Friday, 16 March 2018

Protesting the Chop & Sheffield's Trees

Labour Council outsources tree felling to Amey / Ferrovial*

The outsource companies currently contracted to Sheffield City Council include:
  • Amey manage the city's 'Streets Ahead' project including management of highways.
  • Kier Sheffield maintains and repairs the social housing stock.**
  • Veolia manages household waste disposal.
  • Capita provides HR, payroll and IT services for council employees. ***

*       Amey, is a subsidiary of the massive Spanish company grupo Ferrovial
**     Kier is one of the seven companies that in 2015 admitted to blacklisting building workers.
***  Capita has been compared to Carillion, and its share price has plunged from around £11 to £2 in just two years and it dropped out of the FTSE 100 last March.

OVER 5,000 trees have been cut down in Sheffield since 2012, as part the city council's £2bn Streets Ahead project with the excuse of improving roads and footpaths in the city.

The council, which is planting sapling trees after removing existing mature ones, insists the trees earmarked for felling are either 'dangerous, dead, diseased, dying, damaging or discriminatory'.

Yet it seems many of the trees condemned by the council as 'damaging' or 'discriminatory' are healthy specimens which campaigners say should be saved.  They say that alterations should be made to surrounding pavements and roads instead.

Today an event 'Get Off Our Tree!' is being held at Sheffield City Hall.  Also playing are local artists The Everly Pregnant Brothers, lead singer of Reverend and the Makers, Jon McClure, and former Pulp drummer Nick Banks and the Compare is Jason Cocker , who was interviewed on Radio Four's 'Today' program.

These are just some of Sheffield’s tree protesters, members of local groups coordinated by the Sheffield Tree Action Groups (Stag), which are claiming that this is another example of local government gone wrong.  Stag have made it their mission to protect the trees from council-backed felling crews in what is often hailed, with more than a pinch of Yorkshire hyperbole, as Europe’s greenest city.

Labour Council's PFI Contract

The fellings are part of a 25-year, £2.2bn Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract.  Signed in 2012 between the Labour-led council and a private company, Amey, the Streets Ahead programme is intended to upgrade 'the condition of our city’s roads, pavements, streetlights, bridges …'  –  no small feat in a place that was known as 'pothole city'.

The contract has serious implications for the city’s 36,000 roadside trees, which have in effect been privatised until the late 2030s. Amey, a subsidiary of the massive Spanish company Ferrovial, has so far removed around 5,350, including oaks, elms and limes. Alison Teal, a local Green party councillor, believes she knows why many were chosen:  'I can only assume that because it’s a 25-year contract, they’re felling mature trees because they are more expensive. They cause pavement and road disruption and a hell of a lot of leaves fall off them.'

Loose and wonky kerbstones and cracked pavements owing to tree roots are among the reasons given for the fellings.  But there is a belief among the Sheffield protesters that the 14 alternatives priced into Amey’s contract – from flexible paving to root pruning and pollarding – are being underused.

The council says it only resorts to removing trees if they are 'dangerous, dying, diseased, dead, damaging or discriminatory' (meaning that they damage pavements and potentially obstruct disabled residents).  Of the eight mature limes destroyed on Rustlings Road, however, the council’s own independent tree panel found that seven were in good condition with a good life expectancy.

The heavy redaction of the contract between Amey and Sheffield council doesn’t help clarify things.  With many details kept from the public in the name of 'commercial confidentiality', there is no way of verifying, for instance, the council’s warnings of “catastrophic financial consequences” if the fellings are delayed.  The gaps leave room for conjecture about why the PFI deal isn’t being called off, or its terms renegotiated.  Protesters think they have found legal reasons that would allow the council to annul the contract – a recent petition focuses on Amey’s alleged failure to disclose a 2011 health and safety conviction following the death of an employee.  A council spokesperson said it was aware of the death before the contract was awarded, but it failed to provide written evidence of that knowledge in response to Freedom of Information requests made by campaigners.

 Thatcherite Law Used by Labour Council

Many cite “the battle for Rustlings Road” as a turning point – following a pre-dawn raid and scenes that the former local MP Nick Clegg described as “something you’d expect in Putin’s Russia”, pensioners were arrested for peacefully protesting. Eight trees were chopped down.
It has been a long and gnarly road to today’s situation, with frustrations running high.  In 2016, arrests of peaceful protesters started under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, which criminalises anyone who persistently stops someone from carrying out lawful work – in this case, tree surgeons contracted by Amey.

'We have the harsh irony of Thatcherite anti-union law being used by a Labour council against its own citizens,' says Ian Rotherham, professor of environmental geography at Sheffield Hallam university.  'Only about 30 years on from Orgreave, our local councillors seem to not see the bitter twist in all this.'

We have the harsh irony of Thatcherite anti-union law being used by a Labour council against its own citizens.

None of those arrested have ever been prosecuted, however, with the Crown Prosecution Service saying there was insufficient evidence.  Then, last summer, the council brought an injunction against nine named protesters – including the Greens Alison Teal, and Brook, as well as 'persons unknown'.   It prohibits protesters from entering safety zones around condemned trees, or encouraging others to do so, either on social media or in person.

Labour's 'One Party State' !

In Ms. Teal’s opinion of local democracy is low – and no wonder, after a year in which the council on which she sits took her to court for breaking the injunction, only for the case to be thrown out'This is a one-party state,' she says. 'Sheffield has 84 councillors; 56 are Labour.  They can’t be outvoted.'  She mentions Nasima Akther, a Labour councillor who defied the whip to abstain on a vote about the fellings.  'For her courage she was suspended from the party.  It’s bullying and she subsequently resigned.'

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Free Speech and Cheap Bigots

 by Christopher Draper

ANARCHIST beat-poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti warned us that, “Freedom of speech is always under attack by Fascist mentality” and last week (5.3.2018) a gang of masked, black-clad thugs calling themselves London Antifa smashed their way into a meeting at Kings College London in a coordinated, violent, attack on “Free Speech”.  

With perverse irony, “FREEDOM” an erstwhile anarchist website celebrated this exhibition of “fascist mentality”; “Well done to London Antifa for taking action against one of (sic) major universities assisting an alt-right speaker in spreading hateful propaganda.”

The New Authoritarians
Fascist-minded “No-Platformers” claim a unilateral ability and right to distinguish “Free speech from Hate-speech” but there is no distinction to be made. 

As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” - regardless of how hate-filled the speaker may be. Noam Chomsky advises, “If we do not believe in freedom of speech for those we despise we do not believe in it at all.

Hate Speech” is the modern equivalent of “Blasphemy”.  In 1697 Thomas Aikenhead was the last man in Britain executed for Blasphemy.  In the 19th century the editor, printer and publisher of The Freethinker were all imprisoned for Blasphemy and as late as 1977, according to the trial judge, “It was touch and go” whether Dennis Lemon, the editor of Gay News, would be imprisoned for Blasphemy (he was fined £1000 and given a suspended prison sentence). 
When the British State finally abolished the crime of Blasphemy in 2008 “direct-action” bigots eagerly adopted the abandoned role of punishing those deemed to “speak the unspeakable”.  All around us Commissars now claim the right to control what is expressed even in university halls and anarchist bookfairs.  Where the State formerly identified accusers and offered the prosecuted an opportunity of “due process” and an argued defence the new authoritarians operate in the dark, anonymous, masked and unreasoned. These new arbiters of the new Blasphemy don’t debate they assert and attack.

Free Speech - the Bedrock of Liberty
Northern Voices considers dissent inevitable, healthy and to be welcomed. We are happy to debate FREE SPEECH with anyone in any public forum but the authoritarians don’t respect reason.  Bans, censorship, blacklisting and physical attacks are their modus operandi.  Indulging in such antics lost the organisers of the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair their former booking at the “Peoples’ History Museum” and seems likely to lose their current venue, The Partisan, the financial support of local trade unions. 
Violent suppression of Free Speech caused the organisers of the 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair to abandon plans for a 2018 event.  The vandals have kicked open the gates and are rampaging amongst us.  Whilst FREEDOM applauds Antifa attacks on Free Speech and publishes books like “BEATING THE FASCISTS” its Board of Management (David Goodway, Peter Marshall, Ernest Rodker et al) timorously cower behind the barricades.  It’s time for all decent minded folk to come out of the closet and stand up for FREE SPEECH.


Rod McCord Statement in 'Tameside Reporter'

 Sunday 11th March 2018 20:03 News Stalybridge Tameside by Nigel Skinner 
COMMUNITY campaigner Rod McCord’s family have explained why they chose to fly the Communist Party flag above Stalybridge New Labour Club following his funeral last Thursday.

A picture of the flag fluttering at full mast above the club sparked a social media storm, prompting the family to issue a statement.

But this weekend Rod’s sons Danny and Patrick said they took full responsibility for the decision to fly the flag.

While Danny stressed that the kinds of messages made on social media in response to the move had been totally inappropriate.

“Associating the atrocities across the world with my father’s funeral is very inappropriate and comparing the Nazi Party flag and the swastika to the Communist Party flag is also inappropriate,” he said.

A memorial service was held for Rod at Stalybridge Civic Hall and attended by an estimated 350 people.

Rod had been a keen local health campaigner, working to establish Tameside Hospital Action Group (THAG) along with former Ashton MP David Heyes, back in 2006.

He was also involved with the local health watchdog LINk, (now called Tameside Health Watch).
As a member of THAG, he wrote the document “A Charter for Change” that was submitted to the hospital.

He was also a regular contributor to the Tameside Reporter letters pages over the years on behalf of THAG.

Following the memorial service a funeral was held at Dukinfield Crematorium with a reception held at the New Stalybridge Labour Club.

The McCord family statement reads:
“We would like to take the opportunity to thank everybody who attended on Thursday to pay their respects to our Dad, Rod McCord. Also to say thank you to those who very kindly made donations to Willow Wood Hospice – a total of £1,348.94 was raised.
“Our dad was a Communist and also a passionate local activist whose contribution made a difference to our community.
“We are very proud of him and wanted the memorial to be a fitting reflection of our father. As a family we took the decision to fly the Communist Party flag at full mast over the Stalybridge Labour Club.
“This was purely to mark our dad’s passing and in no way was it our intention to cause offence, upset or to associate the flag with the Labour Party.
“We also feel that given this has triggered a healthy debate, we recognise and acknowledge what this particular flag has come to represent, however, this is no different to the way many people across the world interpret the Union Jack, our national flag which has been hijacked by the far right.
“Had we taken the decision to fly the Union Jack, would this have been more appropriate? Certainly not for our father.
“For our Dad the Union Jack represents empire and as we all know the sun never set and the blood never dried. Atrocities have been committed in the name of all flags.”
Cllr Bill Fairfoull is a director at the New Stalybridge Labour Club which, as a private hire venue, he said would allow the flying of a flag in such circumstances if it was the family’s wish.
“It’s a judgement call for us,” he said, “although the flag should have come down earlier following the event.”

He paid tribute to Rod McCord for doing a great job in pushing for change at Tameside Hospital with former MP David Heyes.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Tameside Tories see RED over Communist Party funeral flag!

Tameside Health Campaigner - Rod McCord

A major row has erupted over a families right to display in public, the Communist Party flag, in memory of their father, who was a lifelong communist. 

Last Thursday, over 300 people attended the memorial service to Rodney (Rod) McCord at the Stalybridge Civic Hall.  A local health campaigner and member of Stalybridge Labour Party, Rod died in Willow Wood Hospice, on  Wednesday 15th February 2018, aged 67. Later in the afternoon, a service took place at the Dukinfield Crematorium.

Originally from Openshaw, Manchester, Rod was one of three children of Phyllis and Charles McCord. Along with their father, Rod and his two sisters, Christine and Marilyn, were all members of the Communist Party (CPGB). Rod left instructions that the Communist Party flag was to be draped over his coffin and a communist  banner with the hammer and sickle and "RIP COMRADE", was displayed in the civic hall. The Red Flag and The Internationale were also played at the service and relayed out into the street.

Afterwards, family and friends retired to the Stalybridge Labour Club, where £1,348.94 was collected for Willow Wood Hospice. To show honour and respect to their father, the McCord family, decided to display the CP flag on the flagppole at Stalybridge Labour Club to "mark our Dad's passing."

A local busybody Stalybridge councillor, called Doreen Dickenson, a kind of priggish, parochial, Mrs Grundy type of character, got wind that something rather communist and lefty was going on in her own backyard of Stalybridge.  Even before, Mr McCord had been laid to rest, she was scurrilously tweeting about how un-English and alien it was to display communist flags and play communist songs, in this little northern cotton town. Although Dickenson, later removed the offending tweet, after being contacted by the McCord family, she said she'd received complaints from constituents about the 'Communist Party Flag' and communist music being relayed outside by loudspeakers that she found disgusting. She also seemed to think that because the event took place in a public building (which the family had hired for the occasion), they had no right to fly the flag or play music.

Many Tameside Labour members appear to have been either unaware of the incident, indifferent,  or in support of the kind gesture to honour Mr. McCord, who was held in high regard.  Jonathan Reynolds MP, who represents Stalybridge & Hyde, said:

"Rod was a truly lovely person, generous, intelligent and warm. Many people will know him in particular for his work with Tameside Hospital Action Group... I always thought he was one of the most well read and informed people I ever met. There was a great turnout today, and Rod's sons and grandchildren all gave magnificent tributes to him. Dave Ormsby gave a brilliant eulogy, which was funny as well as poignant. Rest in Peace Rod."

Councillor Jan Jackson, who chairs the Stalybridge Town Council, said the flag was a family matter and was "not aligned or associated in any way with the New Stalybridge Labour Club." she said:

"It has gone viral and caused a furore on social media, something that should not have happened. It was the funeral of a very stalwart person who sat on the Tameside Hospital Action Board (sic) and did a lot of good work in the community. People are dying all over the world and struggling to put a loaf of bread on the table, yet flying the flag has caused all this fuss.  There are more important issues."

The McCord family later issued a statement saying that it was not their intention to cause offence, upset, or to associate the flag with the Labour Party.

I don't suppose that any of us should be surprised at the foul antics that the Tories and the far right are prepared to stoop to in order to make political capital over their opponents. Even the death of a truly decent man, and the respect his family paid to him, is something that cannot take place without controversy or be exploited for political gain.  Some have even tried to connect this flag incident with the recent poisonings of Yulia and Sergei Skripal.  But what should one expect from a party that snatched milk off the school kids and now threatens to take their free school meals off them, if their family earns more than £7,000 per year.

We understand that the manager of Stalybridge Labour Club received death threats following this incident.  We also understand that someone in the office of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, contacted one of Mr McCord's son's, demanding that the communist flag be taken down and that when he asked to speak to 'Jeremy', he was told he was out at a meeting.  This seems rather cowardly and gutless action from a party that proclaims itself to be socialist.  Needless to say, the party must have found it a political embarrassment.

Despite being embarrassed by a red flag, the Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell, says in his 'Who's Who' entry, that his hobbies include "fermenting (sic) the downfall of capitalism."  In 2011, he called on unhappy workers to spit in their bosses tea.  Clearly, the pragmatic politician lies behind many of these hard men on the left.

And what would my dear friend Rod McCord, be making of this right now?  I bet he'd be laughing his little red socks off. He certainly went out with a bang! RIP mate.

Derek Pattison,
Joint Editor Northern Voices.

Mark Birkett: More on Bullying

 by Mark Birkett
THANKS for sending me this. I agree with every point in it except for your rather odd question at the end. 

 That comment seems to imply that Mr Lloyd's imposition as Rochdale's 'choice' by entirely-unaccountable people in London, his subsequent and deliberate failure to answer dozens and dozens of legitimate constituent queries, and my suspension from the Labour party for complaining about the same are not the absolute affronts to democracy I've very accurately highlighted them as.

There is no 'bandwagon' here Brian. The issues are real. For me and for people like Debbie Abrahams. 

It is crystal clear that the Labour Party HQ and NEC are torn between at least two factions within the party - variously described as Trades Unions vs Momentum / Old Guard vs New / Left vs Right . Each side is trying to outdo the other, and elements within each group are engaging in (yes) bullying people. It sometimes takes the form of suspending innocent members like me, who are guilty of nothing more than highlighting the party's wholly anti-democratic MP-selection systems, its non-existent complaints procedure for disputes with MPs and indeed the sheer lack of leadership shown by Jeremy Corbyn in these matters.

And it sometimes takes the form of trumped up charges of bullying against innocent MPs - turning the real bullying argument completely on its head. Poachers turning gamekeepers in effect. I have had similar dissembling nonsense thrown at me. I was made out to have been 'threatening' to Mr Lloyd by the man himself when nothing could possibly have been further from the truth. I have never threatened anyone. And similarly, when the party HQ Investigations Officer Megan McCann wanted to withdraw from having to interview me face-to-face (and risk awkward questions being asked of her and recorded as such) she tried to make out I had been 'threatening' to her too. It's all a smokescreen. The real bullies are those who are making these spurious bullying claims in HQ and on the NEC.

Complicated to follow perhaps, but if you're going to report this story, please try to do so with considerably more detail so you actually get it right? Otherwise, you are actually just muddying the waters and leaving your readership none the wiser.

Mark Birkett on Debbie Abrams & himself

MARK Birkett is a disgruntled member of the Rochdale Labour Party, who when the disgraced Rochdale M.P. Simon Danczuk was being shown the door put himself forward as a candidate for the job.  At that time Labour old timer and one-time Manchester police commissioner, Tony Lloyd, had just lost his fight to become Mayor of Manchester to Andy Burnham.  Perhaps predictably Tony Lloyd was parachuted into the safe seat of Rochdale, and the local aspiring lads like Mr. Birkett et al. didn't get a look in.

At the time he was being deselected, Simon Danczuk claimed that Tony Lloyd was after using the House of Commons as a retirement home.  Mr. Lloyd claimed on th eve of the election that he was 'a serious candidate'!

Today Mr. Birkett, commenting on the case of Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, declared:  'I know exactly what Debbie Abrahams is talking about' !  Ms. Abrams claims she had 'been treated in a "bullying, aggressive, intimidating and wholly unprofessional manner by certain individuals in your office".'

Birkett says 'as someone facing suspension from the Labour Party, on a wholly spurious claim that I have undertaken actions supposedly "grossly detrimental" to the party's interests' in his letter today he tells Mr. Jeremy Corbyn that he too has 'been treated abominably by many individuals in your office too'.

Meanwhile, Ms Abrahams told the BBC:: 
'My treatment in the last week has shown a bullying culture of the worst kind,' she said. 'As such I am making a formal complaint to both the Labour party and parliamentary authorities.'

Mrs Abrahams became the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth in 2010.  She was promoted to the shadow cabinet after last year's general election.

 Is bullying becoming a bit of a bandwagon?

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Review: 'Slow Burning Fuse' & Anarchist Aspects

by Brian Bamford
Reviews:  'The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British 
Anarchists' by John Quail, published by Freedom Press [2014] price £15.,
and 'Aspects of Anarchism' published by the Anarchist Federation price £1.  
 Both available from Freedom Press: 
84b, Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX. 

IN concluding his book 'The Slow Burning Fuse; The Lost History of the British Anarchists', John Quail writes: 
'...the anarchists of England have paid for the gap between their day-to-day activities and their utopian aspirations.  This gap consists basically of a lack of strategy, a lack of sense of how various activities fit together to form a whole, a lack of ability to assess a general situation and initiate a general project which is consistent with the anarchist utopia, and which is not only consistent with anarchist tactics but inspires them.' 

Mr. Quail admits that 'Such general Anarchist projects have existed, perhaps the best examples being the anarcho-syndicalist trades unions of Spain and France.' 

In his Forword to the Freedom Press 2014 edition of Quail's book Nick Heath*[1] writes 'I would take issue, as very much an organisational anarchist, with some of (Quail's) comments on organisation in his conclusion.'    

John Quail's book fundamentally emphasises the reactionary nature of English anarchism:  only capable of responding in a series of fits-and-starts to specifically social and political conditions.  In contrast to Quail, Mr. Heath no doubt believes what is documented in his Anarchist Federation's pamphlet 'Aspects of Anarchism' (2003) that 'The structure (of an anarchist communist organisation) must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain un-realised'. 

The historical characteristic of the British left in general has been to react to the agenda set by the establishment and initiatives developed by governments.  The Anarchist Federation in Britain is well within this defensive tradition of reactionary responses as is shown in their pamphlet under review 'Aspects of Anarchism' in the closing paragraphs of this booklet under the subheading 'Our Role' the author writes:  'Large demonstrations and strikes can often turn to violence and we should accept the need for self-defence.' 

Or the author writes:  'In non-revolutionary periods anarchist communists will be a conscious minority with “the leadership of ideas”.'  

There is much talk of 'revolution' here, but the writer mentions 'self-defence' because the nature of British politics is so much about reacting to the authorities in a tactical way rather than developing a serious strategy for social change.  And in the very next sentence the writer continues:  'Groups like the hit squads arising from the miners strike (1984-5) are genuine expressions of working class resistance.'  And then the writer goes on to argue 'we will need to defend ourselves against the violence of our enemies.'  This is all about 'defence' and 'resistance'  not about a pro-active program for social transformation, what's so revolutionary about that? 

The fact is that this is typical of the British left over the ages, and of the most memorable struggles in this country from the General Strike of 1926, to the Peace Movement of the 1960s, to the Miner's Strike of 1984-5, have been reactionary in that they have been responses to the actions of governments. 

Much of the rest of the AF's pamphlet in an act of belief in commitment or act of faith and of solving the problem of 'other minds', or as the writer puts it: 

'Determination and Solidarity:  To create effective organisations we must know our own and other's  [sic] minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication, of sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in organisation.'

When at random I compare this kind of feeble analyse to an interview in 1977, between the Spanish anarchist, Juan Garcia Oliver entitled 'My revolutionary life' the nature of the abstraction of 'Aspects of Anarchism' becomes clear.  When the questioner, Freddy Gomez asks 'What were the circumstances in which you became active in the libertarian movement and the CNT?'

Garcia Oliver answers:  'We need to be precise about this.  The idea of the “libertarian movement” surfaced well after the period we are talking about.  The CNT, on the other hand, was a long-established battle organisation which in those days marshaled revolutionary syndicalists, especially in Catalonia and therefore throughout Spain.  I join as a 17 year old.  I was working in the hospitality trade, as cafe waiter.  We had just seen the “La Canadiense” strike which is still famous because it was handled to perfection and won by the CNT's Light and Power Union.'

For people like Nick Heath they want to create an organisation or anarchist movement before there are anarchists, were as Garcia Oliver realises that it is in the practical life of the social body of the working class that anarchists are formed and from which the political organisation may then arise. I became an anarchist out of my experiences in the national strikes of engineering apprentices in the early 1960s; those experiences showed me first-hand how the bosses operated, and how the trade union officials and the local politicians operated, just as Garcia Oliver learnt through his experiences in the strikes of waiters for the abolition of tipping.

The point is the theory and the ideas evolve out of the shopfloor struggle.   It is this half-baked idea of the struggle developing out of the theory that is wrong with the approach of the Anarchist Federation: theirs is a form of cookbook anarchism in which the chef knows best. 

The dispute over what Peter Kropotkin stood for 'anarcho-communism', and what Bakunin believed 'collectivism', according to the anthropologist Gerald Brenan in his 'The Spanish Labyrinth' (1962), divided the Regional Federation of Spanish anarchists in 1888:  the argument was about whether anarchist organisations should consist just of convinced Anarchists or if all workers should be included if they were willing to join.  Brenan writes: 

'...with the introduction of Anarcho-Syndicalism in 1909, it was finally decided in accordance with Bakunin's ideas, the question of the nature of the future form of society became less importance.'

It is necessary to mention that this Spanish experience because the history of anarchism there is significant as a consequence of its success in that country.  Garcia Oliver responding to a question about the time when in about 1920 he joined the anarchist 'Bandera Negra' about 'some sort of understanding between syndicalists and anarchists' said:  'We were still a long way from what came later – anarcho-syndicalism – which overcame this dichotomy.  Anarcho-syndicalism allowed anarchism to become part and parcel of trade unionist groups which were imbued with anarchist thinking'.  Garcia Oliver said that he had joined 'Bandera Negra' by mistake and implies that at that time he ought to have been more syndicalist or 'revolutionary syndicalist', because 'Bandera Negra' (Black Flag) 'spent its time liaising – nationally and internationally – with other groups and its main activity was reading incoming correspondence and replying to it.'  The Spanish 'Bandera Negra', according to Garcia Oliver, like the Anarchist Federation was firmly against trade unionism and the CNT.

John Quail recalls the International Anarchist Congress of 1881 in London thus:
'The International Congress was basically an affair of and for Continental and Russian revolutionaries.  The minutes ... reveal that the English delegates played little part; yet many of the people involved were ... exiles in London and the British socialists that a more sophisticated libertarian philosophy was to develop relevant to British conditions.'  

Brenan has written of the same 1881 Congress:
'The Spanish delegate, when he went back to Madrid, took several new ideas with him.  (But) Spaniards lived then at a great distance from the rest of Europe.  Besides, anarchism had still a large proletarian following.  Under such conditions terrorist action was madness and would not find any encouragement among workers.  The new Regional Federation had in any case no need to appeal for violent methods.  Its progress during the first year or two of its existence was rapid.  A Congresss held in Seville in 1882 represented some 50,000 workers, of whom 30,000 came from Andalusia and most of the rest from Catalonia.'

In England, John Quail has demonstrated in his conclusion:
'The anarchist movement in England has shown itself capable of a progression of initiatives taken according to circumstances.  Take, for example, the beginnings of the squatters movement in London.'

Quail realises that the English anarchists are prisoner's of historical circumstances when he argues 'it is only when anarchist strategies develop [and] move from pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence to confront and change all this that the anarchist movement will make history instead of being dependent on it.'  But this is true of the British left in general and even the trade unions, nay especially the British trade unions in this country, in so far as they are always reacting to events.  Perhaps it is because he now sees change in this respect as such an hopeless expectation in this country that I understand Mr. Quail is no longer sees himself as an anarchist.  As one northern anarchist once said to me:  'Each new batch of English anarchists have to learn the same old lessons every few decades, until in the end some of them give it up as a bad job.'

Starting in 1881, Quail identifies 'the first systematic propaganda defining itself as anarchist that had any effect within the (English) socialist movement came from America the shape of Benjamin Tucker's paper Liberty'.  It seems that Liberty was a 'lively and far ranging and even (Tucker) was prepared to give space for the Anarchist Communist view', though according to Quail, Tucker had 'a good eye for revolutionary humbug'.  And, on the English left there is so much 'humbug' about.

John Quail then goes on to remind us that '[t]he introduction of specifically anarchist ideas into the working class  movement was thus going on well before the alleged Year One of English anarchism, 1886, which saw the foundation of Freedom.' (p37)  (Freedom was finally closed down in 2014, and since then there has been an ongoing disputes between those who scuttled the ship of Freedom and their critics).

In conclusion Quail [page 333] writes:
'The anarchists have since shown the same astonishing ability to suddenly come from nowhere when everyone had assumed that they were finished...  A new movement emerged out of CND and the Committee of 100 and to dispersed.  The student movement of the 1960s again showed strong libertarian proclivities.   And that too seems to have disappeared.  I do not propose to talk about these movements in this book...  A bare mention, however, is sufficient to bear out the general thesis that has emerged throughout the book that the anarchist movement grows in times of popular self-activity, feeds it and feeds off it, and declines when that self-activity declines.'

In contrast to Quail, Nick Heath wants to keep the anarchist movement alive in the fallow years with what he calls the 'leadership of ideas'.  John Quail's book is very London oriented and it fails to include what the northern anarchist  James Pinkerton sometimes called the 'anarchist fellow travellers':  for in the same way that some say 'Christianity doesn't depend on the Christians', so very often anarchism doesn't depend upon the anarchists, as people like Colin Ward seems to have been aware.  William Morris was close to anarchism politically but his influence was larger than mere politics and people like both Quail and Heath will both tend to overlook the 'Arts and Crafts movement' intellectually dominated by Morris, John Ruskin's ideas and the development of the National Trust, and self-help societies, and other kinds of cultural and intellectual spin-off. 

Colin Ward's ideas developed in around 1960 is a more recent example of this approach, which in those days he described as 'permanent protest' or as some claim 'revisionist anarchism'.   In a soon to be published memoir by the veteran anarchist Laurens Otter writes:  'Colin (while retaining the term Revisionist Anarchism) was by 1961 defining his aim as “widening the sphere of  freedom”.'    Mr. Otter then writes:  'Ward's then desired journal (which became “Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas”) would from its beginning reject any belief in progressive fundamental change.'

These ideas of Colin Ward contrast not just with the kind of intellectual bigotry of Nick Heath and the the more refine historical determinism of John Quail, but also with the whole of left-wing ideology in this country.  This rupture which Colin Ward developed in the 1960s can best be understood by considering what George Orwell has to say in his essay 'Writers and Leviathan' (1948):

'The whole of left-wing ideology, scientific and Utopian, was evolved by people who had no immediate prospect of attaining power.  It was therefore, an extremist ideology, utterly contemptuous of kings, governments, laws, prisons, police forces, armies, flags, frontiers, patriotism, religion, conventional morality, and, the whole existing scheme of things.'

Anarchism, like the rest of the British left, inherited a certain evolutionary faith associated with the Whig theory of history, or as George Orwell writes:

'Moreover the Left had inherited from Liberalism certain distinctly questionable beliefs, such as the belief that the truth will prevail and persecution defeats itself, or that man is naturally good and is only corrupted by his environment.'

Elsewhere, Orwell points out in his essay 'Inside the Whale' (1940) that no 'real revolutionary feeling' had not existed for years and that the 'pathetic membership of all extremist parties show this clearly'.  In that situation the British Communist Party became a subservient tool of Russian foreign policy and the rest of the left became for most part insignificant.

It seems to me that it is hard to see how English anarchists can escape the 'fate of history' or what Mr. Quail calls 'its pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence' anymore than the British left can transform itself from the perpetual reactionary role of resisting changes imposed by the British establishment.  Mr. Heath and his Anarchist Fed. show no sign of capturing the public imagination with his own belief in what Wyndham Lewis once called the 'associational habit' of membership organisations.

The Spanish anarchists, as Garcia Oliver says, benefited from having the trade union 'battle ground' of the CNT, and British anarchism gained vast influence when it had the peace movement to work inside in the 1960s.  Today, anarchism lacks any focus or serious social movement to seriously promote its energies, in that situation some of us have found it more prudent to adopt politics with a regional tinge.

*    Nick Heath leads a small sectarian grouping called variously the Anarchist Federation or A.fed. which grew up in the 1980s.  Unlike John Quail, he does not embrace the broader Church of British anarchism.

[1]  Since this review was first written over a year ago the Anarchist Federation: 'fight[ing] for a world without leaders'  has split in two, with Nick Heath and what was the old class war trend have now formed a group called 'communist anarchism', leaving the more modern trans-tendency in historic A.Fed, with its distinguished international affiliations, to soldier-on under the old label.  It was once said that the old Liberal Party MPs could just about fill a taxi, but now Nick Heath and 'communist anarchism' tribe could just about get by on a tandem made for two:  Battlescarred in London and Serge Forward in the provinces.   
For example, we learn that on Saturday 17th February [2018], 'anarchist communist militants met in Leicester to found a new organisation, the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG).'

Friday, 9 March 2018

Blacklist Support Group progress report:

Roy Benthan reports:

'Cheers for the heads up there Brian.  It [the Tameside MBC's broken model] looks like a carbon copy of our predicament here on Merseyside and i will be using your broken model when the time arises' 👍

Blacklist Support Group update - 6th March 2018. 

1. Model Blacklisting working group resolution which can be presented to all Constituency Labour Parties (CPL) passed at Liverpool Wavertree Constitutuency Labour Party last month. 
Model resolution (please amend as required):
This Constituency Labour Party notes Liverpool City Council’s ill-fated relationship with two of the most prolific Consulting Association blacklisters - namely Carillion and Laing O’Rourke, which has been brought into even sharper focus by the recent collapse of Carillion.

The CLP shares the Blacklist Support Group’s dismay that these rogue contractors have been securing public contracts within our city, thereby rendering the Cabinet's motion, passed in 2013, meaningless. It also contravenes the ethos of the document referred to as the 'Workers Charter'
The CLP therefore resolves to remind the Council that blacklisting was and still is an unacceptable practice, which cannot be condoned. We therefore urge that those companies who were members of the clandestine organisation, the Consulting Association, and any others found to be engaging in blacklisting, be removed forthwith from the approved list for future construction work procured by the Council.

Since these discredited contractors have continued to be awarded work in the city, this CLP calls for a working group to be set up, comprising two elected members of the Blacklist Support Group and the appropriate cabinet council members, to monitor this process of disengagement.
Roy Bentham, blacklisted carpenter from Liverpool and BSG joint secretary noted:

It’s a groundbreaking motion which sailed through a vote our CLP and it recognised the need for change within planning and the procurement processes. Carillion was a Grenfell moment within the construction industry and we can act as a vanguard against unethical companies with this resolution. 

The old model was broken and we need to face upto that.. Its now up to us fix it with the firm implementation of the workers charter. There can be no other way". 

2. Spycops - Serious concern over ongoing delaying tactics at inquiry into undercover political policing 

3. Was my friend an undercover police officer? 
Shocking revelations here too

4. Mark Constantine introduced our session at the Lush Summit 2018 by saying, “Spycops is THE most important campaign in the UK today”

5. BSG out in force with banners and showing support for the Keep NHS public day on Saturday 3rd March and RMT train drivers strike too 

6. Big feature article on John McDonnell in the FT on Friday 1st March. Both joint secretary’s Dave Smith and Roy Bentham contributed to the article of one of our founder members. 

McDonnell lists his hobby in Who’s Who as “fermenting the downfall of capitalism”. 
"Our objectives are socialist. That means an irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people,” he explains. 

Dave Smith, head of the Blacklist Support Group, says he would often encounter McDonnell at a picket at 6.30am:  “When no one else was prepared to talk to us he was there . . . representing working people fighting for justice.”

Royston Bentham, a blacklisted construction worker from Liverpool, says McDonnell sometimes visits Anfield:  “People come over all the time and shake his hand and chant his name in the pub . . . he has been through the bad times in the Labour Party and is now on the cusp of something big.”

7. BSG member Jack Fawbert scribes another brilliant piece on his Blacklisting experiences here 

8. Mears dispute has been won by the brothers and sisters emphatically up in Manchester. 
We send our solidarity upto the Nw on a magnificent victory

9. And finally we stand shoulder to shoulder with our UCU comrades striking for pay and pensions in education and the Crossrail electricians in dispute with Balfour Beatty. They have our full support in their struggles..

In solidarity 
Roy Bentham  

Who actually owns the new Royal hospital now?

Carillion collapse has delayed flagship project again

Alistair Houghton 12:23, 28 JAN 2018
CARILLION’s collapse has delayed the opening of the Royal Liverpool Hospital and plunged its future into uncertainty – but who actually owns the unfinished hospital complex?
Troubled building giant Carillion went into liquidation earlier this month after struggling with £900m in debts and a £590m pension deficit.
Carillion’s collapse has focused attention on controversial PFI deals, where building work on public projects is outsourced.
Many critics say such deals offer bad value for money and Labour has said it will reassess such deals if it wins power.
PFI deals have also been criticised for lacking accountability. The official handover of the hospital had already been delayed three times by Carillion, with even Royal boss Aidan Kehoe left unsure when it would be finished.

In the House of Commons last week Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman , whose constituency includes the hospital, said: “I appreciate that this is a private sector collapse, but there are major questions for the government and regulatory bodies to answer. This is about public services!”
The hospital is being delivered by the Hospital Company (Liverpool), which in turn hired Carillion. The company is now working with PWC, which is managing Carillion’s liquidation, to decide what happens next.
Royal bosses say the hospital will be completed because the Hospital Company has a range of contingency plans available, including the ability to terminate existing contracts and to hire a new builder. The company also has access to insurance funds to help it finish the work .

The company will report to the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust board this week.
But while those contractual complexities have still to be ironed out, Liverpool residents may at least be relieved to know that the hospital building itself IS owned by the NHS.
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust owns the new Royal in the same way a homeowner paying a mortgage owns their house.

The Hospital Company (Liverpool) has securities over the building, just as a bank would have securities on a house for which it had given a mortgage.
But the building is owned by the trust – and when the trust has made all its payments, then it will own the hospital outright with no conditions.

The trust had to repay the fixed £335m cost for the hospital over 30 years. Those payments were due to start last year, when the hospital was originally to be handed over.
But the trust does not have to start making its annual payments until the hospital is handed over and an independent tester agrees the building is complete.
The trust explained this month: “ So while this handover is deferred the overall cost to the Trust will be less.”

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Homage to Bob Smillie in Year of Orwell?

N,V. Editor:  A few days ago Quentin Kopp, son of George Kopp the commander of the POUM military unit in the Spanish civil war, mentioned the contraversial death of Bob Smillie at the the hands of the communists when he wrote to  Tameside Trade Union Council, which is now affiliated to The ORWELL SOCIETY, to relate the following news:

'We have been informed that Barcelona wants to make 2018 the year of Orwell and will be arranging a special series of plaques, which will comemorate his time there.  Despite the political uproar in Catalonia it appears to be still going ahead. Since we received this invitation we have learned that a Spanish researcher has found the graves and a lot of the records relating to the death of Bob Smillie. We plan to incorporate taking a small scuplture to Valencia to put in the Cemetry at the same time, which will be between the 14th and 18th April.'

Below is a report in THE SCOTSMAN in 2003 about Bob Smillie and George Orwell:


It's time the Left faced up to the truth about Orwell

 Published: 01:00 Monday 23 June 2003

Read more at:

FEW people in Scotland today remember Bob Smillie, but there was a time when his political murder by Communist Party agents during the Spanish Civil War was a cause célèbre.  During his lifetime, Orwell - otherwise Eric Blair, hence the silly Guardian pun - was vilified and lied about by the left-wing establishment for denouncing communism and its British fellow travellers as totalitarian enemies.  He came in for personal attack for two reasons.  First, he had been a leftist himself and had put his life on the line fighting against Franco in Spain: he was wounded and nearly killed.  If there is one thing the Marxist left can’t abide it’s one of their own exposing where the dead bodies are buried - literally, in Smillie’s case.  Second, Orwell’s brilliant prose - spare, honest, gripping - is some of the best anti-totalitarian propaganda ever written, be it the satire of Animal Farm or the Blade Runner world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  So much so, that his works remain permanently in print and, more importantly, read.  That’s why I think Orwell, from the grave, will be proud that he is still upsetting the unthinking left.

However, it is ironic that today’s character assassination is being led by the Guardian, which Orwell singled out for praise in his Spanish Civil War memoir, Homage to Catalonia, for its exposure of the lies being spread about the democratic Spanish left during the war (they were accused of being fascists) by the manipulative communists.  Sixty-five years later, the Guardian is claiming that Orwell secretly informed on fellow writers and academics, including the Scots poet Hugh McDiarmid, whom he thought might be communist sympathisers.  And all because he was besotted by a woman called Celia Kirwan, who worked for the shady information research department at the Foreign Office.  Thus, says the Guardian, did the inventor of Big Brother turn into the monster he created (much like the liberal, free-market Manchester Guardian of Orwell’s day has become a public-sector advertising sheet).

The Guardian’s innuendo is false - which brings us back to murdered Bob Smillie.  He was the 22-year-old grandson of Robert Smillie, the leader of the Scottish miners.  The younger Smillie was a member of the radical Independent Labour Party (ILP).  Under its charismatic leader James Maxton (a hero of Gordon Brown), the ILP was resolutely pacifist.  But Franco’s attempt to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government in Spain in 1936 changed all that.  Thousands of idealistic foreign volunteers, including Orwell and Smillie (then a student at Glasgow University), went to Spain to join the International Brigades to fight fascism.  There was only one problem - the communists.  While Stalin was prepared to arm the Spanish republican government against Franco, he was not in favour of a radical Spain, lest it got in the way of his plans for an anti-Hitler alliance with France and Britain.  The Soviet secret service (NKVD), including in its ranks many foreign communist militants, effectively took over republican Spain.  Anyone on their own side who got in the way was labelled a fascist, arrested, then shot.  That included supporters of the largest left-wing party in Spain, the Anarchist CNT.  But it also included the Catalan nationalists and ordinary social democrats, whose party was forcibly merged with the communists.  When, in May 1937, the Anarchists and the POUM - the Spanish partners of the ILP - objected to all this, the communists concocted the lie that these organisations were in league with Franco, and used military force in Barcelona to suppress them.  Orwell, who had been recovering from a bullet wound in the neck, escaped to France.  But Smillie was arrested by the NKVD at the border while on his way home to conduct an anti-fascist speaking tour. He was taken to a prison in Valencia and held incommunicado despite protests from the ILP in Britain. Subsequently, the communists announced Smillie had died on 13 June, 1937, from peritonitis. His body was immediately buried before anyone could see it.

Leading ILPers, such as John McNair, who was the party’s general secretary for 20 years, believed he had been deliberately shot (as were many POUM leaders).  Maxton went to Valencia to try to find out, but to no avail - the local communist press called him a fascist too.  Whether Smillie was executed, or died of deliberate neglect, he was the first foreigner associated with the International Brigades to become a mortal victim of Stalinist repression.  He should be a Scottish hero, but decades of Stalinist propaganda in the Scottish Labour movement have buried his memory.  Smillie’s death led Orwell to break with the romantic left of his day and denounce Stalinism, and with it the closed, self-certain mentality that supports such false utopias.  As a result, he was excoriated by the left. Even today, the Guardian is happy to run a front-page story implying that one of the 20th century’s greatest writers was merely a British equivalent of Senator McCarthy, and only then because he wanted to get his leg over.  The truth is that Orwell had seen his friends murdered and, unlike lazy, middle-class intellectuals in Britain, he was prepared to defend democracy in a typically robust way. By the way, that supposedly shady Foreign Office unit was actually set up in 1948 by the Labour foreign minister Ernest Bevin to counter Soviet propaganda - there were numerous communist agents inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. Orwell was advising on who would make a poor choice as a counter-propagandist. As to his assessments, consider McDiarmid, whom Orwell calls "reliably pro-Russian". Orwell died in 1950. In 1956, as Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising and there were mass defections from the British Communist Party, McDiarmid rejoined it. Is this not all ancient history?  No: Orwell’s warning that "totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere" is still in force as long as there are those happily inventing utopias to impose on the rest of us. We need to remain robust in defending freedom, and that is done best by remembering people such as Bob Smillie.

In Spain in the past few years, there has emerged a popular movement to uncover the true facts about those who disappeared during the civil war.  The Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory wants the Spanish government to dig up and identify the corpses of the 30,000 people believed to have been executed by the fascists.  Why stop there? What about the executions in Spain by the communist secret police?  The time has come to solve the mystery of Bob Smillie’s death.  Where is he buried? Was he shot in the back of the head with a Mauser machine pistol, the method of choice of the NKVD?  Or was he just allowed to die in agony of peritonitis?  And who were the Scottish Comintern agents who informed on him?  Perhaps the Guardian has started a trend.