Friday, 23 May 2014

Debating Zimbabwe's Land Reform - book review


Ian Scoones 

In 1968, Malcolm Rifkind, then a postgraduate student, wrote in his thesis on Land in Rhodesia: “Land is a burning issue for Africans but not for Europeans….but a settlement opposed by 95% of the population cannot be declared to be final.” In 1980, Rifkind was the Foreign Secretary when Rhodesia became newly independent Zimbabwe. 

The land question remained in place until 2000 when war veterans led the invasion of Zimbabwe’s commercial farming sector. According to the international media this simply led to chaos, destruction and violence with the only winners being the cronies of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

Sussex University Professor Ian Scoones offers a more considered appraisal in a book based on the influential blog. Scoones has worked in Zimbabwe for over 25 years and thirteen years research in 16 land reform sites and 400 households in the Masvingo province underpin his latest work. He found that 5% of the beneficiaries of the land grab reforms were cronies. This was ten times less than the internationally quoted ZimOnline figure of 50% and for which no data has ever been released.

The changes since 2000 have been significant. Ten million hectares has been formally transferred from 6,000 mainly white farmers into the hands of 175,000 households minimum with possibly similar numbers on ‘informal’ settlements. These small and medium sized farms are experiencing mixed results with those harvesting cotton, sugar and tobacco doing well whilst production of wheat, coffee and tea has declined. 

Scoones identifies half the farmers as being able to generate surpluses and schools have been built, new roads constructed and dams dug. The economic development generated has meant further small scale employment in the supply of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. 

Nevertheless, international sanctions are restricting aid to farmers who are desperate for investment and finance and for new infrastructural developments of which the most urgent are clean water projects. Many more schools are also required to help raise educational levels. Scoones believes efforts by the likes of the UK to restrict economic recovery ultimately stymies democratic renewal as it makes it easier for Mugabe to manipulate the political process. 

Scoones provides examples of where land redistribution has radically improved the circumstances of the dispossessed rural and urban populations in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam but only when there has been sustained state support and investment. Zimbabwe though is bankrupt and faces compensation claims by removed white farmers. Nevertheless, change is coming and 95% of Zimbabweans last year voted through a new constitution. Farmers’ organisations have emerged from a sector they now control and Scoones believes that with “support and commitment from outside, these new farmers can drive forward a vibrant agricultural revolution in Zimbabwe.” 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Buildings of the labour movement book review

Buildings of the labour movement 
Nick Mansfield 
Foreword by Tony Benn 
Published by English Heritage 

Interest in labour movement buildings has grown in recent years. This excellent book, written by the former director of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, is to be commended for bringing alive the built culture of the oldest labour movement in the world.

Although too many buildings have been lost over the years, there remains a range of communal buildings of the early 19th-century political radicals, Owenites and Chartists, through Arts and Crafts influenced socialist structures of the late nineteenth century. There are chapters associated with the hidden history of radical ex-servicemen, rural buildings such as the Burston Strike School and clubhouses of idealistic socialist cyclists. Buildings associated with key labour history events such as the Manchester Mechanics Institute, the birthplace of the TUC in 1855, are also included along with an outline of recent struggles to preserve buildings that stand as powerful symbols of a better future and working-class heroism. 

In the foreword, the late Tony Benn, wrote: ‘Though many buildings have been lost over the years, the book outlines the recent struggle for their preservation, and details many that can still be visited. The rich photographic records of the English Heritage Archive have been used to help trace some of what has been lost, and English Heritage should be congratulated for supporting this record of labour movement buildings. I am delighted to champion the project.’ 

Female Union Society, Holcombe Brook, Ramsbottom

In the second decade of the nineteenth century, a lack of suffrage (more than half of all MPs were elected by just 154 votes) and the poor economic conditions that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 combined to create a mass movement that demanded reform of parliamentary representation. On 16 August 1819 at St Peter’s Field, Manchester a cavalry charge resulted in the deaths of 15 demonstrators from amongst a crowd estimated at between sixty and eighty thousand. The massacre was to become known as Peterloo, an ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier.

Amongst the crowd were many women. Nevertheless, radical policy at this period was generally to press for universal male suffrage. Some female campaigners were not content and organised Female Union Societies to demand a vote for all, male and female. Many societies were established in the North-West of England industrialised cotton towns, including at Holcombe Brook, Ramsbottom, just north of Bury. 

An inscribed stone at a cottage in Holcombe Brook is the only surviving evidence of this particular women’s organisation. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Horse deaths on course rising

Taken from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
The horseracing industry has denied claims by a leading animal welfare organisation that it is failing to keep horse fatalities to a minimum.
Horseracing combines three sectors – sport, betting and the rural economy. The industry is second only to football in terms of attendances, jobs supported, tax contribution and capital investment. However, each year, hundreds of horses are killed competing in races that vary widely in format and can include hurdles.

 Animal Aid campaigns against horseracing deaths. The organisation wants the Grand National at Aintree banned, arguing that “it is a deliberately hazardous race”.
In March, Animal Aid recorded 22 horses being killed. Two were killed at Sedgefield and two at Newcastle on the same day. The total death rate was four times higher than in March 2013, when five horses died.
Animal Aid recorded a total of 445 deaths in the three years from January 2010. A parliamentary question last year revealed the true figure was 617, with over 70 per cent dying jumping in races with fences and ditches.
‘Rising costs’
Animal Aid horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: “Horses are being over- stretched, especially during jump races. The situation is worsening because horses are being rushed to race at an early age due to the rising costs of keeping them.
“Owners hope to recoup some funds by winning races. When the majority of horses don’t succeed they can end up going to abattoirs or being fed to hunting hounds. Only a few hundred horses from amongst 7,000 are retrained annually.
“We want the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to admit there is a problem, then do a proper course assessment on each death and afterwards adopt best practice. Why are there fewer deaths at Hexham than Cheltenham? It is because races at the latter present horses with a challenge that is harsh and unnatural.
“If the industry won’t tackle the problem the Government should introduce an independent regulator – someone who understands the industry but has no vested interest in maintaining its current practices that are killing horses.”
Animal Aid wants the British Horseracing Authority, the regulatory body for horse racing, to publish the on-course death toll on an ongoing basis and explain why the March 2014 death rate was significantly higher than the previous year. Animal Aid would also like the numbers on racehorse fatalities during training to be collected, which does not currently happen.
Robin Mounsey, BHA media manager, defended the industry.
He said: “British racing is among the world’s best regulated animal activities. Together with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, the BHA is a leading signatory of the National Equine Welfare Protocol under which all 1,450 racing fixtures are held annually in Britain.
‘Inherent risk’
“Six-thousand people care for 14,000 horses that enjoy a quality of life virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal. Despite everyone’s best efforts there is an inherent injury risk in a sport involving speed and athleticism. Yet, in 15 years, the equine fatality rate has fallen from 0.3 per cent of runners to 0.2 per cent.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which oversees animal health and welfare in the UK, said: “We are satisfied that the BHA, who work with other animal welfare organisations, does take the necessary steps to make racecourses as safe as possible for horses.”

Monday, 12 May 2014

John Londragan, International Brigader

Many thanks to Unite member and Aberdeen Councillor
Nathan Morrison for this photograph
This information is taken from the Rebel Road
pages at Unite education. 

Aberdeen Trades Union Council offices are named after John Londragan and the premises at 22a Adelphi have a plaque which states: John Londragan House: Communist, International Brigadier and Life Long Trade Unionist, 1911-1993. The plaque was erected in 1993.
An article by John Landragan appears in the book Voices from the Spanish Civil War: personal recollections of Scottish Volunteers in Republican Spain 1936-39, edited by Ian MacDougall. The railway worker describes his motivation for risking his life: ‘Being a member of the Communist Party and being an anti-Fascist I though it was my duty to go and help the people in Spain.
‘And the fight, whether it be here in Aberdeen against the British Union of Fascists or against Hitler and Mussolini in Spain, was exactly the same to me, no difference at all.’
The Scotsman served in the Anti-Tank Unit of the XVth International Brigade at Jarama, which is south-east of Madrid, before being sent to Brunette, which is where he got wounded in the leg and arm. This finished his career on the military side but when he came out of hospital he was employed on the organisational side of the Brigade. Londragan later served – again in an Anti-Tank Unit - in the British Army during the Second World War.
Writing in 1986, the Aberdeen man wrote: ‘ Looking back, there isn’t a thing changed since 1936 as regards my views…..When I went to Spain I thought I was trying to halt Hitler and Mussolini and their exploitation of Europe…… when we went to war in 1939 I did exactly the same job…… Both were anti-Fascist wars.’

John Londragan (left) and a fellow International Brigader with the two young daughters of a Spanish
family they befriended 

Muted first anniversary celebrations at Barnsley Unite/NUM community centre

The economic squeeze that is being imposed on most working class people will ensure that any first anniversary celebrations for the Unite/National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) community centre in Barnsley will rightly be muted. Far too many people are struggling against a barrage of government attacks on welfare benefits, rights at work and public services for champagne corks to be popping in honour of the many successes achieved by the Unite community members who have provided welfare advice services to local people on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 10am to 3pm since it opened in June last year.

By the end of April 2014, Unite community members at the centre had dealt with 61 closed cases with 26 ongoing. Support for employment support allowance (ESA) claimants comprised almost half the cases. ESA, which is paid because of an illness or disability, has been heavily criticised by many organisations, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, due to the fact many claimants have been found fit for work after being selected for the work capability assessment. (WCAs)  Following campaigning – in which Unite community members have participated - by disabled organisations, the Department for Work and Pensions has recently stopped outsourcing company ATOS from carrying out repeat assessments until another company can be found to do WCAs.

Unite community members picketing the ATOS headquarters in Sheffield 

Linda Laurie, Disabled People's Direct Action Network, demonstrating
outside ATOS in Sheffield.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Harve. Copyright Mark Harvey. 

The centre at Barnsley has helped 6 claimants appeal against an ESA decision to restrict their benefit. Four were won including Ms P whose successful tribunal hearing helped increase her benefits by £28.45 a week. By helping Mr R with his Working Tax Credit the centre helped him recover a total of £4,795.68. Five bedroom tax appeals helped ensure two people had more money in their pockets and with Ms C’s success also being combined with a successful claim for personal independence payment and carers allowance then her benefit levels rose by £184,80 per week, She has joined Unite.

“We have helped many people raise their income, By doing so we have raised people’s hopes that there are people on their side,” said Richard Vivian, a life-long trade unionist and retired professional benefits advisor who volunteers at the centre.

Richard and Mohammad Tariq, who got involved in the centre in October 2013, designed the two-day welfare advice-training course, which was held for 16 Unite members from across Yorkshire earlier this year. All aspects of welfare rights and benefits were covered including protecting client’s rights and Data Protection. Unite community members have also undertaken two days training on welfare rights provided by the Child Poverty Action Group. “People need representation but we can only provide it if we are properly trained and familiar with the complexities of the benefits system,” said Mohammad, who since joining Unite has become much more conscious of the widening gap between rich and poor. He now wants to particularly encourage young people and ethnic minorities to join the union.

In addition to providing welfare right advice the Barnsley centre, which is based in the NUM Headquarters that is the world’s first purpose built trade union headquarters, (see below) also runs computer classes. People have attended Learn My Way computer basics
classes and others have come in for assistance in setting up an e-mail address and help with writing a CV. “We are giving people opportunities to improve their skills. All benefit applications now have to be done online and the government wrongly assumes everyone has got a computer and internet connection,” said Brian Clarke, a former engineer who has been a trade union member since 1955 and whose last job before he retired was general manager at Wortley Hall. Brian became an active volunteer at the Barnsley centre after seeing an advert in the Morning Star and is enjoying helping people.

The professional advice provided by Unite community members to the folk of Barnsley is becoming increasingly important in an era when many advice organisations are struggling to survive and cope with the increasing demands placed on them. Maximising people’s benefits is vital work but it cannot be a long-term solution, especially when benefit levels are so low and are not even being increased each year to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

Unite community members thus try to help people understand what lies behind the government’s austerity drive that has driven down people’s living standards and raised inequality levels back to those seen in the 19th century. There has been a conscious effort to challenge media misrepresentation that the jobs crisis can be blamed on immigrants.

Rather than sitting at home worrying, people are encouraged to get involved in campaigns around the effects of government cuts to working people. Centre activists have supported the local campaign against the bedroom tax, joined protests against the workfare programme and supported workers taking industrial action.

“Working people have power if they are organised. Unite community members can help raise awareness and help encourage a culture of resistance. I remain optimistic we can change society for the better,” said Richard, who as a young man was forced to retrain when he was blacklisted by engineering employers across Scotland.

NUM Headquarters, 2 Huddersfield Road, Barnsley S70 2LS

Opening times: 10am to 3pm

Wednesdays and Thursdays

  • The NUM Building in Barnsley was the world’s first purpose-built trade union headquarters when it opened in 1874. It was designed by Wade and Turner of Barnsley in a Scottish Baronial style and featured a tall, French-Gothic entrance. The moving force behind the centre was the secretary of the South Yorkshire Miners’ Association, John Normansell, who said at the time of the opening: “you are most welcome into a house that is built by your fellow miners at their own cost and expense in every way.” Normansell died soon afterwards and is commemorated by a monument outside the building. A meeting hall, the windows of which record major elements of miners’ working lives, supplemented Wade and Turner’s design in 1912. In more recent times a statue has been erected that commemorates those miners who lost their lives in supporting their union in times of struggle. These include David Jones and Joe Green, who lost their lives during the year-long strike in 1984-85 and who every year in March are remembered in a special ceremony.

Information taken from Buildings of the labour movement by Nick Mansfield and published by English Heritage.

Meeting Hall - photograph courtesy of Mark Harvey. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Blue plaque to commemorate Sidney and Beatrice Webb

Sidney Webb, 1859-1947, and Beatrice Webb, 1858-1943
Erected in 1981 by the Greater London Council, there is a blue plaque to Beatrice and Sidney Webb at 10 Netherall Gardens, Swiss Cottage, Camden, London.
Beatrice Potter was the granddaughter of Richard Potter, the Radical MP for Wigan. In 1886 she went to work for Charles Booth, who was studying the lives of working people in London. She studied the lives of the dock workers in the East End and supported the London Dock Strike in 1889.
Sidney Webb’s father also held radical political views and in 1885 he joined the Fabian Society, which described itself as a ‘fact-finding and fact-dispensing body’ and it produced pamphlets, many written by Webb, on a wide range of different social issues.
Sidney and Beatrice Potter married in 1892 and later worked on several books together including the History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897). The research they carried out for these books convinced them of the need to establish a political party that was committed to obtaining socialism through parliamentary elections.
On 27 February 1900, the Fabian Society joined with the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and trade unionists to form the Labour Representation Committee, which stood 15 candidates in that years General Election and won two seats with Keir Hardie and Richard Bell both elected. The LRC was to change its name to the Labour Party on 12 February 1906.
The Webbs were though willing to work with any party in order to obtain policies they believed in and in 1902 the pair helped draft the Conservative’s Education Act.
Beatrice Webb served on the 1905-09 Poor Law Commission and when she found herself in disagreement with most of the Commission members she and Sidney wrote and published a minority report.
In 1913, the Webbs helped start a new political weekly, the New Statesman. In 1923, Sidney Webb was elected as Labour MP for Seaham, County Durham. He subsequently served as President of the Board of Trade under Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister. Sidney later served as Secretary of State for the Colonies in MacDonald’s second Labour Government.
The ashes of Sidney and Beatrice Webb lie in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey. The small lozenge stone bears their names and the years they were born and died. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Century old report confirms air pollution drives infant mortality levels

Michael Ryan is continuing his brave fight to expose the current impact of air pollution around incinerators on infant death rates by going back a century to show how even then air pollution was regarded as a driving factor in high infant death rates. 

Ryan has already demonstrated how infant mortality rates leap even when incinerators are planted in affluent locations. (see

He was also the first to note the tie-up between a recent study in Turkey and a UK one in 2008 which both reported how following the introduction of natural gas - which produces lower particulate emissions than its predecessor, coal gas, and therefore causes less air pollution - there had been a dramatic fall in infant mortality levels in both countries.

Ryan has now highlighted that in 1914, Dr William A Brend, Lecturer on Forensic Medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, scrutinised infant mortality rates for all parts of the British Isles. (Which included at this time all of Ireland)

Dr Brend concluded in his book, Health and the State, (available online at
that air pollution and not poverty was the driving factor. 

On page 72 the report states:- 

Poverty is often looked upon as one of the greatest causes of infant deaths. Yet per se it does not appear to be so. The wages paid in agricultural districts are notoriously the lowest paid in the community, yet the infant mortality rate in rural Wiltshire averages only about 60, while in Kensington the average is over 100. The earnings of the Connaught peasant or the Highland crofter do not approach those of the miners of Durham or Glamorganshire, yet the loss of infant life among them is only one third of that in mining areas. 

The influence of poverty is felt most directly in housing and food-supply, yet it is impossible to say that in these respects rural districts are better off than towns. It is well known that housing in many rural districts is deplorable. A cottage may look picturesque, but its thatched roof and creepers may hide defective walls and floors, unsound drainage, low ceilings, and ill-ventilated rooms, fully as bad as those in the worst quarters of cities. The rooms may be overcrowded, and there may be no adequate conveniences for cooking or maintaining cleanliness. And not only may the cottages be defective, but in many villages there are patches of overcrowding which present the worst features of town slums. It is indeed well recognised that the difficulty of obtaining sufficient housing accommodation for labourers has been one of the great obstacles to agricultural development in recent years. When we examine food-supply we find no reason to suppose that the agricultural worker is better off in this respect than the town dweller. We know as a matter of fact that the poor in rural districts are often insufficiently fed, and meat for 
the family may be an exceptional luxury. 

On page 87 this report states:- 

The Effect of a Smoke and Dust-polluted Atmosphere 

We have now examined, with one exception, the main factors which might be held to account for a high rate of  infant mortality, and we find that differences neither in poverty, bad housing, insufficient feeding, defective sanitation, disease, industrial occupation of women, nor malnutrition of mothers can be regarded as adequate to explain the excessive and widespread difference between urban and rural rates of infant mortality. 

The factor which remains to be examined is that of smoke and dust in the atmosphere. Dirtiness of the air appears to be the one constant accompaniment of a high infant mortality: purity of the atmosphere is the one great advantage which the agricultural labourer of Wiltshire, the Connaught peasant, and the poverty-stricken crofter of the Highlands enjoy over the resident in the town. In the opinion of the writer, a smoky and dusty atmosphere as a cause of infant mortality far transcends all other influences.

Basil Fawlty and the badger cull crisis

The announcement on 3 April that badger cull pilots across England were being abandoned really should have come two days earlier as environment secretary Owen Paterson is fast becoming a joke. Certainly he appears to have no idea how to tackle the tuberculosis crisis in cattle. 

The North Shropshire MP, who during the fox hunting debates likened those who supported a ban to Nazis, was appointed environment secretary in September 2012. He quickly mishandled the horsemeat scandal, during which his performance in Parliament saw him likened by Independent columnist Donald Macintyre to Basil Fawlty from the 1970s iconic British comedy classic, Fawlty Towers. Paterson also wants Britain to go it alone on GM Foods even though it will mean isolation from Europe, which has chosen to remain GM free. 

Paterson is also a climate sceptic. He has refused an offer for a briefing on climate change science by David MacKay, the chief scientific adviser to the department for energy and climate change.

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is, of course, a highly infectious fatal disease that can be passed from animal to animal, but which mainly affects cows. Diary herds require testing regularly and infected animals are killed. The numbers of cattle infected by bTB has risen dramatically in the last two decades. In 2013 over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered across England as a result of the disease. The cost to farming is estimated annually at £100 million. 

Some farmers believe badgers – through contaminating feeding and watering sites - are mainly to blame for cattle contracting bTB. 

The previous Labour government sought to discover the truth when it spent £50 million on a 10-year study organised by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle. This concluded in 2007 that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’ Even worse the scientists believed culling had the potential to spread the disease by forcing infected badgers to flee. 

Owen Paterson isn’t though a man to be bothered by facts even when supplied by those who know a lot more than him. Consequently, last year he introduced a trial cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset. The plan was to shoot 5,000 badgers at night over a six week period. According to the coalition government, 70% of badgers in the two counties would have to be killed over four years in order to reduce bTB by 16 per cent. 

If the pilot culls were deemed successful they were to be rolled out across the rest of England with 130,000 badgers, a third of the badger population, shot.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra to evaluate the pilots. Paterson initially attempted to keep their report hidden. There were even newspaper reports that he was going to ignore huge public opposition and a Parliamentary vote, in which MPs voted 219 to one, against rolling out the cull nationwide. 

However, when much of the details, like Britain’s much reduced flood defences under this government, leaked, Paterson was forced to reveal just how wrong he was in ordering the cull. 

In the event ‘just’ 1,861 badgers were shot at a cost calculated by the wildlife charity Care for the Wild at £7.3 million including £2.6 million for policing.  The cost per dead badger was £4,121. The government had claimed that shooting free-running badgers was a lot less than the £700 it costs such as the Welsh government for a trapping and vaccination programme.

Defra’s standard for declaring the culls humane had been that 95 per cent of shot badgers would die within five minutes. The figure was that between 7.4 and 18 per cent took longer to die. 

According to the IEP report the three week extension that Paterson granted to the original cull made little difference to the numbers killed. Paterson has therefore agreed to continue the killing in Gloucestershire and Somerset by employing better-trained marksmen! Professor Rosie Woodroffe, who was a member of the ISG, criticised the move saying: “I would stop and invest in something more promising.” 

Paterson may therefore want to consider crossing over the border to Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government abandoned plans to cull badgers in March 2012. It adopted a £4.7 million five year plan to vaccinate badgers. In the first year 472 landowners allowed access onto their land and to 313 badger setts, approximately a third of the numbers currently active. 1,424 badgers were trapped and vaccinated. 

Statistics show that in the 12 months till December 2013, there were 880 new bTB herd incidents in Wales, down by 23 per cent from 1,145 in the previous year.  The figures had fallen in 2011-12 by 15 per cent and between 2011-2013 the cattle slaughtered dropped a third to 6,275. 

With the programme of vaccination appearing to be working, Alun Davies, natural resources minister and Labour member for Blaenau Gwent, told the Welsh Assembly: “I think there are many aspects where the UK government should look across the border. On every measure available to us, the Government is delivering reductions in bovine TB at twice the rate of the Government in England. I would invite Owen Paterson to come here to learn how it is done.”

The approach of the Welsh Government is mirrored by the Sharpham Trust, an educational charity running a 550-acre south Devon estate. They are implementing a 3-year badger vaccination project and a trust spokesperson called on “the government to implement a science based, cost effective response to the badger/cattle/TB issue.”  

Llanelli volunteers in Spanish Civil War commemorated

There is a grey plaque outside the Llanelli Plaid Cymru offices, 11 John Street that commemorates the local volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigade in the struggle against fascism.

Jack Harris, William Morris and Brazell Thomas were killed at Jarama, Brunete and Ebro respectively. Evan Jones was wounded at Ebro. The plaque was unveiled on 14 October 2000 by Lance Rogers – an International Brigadier from Cefn-Coed near Merthyr.

Enoch Collins, an industrial comrade of 26-year-old Brazell Thomas, 57 Coronation Road, Llanelli later produced a short piece of work on the dead man.

Many thanks to to thank Rhydwyn Ifan, secretary of Plaid Cymru, Llanelli for his work in tracking down the information on Brazell Thomas.

This article appears on the Rebel Road pages at Unite education.

Remembering all those from Kirkcaldy who fought in Spain

There is a plaque and a memorial on Forth Avenue, Kirkcaldy which commemorates local fighters in the Spanish Civil War. This was erected by Kirkcaldy District Council and Friends of the International Brigades, May 1980 and September 1986. It was rededicated 4 April 2009.

The inscription on the plaque reads, somewhat poetically, as follows:
"To honour the memory of those who went from The Lothians and Fife to serve in the war in Spain, 1936 - 1939."

"Not to a fanfare of trumpets
Nor even the skirl o' the pipes
Not for the off'r of a shilling
Nor to see their names up in lights
Their call was a cry of anguish
From the hearts of the people of Spain
Some paid with their lives it is true
Their sacrifice was not in vain"
(The International Brigade Association)

The names on the memorial are as follows:- 

G Adamson, H Archibald, L Ballinghall, T Bloomfield, F Cairns, W Campbell, G Carr, J Collier, M Conway, G Cornwallis, F Crombie, C Cunningham, J Donald (Methihill), J Donald (Methil), J Farmer, J Fisher, J Gillespie, S Glencraig, J Haig,  R Henderon, A Henderson. A Hillock, T Howie, G Jackson, J Jarvis, A Knight, W Leggie, E Louden, W Mackie, W.F. McCartney, H McCaskill Hill, J McCormack, C McCormack, W McDougall, A McKay, J McPherson-Murray, J Penman, G Robbison, H Sloan, R Smith, G Smith, H Smith, M Sneddon, G Stewart, J.L. Walker, Sister Wilson.

Tommy Bloomfield’s Spanish Civil War recollections appear in VOICES from the Spanish Civil War book edited by Ian MacDougall.  

John 'Jock' Gilmour - a brave man who died fighting fascism in Spain

Prestonpans Spanish Civil War Memorial, East Lothian
There is a little bronze plaque on the east side of the Prestonpans War Memorial in Civic Square that is ‘Dedicated to the memory of those who laid down their lives in the defence of democracy. Spain 1936-39.’ It also includes a quote from the poet Byron: “They never fail who die in a great cause.”
Local man John ‘Jock’ Gilmour was killed at the Battle of Jarama on 12 February 1937. After a meeting at Ayres Wynd, the common meeting place in the centre of Prestonpans, he volunteered along with Jimmy Kempton and George Watters. The latter told his story in the book edited by Ian MacDougall called VOICES from the Spanish Civil War and in which he recalls how Jock Gilmour was killed. (See below) 

Many thanks to Mike Arnott for this photograph.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Tories wisely row back on foxhunting vote commitment

It appears David Cameron and Nick Clegg are not going to gift Labour a pre-election boost by being silly enough to keep to the 2010 Coalition Agreement promise to allow a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act during their term in office. 

Breaking promises is, of course, a regular feature of the coalition government. David Cameron promised that the NHS would be safe in his hands. The result has been the Health and Social Care Act that opens the floodgates for private healthcare providers. 

Chancellor George Osborne promised to ‘mend’ Britain’s economy and four years later economic growth remains below its pre-recession peak whilst workers have endured the most protracted squeeze on incomes since the 1870s. Even the growth that has taken place has been driven by inflated house prices and debt-fuelled consumer spending. The much promised re-balancing of the economy away from consumption to exports and investment is empty rhetoric.  

In the dire circumstances Britain now faces it is therefore perhaps no bad thing that the government is not going to waste Parliamentary time discussing fox hunting. Far better if they spent time sorting out the mess they’ve made. Of course, that is not the reason why a vote has abandoned until, what environment secretary Owen Paterson, calls “an appropriate time. ” Which, in plain English, means after 2015 when the coalition hopes the media will help persuade voters to give them a second chance. 

The promised vote has been abandoned because the public overwhelmingly believe that fox, deer and hare hunting belong firmly to the past. In December 2013, a poll by IPSOS Mori revealed that over 80% of people – with no divide between rural and urban inhabitants – want these barbaric practices to remain outlawed. Additional research by the League against Cruel Sports has also revealed that only a minority of MPs would like to repeal the law. There is even a Conservatives against Fox Hunting organisation that has MPs as members. The group believes supporting redcoats engaging in fox hunting will particularly damage the Tories electoral chances amongst women voters.

It was, of course, Labour that finally swept away hunting with dogs in 2005. It needed the Commons Speaker Michael Martin to invoke the Parliament Act, for only the fourth time since 1949, after Conservative peers in the House of Lords constantly refused to pass the legislation despite MPs support for it on a free vote. 

In 2006, legal attempts by the Countryside Alliance (CA) and other hunt campaigners to reverse the ban on grounds that it breached human rights were dismissed by the High Court.

The trade union for rural workers, the TGWU, which became part of Unite in 2007, welcomed the legislation viewing fox hunting as unnecessary and cruel with foxes dying terrible deaths after being pursued over lengthy distances before being caught and ripped to death by the chasing pack. 

The union also submitted evidence to the earlier Burns committee of enquiry into hunting with dogs in which it disputed claims by the CA that thousands of countryside jobs would be lost under a ban. In fact, only one hunt has subsequently been forced to close and the employment impact has been negligible. 

Amongst the CA’s most prominent backers have been the large landowners. “In Norfolk and Suffolk some of the most prominent supporters of fox hunting are large landowners and farmers who have a history of paying slave labour wages and allowing their employees to live in sub-standard accommodation” says Peter Medhurst, former TGWU rural workers' officer. 

The CA also predicted that the 2004 Hunting Act would be unenforceable and there were also threats to defy the act.  In the first two years there were just eight successful prosecutions under the Act. The figures though have steadily increased and are approaching 300 in total. 

The League against Cruel Sports (LACS) has been very successful in monitoring hunts and gathering information that has assisted police forces to prosecute lawbreakers. In August 2013, LACS footage resulted in four members of the Middleton Hunt in North Yorkshire pleading guilty under the Hunting Act after they used terriers to flush out a fox, which was then torn apart by the waiting pack of hounds. 

One of the most prominent supporters of fox hunting has a number of convictions. Mark Bycroft from the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent hunt last year launched a pre-meditated attack on Martin Randle, 24, from Brighton during an anti-hunt protest. Bycroft was cautioned for common assault. Considering he has a number of previous convictions for similar offences then Bycroft appears to have been dealt with very leniently. In September, Bycroft also pleaded guilty to hunting a fox with dogs and was fined £150. 

None of which stopped a smiling Nigel Farage, the UKIP ‘foreigner bashing’ leader who backs privatising the NHS and does not want to curb bankers’ bonuses, shaking Bycroft’s hand on Boxing Day. Farage believes he can pick up votes from disillusioned CA supporters at the next election. 90% of CA members voted Tory in 2010 and the organisation played a part in helping unseat a number of high profile anti-hunting MPs including Labour’s Michael Foster in Worcester. Foster was one of the primary movers behind the Hunting Act. 

Cameron, who has regularly voiced his personal support for the repeal of the hunting ban, has had to decide between gifting Labour an open goal in the run up to the election or lose support to UKIP. Unsurprisingly, he has decided that Labour, where support for maintaining the ban is almost unanimous, is the greater threat. 

Renton anti-fascists commemorated by iron statue

Standing outside the MA centre in Renton in the Vale of Leven, an iron statue of a Spanish bull honours five local Communists who joined the International Brigades to oppose General Franco’s 1936 uprising against Spain’s democratically elected Republican government.

Thanks to Mike Arnott for this photograph 

Brothers Patrick Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley were amongst 549 brave Scots who left their homeland to fight Franco’s fascist forces. 65 lost their lives including Tommy Gibbons, killed in the fight for Brunette in July 1937, and Patrick Curley, who was killed at the Battle of Jarama.  Danny Gibbons was wounded at Jarama and later captured at the battle of Calaceite in March 1938. He was imprisoned and exchanged in February 1939 for Italian and German prisoners.

Patrick Joseph ‘Joe’ Gibbons was on a Barcelona-based ship that was torpedoed by an Italian submarine. Over 200 volunteers were lost at sea, but Joe kept alive two colleagues who could not swim by keeping them afloat for hours in the water till they could be rescued. He later went on to fight the fascists in numerous battles and was wounded by tank fire. James Arnott was to be repatriated. 

The statue was unveiled by the Reverend Ian Miller of Bonhill Church on 27 August 2011 in an event organised by the Renton Community Development Trust. 

This information was produced for Rebel Road, a project for Unite education department. 

Blantyre Memorial to Spanish Civil War volunteers who lost their lives fighting fascism

Thanks to Mike Arnott for this photograph 

A memorial to three local volunteers killed in the Spanish Civil War is located at Blantyre Miners’ Welfare Club. This was erected by East Kilbride and South Lanarkshire Trades Union Council on 24 October 2009.
Thomas Brannan, William Fox and Thomas Fleck were part of a larger group from Lanarkshire who joined the International Brigades to fight in support of the elected Spanish government against the military coup of General Franco, who enjoyed the military backing of German and Italian fascist leaders, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini respectively.
The bronze sculpture was designed by Hamilton man Frank Casey who at the time of the unveiling said: “In these days of bogus celebrity there has never been a greater need to commemorate those true heroes who had the foresight to see that another world war was not inevitable and that the threat to civilisation known as fascism could be buried in Spain.
“They were neither dupes nor adventurers, but courageous men. Fleck in particular knew all about the horrors of modern mechanised warfare. Having won the Military Medal in France, he still felt it necessary to take up arms again in defence of the Spanish people.
“This work came about through the generous support of the local community and the South Lanarkshire Trades Council.”

Memorial to Jack Brent, Spanish Civil War volunteer

Jack Brent, 1912 - 1951 

Under the name of Jack Brent, George Dickie fought in the International Brigades in Spain against General Franco’s fascist forces. He was badly wounded at the battle of Jarama. Despite his horrific wounds leaving him with crippling pain he subsequently became national secretary of the International Brigade Association and in which capacity he assisted Brigaders imprisoned across Europe after the Spanish civil war ended. 
As prominent member of the Communist Party in Chalk Farm, London, Jack was heavily involved in successful campaigns to permit Londoners to gain access to  the Underground during the Blitz in World War Two. Having never recovered from his injuries, Jack later returned home and died at aged 39. Located on a butcher’s shop where he worked as an assistant, a memorial to him was unveiled in Whithorn in 2006. This was not without controversy with some local residents criticising his politics. 

Dundee Trades Council keep alive memory of female trade union organiser

Caroline E.D. Martyn, 1867-1896

Dundee Trades Council have helped keep alive the memory of Caroline Eliza Derecourt Martyn by tidying up her grave in Balgay Cemetery and restoring the granite column memorial. This was originally paid for by subscriptions from the Dundee branch of the Independent Labour Party and the Dundee Textile Workers’ Union.

Carrie Martyn was born in Lincoln and was an early organiser of trade unions in the UK. Originally active in the Conservative Party, she became a radical when she lodged in Reading with her maternal aunt, Mrs Bailey, who held progressive views. After joining the Fabian Society, she devoted herself full-time to socialism after being forced to give up work due to ill-health.

She had many articles published and also toured as a lecturer. Large crowds turned up to hear her speak. In 1896, she was elected to the executive council of the Independent Labour Party and became the organisations trade union organiser for North Scotland. It was whilst she was organising female workers in Dundee that she contracted pneumonia and died at aged 29. Keir Hardie wrote that she was the leading socialist of the day.

There is an 1895 article – ‘Women in the World’ by Caroline E.D. Martyn at:-

Taken from ‘The Labour Prophet', journal of the Labour Church, Martyn argues that “the real freedom of women” will be achieved by overcoming the wrongs “inflicted on them as a class rather than a sex.”

Many thanks to Mike Arnott, Dundee Trades Union Council secretary and chair of Dundee GMB local authority apex branch, for supplying the photograph for this article, which appears on the Rebel Road site of Unite education.

Celebrating May Day 77 years ago

TGWU poster from 1937 

Support the Durham Miners' Gala appeal this May Day

Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) has issued a special appeal to everyone who believes that the Durham Miners’ Gala should live on.

The gala has been held in Durham City in July since 1871 and last year it attracted over 150,000 people, despite the area’s last colliery closing over two decades ago.  With no working miners the DMA has received no contributions since 1993 and yet still continues to represent at industrial tribunals those miners made unwell by harsh working conditions.

Now the DMA has been left with a £2.2 million bill after losing a lengthy court battle on behalf of former miners suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. No one denies that the disease was contracted as a result of work but the case was lost after the judge refused to allow it to progress because it was outside a three-year time limit for claims.

An appeal against the ruling was lost and the final legal bill is a hefty one. This places the future of the gala in doubt and the DMA is seeking support to cover the £60,000 annual costs for what is currently the biggest union event in the country.

Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala was launched last year and asks people to make a minimum donation of £2 a month or £24 a year. Those who do so receive a glossy magazine packed with Gala photographs. More importantly they will be helping to secure the future of this vital event in the working class and labour movement calendar.

For more information go to:-