Friday, 29 April 2016

First ever Bob Tressell Festival a success

The first ever Bob Tressell Festival was held on Merseyside yesterday. 

The date chosen to celebrate the life of the man who wrote the classic labour movement book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (RTP) was deliberately selected to tie in with International Workers Memorial Day. "It is about linking up what happened in the Victorian and Edwardian eras with what the Tories are creating today, which is abject poverty, bad housing and the reduction of trade union rights," said Alec McFadden the Merseyside TUC President.

The afternoon began with a wreath laying at the pauper's grave of Robert Noonan, who used his pen name of Tressell when writing, at Rice Lane Farm near Walton Prison. The St Helens theatre group Costal Productions then superbly performed 'The Great Money Trick' scene from the RTP in which the book's hero, Frank Owen, mocks capitalism and advocates a socialist system where work is for satisfying the needs of all rather than to generate profit for an elite. An appreciative audience gave all the actors a great round of applause at the end.

Earlier in the day, Ricky Tomlinson and Alan Gibbons had signed 200 copies of the RTP to be given away free in the 'News from Nowhere' bookshop and Liverpool Central Library. At 6pm the documentary film STILL RAGGED was shown at the Small Cinema Victoria Street and that was followed by the Festival in the Adelphi Hotel with music from Alun Parry and Steve Smith. 

The day was organised by the Bob Tressell Festival Committee with support from Merseyside TUC, the Unite 522 branch and the Tressell Association.

Judging by the healthy numbers that attended all the events it is pretty certain that the Bob Tressell Festival will be back bigger and stronger next year. Well done to all concerned. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Women in the 1916 Easter Uprising

Until very recently there was an absence of the history of women's contribution to the Easter Uprising in Ireland in 1916, Now, as part of the centenary celebrations, Dublin City Council has published a book detailing 77 of the women who participated, which is around a quarter of an estimated overall total of 280.

They include Constance Markiewicz - who later became the first women to be elected to (the British) Parliament - who was married to a Polish count and advised women to "buy a revolver".

Annie Norgrove was a 17-year-old Protestant. Her gas-fitter father was an active trade unionist. She joined the Irish Citizen Army during the 1913 Lock-Out and spent the days of the Rising avoiding sniper fire to ferry water to the insurgents. 

Richmond Barracks 1916 We Were There - Women of the Easter Uprising by Mary McAuliffe and Liz Gillis, Dublin City Council, 2016. 

Also look out for a very good article on this by Nicki Jameson in the current issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! April/May 2016. 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Wigan Diggers' Festival 2015 report

This was due to be published in January in the Landworker magazine but a lack of space resulted in it being 'dropped'. Anyway it was a good day last September and the plaque is to be added to the Rebel Road project at Unite Education pages in next few days. All photographs are copyright of Mark Harvey of ID8 photography. 

There were great celebrations at the fifth Wigan Diggers' Festival in September 2015. 

Firstly, there was a record attendance of over 3,000 to honour local lad Gerrard Winstanley. Secondly, the organisers aim when they started of achieving a permanent Wigan town centre memorial was rewarded with the unveiling of a plaque renaming the festival location as the 'Gerrard Winstanley Gardens.' 

The plaque is unveiled on 12 September 2015 
Completing the good news was that Jeremy Corbyn had become Labour leader and the result deals a blow to neoliberalism and should help revive a proud tradition of English radicalism that includes Winstanley, born in Wigan in 1609.

Twelve years later, Wiganers dug up common land in a successful access struggle. An inspired Winstanley later became the main propagandist for the Diggers when they sprang up in the 1640s around the English Civil War, at the conclusion of which a strengthened Parliament refused to introduce radical changes to forever eradicate destitution amongst the poor.

The Diggers believed everyone had the right to till the earth. They argued for land to be seized and owned 'in common' so as to create a classless society where property and wages could be abolished.

When Winstanley tried to progress these ideas, such as when he took over common land in 1649 at St George's Hill in Surrey, he quickly attracted violent opposition from landowners. Diggers were beaten, their houses burnt down and legal restraints were imposed. 

Defeat meant that for centuries Winstanley remained unrecognised as one of England's great radicals. Lenin changed that when following the 1917 Russian revolution he named Winstanley as one of 19 leading revolutionaries. Years later, Tony Benn praised the Diggers for having "established the clear outlines of democratic socialism." 

Inspired by hearing Billy Bragg sing The World Turned Upside Down, printer Stephen Hall of Leigh Unite branch, persuaded other local trade unionists to organise the first Diggers Festival in 2011. Key to the growing success of the festival has been the number of Unite members and branches who have backed it. 

On Saturday 12 September there was lots to do. The unveiling of the £7,000 plaque was loudly applauded. Funding from their Brighter Borough Fund was provided by the Labour Party ward councillors Terry Halliwell and Lawrence Hunt. 

"This is a great day. I never thought that as a young man who often sat around in this area I would return as a proud Labour councillor to help rename the gardens and unveil a plaque commemorating such a unique, radical person as Winstanley, who this festival is making better known each year," said Hunt, a bricklayer. 

The renaming was followed by actor Brendan Delaney performing a symbolic digging re-enactment  of events in Surrey in 1649, before the live music, poetry, comedy, educational talks on Winstanley and the Diggers, puppet shows and circus performers started with the crowds also able to browse the large number of food and book stalls and enjoy refreshments that included a well stocked beer tent. 

At just before 12 came the announcement that Corbyn had become the new Labour leader and there was a great roar of approval. 

The cheers were later resumed when radical film-maker Jimmy McGovern followed in Tony Benn's footsteps when his outstanding achievements were rewarded with the presentation of the Winstanley 'Spade.' 

"I am, of course, delighted to see so many people here on a day when Gerrard Winstanley's name will go on all maps. Every year we are trying to add a few more events in honour of this great local visionary whose beliefs of justice, equality, community, fellowship and common ownership I believe are shared by Jeremy Corbyn. Winstanley's fight thus continues today," said Stephen Hall.  

Unite members at the unveiling: Martin McMulkin, Gary Croft, Tony Broxson,
Ian Heyes, John Catterall (retired) and Steve Turner

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The trade union case book - help needed.

A jazzy leaflet will be out on this next week. 


Unite reps and members stories and jokes needed for new book

There may be more people organised in a trade union than any other body in Britain and Ireland, but it's still the case that far too many people are unaware of the importance and impact of trade unions in their lives. 

Unite Education, which annually organises the largest adult working class education programme in Britain and Ireland and is also spearheading the publishing of books and information on trade union heroes from the past, is now seeking Unite reps and members help for stories and jokes for a 64-page book on The Case for Trade Unions. 

What is needed are stories about successes at work or in the community or in a campaign. 

You've won a recognition battle, prevented some job losses, negotiated better working practices, improved the canteen facilities, upped the number of members, constructed a joint shop stewards committee with other unions, persuaded management to introduce a workplace training programme, helped encourage a young worker to become a workplace representative, built a link with a local campaign fighting benefit cuts or one that's now kept open a threatened children's centre, set up a European Works Council right across the firm where you work or began lobbying on behalf of trade unionists in totalitarian states such as Columbia or Iran.......great, just what is needed. 

We also want jokes. You might say, but we don't have jokes in Britain or Ireland. Really, what about general elections? 

Even so, worker-boss, worker-government, striker-police relations all create their own unique brands of humour. 

Two businessmen were having lunch. 

"There are thousands of ways of making a fortune, but only one honest way." 

"What's that?" 

"How should I know?"

Success stories, big & small; jokes, short and tall, are thus needed. They can be sent to:- 
Mark Metcalf 


07952 801783