Posts Tagged ‘Temple Meads Station’

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

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James Dyson: Not a Hero of Science, Just a Greedy Exploiter

November 29, 2017

James Dyson, the inventor of that vacuum cleaner, was ono the news again the other day. At least, he was in the Bristol region. Because of his invention’s success, he’s celebrated in the local news here in this part of the West Country as some kind of great scientific hero, leading Britain forward in technological innovation and business acumen. The local news was all over him when he opened a plant to make his vacuums near Bath. They were all over him again when a special site or facility opened down in the old part of the railway station at Temple Meads in Bristol, which was supposed to help bring businessmen together so that they could make deals. He was one of the businessmen, who was called upon to say how wonderful and good for the city it all was.

And then last night, or the night before, he was on the news again. He has decided to open his own, private university specialising in engineering. Boris Johnson’s brother, who’s as blond as Boris is, but slimmer and possibly not as thick, appeared to tell the world how wonderful this was going to be also.

I’m not impressed. Not by Dyson, and certainly not by his grotty political beliefs and sordid profiteering.

Dyson is not someone I feel anyone should look up to. His support for his home country, and the Bristol-Bath region, merely seems to be one of convenience. After he had set up the factory near Bath, he closed it down and moved it to Indonesia. He then declared that he did so because there wasn’t enough space at the existing site to expand, and the council was deliberately blocking him from doing so.

I find that unconvincing. It might be that the council were stopping him from expanding on that site, but that should not stop him going elsewhere in the region or the country. There are other suitable sites, if not around Bath, then certainly in the rest of England and Britain. There are places in the north of England, for example, which are crying out for entrepreneurs to come there and set up plants.

But Dyson didn’t want that. The simple truth is, he moved his plant to Indonesia because he could pay the workers there much less than those in Britain.

And he doesn’t even bother hiding his contempt for Britain’s workers. Mike put up a piece a little while ago commenting on a speech Dyson made, in which he looked forward to British workers having more of their rights in the workplace stripped away after Brexit. This would be good for British firms, and make us more competitive.

On it’s own, it most certainly won’t. Despite destroying workers’ rights and reducing the mass of employees in Britain to poverty, productivity has very definitely not risen under the Tories, and we’ve just been knocked out of the five richest countries in the world. But Dyson, and the rest of the extremely rich, are going to love those policies anyway, because it gives them more power to intimidate, bully and exploit their workforce.

As for him setting up his wretched engineering university, I fail to see the need. Both Bristol Uni and the University of the West of England have excellent engineering departments. In fact, UWE is a world leader in robotics. One of their great inventions, which was on the news a little while ago, was a new type of artificial hand for use by children. It was superb engineering, which, unlike the driverless car, will actually improve people’s lives.

As for business acumen and entrepreneurial ability, I got the distinct impression that Bath was trying very hard to cover that. Walking through Temple Meads station you go past a number of adverts for the MBA at one of Bath’s unis.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these institutions. It’s just that, like the various businessmen, who decide they’d quite like to run an academy school, Dyson has decided that they’re not running things quite how he thinks they should be run. Hence he’s decided to set up this wretched engineering university.

Not only is it a vanity project on his behalf, it’s also another attack on state education. Ever since Maggie Thatcher, the Tories and then Blair’s New Labour have been privatising education, including the universities. This isn’t the first private centre of higher education. That came a few years ago with a new College of the Humanities, or some such, set up with the aid of the philosopher A.C. Grayling.

I’m also profoundly unimpressed by the underlying attitude to the state held by businessmen like Dyson. They usually appear launching some grand new commercial venture, loudly declaring how very much better private enterprise is over the state. Then, when everything goes wrong, they come crying and whining back to the taxpayer demanding a bail-out. And when they get that, they still don’t shut up, but continue moaning that their great, new business vision failed because the government was insufficiently pro-business. They also hate the welfare state, because it actually helps the poor. Not only do businessmen like Dyson moan that current labour laws and wages make business in Britain uneconomical, they also tend to believe that things should be made harder for the poor, in order to encourage them to find a job and ‘do well’. You used to hear a lot about this from the Tories under Thatcher. It’s still the policy in the DWP. It’s why benefit claimants, who are actually in work, are harassed by the ‘job coaches’ in the Job Centres. This is to motivate them to get another, better paying job. Even though there aren’t any around, and aren’t likely to be, given the government’s policies of freezing pay.

In short, James Dyson is certainly not my idea of a hero, either of science or industry. He’s a bog-standard, exploitative businessman, of the same stripe that gets in the news for paying his workers less than the minimum wage while he makes a colossal profit. And I’m heartily sick and tired of the news in my part of the West Country fawning over him.

I’ve never bought one of his vacuum cleaners, and really don’t intend to. Because I don’t think Britain, including my little bit of it, can afford the cost.

Going Back Down South: The Tories’ Plan to Strip Indians, Pakistanis and the Irish of the Vote

January 9, 2015

Yesterday I wrote a piece on the article by the Lib Dem blogger, Mark Pack, reporting a Times article that claimed that Liam Fox was pressing for the vote to be stripped from Indian, Pakistani, Irish and various other Commonwealth nationals resident in the UK. The reason for this is that Labour has more support amongst ethnic minorities, and the Tories are afraid that this will give them the edge in the general election.

‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’

This is a truly chilling move. It shows the deep racism, and the willingness to sacrifice any kind of liberal or democratic principles simply for electoral advantage. And it recalls the days before the Civil Rights movement, where the Irish and Non-Whites were blatantly discriminated against. The most notorious symbol of this is the placards, which declared ‘No Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks’. There’s a campaign by the American extreme Right to claim that this was not nearly as prevalent as has been believed. One Right-wing Libertarian blogger claimed that at one period, only one card of this type is known from the whole of New York City.

I find that hard to believe. And whatever the situation was like in America, it certainly existed here.

One of my uncles is Irish. He’s a very skilled mason, and has been involved in some very prestigious building work in his time, such as the rebuilding years ago of Bristol’s Temple Meads Station. Once, when working away from home on a job, he had to find alternative accommodation for himself. The hotel, in which the other workers were staying, had a ‘No Irish’ policy. And it did not matter that he was the foreman. He was still refused entry.

As for Blacks, many Black British people recall the 1950s as the period of the ‘Cold Streets’, when they were definitely unwelcome in many areas. Some towns even had laws discriminating against them. Up until the 1950s there was a by-law in Cheltenham, which made it illegal for Blacks to walk on the main streets.

This is the world Liam Fox wishes to take us back to.

Attacks on the History Behind the Civil Rights Movement

The American Civil Rights movement is one of the most dearly held and justly most celebrated moments in Black History, when Black American men and women finally gained the legal right to be treated equally. It followed a century of disenfranchisement, blatant exploitation and discrimination. Not only is it of pivotal importance to Americans, it’s also been massively influential and inspirational to Blacks across the world. There’s even a museum to it in Birmingham, here in Britain. It contains waxworks of great leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and newspaper reports of the campaigns.

George Wallace: Property Rights vs. Racial Equality

Black equality in America is also under threat. The Republican Party, or parts of it, has also been attacking the legislation that demands businesses give equal treatment to Black and White customers, on the grounds that this infringes the citizen’s right to do whatever he wishes with his own private property. Part of the argument is the example of George Wallace, the notorious opponent of desegregation in the 1960s. Wallace, they point out, actually wasn’t personally racist. He was a member of NAACP, and gave his Black employees the same pay and perks as the Whites. But he didn’t want legislation to make such treatment mandatory for the above reason.

The Libertarian Attack on Black Rights as the Basis for the American Civil War

And the Libertarian Von Miles Society is busy trying to rewrite the history of the American Civil War, so that it was about tariff reform rather than about slavery. This is a major historiographical attack on the historic basis of the long campaign for equal rights for Blacks and other non-Whites in America.

The 14th Amendment and the Right of Blacks to Vote

After the victory of the North in the Civil War, the radical wing of the Republican party actively campaigned for Black suffrage under the 14th Amendment. This bill from 1866 shows just how unpopular this was.

Anti-Black Vote Bill

The establishment did its level best to prevent this from ever taking effect. Poll taxes were introduced to disqualify Blacks from voting. One Black man was shot and killed when he turned up at polling station at the 1868 elections to exercise his franchise as a free man. This was depicted by the cartoonist, Thomas Nash, in Harper’s Weekly, as shown below:

Dead Black Voter

The Continuing Claim by the Right to Protect the Poor against Blacks and the Rich

It’s another reminder of the vicious racism that the Tories and their Republican counterparts seem determined to return us.

And even the rhetoric hasn’t changed significantly in 150 years. The anti-Black franchise handbill has the legend:

‘They are rich, and want to make the Negro the equal of the poor White man, and rule them both’.

This is very much of the same type as the current Tory, Republican and Kipper claim to be representing the poor Whites, who are being victimised by policies introduced by the ‘liberal elite’, which favour Blacks and other ethnic minorities.

This is the ideology behind Liam Fox’s campaign and his determination to strip Indian, Pakistani and Irish residents of their right to vote.