Friday, 20 November 2015

One large list of rural museums now up and running

From Aberdeenshire to the Yorkshire Museum of Farming there is now - thanks to the British Agricultural History Society (BAHS) - one list of over 100 rural museums and other fascinating places of interest to visit in Britain and Ireland. Finding the locations is also made easy due to an online  interactive map.

Amongst the places listed is Argyll's Auchindrain Highland Farm Township, open from April to October, and a great example of a small farming settlement that was very important within Scotland's history. 

Cider drinkers can visit Hereford’s Cider Museum and listen to oral history recordings. On 17 and 18 October there is a festival with Morris Dancing, blacksmith demonstrations, children's activities and tutored cider tastings and samplings.

Swath Heritage Museum is a fully restored 17th century Welsh thatched roof cottage located on the beautiful north west Wales coast of Anglesey.

County Mayo's Belcarra Eviction Cottage has been restored to how it was before a family of nine were evicted on Saturday 2 October 1886. 

For more details go to:-

Tony Hall booklet to be formally launched in Brighton on Tuesday

The Unite Education department has just published its fourth short easy-to-read booklet on great men and women who feature prominently in the history of Unite and its predecessor unions. The union hopes these histories will provide not only fascinating reading but inspire the current and future generations of trade unionists to take up the struggle on behalf of working people. 

Tony Hall - Trade unionist, anti-racist and radical cartoonist features a man who was a determined life-long fighter for liberty, justice, equality and socialism. Employed as a newspaper artist at the Evening News and Sun/News of the World, Tony was an active member of his union branch and served as an elected rep on many occasions. Outside of work he risked injury and imprisonment by physically fighting fascism in east London. When Tony was on strike during the Wapping Dispute of the mid 1980s he, and other artists, produced posters, badges and T-shirts in support of the 5,500 sacked print workers. Tony did not get his job back and thereafter continued doing cartoons, graphic designs and photography for trade unions and numerous justice campaigns.

The Great Dock Strike of 1889 is about the London Dock Strike that was the foundation stone on which the modern trade union movement is based. The dock labourer’s achievement - assisted by the magnificent international solidarity from Australia - lay in convincing other unskilled workers that improvements in pay and working conditions could be won through trade union action. Nothing was to ever be the same again. 

Tom Jones - a fighter for freedom and working people, Spanish Civil War and Welsh TGWU general secretary is about a former miner who actively participated in the 1926 General Strike before joining thousands from Britain and Ireland who bravely took up arms in the 1930s on behalf of the Spanish Republic in a battle to defend democracy and crush fascism. He remarkably survived being executed,  a death sentence and years in prison before returning to Britain after a successful labour movement campaign to secure his release.

He became active in the Transport and General Workers Union and was to be appointed as a regional organiser in North Wales and for parts of Merseyside. He later became the first TGWU all-Wales Regional Secretary where by recruiting thousands of workers he helped ensure decent pay and conditions across many industries. 

Julia Varley - Trade union organiser and fighter for women’s rights is about a Bradford born working class woman who fought all her life for equal and civil rights, decent pay and working conditions. From an early age she understood the power of collectivism and over the rest of her life she recruited many thousands of people to join her in the struggle for VOTES FOR WOMEN and TRADE UNION BARGAINING RIGHTS. As a suffragette she twice suffered spells in prison and then in 1912 she became one of the first women officers of a mixed sex union in Britain, a considerable achievement that changed for the better the face of trade unionism in the country forever. Her unique ability - often combining strike action with political agitation - to organise the low paid, especially women, was possibly without parallel in the second decade of the 20th century. 

The booklets can be download free of charge at:- 

Mark Metcalf is happy to speak at meetings about his work and can be contacted on 07952 801783 and at @markmetcalf07

The next booklet in the series is on Benny Rothman and will be published in April 2016. 

Scottish land up for reform

The following article was left out of the current issue (Autumn 2015) of Landworker due to a lack of space and a delay in the magazine's publishing date.  

The comments by David Cameron's landowning father-in-law Lord Astor that proposed Scottish land reforms are "a Mugabe-style land grab" have been condemned by long standing Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack.

"They are alarmist and exaggerated. Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 we have had an ongoing debate about how use land to create economic opportunities and regenerate, in particular, some of our most fragile rural communities. Land reform is popular." 

Boyack was Minister for the Environment, Planning and Transport in the first year of the Scottish Parliament, subsequently served as Transport Minister, where she introduced free bus travel for over 60s and disabled people, and is now in her sixteenth year as an MSP. 

Sarah was a member of the Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish coalition government that ended the historic legacy of feudal law in Scotland with the passing of the radical 2003 Land Reform Act. This provided unhindered access to open countryside and established for small communities a Community Right to Buy when a landowner put land up for sale. Crofting communities were also given the right to buy their land even without the consent of the landowner.

Crossgates Community Woodland became the first Scottish community to buy land through the first Scottish Land Fund in May 2005. Thousands of trees, a play park, pathways and tracks followed with plenty of local people using it. 

"There’s a long list of community buyouts including some that cost millions. I'm proud that Scottish Labour played a big part in this and the results have been successful with new economic opportunities and jobs being created in areas that had been starved of economic investment because they were owned by one person who perhaps didn't even live in Scotland" said Sarah.

People, of course, such as Oxfordshire's Lord Astor, a Tory Lord since 1973, who, through a Bahamas registered company, owns the 20,000-acre Tarbert Estate on the island of Jura. Astor is amongst the 432 families that own half of Scotland and although the Scots last year voted against independence that does not mean there is no appetite for continuing political reform, especially on land issues. 

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was passed on 17 June by the Scottish Parliament. It enables certain bodies to buy abandoned buildings or neglected land. Key amendments from Labour's Alex Rowley, which were supported by organisations such as OXFAM and Barnardo's,  ensured a right of appeal for communities refused the opportunity to participate in efforts to improve public services. 

"This was a massive step forward," said Boyack, "and one Labour strongly supports. It will be important in rural communities but it also applies to urban locations. It will mean there can be action in cases where privately owned buildings, such as cinema's, have been unoccupied for over a decade and act as a blockage to community regeneration." 

In June last year the Scottish government-commissioned Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) made 62 recommendations on land ownership. Following which the SNP Government revealed plans for a Land Reform Bill that is to be debated, and almost certainly agreed as only the Tories are opposed, in Holyrood this autumn. Councils should have powers to force the sale of land and there will be an upper limit to how much land one person can own. There are also moves to scrap rates exemptions on shooting estates.  

Yet whilst Nicola Sturgeon's statement that she wants to see a "million acres of land in community ownership by 2020" is welcomed by Boyack, the Labour MSP, is concerned that proposed UK Government reductions in Scotland's budget may hit the Land Fund. "If we are going to pass legalisation then communities must be able to use it as we would not have seen the very big community purchases in Scotland without Holyrood funding. 

"I also hope we will see legislation on the position of tenants farmers (30% of Scotland remains occupied by tenants farmers; whereas most of their European counterparts are owner-occupiers of the land they farmed) as many are living in properties that would be condemned as unfit for purpose if they were in urban areas.

It is clear that we can make much better use of Scotland's land so that it benefits many more people."

Galvanising a generation

Tears for taken comrades

A slightly edited version of this article  is in the Autumn 2015 Landworker magazine 

Unite’s Debi Bell's participation in a Unite delegation to Colombia in June may have reduced her to tears - but it has also confirmed how vital international solidarity is to progressive forces in the South American Republic. 

Debi, who sits on the Unite national food drink and tobacco sector committee, is the unions East Midlands region rep within Sainsburys, where she has worked for 24 years as a commercial assistant. 

Along with eight other Unite activists, Debi travelled to Columbia to discover why it is the most dangerous place anywhere for trade unionists and human rights defenders and how Justice for Columbia is providing essential international support that has led to some improvements. 

The trip coincided with the rural workers union, FENSUAGRO's, 11th annual conference in Bogota and whose 415 delegates had part of their travel costs paid by the agricultural sector of their sister union, UNITE. 

FENSUAGRO has around 80,000 members, but has lost around 1,500 who have been murdered. 

Union vice-president Huber Ballesteros and over 100 other members are in jail, often without any charges against them. The union helped lead the 2013 mass strike that mobilised over a million people on street protests against the devastating impact of free-trade agreements, privatisation and inequality-driven poverty. 

The Unite delegation later met human rights and prisoners support groups as well as trade unionists from the private and public sectors. Debi was subsequently amongst the guests of the Mothers of Soacha, whose sons were killed by paramilitary forces including two 19 year olds studying as engineers. “My son is studying engineering and is 19. I was tears.” 

There was additional upset in Cauca when Debi listened to a young farmer who the paramilitaries had targeted for assassination after they told him, without any evidence, they considered him a member of the FARC rebels, who have been fighting the government for fifty years. "His family had lived on the land he owned for generations and as he did not want to appear a coward he was staying put. I don't know if he remains alive. 

“He told his tale because he wants to alert people from abroad and believes that international pressure and solidarity is vital in creating the conditions for ending human rights abuses in Columbia.

"Paramilitaries gain financial rewards, including holidays, for killing peasant farmers and young Columbian males they declare as terrorists. Foreign multinationals, particularly companies involved in oil exploration, benefit by being able to appropriate land that becomes vacant," she added.  

Having familiarised herself with the situation in Columbia, Debi was part of the Unite delegation that met the British Ambassador in Bogota and then had meetings with the High Commissioner and Ministry of Defence from the Columbian Government. 

“We presented them with our findings. This included the desire from everyone we met for the Government to respond positively to any fresh FARC ceasefire, which has since been announced and welcomed by 29 British MPs from four different parties after the Columbian Government said they would also be taking steps to de-escalate the armed conflict.

“I felt we were listened to. I certainly hope so and the Columbian Ambassador has agreed to meet us when he visits Britain and that will be an opportunity to see if progress is being made. 

“But there is still plenty to do. I would appeal to all Unite branches to affiliate to Justice for Columbia, which is doing marvellous work,” said Debi, who is happy to speak about her Columbian visit at Unite branch meetings across the East Midlands. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

'We Are United: The Story of MUDSA' - a documentary commissioned to celebrate the organisation's 25th anniversary

Issued by MUDSA

Press release - New book and documentary film launched 

MUDSA is the oldest disabled supporters association in the world and is 25 years old this year. 

We have celebrated by putting together a MUDSA 25th anniversary book, which is enclosed, charting our achievements and ongoing ambitions. 

The book looks back to why and how MUDSA was formed including, of course, the vital role played by Phil Downs MBE. It illustrates how we have worked with the club - during a period of massive expansion at Old Trafford - to ensure improved facilities for disabled fans. It shows how disabled fans have democratically decided that they prefer in the main to be seated next to one another at Old Trafford. 

The book fondly remembers the marvellous trips abroad to European Cup finals, particularly Barcelona in 1999 and Moscow in 2008. The launch of the Ability Suite in 2003 is celebrated and for those that don’t know we issued a 10th anniversary book on this in 2013 and it remains available online at

There is a marvellous selection of photographs new and old - many thanks to Julie and Jackie Hall in particular on this - and the book is packed with interviews with members, some of whom are sadly no longer with us. The book also includes interviews with former Manchester United  captains Gary Neville and Steve Bruce and they demonstrate a mutual respect and genuine friendship. Finally, the book highlights how important MUDSA is in the lives of many disabled fans. 

MUDSA would like to author Mark Metcalf, photographer Mark Harvey and designer Jamie Leeming for making this book possible.   

'We Are United: The Story of MUDSA' - a documentary commissioned to celebrate the organisation's 25th anniversary - premieres on Manchester United TV Channel MUTV on Thursday next week (November 12).

Produced and directed by independent filmmaker John Gubba, the one hour special tells the story of Mudsa through the eyes of its inspirational leader Phil Downs MBE and a strong supporting cast including Chas Banks, Stephanie Bisceglia, Kevin Peek and eight years-old Alex Nield.

Said Gubba: "I have cried more than once filming and watching some gut-wrenching scenes. We took Phil Downs back to the gymnasium at Hendon Police Training Academy where he broke his neck as an 18-year-old in the mid seventies. It was the first time Phil had been back in that room. 

"When young Alex Nield was born with cerebral palsy, his parents were told he would never walk or talk. Watching him learn to walk has been another emotional experience. In this film I have focused on the incredible abilities and achievements of a remarkable group of characters. And I hope that viewers will have a better understanding of what Mudsa is all about by sharing their stories."

Sir Alex Ferguson, whose PA Lyn Laffin helped get Mudsa started back in 1989, contributes some fascinating insights and talks passionately about the achievements of the organisation. There are also appearances by Wayne Rooney, David de Gea, Juan Mata, Bryan Robson, Martin Buchan and David Gill. 

Further information from Mark Metcalf on 07952 801783 and
Further information from John Gubba on 07802 482602 and 

Please contact MUDSA on 0161 868 8552 to discuss the book and/or documentary film.
MUDSA is happy to facilitate visits by journalists and political representatives to Old Trafford to view the facilities for disabled fans. 

Unite drives forward Lifelong learning