Posts Tagged ‘Child Labour’

As Children Starve, Rees-Mogg Finds Growth in Food Banks ‘Uplifting’

September 16, 2017

I’ve had to write this response to Rees-Mogg’s fatuous, complacent and quite frankly, evil comments about the massive increase in food banks, because it made me so furious. On Thursday, Mike over at Vox Political reported that the Camborne Pool and Redruth food bank reported that some children in Cornwall are literally starving. This food bank hands out 10,000 meals a month, but states that they know there are many more children that they aren’t reaching.

At the same time, Rees-Mogg, whom Mike describes as the darling of the Tory party, was on LBC radio saying that he found this ‘uplifting’. Mike responded by describing Rees-Mogg as an ignorant, homicidal fool.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/14/food-bank-says-children-are-starving-rees-mogg-finds-that-uplifting/

Yesterday, Mike also put up the news that a food bank in Bath has challenged Mogg to volunteer to work for them, so he can see for himself the hardship that the people coming to these banks are experiencing, and hear their stories. Mike commented that there was fat chance of that, as Mogg hasn’t done a day’s work in his life. But he would be improved by having to work in one, or, better still, having to go to one himself.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/15/after-rees-mogg-said-food-banks-that-couldnt-help-the-starving-were-uplifting-hes-challenged-to-work-in-one/

The I yesterday printed Mogg’s comments in full. Basically, the aristo Tory MP for north-east Somerset said that the amount of generosity shown by people in the expansion of food banks was ‘uplifting’, and then went to claim that state aid could not solve the problem of poverty or provide for all the poor.

There’s nothing new in what he said. Bill Clinton made pretty much the same speech when he was president of the US. Clinton stated that there wasn’t a government programme that could solve every eventuality, and so praised private charity and initiatives in doing so. His speech, and admiration for private charity, was part of his ideological commitment to reducing still further whatever was left of the vestigial American welfare state that Reagan and the Republicans hadn’t already destroyed.

Thatcher, and it seems Young Master Mogg, believed that reducing state aid would result in more people giving to charity. And it’s true that studies in the US have shown that Conservative religious people give more to charity than secular liberals. But this misses an important point:

Private charity on its own is insufficient to tackle poverty. State aid is far better at doing so.

I also found a piece in Lobster’s ‘View from the Bridge’ a little while ago, that quoted a biography of Thatcher. Before she died, Thatcher herself supposedly realized that destroying the welfare state hadn’t made people more generous.

Which completely contradicts what Mogg has said above.

As for Mogg’s own attitude, this is the arrogant complacency of a wealthy aristocrat, who has little understanding of the lives of working people, and who fears them and the state will undermine the position of himself and his similarly entitled monied chums at the apex of British society. Young Master Mogg has voted consistently against increasing welfare benefits for them, and voted for increasing the tax burden on working people. But he’s been dead opposed to increasing the tax burden on people earning over £150,000 a year.

It’s the attitude the complacent British upper and middle classes, that looked with bland equanimity on the grinding poverty and squalor of industrial Britain and saw nothing wrong with it. It’s the same attitude that produced this appalling piece of poetry on the benefits of work to children.

‘Tis proper, Sophy, to be sure,
To pity and relieve the poor.
But do not waste your pity here,
Work is not hard to her, my dear,
It makes her healthy, strong and gay,
And is as pleasant as your play.

from Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914, p. 76.

And it’s also contemporary in that we’ve had for the past decade or so Tories and Blairites telling us how wonderful work is for the mental wellbeing of the disabled, even when the empirical evidence says the exact opposite.

Mogg’s a complacent, ignorant pratt, who looks on the growth of child poverty due to the free trade policies of his poverty with complete indifference. Get him out. He has no place in politics, and his views will lead to more starvation and suffering.

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Reichwing Watch on Hillary Clinton as the Republican Democrat

November 15, 2016

The world was shocked last week by the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States. The news showed footage of Clinton and her supporters weeping at the result. Yet as this documentary from Reichwing Watch shows, Clinton herself was no liberal. They describe her as a Republican Democrat. The description is accurate. As this documentary shows and concludes, she is like her Republican opponents a corporatist militarist, backing powerful companies, the military and the armaments industry against ordinary Americans, the environment, and the smaller nations of Latin America and Iraq, which have had the misfortune to feel the boot of American imperialism. And far from a supporter of women and ethnic minorities, the documentary also shows how she cynically sponsored the punitive legislation that has seen the mass incarceration and denial of federal welfare support to Blacks, defend truly horrific rapists and cover up Bill’s affairs and sexual assaults. All while claiming to be a feminist. The documentary also shows how Hillary was also extremely cynical about gay marriage, opposing it until the very last minute when it was politically expedient.

The documentary is divided into several chapters, dealing respectively with imperialism, Black rights, the gun lobby, the war on women, LGBT rights and corruption. It begins with a quote from Christopher Hitchens urging people not to vote for Hillary, as it is a mistake to support candidates, who are seeking election for therapeutic reasons. He then cites her husband, Bill, as an example.

Chapter 1: Building an Empire

This chapter begins with Killary’s support for the Iraq invasion, despite admissions from other members of the US Congress that the full scale industrial equipment needed to produce weapons of mass destruction was not found, and opposition to her and the invasion from Congressmen Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Gravett, and the liberal news host, Jon Stewart. It also shows clips of Obama and Christopher Hitchens stating that she had the support of the Republicans for her stance on the Iraq invasion, including Henry Kissinger. Kissinger is rightly described by one of the speakers in this documentary as ‘the greatest unindicted war criminal in the world today’. It discusses how the US supported coup in Ecuador recalls the Kissinger sponsored coup in Chile that overthrew Salvador Allende in favour of the Fascist dictator, General Pinochet. It also mentions Killary’s sponsorship of the military coup in Honduras and the assassination of the indigenous rights leader, Berta Carceres. After the coup, Killary ensured that the regime received American aid, including military, in return for which American corporations also received lucrative contracts, especially in the construction of the dams. This section of the documentary also shows how Killary is absolutely ruthless and single-minded when it comes to pursuing her own projects, even at the possible expense of her husband’s interests. When Bill Clinton was finally considering intervening in Bosnia in the 1990s, Killary refused to support him until the very last minute as she was also afraid that this would affect her own healthcare reforms. She was also a firm supporter of No Fly Zones in Syria, despite the view of many others that these would lead directly to war with Russia.

Chapter II: Black Lives Matter

The title of this section of the documentary is highly ironic, considering that for much of her career, Shrillary hasn’t been remotely interested in Black rights, and indeed began her political involvement actively opposing them. She herself freely admits that when she was in college, she was a Goldwater Girl, supporting the segregationist Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he and Hillary continued to celebrate Confederate Flag Day along with the rest of the reactionaries. There’s also a clip of her describing the threat of urban ‘super predators’ connected to the drug gangs. This was a term that at the time was used almost exclusively to describe Black men. There’s a clip of Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, about contemporary legislation designed to marginalise and impoverish Black America, denouncing the extremely punitive legislation Killary and Bill introduced as part of the war on drugs. These deny federal welfare aid to those convicted of drug offences for going to college, access to public housing and even food stamps. This was part of the Clinton’s strategy to win back swing voters, who had voted for Reagan and the Republicans. Clinton herself continued her strategy of appealing to White voters at the expense of Blacks. In 2008 she credited White voters for supporting her against Barack Obama. She also at one point discussed the assassination of Bobby Kennedy when answering a question about how long she planned to continue her campaign against Obama. She was viciously attacked for this by Stewart, who was outraged that she should mention this at a time when Obama was receiving death threats because of he was a Black man aiming at the presidency. Hillary was also herself extremely cynical in mentioning Obama’s Muslim background and upbringing. Without ever quite saying that he was a Muslim, and therefore shouldn’t be president, she nevertheless reminded people that he had been, thus reinforcing their prejudices.

Chapter III: The Gun Lobby

This begins with Hillary denouncing the armaments industry. However, once in power, she approved $122 million in sales for the gun firms, many of which produced the weapons used by Adam Lanza to shoot his mother and the other children at Sandy Hook school. She also managed to raise American armament sales abroad by 80 per cent over her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, approving $165 billion of armaments sales in four years. These companies then invested part of their profits in the NRA, which sent lobbyists to Washington, several of whom, including representatives of Goldman Sachs, then went and attended a fundraising dinner for the Clintons.

Chapter IV: The War on Women

This concludes with a clip of Madeleine Albright urging women to vote for Clinton as ‘there is a special place in Hell for women, who do not help other women’. Yet Clinton’s own feminism and support for women is extremely patchy. This part of the documentary begins with her making a speech about how women’s rights are human rights, and vice versa. Which is clearly true. However, it then goes on to play a recording of her talking in 1975 about how she successfully defended a monstrous rapist, who had attacked a 12 year old girl. The girl was left in a coma for several months, needed considerable therapy to help her back on her feet afterwards. She has been on drugs, never married or had children. Her life has been ruined because of this monstrous assault, by a man Clinton knew was guilty, but successfully defended. Due to plea bargaining, he only served a derisory two months in prison.

This part of the documentary also shows how Hillary covered up for Bill’s affairs, and his sexual assault of Juanita Broderick. Broderick, then married, was a nurse at a nursing home, who had done some campaigning for the Clintons. They visited the home, during which Clinton sexually assaulted her in one of the bedrooms. Afterwards Killary approached her, caught her by the hand, and said that they appreciated how much she meant to her husband. Broderick clearly, and not unreasonably, considers this to be a veiled threat, and states that Killary frightened her. The section concludes with a piece about her support for another Democrat, Cuomo, and how this candidate was really another Republican in the guise of a Democrat, who believed in trickle-down Reaganite economics.

Chapter V: LGBT Rights

This begins with a clip from an interview with a gay serviceman, stating how it was very difficult initially in the navy when his sexuality was first known about. This section of the documentary shows how she actively opposed gay marriage until she thought there was votes in supporting it. She is seen supporting her husband’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy towards gays in the military as a progressive position, despite the fact that Bill himself said it was only a compromise. It then shows her making speeches declaring that she believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and that New York State should not recognise gay marriage.

Chapter VI: Corruption

This part begins by discussing how the Clinton’s took money from Tyson’s, one of the major poultry producers in Arkansas, and one of the agri-businesses credited with polluting 3,700 miles of the states’ waterways. Clinton passed laws setting up a task force to looking into the problem, while ensuring that about a third of the seats on this quango went to Tyson’s. Tyson’s were an important contributor to the Clintons’ campaign funds, in return for which Bill passed laws favouring the firm, and allowing them to grow into the state’s biggest poultry firm.

And the corruption didn’t stop there. It goes on to show how Killary did absolutely nothing to challenge Walmart’s ban on trade unions when she was on their board, and the company still lags behind others in promoting women to important positions. She was also hypocritical in her ‘Buy American’ campaign to persuade Americans to buy domestically produced goods. While she was at Walmart, the company continued to sale imported goods, some of which were even misleadingly labelled as ‘made in America’. This included clothing made in factories in Bangladesh which employed 12 year old girls.

Elsewhere, Killary also campaigned against a bankruptcy bill promoted by the credit card companies in their favour, in a reversal of her previous policy. The also made $675,000 from three speeches to Goldman Sachs, speeches which she refused to release.

She has also been duplicitous in her support of the NAFTA and TPP free trade agreements. She accused Obama during his election campaign of supporting NAFTA, while secretly reassuring the Canadians that she really backed it herself. There is also a clip of Elizabeth Warren, another Democrat politician, attacking the TPP. Warren states that this free trade deal isn’t about developing commerce, but in giving more power to multinational companies at the expense of national governments and hard-working ordinary Americans. America already had free trade deals with very many of the countries included in the treaty. And about half of the TPP’s 30 chapters are devoted to giving more power to the companies.

This section of the documentary also includes a clip of Mika Brzezinski, the daughter of Carter’s foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, talking about how Killary has no personal convictions of her own, and will say anything to get herself elected. This is followed by the veteran radical, Noam Chomsky, stating that Clinton’s Democrat party is really that of moderate Republicans. President Truman, who warned about the threat of the military-industrial complex, is by their standards now far to the Left. It also has a clip from an interview with one of the multibillionaire Koch brothers describing how they liked Bill Clinton over many Republicans. This one is, admittedly, rather more hesitant when it comes to whether he’d support Killary. There’s then footage from a speech by Bill Clinton promoting small government and how there isn’t a programme for every problem. This is followed by footage of Hillary herself stating that she isn’t dogmatically Republican or Democrat. The documentary ends with the description of her as the worst of the two defects of the American political system. She is both a militarist, and a promoter of corporate power.

Donald Trump is a monster, and his election has brought fear to many millions of ordinary Americans, particularly those from ethnic minorities. The Beeb yesterday reported that 300 racially motivated incidents had been recorded since he was elected last week. Non-white children have been bullied at school, racist slogans sprayed on Black and ethnic minority people’s property and vehicles, and the Nazis from Alt-Right have crawled out from their pits to spew hatred against the Jews. Trump’s even appointed Steven Bannon, a racist and anti-Semite executive from the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart, his ‘chief strategist’. America and the world are facing the prospect of a Nazi in the White House.

But Hillary herself is no angel. She’s a corporate, militarist monster, who supports the very big businesses that are bringing poverty to working people in America by lowering wages, denying union rights, polluting America’s great natural environment, and shipping jobs overseas.

And abroad, her pursuit of American imperial power, as expressed in the American military complex’s own jargon of ‘full spectrum dominance’ – in other words, absolute military power over the rest of us – has threatened to plunge the world once again into a Cold War and the prospect of nuclear annihilation. And her embrace of Henry Kissinger should be a mark of shame to any decent human being. This is the man, whose firm support of dictators in Latin America and Asia, and whose conduct of the Vietnam War, brought death and torture to tens, if not hundreds of millions of innocents.

And Killary herself has blood on her hands through her support of the Iraq invasion, and the coups in Ecuador and Honduras.

Quite frankly, considering the millions she’s threatened with torture, assassination, disappearance and the Fascist jackboot, I really honestly don’t have any sympathy with her weeping over her election defeat. She’s lucky. She didn’t get to be president, but no-one will be rounding her or her husband up to be raped or tortured by the secret police, before being murdered in a concentration camp. She doesn’t have to worry about Chelsea being murdered by a death squad. She gets to live, and enjoy her very privileged life as a major politico and businesswoman. The people she and the rest of the administrations she served and supported, who’ve had their lands invaded and governments overthrown, haven’t been so lucky.

Theresa May Attacks Slavery, but Happy with Other Forms Exploitation

July 31, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up an article commenting on the hypocrisy behind Theresa May launching her anti-slavery campaign.

Slavery is indeed a terrible crime against humanity, and down the centuries slaves have been treated with more or less appalling brutality. But Mike points out that there are also exploitative employers, who force wages down and torture their workers psychologically. He has seen it, and wonders if his readers also have. But this, apparently, is perfectly fine with May.

As is student debt, which according to a report released today by the Intergenerational Foundation will wipe out any ‘graduate premiums for most professions’. In other words, getting a degree will keep you poor, and won’t do you any good. But May still keeps telling us that higher education leads to greater employability and pay.

He then discusses how the National Living Wage is no such thing, and you can’t survive on benefits, because the benefits system is biased against giving them out.

All fine by May. As is the form of slavery embodied in workfare. The government has spent four years trying to keep the names of the firms and charities involved in this absolutely secret, because they were well aware that the British public wouldn’t stand it. But that form of exploitation is fine by May.

Mike states that he fully believes slavery should be wiped out in Britain, but states that May’s campaign against it shows up the hypocrisy in the Tory party, which is quite prepared to tolerate and promote other forms of exploitation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/heres-why-mays-campaign-against-slavery-is-a-contradiction/

This contradiction between attacking slavery and tolerating, or even participating, in ‘wage slavery’ and the exploitation of paid employees, was one of the criticisms made against many of the Abolitionists in both Britain and America, like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s critics made the point that it was hypocritical of him to attack Black slavery for its cruel exploitation of other human beings, when he himself exploited the ‘factory slaves’ toiling for him. The same point was made by the defenders of slavery in the southern states of the US against northern abolitionists, as they pointed out the appalling conditions for the workers in the northern factories. This isn’t an argument for tolerating slavery. It is an argument for ending the exploitation of nominally free workers. It’s why the British Anti-Slavery Society also published pamphlets attacking what it considered to be exploitative labour conditions in Britain, such as the employment of children beyond a certain maximum number of hours.

And some of the recent developments in workforce conditions worry me, as they are extremely close to real slavery. Mike mentions student debt. In America, Obama passed legislation stating that graduates cannot even declare themselves bankrupt to clear themselves of it. These debts may reach something like £30-40,000 and above. I’ve even seen it suggested that the total student debt for a medical student may reach £70,000, putting a career as a doctor or surgeon beyond most people’s ability to pay. But if they cannot clear the debt as they would others, then it becomes a particularly heavy, persistent burden. It only needs for another US president, guided no doubt by a donor in the financial sector, to declare that the debt should be made hereditary so they can recoup their investment, and you have debt slavery, exactly as it exists in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.

Disgusting.

And then there’s the welfare to work industry. Standing in his Precariat Charter also devotes pages to attacking this form of exploitation. And this is also trembling on the edge of real slavery. Under existing legislation, a sanctioned individual may be forced to work, even though they are receiving no benefits. This is surely slavery.

The exploitative nature of workfare is tied to a very proprietorial attitude by the upper classes towards the unemployed. The Tories and other advocates of similar reforms have the attitude that because the unemployed and other recipients of benefits are being supported by the state, they have certain obligations to the state beyond ordinary citizens, a notion that has extended into a form of ownership. Thus we have the imposition of the bedroom tax, levied on a fictitious ‘spare room subsidy’ that does not exist. One of the madder peers declared that the unemployed should have to publish accounts of their expenditure, like public departments and MPs. And the whole notion of workfare is that the unemployed are getting something for nothing, and so should be forced to do something for the pittance they are receiving.

Ultimately, all these attitudes derive from the sense of feudal superiority instilled in the Tories as members of the upper classes, and which causes them to persist in seeing the rest of us as their serfs, who owe deference and toil to them as our social superiors. Workfare can even be seen as a contemporary form of corvee, the system of labour obligations to a serf’s lord that existed in feudalism. The feudal landlord in this case, is Sainsbury’s or whichever of the various firms and charities have chosen to participate in the scheme.

May’s right to attack slavery. But it’s long past high time that these other forms of exploitation, and the attitude of class snobbery and entitlement behind them, were removed as well.

Meme on the Good Old Days of Child Labour

January 13, 2016

This is another meme I found on the Tumblr site, 1000 Natural Shocks.

Meme Child Labour

In Britain, the first steps against child labour in mines and factories was taken by Lord Shaftesbury, who was a Tory. Credit where credit’s due. Philip Blond, Cameron’s mentor, cited him in his book Red Tory, as an example of Conservativism, which benefited the working class. Given the way so much of what he was forecasting about Cameron’s ‘Red’ Toryism has been proven to have been just rhetoric, it’s fair to say that Blond’s book was just propaganda. The Conservatives did pass many laws in the 19th century that benefited the working class, but they’ve always been solidly opposed to trade unions and organised labour. Disraeli told the 19th century Marxist leader, William Hyndeman, flat out that the Tories, business and the aristocracy would resist to the utmost any efforts by the working class to gain concessions for themselves.

So, regardless of what Lord Shaftesbury did, the Tories are trying their best to reintroduce the exploitative employment practices of the 19th century, of which child labour is only the worst and best known.

From Private Eye: The Barclay Twins and the End of the Ethical Business at Littlewoods

January 27, 2015

In my last post, I put up a piece from Private Eye from 2009 on how Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, used loans and his own non-dom status to avoid paying tax on his purchase and construction of a stately home in Wiltshire. This is, of course, completely hypocritical given the Mail’s virulent hatred of scroungers. It is, however, also the Daily Mail, so there’s nothing new.

I also found another article in the Eye from way back in 2003 reporting how the weirdo Barclay twins had ended the company’s charitable status and concern for ethical sourcing when they took over Littlewoods. The story was in the issue for the 17th – 30th October that year. Here it is:

Barclay Twins
Brothers Grim

The Barclay brothers have done much in a short time to destroy the goodwill built up over years by the Liverpool-based Littlewoods high street and mail order firm.

Since taking over from John Moores at the end of last year, the brothers have axed Littlewoods charitable donations and community ties (it used to give away 1 percent of profits). Then the company withdrew from the Ethical Trading Initiative, the body that monitors the sourcing of goods and ensures workers’ safety and guards against child and slave labour and poor working conditions.

It then rejected an offer from Christian Aid of the free services of ethical trade experts to help monitor suppliers. And now, fearing that the charity or others will go in and inspect alone, Littlewoods has written to all those suppliers urging them not to allow any inspectors in. A Letter from Colin McLean and Jon Wragg, trading directors, to suppliers says: “Littlewoods has never had a policy of unannounced factory visits, assessments or auditors and we would like to request that any approach by a third party for access to factories supplying our merchandise by declined.’

So what does Littlewoods have to hide? “Nothing,” replied a spokeswoman. “We just want to monitor who is seeking access and check out their credentials. We have a strict and accountable ethical policy.” So that’s all right, then.

So the twins have effectively ditched charity, and given their support to greed and exploitation. Pretty much like they’ve been doing in the page of the Telegraph.

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.