto the NEC without voting rights.

An IBRG delegation went to Dublin in April and met with Charlie Haughey, Leader of Fianna Fail,  and Brian Lennihan and discussed the issues raised at the NEC meeting. Pat Delaney was part of the delegation.

On 30 April 1983 a large delegation from  IBRG representing several London branches attended an Inner London Education Authority Conference on multi ethnic education to demand an Irish dimension to multi ethnic education within ILEA.

On 4 May 1983 Jim Curran and Pat Delaney attended a packed meeting in Haringey to set up an IBRG branch there. The Federation of Irish Societies, who were present, were opposed to the IBRG setting up in Haringey as they had their strongest base in Britain there with Gearoid O Meachair (George Meehan) who  later became Leader of Haringey Council,  and Bill Aulsbury.

On 5 May 1983 a Bobby Sands Rally was held at the Camden Irish Centre at which Tom Devine Mayor of Camden, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin , Ken Livingstone,  and Jim Curran frpm  IBRG spoke. 1,000 people attended the meeting. Livingstone got a standing ovation from the crowd.

On 7 May 1983 IBRG branches marched with their banners on the Bobby Sands March from Hyde Park to County Hall where Ken Livingstone, Caoimhghin O’Caollain  from Sinn Fein and Jim Curran of  IBRG spoke. 3,000 people attended the march.

On 20 May 1983 the IBRG picketed the Labour Party Press conference at Transport House over its Northern  Ireland policy : Seamus Carey, Mary Hickman and Pat Reynolds were among those protesting.

On 22 May 1983 eight London IBRG branches attended the GLC Irish Consultative Conference (6) held at County Hall London with twelve delegates,  including Pat Delaney, Sean Sexton, Brid Keenan, Seamus Carey, and Sue O’Halloran.  Ken Livingstone  opened the Conference attended by ninety delegates. He pointed out the distortion of events and racial stereotyping of the Irish which had become particularly virulent during the conflict in the North of Ireland, and the use of the Prevention of Terrorism act (PTA) to intimidate the Irish  and to deny them their right to political expression and stated that  the general ignorance about Ireland was worrying.

The Conference approved three papers; Cultural and Education, Political, and Welfare,  with a list of recommendations with each paper. The Conference marked the arrival of the IBRG as a political force in London in terms of putting forwards the demands of the Irish community.

On 1 June 1983 the IBRG had a meeting in London with Ken  Livingstone Leader of the GLC and Pat Delaney as  part of the delegation.

On 4 June 1983 (7) the IBRG NEC met at Our Lady’s Centre Manchester. Fourteen members of the NEC attended along with three observers. Jim King chaired, Judy Peddle Secretary/Runai, while among those present were John Martin, Pat Delaney, Nessan Danaher, Joe Mullarkey, Moira O’Shea, Mike Forde and Rita Lewis.

The meeting heard a report back from the four-person delegation to Ireland and the meeting with Haughey and Lennihan where they raised the issue of passports, and  the plight of Irish prisoners. It was agreed to set up a meeting with the Irish Ambassador, Dr Kennedy.  Charlie Haughey had asked IBRG to send a submission to the New Ireland Forum. The meeting agreed two documents put forward by Brent and Haringey with support from Bolton and Cardiff on the Birmingham Six who were innocent prisoners in British jails. The Irish Embassy had panicked when they heard that IBRG were going to Dublin to meet Haughey and quickly arranged for the Federation of Irish Societies  to go to Dublin to meet the Taoiseach Gareth Fitzgerald. It was the first time ever the Federation had been to Dublin.

On 4 June 1983 Islington IBRG organised a motor car rally through the streets of Islington in support of Jermyn Corbyn and the next day leafletted the main churches in North Islington. Michael O’Halloran, originally  from Clare,  was the standing MP but had been deselected and was now standing as an Independent.

The British General Election took place on 9 June 1983 and the Tories, on the back of the Malvinas war,  won by a landslide of 144 seats. Gerry Adams was elected MP for West Belfast and the ban on him entering Britain was lifted, and Jeremy Corbyn was elected MP for North Islington. Gerry Fitt was sent to the Lords after his political defeat in Belfast.

On 15 June 1983 the IBRG met the Irish Ambassador, Kennedy,  in what was a tense meeting when he asked the IBRG who they represented and where IBRG stood on republican resistance. The IBRG informed him that the primary violence in Ireland was British and had been so for over 800 years.

The delegation included Steve Brennan, Jim Curran, Pat Delaney, Michael Forde Seamus Carey, Don Magee and Pat Reynolds. Later in the week Pat Reynolds wrote to the Ambassador condemning his attack on the delegation and his one-sided view of violence and his refusal to recognise a bone fide Irish community organisation.

Brendan McLua,  Editor of the Irish Post,  backed the letter and went further  in an editorial  of 2 July 1983 (8) stating  the confrontation had arisen from the Embassy’s inability or unwillingness to comprehend that ours is now largely a second generation community and that, as a result, is  diverse , much of it highly educated,  and it can no longer be fitted into the tidy and comfortable  structures of county associations and the Federation of Irish Societies which, in their own admirable ways, have over the years represented the organised Irish born community. These structures were unchallenging for the Embassy, easy to understand,  and easy to patronise.

Remarks made to the delegation were offensive and uncalled for. The IBRG’s  membership included a number MP’s, a Euro MP, who is a vice president of the organisation and many councillors up and down the country. More to the point the IBRG’s approximately forty branches comprise a wide cross section of our community of all backgrounds and persuasion. Diplomats are transient here today gone tomorrow, they have little compatibility with the permanent community and they should not seek to dictate the course of its development. The Irish Embassy has no entitlement, no authority to insult such a representative section of our community and the IBRG are entitled to a formal apology.

The Ambassador’s days were numbered but the Embassy would never forgive the IBRG or the Irish Post for shifting an incompetent Ambassador. At the meeting the IBRG raised the question of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven who were innocent prisoners. The Ambassador had not been briefed on them and had no knowledge of what we were talking about despite Cardinal O’Fiaich stating that they were innocent people. Both Alf Lomas and Richard Balfe MEPs  had joined the IBRG.

On 16  June 1983 a new IBRG branch  was set up in Bristol, on 17 June a new IBRG branch at Coventry at St Finbarr’s Club, and one in Stafford on 30 June. The new N.E. Lancashire  branch, set up in February,  announced that it was taking up welfare work with Irish elders.

The IBRG Northern  Ireland Conference took place on 2 July 1983 (9) in the Council Chamber at Brent Town Hall in  Wembley. Sixteen branches were  present including Brent, Fleet St, Westminster, Haringey, Islington, Paddington, Waltham Forest, Lambeth, Harrow, Manchester, Bolton, Cardiff, Leicester, Merseyside, Birmingham (two branches) with apologies from Nottingham and Bradford.

Jim King, Chair,  in addressing the meeting, stated that the ending of British involvement in Northern Ireland is an absolute prerequisite to peace and a lasting solution in Ireland. John Martin, President,  stated that ‘I cannot imagine the IBRG ever failing to speak out when required and as required on the national question’

The Policy called for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Northern  Ireland, the ending of all repressive measures, plastic bullets to be banned,  Irish prisoners wrongly convicted  including the Birmingham Six, Guildford  Four and Maguire Seven to be released,  Irish political prisoners to be transferred back to Ireland nearer their families, an ending of censorship and distortion, an ending of the Loyalist veto, Irish neutrality to be maintained and the support of political parties and trade unions to be sought for the policy.

The document entitled Northern Ireland Policy was adopted by the meeting.  The policy stated that ‘our life in Britain and Ireland is underscored and structures by Britain’s relationship with Ireland. This relationship has historically been one of intervention on the part of Britain and it this intervention which has resulted in the situation in Ireland itself and our position as members of the Irish community in Britain. The IBRG recognises that the war in Northern  Ireland is a direct result of a British colonisation policy and we therefore maintain that any just and lasting solution must include a recognition of the island of Ireland as a single, independent sovereign political unit. We therefore see the ending of the war in Ireland and a political solution in the Six Counties as a priority for all Irish people in Britain.

NI policy

On  17 July 1983 Merlyn Rees former Northern  Ireland Secretary said that around 1975 a cabinet subcommittee had considered withdrawal from Northern  Ireland but no Minister would support it.

On 18  July 1983 Islington IBRG held a public meeting on Northern  Ireland at Islington Central Library with speakers including  newly elected MP Jeremy Corbyn,   Greater London Council  Member Steve Bundred, Labour Councillor Alan Clinton and Pat Reynolds IBRG. The meeting was  chaired by Seamus Carey, brother of Donal Carey Fine Gael TD in Clare.

In July 1983 (10) IBRG NEC members Pat Delaney and Michael Forde attended the Irish American Unity Conference in Chicago as observers.  They were warmly received by over five hundred  delegates from American Irish organisations and made useful connections.

On 26 July 1983 (11) an IBRG delegation met Peter Barry Tánaiste and Irish Foreign Minister at the Irish Embassy in London. The IBRG delegation was led by Jim Curran – Chair London region,  Nessan Danaher-  Education officer, Steve Brennan _ GLC Irish Policy Officer,  Vice Chair – Pat Delaney and non-NEC members Pat Reynolds and Brid Sexton from London.

Out of interest,  Barry in an earlier speech in Limerick stated ‘I am an Irish Nationalist. I resent the political division of this island and I regard the long term British presence as an obstacle to the reconciliation of the two traditions and to the achievement of peace and stability on this island  As long as the two traditions are in conflict, the Irish people north and south, Unionist and Nationalist,  will not achieve their full potential-economically, politically, socially or culturally. As long as the British government supports one side in that conflict, we cannot hope for a normal relationship between the people of these islands.’ The IBRG were happy to endorse Peter Barry’s statement at that time.

Jim Curran started the discussion with Peter Barry   by calling on the Irish government to set up funding for the welfare and cultural needs of the Irish community in Britain, pointing out that the Irish abroad had sent home millions of pounds over the years to help their families at home and the Irish economy, they bought Irish products  abroad from butter to beef, spent their holidays in Ireland and promoted Irish culture abroad.  Jim Curran indicated that instead of spending millions on the Irish border and the partition of Irish some of this money could be spend on supporting the Irish in Britain.

Nessan Danaher raised the issues of Irish culture history and literature in the British curriculum and asked that the Irish government support cultural exchanges for second generation Irish and provide resources for school. Nessan spoke on the impact of anti-Irish racism on Irish children in the school system and the impact of the troubles in Northern  Ireland.

Barry  wanted the IBRG and the Irish community in Britain to condemn IRA violence but was challenged on this narrow interpretation of violence. He was asked by Pat Delaney to condemn British violence in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday and other atrocities including the killing of children by plastic bullets, the PTA,  and the framed Irish prisoners in Britain.  Barry refused to  condemn British violence in Ireland. Pat Delaney left the meeting in protest of Barry’s British one-sided view of political violence and called him a hypocrite.

Years later the Irish government would adopt Jim Curran and the IBRG proposal of funding the Irish community in Britain and abroad for their welfare and cultural needs. The IBRG also raised the cost of Irish passports, the PTA, and Irish prisoners in Britain including both political ones and framed ones.

Peter Barry in his meeting with the Irish National Council described Gerry Adams as fascist and Sinn Fein members as Fascists. This raised questions about his understanding of history and his understanding of Northern Ireland in that Sinn Fein won 42% of the Nationalist vote in Northern  Ireland and would have to be part of any solution. Barry told the INC that the Irish in Britain had no role to play in Anglo Irish affairs apart from letting their English neighbours know they were different from the IRA gunmen.

In its report of the IBRG meeting with Barry it was recorded ‘Since the IBRG was  founded 18 months ago the Irish Embassy has looked on disdainfully and apprehensively. The Irish Embassy has seen the IBRG as too green and capable of disturbing the orderly and deferring Irish community structures with which the Embassy officials have been closely associated. The Federation for example has long had a tradition where an Embassy official attends every meeting and is called upon by the chair to sum up at the conclusion of businesses. The IBRG had criticised the Embassy for not doing anything for the Irish community in Britain at its AGM and the Irish Ambassador Kennedy had at the Irish Post Awards publicly attacked the IBRG.”

On 27 July 1983 Gerry Adams MP, Ken Livingstone GLC Leader, Jeremy Corbyn  MP and Chris Smith MP spoke at Finsbury Town Hall in Islington North London. Over one thousand people attended the meeting.

Chris Smith made a one-sided attack on republican violence while ignoring British violence in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy massacres.  Pat Reynolds challenged him over his one-sided view on violence based on a colonial perspective in the local Islington Gazette. In the letter of 19  August 1983 Pat Reynolds wrote ‘Why is there so much repression of any debate on Ireland? Surely the British people have a right to know what their government is doing in Ireland, just as the Americans had to find out what was happening in Vietnam. Let’s have less distortion and start a rational and intelligent debate in Ireland and end the conspiracy of silence’.

The IBRG NEC (12) met at Mount Street Community Centre in Birmingham on Saturday 6  August 1983 where ten NEC members  attended including Jim King  – Chair, Judy Peddle – Secretary/ Runai,  Joe Mullarkey,  Moira O’Shea, Pat Delaney and Nessan Danaher- Education Officer .

The NEC heard  a motion from Lambeth IBRG, supported by Haringey IBRG, calling on the NEC to initiate an open committee of enquiry (encompassing impartial groups of MPs councillors, National Council for Civil Liberties etc) to examine the trial documents and all other relevant material in relation to the case of the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich public house bombings and the Maguire family and friends. The NEC agreed to raise the matter with Amnesty International (both British and Irish sections) the NCCL and to the main political parties in Britain.

The NEC agreed to write to the Irish Ambassador raising protest at his objectionable references to hypothetical links between IBRG and the IRA and his unsatisfactory response and conduct during the recent meeting with IBRG. It was agreed that the delegation should also try and meet Sinn Fein and Independent T.D. Neil Blaney.

The NEC put forward an agenda with  travel and related issues  including cost of passports, on politics they would raise  the racist PTA,  harassment of Nationalist community in Northern  Ireland and Human Rights issues like plastic bullets and the plight of both political and framed British in British jails.   Nessan Danaher, the Education Officer,  talked of raising the need for a  National resources centre for Irish education material in Britain which could be supported from Dublin and from Europe. The NEC would also raise financial support for Irish cultural and welfare projects in Britain and it noted that Ken Livingstone was supporting Irish Welfare and cultural projects in London.

The delegation was planned for October with ten  delegates including Officers and NEC members. An Runai (secretary) had sent a copy of our Northern  Ireland policy document to the New Ireland Forum and IBRG would raise the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Forum whilst  in Dublin.

The NEC agreed to send an IBRG delegation to Dublin in the autumn as they had letters from both Fianna Fail and Labour who were willing to meet a delegation.

In 17/18 August 1983 (13) the Guardian did a two-day feature on the Irish in Britain,  which included Pat Delaney from the IBRG, the Federation of Irish Societies, Irish National Council , Catholic clergy and Kevin McNamara M.P.  It was almost totally a male article with only a little piece of the PTA arrest of Margaret O’Neill.

Ivor Stanbrook in the Daily Mail stated that ‘Without a sea of expatriate Irishmen in which to swim the IRA would never escape detection in Britain’ and called for the vote to be taken from the Irish. The article is interesting in so far that the Guardian has always ignored the Irish community in Britain and has only covered their position three-time in 30 years, although they will cover English games like soccer and rugby for Ireland along with literature and arts but never the Irish community in Britain.

On 28 August 1983 Ken Livingstone  stated that Britain’s treatment of the Irish over eight hundred years had been worse than Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

On 7 September 1983 a referendum on abortion in Ireland showed a two thirds majority for a pro-life amendment being added to the constitution.

On 15 September 1983 Islington IBRG met with Margaret Hodge, Leader of Islington Council, to discuss issues affecting the Irish community in Britain.  By the end of September the IBRG had set up the Irish in Islington project as an independent project for the Irish community with two full time workers which was  funded by the Greater London Council.

The agenda for their September meeting at Caxton House shows the variety of issues the local IBRG were involved in;  Islington Race Committee Report, Police And Criminal Evidence  report, Corbyn’s Irish Group in Commons, IBRG Conference on Northern  Ireland and the Northern  Ireland Policy, IBRG London Region report, Education Irish language and History classes, meeting with Islington Housing, Social Services, Recreation including Irish books in Libraries, delegation to BBC,ITV, Home Office, Parliamentary Labour Party, Women’s Committee and Irish Women’s Group and Racism in Shops.

On 25 September 1983 thirty eight  prisoners of war escaped from the UK detention Maze camp (in Northern Ireland) in a lorry.  Nineteen  were retaken later but the other nineteen  got clean away. The retaken prisoners were assaulted by the warders and later won compensation for the assaults.

Neil Kinnock was elected Leader of the Labour Party in October 1983.

The IBRG NEC met at Brent Town Hall on 15 October 1983 (14) chaired by Jim King with  Secretary/Runai  Judy Peddle.  Fifteen  NEC members attended alongside  observers from London branches. John Martin: President, Jim Curran: Vice President, Pat Delaney: PRO, Nessan Danaher: Education Officer, Joe Mullarkey  (Bolton) Mary Cahill, Cllr Dennis Lynch from Brent, Steve Brennan, Mary Duckett and Rita Lewis.

The unresolved London problem had raised its head when observers from the London branches wanted a hearing and a discussion on the matter. IBRG had started after the first meeting at Westminster Central Hall by setting up a London Area Organising Committee (LAOC whose first chair was Bridgit Galvin).  Since then Jim Curran, Pat Delaney, and Steve Brennan had set up branches in Islington, Haringey and other areas of London. Jim Curran had replaced Bridgit Galvin as Chair but this was disputed because Bridgit Galvin was the NEC representative on the body.  While Jim Curran was now an officer of the NEC, there were issues over democracy and the constitution of some London branches.

It was a constitutional mess as the LAOC had no standing in the constitution and was becoming an organisation within an organisation.  It was a dangerous situation in that LAOC had applied to the GLC for £50k funding and looked like getting it.  It now called itself the London Regional Council of the IBRG. The disputed branches were Fleet St, Ealing and West Hampstead which were not registered. The meeting voted against hearing the dispute and decided to allow the GLC funding bid to go ahead. The NEC accepted the new officers of the LRC,  despite all of them being from West London with no representation from South, East or North London.

The problem would rumble on until the 1984 Ard Fheis( AGM). The following London branches were registered with NEC;  Harrow, Islington, Lambeth, Haringey, Westminster, Waltham Forest and Brent. Steve Brennan GLC Irish Liaison Officer spoke to the meeting on the GLC grant position.  The NEC decided that the LRC grant be allowed to go ahead. The LRC had even created their own constitution. It was agreed to hold a special LRC meeting on 30 October 1983 at which the National Chair and Secretary would attend to try and resolve the situation.

Nessan Danaher, Education officer, informed the meeting that he was holding an IBRG National Education Conference at Soar Valley in Leicester on 11 February 1984, the first of its kind in Britain.

The meeting noted that a new Ambassador had been appointed in London.

A Birmingham Six paper which had been prepared by the Prisoners subcommittee was read to the meeting and adopted. It was agreed to co-op Sandra Hunter, (the wife of one of the Birmingham 6  Gerry Hunter) onto the Prisoner subcommittee. Plaid Cymru had written expressing sympathy and interest in the Birmingham Six case.

John Martin drew attention to a Daily Express crossword of 15 September 1983 which had a clue: Irish activist- answer: terrorist. It was agreed that the matter should be referred to the Press Council and the Council for Racial Equality. The question of setting up an Irish in Britain Unity Conference in 1984 was raised.

On 2/3 November 1983 (15) an eight person IBRG delegation went to Dublin to meet the political parties : Fine Gael and Labour from the  Government, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. Jim King Chair led the delegation along with President, John Martin, Secretary/Runai Judy Peddle, Michael Forde, Gerry Gallagher, Pat Delaney PRO, Mary Duckett and Maire O’Shea.

IBRG met Ruari Quinn, Minister of the Environment, and discussed free travel in Ireland for Irish pensioners in Britain, met with five Fine Gael TDs including future leader Enda Kenny who were hostile to IBRG, Brian Lennihan Deputy of Fianna Fail and Joe Cahill of Sinn Fein and later Labhras O Murchu of Comhaltas.

Fine Gael adopted the same approach of the Irish Ambassador and Peter Barry towards the IBRG by questioning the role of IBRG, but the delegation called on them to provide funding for Irish welfare, culture, education and research for the Irish in Britain. The IBRG also called on the Irish Government to set up Irish consulates in Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Birmingham.  Jim King felt that the delegation had been successful, constructive and had established lines of communication and that recognition of IBRG had been won.

On 13 November 1983 Gerry Adams is elected President of Sinn Fein to replace Ruari O Bradaigh a shift from the Republic to the North in the Sinn Fein power block.

A new IBRG branch was set up in Middlesborough on 19 November by Cllr Tony Campbell.

The NEC met on 26th November 1983 (16) at Bolton Town Hall where eleven members turned up including Jim King, Chair, Runai,  Judy Peddle, Jim Curran, Pat Delaney PRO, Kathleen Wright, Mike Forde,  Joe Mullarkey and Moira O’Shea. Steve Brennan had resigned as Vice Chair because of conflict of interests as he was Irish Liaison Officer with the GLC and was dealing with IBRG over grants.

The NEC heard that the LRC had met on 30 October 1983 and that the dispute was definitely settled and the GLC grant had been approved. The Labour on Ireland magazine was circulating at the meeting so that individuals could contribute to it. The NEC decided to approach the Young Liberals for support and to send the Northern  Ireland policy to all the political parties in Britain. Kathleen Wright from Bolton had taken over as Internal Co-ordinator. Bolton now had a newsletter for the Irish community.

An Runai (Secretary)  then read a letter from Pat Reynolds of  Islington IBRG who asked that the NEC set up a system of monitoring the national and local media in Britain for anti-Irish racism after the Fleet St tabloids attacked the Irish in Islington Project in an extremely racist manner. Pat Reynolds also put forward the need for a weekly Irish radio programme  at both national and local level. It was agreed that the Fleet St branch would undertake this role. Joe Mullarkey was trying to set up something similar in Bolton and had had a constructive meeting with the editor of Bolton Evening News.

The NEC expressed concern about the amount of nuclear waste being dumped in the Irish Sea and agreed that branches should take this up with their MPs and MEP and the IBRG would write to the Irish government on the matter. Members would be attending the Manchester Martyrs March the following day and the NEC supported the march.

On 17 December 1983 an IRA bomb outside Harrods killed six people,  including three police officers. The IRA state that the Army Council had not approved the action and regretted the deaths caused.

On Boxing Day 1983 Islington IBRG met with Jeremy Corbyn, MP North Islington, to plan ahead on Irish issues in the borough and national issues which included Corbyn trying to set up a group for MPs in the Commons who were supportive of Ireland and the Irish community, plans to meet with the Home Office, Inner London Education Authority, Council for Racial Equality, Channel Four and getting an Irish centre in Islington.

  1. NEC Minutes 16/01/1983
  2. Irish Post 24/02/1983
  3. NEC Minutes 27/02/1983
  4. Ard Fheis Minutes 26/03/1983
  5. NEC Minutes 9/04/1983
  6. GLC Irish Conference Report 22/05/1983
  7. NEC Minutes 4/06/1983
  8. Irish Post Editorial 2/07 1983
  9. Northern  Ireland Conference Policy 2/07/1983
  10. Irish Post 23/07/1983
  11. Irish Post 30/07/1983
  12. NEC Minutes 6/08/1983
  13. The Guardian Irish reports 17/18/08/1983
  14. NEC Minutes 15/10/1983
  15. Irish Post 12/11/1983
  16. NEC Minutes 26/11/1983

Listen to my talk about the  IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here

Read Part 1 and 2 of IBRG history here  and here

An excellent history of 200 years of Irish political activity in Mancheser – including Manchester IBRG read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here

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Posted in education, feminism, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My review of “A Collective Bargain. Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy” Jane McAlevey

 

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There are three reasons why I like this book.

One; it’s written by an activist. There are too many books being published by people who want to preach about what we should but do little beyond that. Give me people who actually make a difference.

Two:  it reminds readers in Europe that the USA is not Trumpland but is a society with a radical trade union history – past and present.

Three; it’s an inspiring book. Jane has a history of activism and she highlights many individuals and groups of workers who are on the frontline of defending their jobs and conditions –and particularly the  women and black workers who are a significant part of the American labour market.

At the heart of this book is the belief that unions are the only effective response to the destruction of democracy by the super rich corporations. Trade unions have existed as long as the USA has,  but it was in 1935 that they really became part of the social fabric of society. The depression of the 1930s was brought about by the capitalist class and, as Jane explains,  the response was :  “Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining –the right to negotiate wages and other terms of employment – and created one national legal framework for unions in the private sector.”

Trade unions now existed to balance up the power structure within society. Jane goes on to prove the point that trade unions are an important institution in the  democractic process in the USA. but  once unions were challenging the power of the market the backlash came and,  as she points out,  the decline of unions is directly, in the USA, related to the growth of the union busting industry. As she says; “My firm belief that only strong, democratic unions can get us out of the myriad crises engulfing the United States, and large parts of the world, is based on my twenty five years as an organiser in the field, running and winning hard campaigns.”

Some of the most interesting parts of the books are  Jane’s own experience as an organiser. One of her early experiences, in 1991, when she was hired to do some preparatory work for the arrival of a delegation of interfaith leaders to take a tour of the US-Mexico border as part of a faith-based conference on conditions in the maquiladora zone. She observed that,  as early as the 1960s in Mexico,  the globalisation process was already underway, as  well-known US companies including GM, Ford and IBM had set up there and were paying poverty wages, the corporations benefitted from less regulation whilst making big profits and  were destroying the environment. There is no way American workers could compete.

In this book Jane shows how it is through unions that people can claw back power from global industries and improve their lives and their environments. The book is a instruction manual  not just on why workers need unions but  has some important examples of how they can go about it.

Just like the UK some of the most important strikes are being led by women as women dominate some of the biggest industries including health, education and hospitality. The power of the union to combat racism and sexism is shown in a case in Philadelphia in 2016 when Jane was a chief negotiator in contract talks between a thousand nurses and their employer.

One of the nurses involved was Marie Celestine, a black nurse who had worked in the hospital for forty years,  and was respected by  her colleagues and patients. Through the union Marie found out that for  over the forty years she had been paid thousands of dollars less than her mostly white juniors. As she comments “I’ve been denied the merit raises for most of my entire lifetime at this hospital.” Racism was the only explanation for her being denied pay equality.

Taking a leader role in the  collective bargaining process Marie won a fair and equal wage scale, eliminated the abusive merit system,  ended racial inequalities and gained 100 percent equality between women and men. This case is a reminder, as Jane comments; “Today, with women dominated fields growing, including societally urgent ones such as home health care, the future of the union movement is even more so the future of the women’s movement. If only women will unite, together.”

Jane has devoted her life to organising within the trade union and labour movement. She knows that unions can and do win and that central to that is organisation and building a movement that will challenge corporate domination of our lives. This book  is essentially about the American experience but there are many comparisons that can be made with our lives in the UK.

Over here we have seen the rise of new trade unions such as United Voices of the World which are more democratic and which have encouraged and supported their members to fight and win better pay and conditions. Groups such as the Angry Workers Collective are inspiring in taking the struggle to some of the big battlegrounds such as the food industry and their  communities to show that trade unions and organising are about more than just pay and conditions.

And as Jane says; “Good unions point us in the direction we need to go and produce the solidarity and unity desperately needed to win. We can fight, and we can win.”

 

Buy it, it costs £20 from the real Amazons here

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , | 3 Comments

History of the Irish in Britain Representation Group by Patrick Reynolds. Part 2: 1982

Patrick Reynolds was one of the founders of IBRG and played a key role in its history. He is now writing up that history and putting it into the context of radical history in Britain and Ireland in the C20th.

1982 saw the early beginnings of building up the branch structure of IBRG,   expanding the organisation and setting out the constitution and structure of the organisation.

On 16 January 1982 the IBRG held its first meeting in Liverpool where Bill Walsh was elected local Chair and Siobhan Sandy as Secretary.

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New mailCopOn 16 January 1982 the IBRG held its first meeting in Liverpool where Bill Walsh was elected local Chair and Siobhan Sandy as Secretary.

The Irish Post (1) reported on 23rd January 1982 that IBRG had two functioning branches in Manchester and was planning a meeting for Birmingham and one in London for 24 January 1982. The delay of the IBRG to set up in London led to a flurry of other groups trying to fill the vacuum.

On 30 January 1982 a broad-based meeting was held at the Irish Club in London which over eighty people attended from various groups with a view to form a representative Irish National Body.

Michael Sheehan, who attended the meeting, stated that ‘the primary aim of the IBRG is the social cultural and economic welfare of the Irish community, with concerns about Human Rights in Northern  Ireland.  The meeting called for the abolition of partition, the repeal of the PTA, the promotion of realistic images of Irish identity tradition and culture in this country, concern over republican prisoners and called for their repatriation. “   It was agreed that Richard Balfe MEP would set up an inter party group of MPs and MEPs to look at Ireland and the Irish community in Britain. The IBRG agreed to liaise with this new group.

The Irish Post further reported on a national meeting of the Federation of Irish Societies (F.I.S.) where they decided to hold a conference on Northern Ireland. George Meehan, later Labour Leader of Haringey Council in North London, stated ‘never again must we sit idly by, never again must we run away’ while Tommy Walsh from Liverpool stated ‘I fear we missed the boat, we are already a laughing stock’ referring to the failure of the Federation to make any statement on the Hunger Strike of 1981 where 10 young Irishman died demanding to be treated as political prisoners.

On  6 February 1982  the Irish Post carried a photo of three IBRG members Jim King, Michael Sheehan and Gerry Gallagher from Manchester who had attended the meeting at the Irish Club with a big story heading ‘Finding Common Ground’. (2)

Jim King spoke about passing on our heritage to our children and that previously the focus had always been on the Irish border and not on a community in Britain. Michael Sheehan stated that the IBRG were ‘opposed to all kinds of violence’. The Irish Information Partnership, Connolly Association, Cumman na Poblachta and Labour Committee on Ireland and IBRG were present. Clearly the Irish Post were wondering out loud how these two new groups could work together in the interests of the Irish community in Britain. The meeting exposed the lack of any IBRG presence in London at that stage.

IBRG Jim King and Joe Mullarkey

Joe Mullarkey and Jim King

On 18 February 1982 a minority Fianna Fail government came into power in the Republic of  Ireland, and in general Fianna Fail were seen as better than Fine Gael in terms of Northern  Ireland and the Irish in Britain, although all Irish governments had ignored the welfare of the Irish community in Britain,  leaving it to the Catholic Church to attend  to the community.

On 28 February 1982  the IBRG held their fourth rolling conference in Birmingham Civic Hall following their earlier meetings in Derby, Manchester and Liverpool. (3)

On 13 March 1982  the IBRG, Connolly Association and Troops Out Movement  lobbied Labour MPs regarding  their position on the Prevention of Terrorism Act. (4)

On 20 March 1982  the Irish Post stated that another IBRG branch was to open in Burton on Trent where John Martin lived and  that they were going to put on Irish classes. (5)

For three weeks in April 1982 the Irish Post  ran full page stories on the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) and their Conference on Northern  Ireland which fifty six  people attended. At  the conference  Tommy Walsh Liverpool welcomed the lobbying of the IBRG on the PTA. The Irish Post spoke of a ‘Federation Reappraisal’ but there was nothing of any substance to come out of it apart from stating they should speak out on issues affecting the Irish community in Britain. (6)

tom walsh

Tommy Walsh of F.I.S.

The Spring/Summer edition of Irish Studies in Britain had a two page article on the IBRG setting out the main areas of IBRG work: the preservation of the Irish way of life, a fair share of resources for the Irish, access to the media, local authority courses, school curricula, anti-Irish racism, travel links with Ireland, the PTA and Northern  Ireland.

Irish studies in Britain 1982

Irish Studies in Britain Spring/Summer 1982

On 1 May 1982    the Irish Post reported that IBRG had set up a branch in Oxford and had plans for London and Cardiff branches. The IBRG now had eight  branches. The IBRG decided they would attend the Bobby Sands March in London on 8 May 1982 and march  under their own banner, their first attendance at any political march in relation to Ireland. (7)

The Irish Post talked of the new body the Irish National Council (INC) having six branches in London and the emerging IBRG and there being no question of amalgamation between them at this stage but co-operation.  At this stage the IBRG had no London branches and had left it late to set up something in London, and there was clear evidence that other political groups were organising to take centre stage before the IBRG had a chance to set up. In retrospect it  was a big mistake to leave London to be the last place to set up in.

The Irish Post commented on the views of the Chair of the Federation ‘the Chairman has on numerous occasions during the past year expressed resentment on the emergence of the IBRG and the London based Irish National Council’.

A Federation motion on Northern  Ireland which opposed the PTA, condemned the use of violence, and supported a United Ireland by peaceful means supported British withdrawal and an end to the Unionist veto was ratified at the AGM without any debate.

On 3 May 1982 the British sank the Belgrano   whilst it was retreating. The Irish Minster Paddy Power stated that ‘Britain themselves are every much the aggressors now’

On 15  May 1982 the Irish Post  reported that the IBRG intended to hold its first London meeting at Central Hall Westminster on 22 May 1982. The IBRG also stated they were to set up a branch in Nottingham.  The IBRG had decided to set up sub committees to look at isues such as  anti-Irish racism, education, travel between Britain and Ireland, media monitoring and civil liberties. (8)

On 22 May 1982 the Irish Post had an editorial entitled:  IBRG Comes to Town,  stating that Manchester had led the early development of IBRG. The London meeting at Central Hall was packed with members of the Irish public in London. Irish Civil Rights, British Association of  Irish Studies, Irish Republican Socialist Party,  Cumman na Pobhlachta, Irish Archives, Gaelic Athletics Association, Conradh na Gaeilge,  Green Ink, and the  Irish in Britain History Group attended along with many others.(9)

On 29 May 1982  the IBRG held their first London Inauguration meeting which sixty people attended and planned four branches in London. A London steering group was set up to advance the IBRG in London.  This later led to internal IBRG problems as the London Steering Group were a loose grouping without clear links to the National Organisation. The preservation of the Irish way of life in Britain, a fair share of resources for the Irish community in Britain, an anti PTA position,challenge anti Irish racism and use the Race Relations Act for any test cases, work for reconciliation and peace in Northern  Ireland and condemn the use of plastic bullets were seen as early priorities. (10)

On 3 June 1982 the Irish Post reported on new IBRG branches in Nottingham, Leicester and Cardiff.

On 18 June 1982 Lord Gowrie Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office  stated ‘Northern Ireland is extremely expensive for  the British taxpayer… if the people of Northern  Ireland wished to join with the south of Ireland, no British Government would resist it for twenty minutes.

On 19  June 1982  the Irish Post the IBRG took up the issue of shops in London selling racist Irish mugs and other materials to denigrate Irish people.  Camden Council for Community Relations were supportive and IBRG called on the Attorney General to prosecute the shops involved. The local press covered the story. (11)

On Saturday 26  June 1982   the IBRG held their first Ard Fheis (AGM) at the Civic Centre in Digbeth in Birmingham and seven branches attended from Birmingham, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Nottingham and Burton on Trent with apologies from Derby and Oxford. Jim King from Manchester chaired the meeting. (12)

Papers were accepted at the meeting on;

Preservation of the Irish way of life in Britain,

A fair share of resources for the Irish in Britain,

Access to the media,

Local authority Courses in Irish studies,

 The inclusion of Irish studies in multi-racial school curricula,

Anti-Irish racism in all forms,

 Travel and links to Ireland,

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Northern  Ireland.

Manchester IBRG presented a paper to the meeting on a framework for IBRG policy on Northern  Ireland which was agreed and adopted as a consultative document to be circulated to all branches.  It was decided to call a special conference meeting three months later to agree the IBRG policy on Northern  Ireland.

The meeting elected the NEC;

President John Martin -Burton on Trent,

Chair Jim King: Manchester

Runai  (Secretary) and Public Relations Officer  -Mike Sheehan of Manchester

Vice Chair:  Bridgit Galvin – London

Cisteoir (Treasurer) : Patrick Browne – Manchester

Internal Co-ordinator: Peter Fallon -Nottingham

External Liaison Officer: Ted Rowan –  Nottingham

Education Office: Nessan Danaher – Leicester.

Six other members were elected to the National Executive Committee: Ms Gregory: London, Judy Peddle: Cardiff, Bill Walsh: Liverpool, Kevin Doherty: Birmingham, Gerry Gallagher: Manchester and Desmond MacCurdy: Leicester.

The IBRG now for the first time had a national structure within Britain and had set out its areas of concern for future work. It also had an early policy document on Northern Ireland.

On 3 July 1982 the Irish Post reported that that the Attorney General Michael Havers had refused to prosecute these shops selling anti Irish materials. Michael Havers represented the Crown in two of the worst cases of Irish injustice in British history in the prosecution of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. (13)

On 10  July 1982 the Irish Post reported on a new IBRG branch being set up in Camden on 18 July 1982.

On 17  July 1982 Pat Reynolds complained to the editor of the Weekend Daily Mirror because of their anti-Irish jokes published on 17 July 1982

On 24  July 1982 the Irish Post  reported that IBRG had put in a five-page submission to Channel Four calling on the TV station to give air time to Irish affairs. (14)

On 7  August 1982  the Irish Post  had a front page story entitled ‘A Victory’ as the  Camden shop had agreed not to sell racist Irish mugs as more which showed that the IBRG could achieve things for the Irish community and were not afraid to take action  on behalf of the community and give a lead. (15)

On 14  August 1982 the Irish Post  reported that the Federation for Irish Societies  had called for the British living in the Irish Republic to be given the vote in Ireland. This was an extraordinary call given they never supported the Irish abroad having the vote at home. In the same issue the Irish Post reported that forty  Tory Party constituencies had put forward motions on taking the vote off the Irish community in Britain. When the Irish Civil Rights Group reported this to the Commission for Racial Equality they were dismissed. (16)

On 28 July 1982 the Irish Post carried a big advert calling on the Irish to join the IBRG and gave the addresses for nine different branches. This advert was repeated in October 1982.

On 25 September 1982 the IBRG received a reply from James Prior Northern  Irish Secretary stating that plastic bullets would not be withdrawn. Here we get the Irish community beginning to have their views known on abuses of human rights in Northern  Ireland with particular concern for the deaths of children by the use of plastic bullets.

On 1 October 1982 the British Labour Party Conference called for a ban on plastic bullets throughout the UK.

On 20 October 1982 Sinn Fein took  part in the new Northern  Ireland Assembly elections and got 10% of the vote with Adams and McGuinness elected. The performance of Sinn Fein causes consternation in the British establishment fearing that Sinn  Fein might eventually replace the Social and Democratic Labour Party.

On 23  October 1982 Jim King, Chair of  IBRG, had a letter in the Irish Post questioning the role of the Federation of Irish Societies and what had they achieved and welcoming  the call for a meeting of all groups representing the Irish in Britain. (17)

On 30  October 1982 the Irish Post reported IBRG as stating that ’a solution of the Northen  Ireland conflict is hindered by irrational anti-Irish prejudice and misrepresentation of events in Ireland’.  The paper also reported on the setting up of a new branch in Islington by Seamus Carey and Pat Reynolds. In the same issue Pat Reynolds had a letter attacking the far right in Britain who were trying to divide the Irish and Black community and pointed out that anti Irish and anti-Black racism had their roots in the colonial system of plantation and slavery.

On 6 November 1982 in the Irish Post Jim McGrath, of the F.I.S., responded to Jim King’s earlier letter and attacked the IBRG for its name and purpose. It was as if the Federation had lost the argument and had had nothing to add to the debate or to the way forward. Meanwhile the IBRG had started discussion with the Greater London Council (GLC) who had appointed an Irish Community Liaison Officer Steve Brennan who was a member of IBRG.

Ken Livingstone was leader of the GLC and John McDonnell his deputy,  both with progressive views on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Here the IBRG were moving away from the traditional Federation position of following the Irish Embassy, instead starting a dialogue on behalf of the Irish community with Local Authorities in Britain asking them how they were addressing the needs of the Irish community.  The GLC responded by convening a meeting on London at County Hall for all Irish groups in London.

On 14 November 1982 the IBRG held their Ard Choiste meeting at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham where eight members of the NEC attended from London, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool and Burton on Trent. (18)

Jim King chaired the meeting which was spent mostly on drawing up a constitution and standing orders. The meeting considered whether the organisation needed to be split in two,  one for the charity work and one for its political work. The Charity Commissioners had been approached for registration.  The meeting decided on having an Ard Fheis in March 1983, welcomed an approach from Bradford & District Irish Association for affiliation, and agreed to take action about an article in the Daily Express.

On 19 November 1982  Islington IBRG took its first direct action by picketing three local shops in Islington including Woolworths for selling anti Irish materials such as joke books and racist tea towels. Jeremy Corbyn, Prospective Labour candidate for Islington North,  attended the pickets. It marked a new beginning of taking action onto the street in defence of the rights of the community to live free from anti- Irish racism. (19)

In 20 November 1982 Sean Sexton, an IBRG member,  wrote to the Irish Post asking why the Federation (F.I.S) never campaigned on anti-Irish racism, why they were silent on the Hunger strikes,  have no presentation of Irish culture in Britain, and no promotion of Irish talent in Britain, no lobby of Parliament on issues affecting the community,  and no response to Tory party attack on the Irish vote.  Bridgit Galvin replied in the same issue to an earlier Federation attack by Jim McGrath. (20)

On 24 November 1982 Islington IBRG attended the Race Relations Committee at Islington Town Hall.  Again this was a new departure for the Irish community. The Irish were clearly a racial group under the terms of the Race Relations Act and the House of Lords judgement on the matter and were therefore entitled to protection from discrimination in employment and racial abuse.

On 24 November 1982 a General Election in Ireland saw with return of a Fine Gael/ Labour coalition government.

On 27 November 1982  Woolworths agreed to withdraw their anti-Irish joke books after the IBRG met them at Woolworths HQ in London.  (21 )They also agreed to withdraw racist tea towels which portrayed the Irish in racist terms.  The IBRG had threatened national boycott of Woolworths stores in the UK. It was an instant quick victory for the IBRG and showed the Irish community what could be done to protect our children from this daily abuse in schools modelled on these adult examples of anti-Irish hatred.

It was a major victory in the fight against anti- Irish racism in Britain and sent out a clear warning that such anti- Irish materials would not be tolerated.  The IBRG also called on Radio Telfis Eireann  not to broadcast any BBC programme which included anti- Irish materials such as anti-Irish jokes.

On 27 November 1982 in the Irish Post  there were a number of letters including the leading letter supporting the work of the IBRG .(22)

On Sunday 28 November 1982 the IBRG NEC met at the Yorker Public House. The meeting heard that the London regional committee had run into trouble the previous Sunday in London where there had been a dispute which would rumble on into 1983. The London Region did not fit into the National structure of IBRG and was set up originally to facilitate growth in London but now London had branches in different areas like Islington,  Camden and Lambeth.

On 4 December 1982  the IBRG stand on anti-Irish racism was endorsed by the Labour Party when they stated ‘we welcome your statement and thoroughly endorse it. The racism faced by Irish people must we believe be revisited as that faced by Black people and Jews’. This was a major breakthrough to have the British Labour Party take a position on anti-Irish racism and to see it as an issue. (23)

On 4 December 1982 the IBRG had another major victory when Ken Livingstone of the GLC took up the issue the IBRG had with JAK,  the cartoonist for Evening Standard,  who on a regular basis published anti Irish cartons which were racist in the extreme.  Livingstone stated ‘The IBRG claim they have received complaints from Irish residents of London who find the material extremely offensive.  We will not put another penny into the Standard while they continue to vilify the Irish’ while John McDonell  stated ‘we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Irish community’.

The IBRG congratulated Livingstone and the GLC for their action in withdrawing £100,000 advertising from the Evening Standard and their  support for  the community ‘The IBRG asked Ken Livingstone to take up this matter in behalf of the Irish community and he did so splendidly.”

IBRG talk Jak Cartonn

JAK cartoon in Evening Standard.

The GLC also supported the Irish community retaining the vote in Britain and condemned Tory Party attacks on this right to vote. This was a major victory for the Irish community in their fight against anti Irish racism in Britain.

On 8 December 1982 the British Home Secretary banned Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison from entering Britain under the PTA and the following day Ken Livingstone accepted an invitation from Adams to visit them in Belfast.

On 11 December 1982 Brent Council came out in favour of the Irish retaining the vote in Britain campaign that the IBRG was now running. The Council for Racial Equality (CRE)  agreed to ask the Attorney General to speak out on Irish voting rights. This was the first time the CRE had agreed to do anything for the Irish community in Britain. (24)

On 18  December 1982 the London Regional Council held a meeting. Jim Curran was elected Chair, Steve Brennan as Vice Chair and Pat Delaney as Public Relations Officer.

On 20 December 1982 the British Government increased the number of MP seats in Northern  Ireland  from 12 to 17.

IBRG ended 1982 in a strong position with a functioning National Executive and a strong base in London. There were however some issues with the London Regional Council to be sorted out. The organisation had taken street action against anti Irish racism, had persuaded Woolworths to withdraw their anti-Irish materials from their shops in Britain, had persuaded the GLC to ban all advertising in the Standard because of the racist JAK cartoons, had got the Labour Party to support the IBRG position on anti-Irish racism and had begun to talk to Local Authorities about the needs of the Irish communities in Britain.

Notes.

  1. Irish Post 30/01/1982
  2. Irish Post 6/02/1982
  3. Irish Post 27/02/1982
  4. Irish Post 13/03/1982
  5. Irish Post 20/03/1982
  6. Irish Post 3/04/1982
  7. Irish Post 1/05/1982
  8. Irish Post 15/05/1982
  9. Irish Post 22/05/1982
  10. Irish Post 29/05/1982
  11. Irish Post 19/06/1982
  12. Minutes of IBRG Ard Fheis 26/06/1982
  13. Irish Post 3/07/1982
  14. Irish Post 24/07/1982
  15. Irish Post 7/08/1982
  16. Irish Post 14/08/1982
  17. Irish Post 23/10/1982
  18. Minutes of IBRG NEC 14/11/1982
  19. Irish Post 19/11/1982
  20. Irish Post 20/11/1982
  21. Minutes of IBRG NEC 26/11/1982
  22. Irish Post 27/11/1982
  23. Irish Post 4/12/1982
  24. Irish Post 11/12/1982.

 

Listen to my talk about the  IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here

An excellent history of 200 years of Irish political activity in Mancheser – including Manchester IBRG read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here

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Posted in Catholicism, Communism, education, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My review of “Just Like Tomorrow” (2004) by Faiza Guene

 

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just 2

It is hard to imagine a working class female migrant from the deprived areas of Clayton (Manchester), Glodwick  (Oldham ) or Hyde (Tameside) being offered a book contract. Faiza is from a similar background; North African descent, working class, living in the less glamorous suburbs of Paris. She wrote her first novel at 17 years old, Just like Tomorrow,  which was a massive success.

Faiza writes about her life and her community but she also draws the links with the position of North African people and their colonial situation in France. Her books are angry, funny and direct: opening up a world of discrimination and deprivation but one where people have their own ways of dealing with their circumstances.

In Just like Tomorrow the heroine is 15 year old  Doria.  Her father has returned to Morocco to marry another woman so he can have a son: her mother does not speak French and works as a room assistant in a local hotel. Doria is angry – not just teenager angry – but angry about her life and her position within the category allocated to her and her community in France.

Doria hates the way her mother is treated at work . “Everyone calls her Fatima at the Formula 1 in Bagnolet. They are always shouting at her, and they keep a close eye on her to check that she doesn’t jack anything from the bedrooms”.

Of course Fatima is not her mother’s name; that is  Yasmina. It is just the everyday racism that she experiences as a migrant woman trying to make a living in the low wage economy. Later on in the book when the rest of the hotel staff go on strike poor Yasmina has no choice but to keep working. She says to Doria that she wants to support the other women but has no husband to support her.

Going on strike is everywhere in Doria’s world. Her teachers are on strike after the Head teacher has a gas canister thrown at him. But violence in the school is not unusual and it is not surprising given the lives of the young people and their lack of hope for the future.

Doria does have some people she can talk to,  including her social worker Mrs Burland and a local young man Hamoudi.  Doria knows that people are watching her and that, because of her father leaving, that she has been labelled as a “problem” by the authorities. And, although Mrs. Burland irritates her – “she is old, ugly and she smells of Quick Nits shampoo” – Doria feels able to talk to her about her feelings.

Hamoudi is a street wise young man of 28 and someone who  does take time to  listen  to Doria. Like a lot of North African young men he has been in prison and now spends his time selling drugs because there are no other choices. Hamoudi quotes poetry to Doria and it saddens her when she sees how the police treat him. “So when I see the police frisking Hamoudi near our main entrance or I hear them bad-mouthing him with stuff like “shithead” or “piece of scum” I tell myself they don’t know anything about poetry.”

Life for migrants in France is not easy. Films like Le Haine and Girlhood have shown that few of them enjoy the ideals of the French Republic of “equality, fraternity and liberty”. Faiza in this novel reveals the reality for young people  which is often harsh and unrelenting oppression. But, as in her other novels,  the main character is a young woman who is  angry  but also intelligent enough to realise that she can change her life and maybe even that of her community.

Reading this novel reminds me of my relationship with my mother. She was Irish and experienced similar acts of racism and hostility. It is not good for any child to see their mother being treated in this way. For me the power of this novel is that it makes real the experiences of many migrant women across the world but not as victims but as people who can overcome discrimination and live a happier life.

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History of the Irish in Britain Representation Group by Patrick Reynolds. Part 1:1981

Patrick Reynolds was one of the founders of IBRG and played a key role in its history. He is now writing up that history and putting it into the context of radical history in Britain and Ireland in the C20th. This is  the story of the first year of IBRG………….
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New mailCopyPatrick Reynolds was one of the founders of IBRG and played a key role in its history. He is now writing up that history and putting it into the context of radical history in Britain and Ireland in the C20th. This is  the story of the first year of IBRG………….

Pat Reynolds speaking at Bloody Sunday rally

Pat speaking at the annual Bloody Sunday March

1981: The Founding of IBRG

1981 was a pivotal In Irish history with the death of ten men on Hunger Strike in Northern Ireland. It led to significant shifts in Irish political history and the entry of the modern Republican movement into political life and the electoral system in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

On 1st March 1981 Bobby Sands started his Hunger strike, on 5th March 1981 Frank Maguire MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone died, on 26th March Bobby Sands was nominated to stand for the vacant seat. On 9th  April 1981 Bobby Sands became the new MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone. On 5th  May 1981 Bobby Sands MP died  and over 100,000 people attended his funeral on 7 May 1981 in Belfast.

On 29th  May 1981 nine republican prisoners,  four of them on hunger strike,  are  nominated in the General Election in the Republic of Ireland. On 11th  June 1981 two republican prisoners were elected to Dail Eireann –   Kieron Doherty and Paddy Agnew. The new government was made up of Fine Gael and Labour. On 20th  August 1981 the last of the ten men Michael Devine dies  on Hunger strike. On the same day Owen Carron wins the by election held after the death of Bobby Sands MP. On 23rd  August 1981 Sinn Fein announces that they will contest all future Northern Ireland elections.

On 29th  September 1981 the British Labour Party votes to campaign actively for a United Ireland by consent. On 31 October 1981 Danny Morrison make  his famous speech of ‘a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite in the other’ to mark the new departure in Republican politics.

The Hunger Strikes were to move the international community none more so than the Irish abroad. In London the Irish Civil Rights Association statement said: ‘No Irish person should join, vote or give support for any British political party” and called on “the Irish community to abstain in the 7th May local elections” (1). On 13th  June 1981 Ken Livingstone addressed a Hunger Strike march in Finsbury Park before it started on its way via Camden to Michael Foot’s House in Hampstead. Only the North Hackney Labour Party were on the march which had no Trade Union banners:  the Irish community was left to march on its own.

1981-Ken-Livinstone huger strike

Ken Livingstone at Hunger Strike Demonstration

The Irish Post  newspaper was critical of the AGM of the Federation of Irish Societies which was  held at the height  of the Hunger Strikes stating ‘Conference was remarkable in that at no time were the H Block or Hunger Strike mentioned’. Harry McHugh of the earlier Anti Partition league in a letter to the Post stated ‘when people who call themselves Irish people refuse even to talk about them (Hunger Strikes) I am impelled to ask What kind of Irishmen are you? (2)

On 1st  August 1981 John Martin (later to be the first Chair of IBRG, and credited as the original founder of IBRG0  had a letter in the Irish Post. (3) The letter stated: ‘The time has come for the Irish in Britain to acquire an organised effectiveness in contending with the major issues besetting their homeland as well as their adopted country… one positive action would be to begin campaigning for the postal vote in Ireland… we can still organise and do so independently of the established Irish community in this country…once a dedicated organisation is in existence  speaking for the mass of the Irish in Britain then we can pursue out voting intentions through the European Court’. While calling for a new Irish organisation to represent the Irish in Britain the letter only mentions one issue,  that of voting rights for the Irish in Britain at home in Ireland.

In the same issue of the Irish Post (3) John Fahy, a USDAW Trade Union Official, and later a Labour Party Councillor in Greenwich and  an Officer of the Federation of Irish Societies, had a much stronger letter stating: ‘The Irish in Britain can be an effective force in the political life of this country and we must coordinate out activities to exert the maximum pressure on MP’s to demand the ending of the Emergency Powers Act and the prevention of Terrorism Act, and extract from them a clear commitment to begin the process of moving towards an united Ireland over the next decade’.

It was clear that the Irish Post and its Editor Brendan McLua was very unhappy about how the Federation of Irish Societies failed to give any expression to the feelings of the Irish community over the Hunger Strikes and was opening its pages to a debate on the subject, and to where the Irish community should go. The Irish Post was to become the public forum of the Irish community over the next year as to how they should organise themselves for the future.

On 15th August 1981 Michael O’Callanan of Cuman na Poblachta in the leading letter in the Irish Post entitled Call to Action Welcomed (4) stated: ‘Should John Martin’s proposal receive the support it deserves from the Irish in Britain, and should he decide to promote further the idea of an Irish national organisation to give our community political effectiveness, we can assure him of our support all the way to victory’.

On 5th September 1981 in the leading letter in the Irish Post John Martin responded  in a letter headed Now the Time for Action (5). He wrote ‘I now propose to convene a meeting to take place in about six weeks’ time at which a new organisation will be formed to pursue the political interests of the Irish in Britain…one positive action we could take is to begin campaigning for the postal vote in Ireland…I would urge people born in Ireland to write to their TD and ascertain their opinion about Irish citizens in Britain having a postal vote’ Again, apart from the vote in Ireland, there were no other demands.

On 26th September 1981 Liam Og O Lochlain from the Green Ink Writers Group wrote in a letter to the Irish Post (6) in support of this proposal: ‘there is a tremendous amount of goodwill and latent support for any worthwhile organisation that will effectively represent the interests of our community…It deserves our wholehearted support’.

In another key letter written on the same date, entitled Its Time to go Political,   Michael Sheehan of Manchestersets out a political agenda, listing  several key issues, votes in Ireland, anti-Irish racism, anti-Irish legislation like the PTA,  Northern Ireland and Irish political prisoners.He  stated: “it appears to me that there is a pressing need for the development of an Irish political organisation as no existing political party reflects Irish opinion on the issues I have isolated nor will they till the Irish are effectively organised”.

On 3rd October 1981 the Irish Post headline stated Political Role the Primary Objective. (7) It gave notice of first exploratory meeting to be held on 10th October: ‘the John Martin proposition is for an Irish political organisation which while deeply concerned about the situation in Ireland would also derive its raison d’etre from the social and political  need so the Irish In Britain  while editorial stated: ‘Because of the diversity of our community at this time the odds must be against the emergence of a representative and effective political organisation..and yet the need is there and the vacuum begs to be filled… Certainly an organisation which seeks to represent the diversity of the Irish In Britain has a difficult undertaking’.

On 10th October 1981 the Irish in Britain Representation Group (IBRG) was founded at the New Inn Public House, Newhall, Burton on Trent in Derbyshire with John Martin as convenor.

Twenty three people attended (8). The name IBRG was adopted with John Martin electedas  Chair and treasurer, Michael Sheehan as Secretary and PRO with Michael O Callanan as vice Chair.  Other named persons who attended were John McDonald from Cumanna Publachta, Siobhan Sandys from Liverpool, Kay Jones from Bradford, and Frank Gormley from Burton. The names of the other 16 attendees are unknown and no minutes of the meeting have survived. The issues discussed were the reunification of Ireland, PTA, anti-Irish racism, Labour Party policy on Ireland, Votes in Ireland and the high cost of  travel to Ireland.

On 13th October 1981 a student, Pat Reynolds, proposed a United Ireland motion at the National Union of Students Annual General Meeting at the North London Polytechnic three days after the Chelsea Barracks bombing. The Irish students who supported the motion  got racially abuse by students from the Engineering section, who called the Irish students Paddies and Micks,  but a good continent of African students supported the motion and helped it get  through by a handful of votes.

On 17th October 1981 the Irish Post headline was New Organisation gets Moving. (9)  It stated that London, Liverpool, South Wales, Watford, Bradford, Manchester and Derby were represented. It was to model itself on the SDP in having rolling meetings before hitting London. ‘Its primary role is the representation of the Irish In Britain on issues relating to their lives in Britain’.

Six main issues were identified to pursue: Unification of Ireland: Kay Jones to report back, PTA: John McDonald to report back, Anti Irish racism in media: Michael O Callanan to report back, Labour party policy on Ireland: Frank Gormley to report back, cost of travel to Ireland: John Martin to report back, votes in Ireland: Siobhan Keys to report back.

On 14th November 1981 the IBRG held their first rolling conference meeting in Derby where 16 people attended. (10). The Derby meeting condemned the indiscriminate and unjustifiable use of the PTA to frighten people into silence, condemned all forms or racism including anti-Irish racism such as anti-Irish jokes, media stereotyping and misrepresentation, claimed that the Race Relations Act was not protecting the Irish from many forms of racism, urged to use Press Council to complain, called for political solution to Nt Ireland, talked of the electoral system in Ireland and  how expensive travel to Ireland was, and ‘condemned all violence in Ireland and in Britain from whatever source’.

The danger of having the first meeting in Derby and having rolling meetings is that it left the field open to other groups to come in and set up in London which is exactly what happened, and left the group without an early base in London.

On 21st November 1981 a new rival political group was set up in London at the Irish Club with 30 people attending. (11) Richard Balfe MEP attended and welcomed the group. The Connolly Association, the Irish National Council and the Irish Lobby group attended the meeting along with Gerry Lawless.

On 12th December 1981 the IBRG held their second rolling conference meeting in Moss Side,  Manchester at which 40 people attended. (12) A steering committee of 14 people was set up at this meeting. They decided to set up two branches in Manchester and campaign for air time on Manchester Radio.

1981 was a pivotal year in the history of the Irish in Britain in many ways. The Hunger Strike did impact upon the community and was primarily the reason why there was an explosion of rage in the community at the failure of existing organisation like the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS),  including all its affiliates, to speak out on the Hunger strikes.

Another very significant event was the GLC election of 7th May 1981 with Ken Livingstone taking over. He was to do more for the Irish community in Britain in five years  than the Irish government had done in the previous 60 years. 1981 was also the year of the Brixton Uprising because of the police oppressive stop and search policy and unemployment of over 3 million people in the UK.

The Irish community were beginning to organise themselves eg on 28th February 1981 over 200 Irish people attended an Irish study day at the North London Polytechnic with a further big meeting on 25th April at the same venue for an Irish in Britain History Workshop.

 

NOTES.

1.Irish Post 2/05/1981

2. Irish Post 6/06/1981

3. Irish Post 1/08/1981

4. Irish Post 15/08/1981

5. Irish Post 5/09/1981

6. Irish post. 26/09/1981

7. Irish Post 3/10/1981

8. Irish Post 10/10/1981

9. Irish Post 17/10/1981

10. Irish Post 14/11/1981

11. Irish Post 21/11/1981

12. Irish Post 19/12/1981

Listen to my talk about the  IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here

An excellent history of 200 years of Irish political activity in Mancheser – including Manchester IBRG read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here

Posted in education, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Anti-Nazi Germans” “Enemies of the Nazi State from within the Working Class Movement.” by Marilyn Moos “German Volunteers in the French Resistance” by Steve Cushion. (2020)

 

anti-nazi germans

This review is written by Mike Luft, lifelong anti-fascist and communist.

 

‘Not by beatings, nor by hanging can you

Be brought to the point of saying

Nowadays twice two makes five….

But you remain determinedly committed to the truth.’

Brecht

 

This book, written with passion and scholarship, refutes the slander that there was no opposition to Hitler from the organised working class. For the English reader this will bring to light perhaps for the first in a more comprehensive form the heroism of the “small people” who time after time withstood unimaginable torture,cruelty and even murder.

People who, after leaving the concentration camps battered and bloodied, returned to the struggle against Nazi barbarism, often giving their lives in the struggle for freedom.

Even when forced to flee their country they did not give up the struggle. They joined the International Brigades in Spain defending the democratically elected Republican government against the fascist usurper Franco who was supported by Hitler’s Nazis and Mussolini’s fascists They came from the Nazi concentration camps bloody but unbowed to fight for their Spanish brothers and sisters. Even after the defeat of the Republic they did not give up the struggle but joined the French Resistance.

This book memorialises and honours their sacrifice. In spite of the authors meticulous research many will remain unknown heroes.There are many instances of heroism of the fighters we know about who are honoured in this book. But rather than single out individuals and separating them from their comrades, I will mention a few resistance groups who typify the courage of their comrades:

The Baum group in Berlin that united predominantly Jewish antifascists.

The Saefkow–Jacob-Bastlein group of workers.

The heroic miners of Carmaux who organised a massive insurrection against the coal owners and the Nazis.

The refugee fighters of the FTP-MOI comprising of Armenian, Polish, German and Jewish resistance fighters, some of whom were immortalised in the French film “The army of crime”. These heroes have been consciously hidden from history in the English speaking world.

But thanks to Moos and Cushion they have been rescued from obscurity and revealed to us in their true dignity, courage and humanity. This book with its copious references, a useful multilingual bibliography and committed scholarship is essential reading for anyone opposed to fascism and racism or is a serious student of the Nazi period.

It’s conclusion is a timely warning against the emergence of far right and fascist organisations in a society in crisis.

It is eminently readable and an inspiration in the coming struggles.

Nothing should be forgotten.

No one should be forgotten.

Soviet saying about World War II

Read this book. You need it!

 

Buy it – only £10 – from s.cushion23@gmail.com

 

 

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My review of “Joan Maynard Passionate Socialist” Kristine Mason O’Connor (2003)

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Joan Maynard (1921-1998) lived her life through her politics. In the course of  her  76 years she was a parish councillor, a rural district councillor, a county councillor, a Justice of the Peace, Vice President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW), a member of the Labour Party National Executive and a Member of Parliament.

You could read this CV as the rise and rise of a career politician but Joan was not, she only undertook these jobs in order to further her Socialist principles.

“The first of my guiding principles was that I saw a lot of injustices going on and I felt I couldn’t accept it. That’s one of the things that made me a Socialist. Perhaps it   is just in my make up more than anything, the fact that I have always been outspoken and said what I thought, truthfully, about things.” 

 Joan Maynard Passionate Socialist  by Kristine Mason O’Connor is an insightful and well written biography. Written with Joan’s support over four years, it is a  vivid  illustration  of the crucial role that she  played in national, international and local politics.

She was an untypical Labour Party member. The daughter of a tenant farmer, she grew up in the beautiful North Yorkshire moors. In her early life she was influenced by her parents,  particularly her father with  whom she worked  on the farm,  and shared a love of the land and the value of the labour of farm workers. She left school at 14.

Joan did not just work on the farm at the age of 16 she also  ran the Post Office which was on the farm.  Paid less because she was a woman,  she was fired up by this injustice but was also well aware of the massive inequalities between the farmers  – who owned the land  – and the families who lived in tied cottages and were  under the constant fear of eviction.

Like many people of her generation Joan was inspired by Labour’s victory in  tne general election in July 1945. Although she lived in a true blue constituency she saw Labour’s nationalisation programme of industry as central to the achievement of a fairer society. Alongside a small group of comrades she was involved with setting up the new Thirsk  Labour Party with Joan as its Secretary.

The job of Secretary is the key role in any organisation, but particularly when  trying to recruit to the Labour Party in an  area with  prospective members scattered across it. But Joan took to it with the energy that she put into all the causes that she supported throughout her life.  In the first two years the party had recruited over a hundred members as Joan and her comrades went laboriously from village to village and house to house.

Central to her politics was the Labour Party and her own trade union:  the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW).  She spent her life working in both  these organisations,  but was also prepared to make alliances with other organisations – which did not go down well – such as the Communist Party (CP). During the period of the Cold War she felt that the Labour Party was keener on attacking the CP than the Tories. “It’s  time we Socialists and Communists got together to talk things over…I have been a member of the Labour Party for 10 years, and I have always been very depressed to find so much time devoted by members of my Party to attacking the Communists.”

 

When Joan believed in a cause she did not care who she upset: in this biography one whole chapter is given over to her involvement in the campaign for Irish unity. In 1970 she visited the North of Ireland as part of a three woman delegation of the National Assembly of Women. This was the time of the Civil Rights Movement, while the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson  had just sent 30,000 troops to the province.

Like many British politicians and citizens she knew little about what was happening in Ireland and was shocked. “In the streets British tanks were rolling up and down and British troops were dodging from doorway to doorway with guns at the ready. I thought, this only happens in fascist countries”

Joan travelled to  both the north and  and south Ireland  to find out what was going on, to make alliances with the new Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and build links within and outside  the Labour Party to challenge Britain’s occupation of Ireland. Her election in 1972 to the National Executive of the Labour Party gave her a national platform  to do this,  but it made her a lot of enemies. “This got me into a lot of hot water with the Labour Party, the unions, the Conservative Government and, of course the press.”

joan 3

Joan speaking at a public meeting on the North of Ireland

Over the years Joan was unrelenting in criticising the worsening situation in the North of Ireland and its effects on the civil rights for people in Ireland and Britain. She was also not worried about taking on her own party over their policy.  When the Labour Government brought in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1974 she urged MPs to vote against it. She said  that it “had absolutely nothing to do with preventing terrorism; there were very few people charged under it and even less convicted; it was really about terrorising Irish people in this country and collecting information.” She was proven right.  By the 1980s over 80,000 Irish people were being stopped or  detained under the PTA :  Joan spoke at a press conference organised by the organisation I belonged to (the Irish in Britain Representation Group)  in January 1985 to campaign for its abolition.

Her support for justice in Ireland went further then just speaking at meetings  she supported those Irish prisoners who were caught up in miscarriages   of justice including Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Judith Ward. Not a popular thing to do in the 1980’s,  but she did not dodge the criticisms and in one case met up  a constituent whose son was a soldier and had been killed in the North of Ireland and objected to Joan’s stance.

Joan resigned as an MP in 1987. A decade later she witnessed the Blair revolution, but  stayed in the Party,  even though she believed it had been hijacked by the right wingers.  Her core beliefs  did not change. “If you’re a Socialist, you’ve got to believe in people’s ability to change society. It’s not leaders who are going to do it, it’s the people. And I think if you don’t believe in that, you can’t say you’re a Socialist.”

I really enjoyed reading this biography. It would be difficult today to find such a committed Socialist in the Labour Party. In fact I cannot think of any person that has Joan’s commitment to changing society and a solid belief in class politics.

 

Sadly this book is now out of print and it should be republished. You can buy a secondhand copy at Abe Books.

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My review of “They Divided the Sky” A Novel by Christa Wolf. (2013)

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Christa Wolf (1929-2011) was an East German (GDR) novelist. Born into the Nazi era,  like many of her generation (in the east and the west) she embraced socialism after the war  as the best way to create a fairer and more progressive society. She was one of the most important writers of her generation and her books spoke to people across the political and ideological divide. Christa was admired by younger east German writers because she stood up to the establishment in writing about the dilemmas  facing people in the new  East German state.

 They  Divided the Sky  was written in the years just before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 and at a time when the Cold War between the East and West was at its height.

Christa writes about the challenges facing a younger generation of Germans who are making big choices about whether they want to stay in the socialist state or go and live in the “freer” West Germany.

The main character is   Rita, a young woman aged 20. She is   a student teacher who is in a relationship with Manfred.  The book begins with Rita in a sanatorium as she has had a mental and physical  collapse and  is looking  back on her life.

There were some good ideas in the East German state for example Rita, like many students, has to go and work in a factory for the summer before starting her training  as a teacher. What a good idea! She works in a mainly male workplace which makes train carriages.  This experience changes her and  she grows up. “In less than a year, the little greenhorn who has still smelled of the family nest has become a wide eyed young woman, learning to look life in the face, laboriously and for the long term, learning to grow older but not harder.”

Rita lives with her boyfriend, Manfred who is ten years older, and with his parents. Manfred is very angry with his father for his Nazi past and  treatment of his mother. Through Manfred Christa shows the deepening  gulf between the new generation of Germans who are disgusted by their parents’ involvement with the Nazis. Manfred recounts his feelings about the adults at the end of the Second World War. “”They had better watch their step! We said. We laughed out loud when we read posters saying , Now everything will be different. Different? Who with, exactly? The same people?”.

The politics of the Cold War and the division of Europe  including Germany,  dominated the lives of post war generations across Europe. Throughout the novel the repercussions of this division is discussed. From the pressures in the factory that Rita works in to achieve the targets for industrial production laid down by the State to the disappearance of whole families who overnight decide to leave and go to the West.

As Rita comes to terms with the turbulence around her she has also to face the growing divide between her and her partner Manfred. A successful chemist,  he is slowly moving away from her and their life together.

I love the title of the book which I think  sums up the way in which young people often  feel about the lack of control they have over their lives. It is Manfred who says that  at least they cannot divide the sky but Rita responds “ The sky? This enormous vault of hope and yearning, love and sorrow?”Yes, they can,” she said. “The sky is what divides first of all.”

When Christa wrote this book many people in Germany saw their lives go into lockdown as the Berlin Wall was thrown up: a  visible symbol of the  division  both of   ideology and  of   personal relationships.

The novel is dated by virtue of the fact that everything has completely changed,  including the reunification of Germany. I enjoyed reading the book because it gave me an insight into why some German people,  and particularly young people like Rita,  felt that despite all the problems in the socialist state she would prefer living there. It is not a view that you will find in the histories of the Soviet bloc that are published in this country. But the novel does throw up many questions about how we live our lives today – particularly in a society that is dominated by the market which has delivered a very unfair and cruel society.

The translator Luisa von Flotow who produced this version in 2013 has written an excellent introduction that explains the background to the novel and the controversy surrounding its publication.

Christa’s novels are not easy to buy but I found this on Abe books.

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My review of “Class Power on Zero Hours”

 

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class power
In this new book a group of self identified communists demand a revolutionary approach to changing society. It sounds far fetched and outrageous,  but we are living in a society where revolutionary change by  capitalism  has already taken place,  as  can be witnessed physically by the domination in our cities of luxury flats and offices,  whilst poor people have been socially cleansed from former public housing. Money dominates, working class people and their communities have been thrown under the bus whilst the organisations that should defend them including the Labour Party and trade unions have collaborated in their demise.

The Labour Party  and trade union movement used to be the way that working class people gained power to change society. I am from a working class Irish background; my community played a major role   in the labour movement. My parents saw trade unions ( and to a lesser extent the Labour Party)  as a way of improving their lives, our lives and those of our community. And it worked – we went from living in an  insecure, rented property to a council house with a garden, we  had a  better education than our parents  and we were able to get professional and skilled jobs in  the public sector.

Joining a union was as important as going to church for my parents. My brother and I took part in our trade union, went on strike and saw union activity as important in defending  our jobs and terms and conditions.

After the Miners Strike in 1985 the trade union movement was smashed up by employers,  supported by Tory government legislation. When Labour  came to power in 1997 this was not reversed and the privatisation of public services was accelerated. Trade union resistance collapsed and they reinvented themselves as service organisations. Trade unionists like myself who tried to defend jobs and public services were attacked by local Labour councils and hung out to dry by their trade unions. Thousands of working class people lost secure jobs and the prospect of a decent pension and that hope for a better life for their children, with more access to higher education, disappeared.

This book is not set in what is left of the public services but in another key area of our life; the food manufacturing and logistics service. The Angry Workers Collective (AWC)  went to live and work in west London in 2014 ; an area that has a radical history of working class activity which has included local English, Irish, Asian, African and east European workers.

Their aim was “to break  out of the cosmopolitan bubble and root our politics in working class jobs and lives.”. They spent six years working in a dozen different warehouses and factories in  Greenford in west London which had some of the biggest employers and is important in terms of its potential to challenge the system ie 60% of food consumed in London is processed, packaged and circulated alongside this “western corridor”.  AWC “wanted to support some self-organisation amongst these workers who have largely been ignored and neglected by the left.”

Organising workers in C21st  UK is never  easy but try to doing  it in an area where English is a second language,  where workers live insecure lives dominated by issues such as Brexit or visa applications, as well as their reliance on overtime to make ends meet  coupled with the use of zero hour contracts by employers. All of these issues make workers feel powerless but,   as the AWC point out,  there is  “the potential structural power of workers who feed Europe’s biggest city and operate the nation’s main gate (Heathrow airport) to the world on the other.”

order class

What makes this a really important book is the day by day reporting of how the AWC went about their political activity – not just in the workplaces,  but in getting involved with solidarity networks and local campaigns. It is heartening to read about the cases they took up from supporting an area street sweeper to getting the overtime payment owing to a Polish family who had problems with their landlord. Alongside the text there are some great photos of the AWC taking direct action by protesting outside an  employer’s premises who owed outstanding pay.

Throughout the book there is a continuous analysis of their own  activity,  and particularly the challenges of working in an environment where workers on different contracts are pitted against each other and mutual trust is hard to come by in this harsh work life.  Trade unions do  organise in the food sector and they should be on the side of the workers – particularly the most vulnerable and poorly paid – but the description of USDAW’s behaviour towards its workers at Tesco and its partnership deal with the management shows how many mainstream  unions have contributed to their own decline.

Communication is key to organising people: the AWC produced their own newspaper to share information about what was happening in different workplaces as well as making the links between how life at work affects one’s private life,  particularly for the family unit.

The chapter on working class women and the way that  double burden they face as workers and parents impacts on their lives is really important. “In the current aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 working class women have been squeezed between welfare cuts and the increased pressure to work more on one side and the conservative backlash that promotes traditional values on the other.” Three working class women from different ethnic backgrounds, Hannah, Ramona and Gurpreet tell their stories, stories that the AWC believe can inform their politics and help   “build a working class grassroots organisation that address working class women’s issues.”

Reading this book reminds me of another local dispute at the Trico factory in Brentford, west London in 1976. Last year two of the people involved in the (largely female) strike for equal pay, Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt brought out an important book, “Trico A Victory to Remember”– about how they won the strike – a strike that took on a multi-national corporation  – that was led by local working class women many of whom were from migrant backgrounds including Irish, Afro Caribbean and Indian.

For me Class power on Zero Hours asks big questions about how to change society and make this a fairer society for all people. We live at a time when many working class people – not just those who are workers – but people on benefits, the disabled,   seniors, refugees  – feel totally excluded and powerless. How  can  socialists  encourage and support them to show that they do have the power to change society?  You can join the conversation by reading the book or reading their blog at angryworkersworld.wordpress.com

 

Buy the book here

 

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, interesting blog, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Political women; Maria Brabiner anti-Bedroom Tax campaigner, Labour Party council candidate.

Dear Friends

I am reviving this series of interviews trying to find working class women who are activists in their political party, trade union or single issue campaign. It seems to be me they have disappeared from the political scene but please contact me if your disagree and I will be happy to interview them.

Maria 1

 

Today it is difficult to find working class people running campaigns,  never mind actually taking part. This is true of everything from Labour Party  representation to single issue campaigns including Better Buses to Palestianian Solidarity Campaign  and Keep Our NHS Public.  There are glaring exceptions,  including the  Salford Unemployment Centre, Charlotte Hughes of the Ashton Job Centre campaign and….. Maria Brabiner.

Maria is part of a working class radical tradition. Born, brought up and still living in Broughton, Salford she has experienced  first hand the discrimination that goes with poverty and an increasingly cruel benefits system.

She was brought up by her mother who was a widow and  although Maria did well at school,  she had to leave at 16  in order to get a job to support the family. Working at a local factory she went from being a clerk to secretary to the Tecnical  Director in the 19 years she worked there – until she was made redundant in 2001.

Her next job was working for Salford Council Social Services Department. But, when her mother had a stroke,  Maria felt she had little choice  except to become a carer which she did for the next five years.

After her mother died Maria thought she would have no problem in finding another job. She was wrong as unemployment and ageism kicked in. Maria  also found out that when she applied for benefits she was not eligible due to the savings she had accrued over her life and  also  discovered that carers do not get their full National Insurance credits.

For two years Maria lived on her savings, getting by in a system that did not recognise the contribution that she had made by becoming her mother’s carer. In 2013 she was hit by a new benefit cut when the Bedroom Tax was brought in by the Coalition Government.

The British Welfare Reform Act 2012 affected tenants living in social housing with rooms designated as “spare.” Tenants had their Housing Benefit cut – from 14-25% depending on the number of rooms – and were forced to fund this reduction out of their other benefits or go into arrears and potentially be evicted.  It directly attacked working class people who lived in social housing, some of them like Maria who were living in the family home and part of a local community. It also disproportionately affected disabled people.

Politicians promoted the so- called reform on the basis it would “redistribute”  family  type social housing for people on the housing list. No newly built social housing for single people was generated in order for these people to move into. Instead people were forced into the private housing sector with higher rents and less security of tenure.

Maria’s response to the Bedroom Tax was “I am not having this”. She felt she was being treated as a scrounger. “I felt angry and took it personally. I was looking for work and felt a responsibility to speak up for other people.”

Maria 2

Maria and fellow campaigner John Catterall on first Stop the Bedroom Tax Campaign march

The BT Campaign was one of the most dynamic of the 2000s. The local campaign was driven by radical activist Mark Krantz whom Maria described as the architect of the campaign. He was involved in organising some of the local marches in Manchester and Salford while Maria became a frontline speaker appearing on television, radio and local and national media.

The campaign against it brought together the left including trade unions and pushed the Labour Party into promising  that they would scrap it once in power.

The Bedroom Tax  still exists today,  although over the years exceptions, particularly for disabled people, have reformed the original legislation.

Maria feels one of the big successes of the campaign was  when Salford Council agreed not to evict anyone who fell into arrears. “And people on my estate know that they can knock on my door if they have a problem.”

Her own life changed as she got a job in 2013 working in the Higher Education sector.  But after a few months she was  made  redundant again  due to the government changing the rules over student grants.

Once again Maria was back on benefits and having to ration her food and heating. “But you know who your friends are when you are poor and I was shown a lot of kindness as well as bags of shopping and food for my cat.”

Today she has a full time job in a food factory. “I work 39 hours on a fulltime contract in a unionised workplace.”  But getting to work is not easy. When she works a Saturday she is faced with the reality that there are no buses before 10am from where she lives into Manchester. “My choices are; walk or get a taxi. Not much of a choice when you are on a low income.” Maria is not alone- throughout the city in the early hours there are plenty of people who have to  walk to get to work for early shifts.  Often they are people on low incomes,  including many migrants.

Recently Maria has become involved with the Better Buses Campaign. BBC are part of the Foundation for Integrated Transport and We Own it, funded by a combination of grants from trade unions such as Unison, Network for Social Change as well as individual donors. Looking at the people working for these organisations it is hard to find anyone from a working class background or  who like Maria actually use the buses.

Maria has, alongside other people, spoken to the media about her experiences of using the buses. But her long time aim is to become a local councillor in Broughton and represent her neighbours. This year she was chosen as the  candidate for the Labour Party for Broughton.

After the General Election result,  and the decline in people voting in local elections,  she is sanguine about the role that the Labour Party plays in peoples’ lives. “Working class people feel let down. I experienced that anger when I canvassed during the General Election.I think working class felt let down by Labour,  for not honouring the Referendum result of 2017″.

But she feels that she has the experience to represent the needs of her local community. “My experiences opened my eyes to the unfairness of the system. It made me humble. It made me less selfish. I want to use my experiences to help my constituents.”

Here is Maria speaking at a Stop the Bedroom Tax Campaign meeting in 2013  here

Article by journalist Frances Ryan on affect of Bedroom Tax today see

 

 

 

Posted in anti-cuts, biography, disabled people's campaigns, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, Manchester, political women, Socialism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment