Posts Tagged ‘‘The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport’’

Ken Loach Talks about Writer and Poet Kevin Higgins, Suspended for Satirising War Criminal Blair

March 3, 2019

Here’s another excellent piece from Labour Against the Witchhunt, where the respected left-wing film-maker, Ken Loach, talks about the case of Kevin Higgins. Higgins is a writer and poet, an overseas member of the party, living in Ireland. He was suspended in June 2016 for daring to write a poem satirising Tony Blair and the bloody carnage he had caused in Iraq. Loach only reads a part of a poem, as it’s rather too long to repeat in full. Before he does he jokes that as this is what got Higgins suspended, then everyone present is also going to be suspended simply for being there. So anyone who doesn’t want to be suspended should leave.

The poem is a reworking of a piece by Brecht, about a soldier, who gets shot, and his needy widow receives only something insignificant. In the part Loach reads, which I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, Blair’s ‘no longer new’ wife wonders about what she will receive from all the depleted uranium shells he had dropped during the battle of Basra, all the soldiers he had sent to meet Improvised Explosive Devices in far Mesopotamia? She got for all that white night terrors of him on trial for his crimes and the desire never again to look out the window of their fine Connaught Square House at the tree, which people said was once used to hang traitors.

Loach says of  Higgins that he guesses Higgins isn’t the only one who’s disgusted with Blair, with his illegality, the hundreds of thousands he caused to die and the millions he’s made since he left office. ‘If anyone brings the party into disrepute, it’s that mass murderer.’

He goes on then to reveal what happened to Higgins himself. He didn’t hear anything, so in May 2017 he wrote to the Governance and Legal Unit requesting all the documents relating to him to be sent to him within forty according to his right in the laws about data protection. Nine months later, no reply. The video was uploaded on YouTube on 7th February 2018. He was still suspended, as far as Loach knew.

The cineaste concludes

It is incompetent. It is inefficient. It is unprincipled. And those people should not be in charge of that disclipinary procedure.

Loach is absolutely correct. And Higgins’ suspension, simply for satirising Blair, isn’t the mark of a democratic socialist party. It’s the action of a rigidly centralised dictatorship, where the leader was, like Mussolini, always right. It’s like nothing so much as Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ in the USSR, with the exception that Higgins only got suspended. In Stalin’s USSR, he’d have been tortured and shot, or at the very least sent to a gulag.

And Loach is definitely correct when he says that he probably isn’t the only one disgusted with Blair. Millions of us are. Over a million people marched against the Iraq invasion, including the priests at my local church. It was one of the biggest popular demonstrations in British history, but Blair and his vile cronies ignored it. And people certainly left the party and refused to vote for the grotty profiteer because of his greed, his illegality, his warmongering, his privatisation, his insistence on absolute obedience and micromanagement of party affairs. Private Eye called him the ‘Dear Leader’, satirising the smaltzy, sentimental image he tried to project, as well as his demand to be loved. The Tory party at the time stood in opposition to the War, which got a left-wing friend of mine to buy the Spectator for a time. I think that this was mostly opportunism on the Tories’ party, as there is nothing they love better than a good war. But to be fair to them, Peter Hitchens, the brother of the late atheist polemicist Christopher, genuinely despised him for Iraq and continues to loathe him, describing him as ‘the Blair creature’.

And this monster seems intent on coming back into politics. He has praised the Independent Group, which led Mike, Martin Odoni and others to ask why he should still be allowed to remain in the Labour party. It is against the rules to be a member or support a rival organisation. This was the rule the Blairites used to throw out Moshe Machover, the Israeli academic and anti-Zionist. His crime was that he had a piece published in the Morning Star, as have very many leaders and MPs over the years. Professor Machover was grudgingly readmitted to the party after a massive outcry. But Blair gives them his support, and no-one important seems to raise any objections whatsoever. The left-wing vlogger, Gordon Dimmack, says he has heard speculation that if the wretched group survives, then before long Blair will return to active politics. It’s an idea that he says gave him nightmares.

Unfortunately, I think it’s a distinct possibility. Despite the fact that his time as this country’s leader has been and gone, he was on Andrew Marr’s wretched propaganda show today. I’m glad I missed it, as it would only have infuriated me. But it does seem to bear out these rumours.

One million men, women and children killed. Seven million displaced all across the Middle East. A secular state with free healthcare and education destroyed and looted. A state where women were free to have their own careers and run businesses. Where there were no ‘peace barriers’ between Shi’a and Sunni quarters in cities to stop them murdering each other. A country whose oil reserves have been looted by the American and Saudi oil companies, and whose state industries were plundered by American multinationals.

And this creature appears on TV again, to grin his sickly smile and utter neoliberal platitudes and smooth words. But hey, you can’t criticise him, because he stands for inclusion and diversity. While parents starve themselves to feed their children, students are faced with unaffordable tuition fees and the disabled are thrown off benefits thanks to the wretched assessments and work capable tests he, Mandelson and the others in his coterie introduced.

Higgins’ poem reminds me about one of the great protest poems written back in the ’60s about another unjust war, Vietnam. This was To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam) by Adrian Mitchell, where every stanza ended ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’. The note about it in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport states that he added stanzas later to include more leaders and more wars.

So perhaps if Blair comes back to politics we should write another: ‘Tell Me Lies About Iraq’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

Vote Leave’s Lies about the EU and the NHS Funding

June 9, 2016

I just caught a bit of Vote Leave’s referendum broadcast earlier this evening. It was broadcast around about 7 O’clock, just before the One Show. I didn’t see all of it, as I was busy here, putting up article, but just managed to catch a snippet where they claiming that the £350 million they claim we spend every week on Europe could be used to build hospitals in the NHS. They then claimed that the EU therefore was undermining the Health Service.

They then went on to scaremonger about immigration, raising the dire spectre of what might happen when Albania, Macedonia and Turkey all join the EU. There were large, scary arrows from those countries running across Europe to Britain, rather like the diagram of the Nazi advance in the titles of Dad’s Army. Which is actually what I’d much rather be watching, even in the recent film version, than the Brexiteers and their wretched propaganda. But they made, the claim, so let’s filk it.

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Farage (and Johnson, Gove and Ms Patel)

First of all, the claim that Britain spends £350 million every week on Europe has been refuted again and again. Yes, we do spend that money, but we get over £100 million or so of it back. So in net terms, no, we certainly don’t spend that amount. See Mike’s articles about this over at Vox Political.

Then there’s that guff about funding the EU diverting money away from the NHS. This is rubbish. What is undermining the NHS is the stealth privatisation carried out by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill of 2012. This has opened up the NHS to further privatisation by private health care firms, such as Virgin, which under law must be given contracts. This has frequently gone against the wishes of the patients using the NHS. The reforms included forcing local authorities responsible for some NHS provision to contract out at least 3 medical services from a list of eight sent down by the government. Furthermore, the remaining state-owned and managed sectors of the NHS are being deliberately starved of funds as part of the campaign to privatise the whole shebang. See Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ NHS SOS, particularly the chapters ‘1. Breaking the Public Trust’, by John Lister; ‘2. Ready for Market’, by Steward Player, and ‘7. From Cradle to Grave’, by Allyson M. Pollock and David Price.

It’s a lie that the NHS is being starved of funding due to Europe. It’s being starved of funding due to Lansley and the rest of the Conservative party and their purple counterparts in UKIP. If Vote Leave were serious about the funding crisis in the NHS, then Johnson, Gove, Patel and the other xenophobes and Little Englanders would have voted against Lansley’s bill. They didn’t. They supported it.

‘Bloody Foreigners, Comin’ Over ‘Ere!’

Let’s deal with the threat of people from Turkey, Albania and Macedonia all flooding over here in the next few years. This too, is overblown and pretty much a lie. Turkey would like to join the EU, but the chances of it actually qualifying to do so are presently remote. Critics have suggested that it’ll only reach the point where it has developed sufficiently to be admitted in about 30 years’ time. So the Turks are hardly likely to come flooding up from Anatolia in the next few years.

As for Albania and Macedonia, I’m sceptical about the numbers that will come from those nations due to the open borders policies. Mike’s posted up pieces reminding us all how millions of Romanians and Bulgarians were supposed to be ready to inundate Britain, and in the event only a small number arrived. Mark Steel, the left-wing activist and comedian, in one of his newspaper columns, republished in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, attacked the inflated claims of the threat of uncontrolled immigration by pointing out that many of the Poles, who were supposed to flood in, had in fact gone back to Poland. So while it’s certainly possible that a vast number of Albanians and Macedonians may want to come to Britain, it’s also possible that few in fact will.

And in any case, why would they all want to come to Britain? The impression given by the Brexit video tonight was that Britain was a tiny island under siege, and that the first country that the Turks, Albanians and Macedonians would all head for was Britain. But why? Britain’s social security system and welfare state – or what remains of them – are much less generous than some parts of the rest of Europe. Britain does have more cache, apparently, than some of the other nations, but Britain is by no means the sole destination for migrants, as we’ve seen.

Vote Leave’s video tonight was little more than right-wing scaremongering. What I saw was mostly speculation, and when it wasn’t speculation, as on the piece on the NHS, it was a distortion compounded with lies. There are problems with Europe and immigration, but leaving the EU isn’t the solution. Indeed, voting for Johnson, Gove, Patel, Farage and their cronies will only make the situation worse. They want to privatise the NHS, just as they want to remove the EU human rights legislation and social charter that protects British workers. The anti-EU campaign is part of this programme to grind down and deprive working people of their hard-won rights at work and for state support in sickness and unemployment. Don’t be taken in.

Mark Steel on the Press’ Hypocrisy over Polish Immigrants

April 4, 2016

Much of the debate about immigration is now dominated by concerns about the mass influx of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, rather than about migrant workers from the rest of the EU. However, concerns about the rise in immigrants from eastern Europe were extremely prominent a few years ago, and my guess is that the same fears are still present and underlie much of the debate about Brexit, although on the surface much of the argument is about the potential harm to the British economy and industry.

I found the following piece by Mark Steel attacking the British press and media for stirring up fears about EU migrants, and specifically the Poles, in the collection of radical tracts and writings, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, edited by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove (Edinburgh: CanonGate 2013). It’s taken from his weekly column in the Independent for 9th September 2009.

The Poles Might Be Leaving But the Prejudice Remains

Over the last few years it’s become one of our quaint English traditions that on any day following the announcement of immigration figures, certain newspapers display headlines such as ‘TEN MILLION OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT POLES TO SWARM INTO BRITAIN LIKE PLUMBING LOCUSTS!!! And they plan to BUGGER OUR KITTENS!!!’

These newspapers would compete with each other until they seemed to insist the number of Poles coming was more than the number of Poles in the world, but even then they’d have replied, ‘Yes-well, that’s because they[‘re planning to bring ten million of their dead, to make use of our soft-touch spirit welfare scheme.’

But the latest figures, released yesterday, have spoilt this game becaue it turns out half the Poles who came here have gone back to Poland. Presumably these newspapers will get round that by screaming ‘Poland on brink of disaster as it’s invaded by millions of Poles!!!’

‘Our hospitals simply can’t cope with the numbers coming in,’ said an unnamed doctor. ‘I’m not racist but we’re already full up.’

Like all panics about immigration, the anti-Polish version has created an almost artistic level of irrationality. A landlord of a pub in Lincolnshire who seemed otherwise charming and eloquent told me, ‘The trouble with Poles is they walk in groups of four on the pavement, so you fall in the road trying to get round them.’ I said, ‘I’m sure just as many English people walk in groups of four on the pavement.’ He said, ‘Yes, but at least they do it in a language I can understand.’ Which at least is an original way to be annoyed, to snarl: ‘I don’t mind falling in a puddle, as long as it’s with the right mix of vowels and consonants, but when it’s with three or even FOUR Zs it’s time we took a stand.’

Now that more are leaving than coming, the anti-immigration newspapers have to revert to more traditional complaints. For example, one paper told us that, ‘One immigrant is arrested every four minutes.’ But they must have been short of space, because they left out how the average for the whole population is one arrest every THREE minutes. Now they’ll print a story that: ‘Immigrants are refusing to adapt to our way of life by only being arrested once every four minutes. If they don’t want to follow our customs they should go back to where they came from.’

Even then it turned out these figures were taken disproportionately from London, where the immigrant population is higher than across Britain, and anyone arrested for murder who didn’t fill in the box marked ‘nationality’ was assumed to be an immigrant. Because say what you like about a British murderer, at least they have the manners to complete a form in full afterwards.

But the most peculiar side of the obsession with foreigners coming over here disturbing our population figures is they have little to say about the British citizens living in other countries, the number of which has now passed five million. And yet they often have features about finding the perfect retirement home abroad: ‘Judith and Roger eventually settled on their delightful rustic cottage in the heart of the Loire, complete with two acres of arable pastures and a goat, from where they could suck dry the overstretched resources of the long-suffering local council. “I’m a stranger in my own bleeding village,” said one fed-up neighbour.’

There are 760,000 of us living in Spain, one-twelfth of the population of Cyprus is now British, five per cent of New Zealand and so on. And we can hardly claim that on our travels we ‘adopt the customs of the local community’, unless the travel companies claim: ‘Our popular party game of seeing who’s first to drink a bottle of absinthe and puke in an egg cup topless is not only lots of fun, but also a tribute to an ancient fertility ritual here in Crete, and as such enhances the tourists’ understanding of regional history and culture.’

Most of the apocalyptic warnings of Eastern European takeover could be traced back to the organisation MigrationWatch, quoted uniformly by the most hysterical anti-immigration papers. But now the Poles are going the other way: Instead of issuing a statement reading, ‘Whoops, sorry,’ they’ve declared the UK population is still destined to rise to an unsustainable 80 million in the next forty years, because millions are coming here from Africa. That’s it – Africa, BILLIONS of them, and they’re bringing Mount Kilimanjaro because of our soft-touch summit payments, and all their giraffes and the Sahara desert…’

This is very relevant, because the papers that do report the migration crisis in such terms are exactly the same that have encouraged their readers to travel abroad and buy homes there. And while it seems to have died down recently, it is a serious problem. I read a piece a little while ago – I’m afraid I can’t remember where from – but it said that there was a problem with rich people from northern Europe buying homes and colonising the poorer areas in the south, such as Greece. And thirty years ago, when I was at school, I can remember reading a story in the Sunday Express about protests in either Greece or Crete about the way Brits were buying up the available homes there. The local politicians were objecting to it and attempting to pass measures against it on the grounds that it was more British imperialism. I haven’t heard of anything like that since then, but if it did recur, then they would certainly have a point. As opposed to the Express, the Heil and pretty the whole of the right-wing press, which has long ago lost any decent reason for its existence. Except possibly to provide sources of outrage and comedy for writers and broadcasters like Mr Steel.

Radical Balladry and Prose for Proles: Tom Paine on the Evils of Aristocratic Rule

May 20, 2014

Common Sense Cover

One of the pieces collected by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove in their anthology of democratic, republican, Socialist and radical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, is an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine was a committed democrat and revolutionary. He was born in Thetford, and made his living from making ladies’ stays, before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1774. IN 1776 he published Common Sense, attacking British rule in America and demanding a revolutionary, republican government. He became a firm supporter of the French Revolution when it broke out, writing the Rights of Man in 1791 to answer the criticisms of the Revolution made by Edmund Burke in his Reflections of the Revolution in France. He was arrested and imprisoned as a suspected counter-revolutionary for arguing against the execution of the king. He was eventually released, and moved back to Britain.

Rickman, Paine’s friend, described him in 1819 was

In dress and person very cleanly. He wore his hair cued with side curls and powder like a French gentleman of the old school. His eye was full brilliant and piercing and carried in it the muse of fire.

The Rights of Man is the first complete statement of republican political ideas. In the passage included by Firth and Arnove, Paine argues against aristocratic rule and a House of Lords:

Title are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character which degrades it…

Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or anyway else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.

In France, aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary legislators. it was not ‘a corporation of aristocracy’, for such I have heard M. de la Fayette describe an English house of peers. Let us then examine the grounds upon which the French constitution has resolved against having such a house in France.

Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice.

2nd, Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source. The begin life trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated to do so. With what ideas of justice or honor can that man enter a house of legislation, who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children, or metes out some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?

3rd, Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

4th, Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, o8ught not to be trusted by anybody.

5th, Because it is continuing the uncivilized principle of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.

6th, Because aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species.

(Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 108-9.)

More than 200,000 copies of the Rights of Man were sold in England, and Paine denounced by the authorities. The book was banned and its printer arrested. Nevertheless, the book continued to circulate underground, especially in Ireland and Scotland. It even inspired a hornpipe tune, a Scots version of which was included by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, in his collection of folk melodies, English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). Here it is:

Tom Paine Hornpipe

Paine’s arguments are clear very relevant today, when reform of the House of Lords is very much on the political agenda following Tony Blair, and with a cabinet of Tory and Tory Democrat aristos, like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith, who have no knowledge of and absolutely no sympathy for ordinary people. They seem to see us very much as their ancestors did: as proles, peasants and ‘rude mechanicals’, to be exploited, whilst government should be very firmly held in the hands of an aristocratic elite.

An edition of Paine’s Common Sense, edited and with an introduction by Isaac Kramnick, was published by Penguin Books in 1976.

Union Action for the Unemployed: The Invasion of the Ritz and in the 1980s

March 16, 2014

Unemployed Union pic

One of the pieces contained in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove’s selection of radical and democratic texts from British history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport, is Jack Dash’s account of the invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938 by himself and other members of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Dash (1907-89) later became a docker and trade union leader. He said at one point that his epitaph should be ‘Here lies Jack Dash/ All he wanted was/ To separate them from their cash. His account runs as follows:

We decided to invade the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. Everything was well planned. The press – that is, the London and national newspapers (and in those days before the swallowing up of the little fish by the big ‘uns under free enterprise there was quite a number of them) were all informed in advance. At the appointed time about 150 of our unemployed members, all dressed up in such remnants of our best suits as had escaped the pawnbroker, walked quietly into the Grill and sat down. This did not have the quite hoped-for effect, for due to a mistake – the only organizational mistake I can remember on the part of the campaign committee – we had overlooked the fact that the Grill was never open in the afternoons, only in the evenings. However, we continued as planned, took our places at the tables which were being set by waiters in readiness for the evening, and then pulled our posters from beneath our coats, with slogans calling for an end to the Means Test and more winter relief for the aged pensioners.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the waiters! They stood still in their tracks. Up rushed the management supervisor demanding to know what it was all about. He was politely told by our elected speaker, Wal Hannington, that we would like to be served with some tea and sandwiches because we were very tired and hungry, but he was not to be anxious and could present the bill which would be paid on the spot.

When the supervisor regained his breath he said, in a very cultured, precise Oxford-English voice: “I cannot permit you to be served. You are not our usual type of customer. You know full well that you are not accustomed to dine in an establishment of this quality. If you do not leave I shall have to send for the police.” (This had already been done.) In reply our spokesman informed him that many was the Saturday when wealthy clients of the Ritz would drive down to the East End workmen’s caffs in their Rollses and Daimlers and have a jolly hot saveloy, old Boy7, what! Slumming, they called it, and they too were in unusual attire and frequenting establishments that were not accustomed to such a clientele; nevertheless, said our spokesman, these gentlemen were treated with courtesy and civility and nobody sent for the police. The Ritz, he added, was not a private members’ club but a public restaurant ; he requested the supervisor to give orders to the staff to serve us with the refreshments we had asked for.

The appeal might just as well have ben addressed to the chandelier which hung from the ceiling. The supervisor stood there with a look of scorn, waiting for the police to come and throw us out. We refused to budge, insisting on our right as members of the general public, with legal tender in our pockets, to be served with what we had ordered. Meanwhile Wally had mounted the orchestra platform to address us; waiters and kitchen staff stood around dumbfounded at our temerity. But our speaker was incensed and in good form, and the issue of class privilege was clearly put. I noticed several of the staff members nodding their heads as the speaker touched on salient points. His speech was never finished, however, for the Grill was soon surrounded by the police. A couple of inspectors came over and consulted our organizers; we were ordered to leave, and did so in an orderly manner. As we filed out several of the waiters came up to wish us luck in our campaign, and pressed money into our hands.

‘Jack Dash, The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel (c.1938)’ in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 296-7.

The invasion of the Ritz Hotel was also featured a little while ago in a previous episode of the One Show on BBC 1.

The authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger, and Adam Sharples also note the establishment of centres for unemployed workers in Brmingham, Coventry and Sandwell, as well as the establishment of a Birmingham Trade Union Resource Centre and support given to a Workshop in Coventry to support unions campaigning against the closure of their firms. West Midlands County Council also had an Economic Development Unit had a trade union liaison officer. It also produced a ‘Jobs at Risk’ information pack for workers whose companies were either in difficulties or about to close down. (p. 59).

I’m sure there are organisations like the National Unemployed Workers Union campaigning for the unemployed. Unfortunately, the trade unions have been decimated by Thatcher and successive administrations, while local authorities have found their spending savagely attacked. No doubt part of this was to prevent Left-wing councils spreading such subversion by empowering the hoi polloi. We could, however, do with a few more very visible protests and campaigns to raise the profile of unemployment, and just how savage, degrading and inadequate current welfare provision is. Pointing out that IDS’ reforms are leading to deaths of 38,000 per year, so that no-one can claim ignorance, would also be an immense help. I do wonder if a mass march on Chipping Norton, or invasion of the Carlton Club following the example of Jack Dash and the Ritz wouldn’t do any harm, either.