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 

Photos of picket line today at Calderdale Royal Hospital

Today at Calderdale Royal Hospital, there was certainly more support for the strike than other days from the public, some of whom stopped cars to pass on boxes of sweets and many motorists sounded their horns in support.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Promised support for Revenge Porn Project by Ellen Strange Commemoration Committee

The Ellen Strange Commemoration Committee has agreed to provide financial backing and political support to a research project on 'Revenge Porn' by Michelle, a working class woman in her 30s from Bolton who recently achieved a first class honours degree in Sociology with Criminology.

Revenge Porn is the sexually explicit portrayal of one or more people distributed without their consent via any medium. The practice has also been described as a form of psychological abuse and domestic violence. 

Michelle is currently (05 April 2016) refining the 16-page research proposal titled An Investigation into the Social Impacts of 'Revenge Porn' through Violation of Sex Videos and Photographs Published on the Internet. Once she has completed this process, the ESCC will issue some notes on its contents.

ESCC is keen to use Michelle's work to influence the trade union and labour movement. Michelle has agreed to be available to speak at trade union meetings - and, has already accepted some invites to speak at meetings organised by Unite, whose help was essential in ensuring that John Simpson's book on Ellen Strange's murder was republished and that (despite the weather!) the memorial service on Holcombe Moor on 29 November 2015 was so successful.

Michelle has agreed to meet on a regular basis with representatives of the ESCC to discuss her work and how it can be supported. 

ESCC has agreed to make an initial donation of £500 towards this project and will be seeking further funds from trade union branches, progressive organisations including charitable trusts. 

On completion of the work, ESCC will be seeking to publish the research, to circulate it as widely as possible and, where possible, make recommendations that will help victims of Revenge Porn. 

For more details contact Martin McMulkin on 07918 839327, Mark Metcalf on 07952 801783 or, Linda Charnock 07706 294758

Ellen Strange Commemoration Committee -

Donations are needed for this research proposal. Bolton Trades Union Council has agreed that its bank account can be used for cheques, payable to Bolton TUC.  BTUC, c/o Bolton Socialist Club, Wood Street, Bolton BL1 1DY.

MP: Letting agents are ‘out of control’

MP: Letting agents are ‘out of control’
Agents demand more than rent and deposit

Government denies action is necessary 

Claims by private tenants and the shadow housing minister that letting agents fees are out of control have been denied by the government. 
There are nine million private renters in Britain.
Big Issue North magazine
In the past they would have generally dealt directly with landlords of their properties. But the increase in the buy-to -let market has created a rise in letting agents, who market the property, conduct viewings, check tenants’ references and take the first rental payment and deposit. Landlords are typically charged around 10 per cent of the rent by the letting agent. 
Documentation fee 
When Charlotte, a young disabled woman from Leeds, found an advertised property she believed was suitable for her needs she was asked to pay a documentation fee of £36 by the letting agent. 
“Since I can only work a few hours each week and rely on benefits I asked if the landlord would be willing to take me as a tenant before I paid the fee,” she said. “I was told that this would be fine but I would also need to pay £60 on top for a guarantor to be checked.” 
She paid this money, which was non-returnable. 
She said: “A week later I was told the landlord had found ‘a more suitable tenant’. As my credit check was fine the agent showed me other properties. But they had nothing suitable as I require ground floor access. Thus I had to look elsewhere and I lost the £96. 
“I have managed to find another property through another letting agent and that has cost £320, of which £200 has been converted into part of the deposit. It’s still a lot of money and I am fortunate as I have some savings and a supportive family.” 
In 2012, the Scottish government prevented letting agents from charging any fee beyond rent and a refundable deposit. Opponents of the change argued it would lead to an increase in rents but there appears to be no evidence of this. 
‘End free-for-all’ 
In 2014, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs blocked an attempt by Labour to ban letting fees for the rest of the UK. Labour’s shadow housing spokesman John Healey said: “Letting agents are out of control, with millions paying hundreds of pounds to secure somewhere to live. The government must end the free-for-all. 
“Regulation is needed to improve conditions for tenants – many of whom are being forced to rent privately because they are priced out of home ownership – and
to make the market work more fairly, efficiently and transparently.” 
Big Issue North sent a series of questions on letting agents to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Its spokesperson responded: “The vast majority of landlords and letting agents provide a good quality service to those looking for a home in the private sector. 
“The government believes that ensuring full transparency is the best approach in tackling unfair letting agency fees, which is why we introduced legislation in the Consumers Rights Act 2015, which, since May 2015, requires letting agents to publicise a full tariff of their fees. 

“DCLG publishes a How To Rent guide that is updated regularly.” 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Memorials to workers


Initiated by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the excellent website has a lengthy list of permanent, temporary and other memorials such as paintings that commemorate Workers Memorial Day annually on 28 April. The very large majority of these memorials have been initiated by trade unionists and safety campaigners. 

If you know of any Memorials that are not listed but should be then please contact the compiler: Sheila Pantry OBE:

Many thanks to Susan Murray for alerting Rebel Road to this great website. 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Samuel Plimsoll - the workers' friend who improved health and safety at work

Samuel Plimsoll, the trade unionist who improved health and safety at work. 

Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) is the trade unionist best known for devising a load-line to prevent ships being overloaded. To mark his achievement there is a monument to Plimsoll in Whitehall Garden, a Victoria Embankment garden in central London. In Redcar on Teesside there is also a pub, the Plimsoll Line, whilst in Sheffield there is a plaque directly opposite his childhood home.

Samuel Plimsoll plaque in Regent Street in Sheffield.
Photographs are copyright John Harvey 
In 1864, Samuel Plimsoll was part of a convoy of ships voyaging from London to Redcar when a severe storm not only delayed his arrival by several hours but also wrecked four of the ships. He recognised that his vessel had been properly surveyed. No such luck for the perished sailors, whose contracts meant that if they refused to sail on an unseaworthy vessel they could be, and were, imprisoned.  It was clear that shipowners, which included numerous MPs, were content to send unseaworthy, overloaded and, significantly, overinsured, boats to sea whatever the consequences for the crews. 

Add caption
Plimsoll, who had previously won the miners' approval for seeking methods to prevent colliery disasters by detecting fire damp, was determined to end the horrors of the 'coffin-ships.' When he was elected as the Liberal MP for Derby in 1867 he vainly sought to have a bill passed introducing a safe load line in ships. When Plimsoll was told in 1875 by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, that the Merchant Shipping Bill was being dropped by the government his angry response resulted in Plimsoll being suspended from the Commons. Plimsoll though had the public with him as they knew that over a thousand merchant seaman were being drowned each year. In 1876 the Board of Trade were given inspection powers for ships and the Plimsoll line or mark was introduced. 

Plimsoll's maiden Parliamentary speech in 1868 had put forward the case for a repeal of the criminal laws against trade unions. The subsequent 1871 Trades Union Act legalised trade unions for the first time in the UK and meant members could not be liable for criminal prosecution for taking strike action. 

After voluntarily leaving Parliament in 1880, Plimsoll became in 1887 the first president of the newly inaugurated National Sailors' and Firemen's Union (NSFU), where he drew attention to the horrific conditions of animals being transported under appalling, over crowded conditions. 

Plimsoll died in 1898. In 1929 the National Union of Seamen, the NSFU's successor, erected a memorial to Plimsoll on London's Embankment Gardens. There is also a Plimsoll Road in many towns and a Plimsoll Bar in Bristol. The Plimsoll Line in Redcar is a Wetherspoon's pub on the High Street and where there is also a blue plaque erected by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council in honour of Samuel Plimsoll "The Sailors Friend." There is also a plaque commemorating Plimsoll opposite his childhood home in Sheffield.

Many thanks to John Harvey for taking the accompanying photographs for this article. 


William Wilberforce statue added to Unite Rebel Road project

Good article in Salford Star on Benny Rothman book launch