Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Jim Petty: Radical Working-man Dies


Born Burnley 6th, March 1933, died in Blackburn Hospital 10th, July 2015:

Married to Mary (died 1989), one son Iain survives him.


WHEN we call Jim Petty a radical northern anarchist we haven't even begun to describe his nature as a man and human being.  Radical anarchism and decency grew in his soul as  remarkable human being.  His early interest in politics was in the Labour Party but he never voted Labour after the 1970s.  Later he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and was active as a shop steward in both textiles, where he worked as a stripper and grinder, and later at Lucas in engineering.  Jim Petty was on the industrial committee of Committee of 100 from 1960 to 1961, where he came in contact with the anarcho-syndicalists of the Syndicalist Workers Federation (SWF) - at the time the journalist Ken Hawkes was its national secretary.   

In the 1960s, Sydney Silverman was the radical socialist MP for the nearby Nelson and Colne constituency.  Silverman was instrumental in pushing a law through parliament to abolish capital punishment later in that decade.  Consequently the local ILP in Burnley, Nelson and Colne was perhaps closer to the Labour Party at that time than other branches elsewhere in the country. 

The early 1960s was also a time when the ILP nationally; Brian Behan's Workers Party; Solidarity; some of the Freedom anarchists like Peter Turner, Jack and Mary Stevenson; Commonwealth and the Syndicalist Workers' Federation  formed the National Rank & File Workers' Movement.  The Rank & File Workers' Movement existed for little more than two years and attracted the attention of the Sunday Telegraph columnist Perigrine Worsthorne, but the success of the direct action peace movement protests around the Committee of 100 distracted most activists away from industrial Rank & File activism.  At the time of the Spies for Peace campaign exposing the Regional Seats of Government in 1963, the Burnley activists around Jim helped to reproduce the state secrets that the spies had made available on that year's CND March, and the Times of London ran a headline:  'Anarchists Take Over'.

Jim Petty, although he was involved in the campaigns of the peace movement, was very much a working-class anarchist all his life.  While he was in textiles he clashed with the then regional officer of the National Union of Textile & Allied Worker's Union (NUTAWU), Joe King, based in Accrington.  Sections of the NUTAWU, which was the spinner's and the strippers and grinder's trade union, had no proper shop stewards to represent them and the officials tended to be close to the bosses.  Later, when he working in engineering at Lucas Aerospace in Burnley, Jim was a member of the Transport & General Worker's Union, and about that time he was secretary of  Burnley Trade Union Council. 

He married Mary, a secondary school teacher in the Burnley area, she supported the Labour Party.  When Mary died he had friendships with Susan & Jenny, both who were at one time involved with Burnley anarchists. 

By the early 1980s, Jim had become a member of the Syndicalist Workers Federation (SWF), and later went on to become the first national secretary of the Direct Action Movement (DAM), after  Dave Thompson the SWF  national secretary stepped down.  This was a time when the anarcho-syndicalists were on a roll, and membership of the DAM began to rise in the run up to the miner's strike.  Jim Petty led the British contingent of the International Congress of the International Workers Association (IWA / AIT), when it convened in Madrid in the Spring of 1984.   It was essentially under Jim Petty's influence as its national secretary, that the British DAM gained some serious status in the international movement and built up a grass-roots membership across the country.  The DAM during the 1980s,  was at its most effective as a protest group and political force.  During the Miner's Strike in 1984-85 at the Congress for Industrial Action in Burnley, the then deputy leader of the NUM, Peter Heathfield, and Dave Douglass spoke about the strike on the same platform.  So successful were the Burnley anarchists that there was constant rivalry with out other left groups so much so that the Communist Party sabotaged an attempt to support the Shrewsbury pickets, and Jim's T&G Branch came to have the greatest number of party political levy 'opt outs' to the Labour Party. 

When Jim left office as national secretary the DAM changed it name to the 'Solidarity Federation' (Sol. Fed.) in 1994;  it then tried to represented itself as an imitation trade union body emphasising 'syndicalism' and playing down the anarchist vision.  Jim Petty and other members of the Burnley section took a dim view of these changes, which they regarded as wrong-headed and foolish. Jim though he was a trade unionist for most of his life was cynical about the British trade union set-up generally which he regarded as irredeemably reformist, and even reactionary in the sense that rather than create a vision and set an agenda of its own, the British trade unions merely responded to the agenda set by the bosses and the state. 

Jim Petty not only had experience in the trade union movement and radical politics, but he was involved in the Church of England as a member in the Anglo-Catholic Church, he was a lay reader and was later was ordained as a Father in the faith.  His own father had been also a member of the Church of England.  This extra dimension helped Jim to swim in social circles outside the narrow political ghetto, and the Burnley anarchists were able to build up connections and become an influence within ethnic communities in Burnley in the 1970s and 80s. 

Jim Petty remained a disgruntled member of the Solidarity Federation until 2005, when he was expelled by e-mail after his branch in Preston hounded him out of the Sol. Fed.  The formal reasons given for  his expulsion were mixed up with complaints relating his links to his Church and its distaste for abortion; Jim himself disagreed with his Church policy over this matter.  After his expulsion from the Sol. Fed. a derogatory photo was published of Jim in a dog-collar on libcom providing Holy Communion to his parishioners.  Following this a leading member of the Sol Fed. in Manchester, Ron Marsden, boasted to others that he had written to the Church hierarchy at which Jim was a Minister to acquaint them with his association with the anarchist movement, presumably with the intention of getting Jim defrocked.    

Jim told me years later that he had had an interview with the Dean who showed him the letter of denunciation, and asked Jim:
'Are these friends of yours?'.    

To which Jim replied ruefully 'Yes!'.

Jim always told me that he always believed that the real grounds for his dismissal from Sol. Fed. were to do with him addressing a conference of the Northern Anarchist Network (NAN) in Hebden Bridge in 2004 on racial problems in Burnley.  By that time Jim had also participated on the editorial panel of Northern Voices, and had written a remarkable eye witness report on the 'race' riots in Burnley for NV.   He helped to organise several NAN conferences in Burnley including the one in December 2012 at which Barry Woodling and others moved the Burnley Declaration which gained 150 signatures berating the conduct of the organisers of the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair in operating a blacklist against some supporters of the Northern Anarchist Network.  

As I write this, I have just returned from Tolpuddle, where I learned from a member of the IWW that the Solidarity Federation which once expelled James Petty 'imploded' two years ago.  Is it not ironic that the organisation that once excluded Jim is itself now politically virtually in ruins, and Jim's enemy Ron Marsden is helping claimants at Salford Unemployed Centre.

9 comments:

John 'H' said...

Thanks for letting me know. I don't think I'd seen Jim since the 80s but he was one of the people who made an impression - a very nice guy. A small correction to your article - he didn't actually join the SWF but he was involved in the early meetings that led to DAM being set up, which must have been where I first met him.




Michele 'B' said...

Oh dear, thank you for sharing this sad news Brian. I'm sorry that I wasn't aware of this at the time, as I would like to have passed on my condolences, and attended his funeral if possible.

Susan Ewens said...

I enjoyed reading your obituary above.

I posted a message on The Burnley Voice Message Board to inform jim's friends and of his death and the funeral details but no-one seems to go there now. I posted links to three of Jim's favourite songs there. I hope you will look them up and listen and enjoy them here http://oogleboogle.proboards.com/thread/1318/petty-founder-burnley-voice-magazine?page=1&scrollTo=5607

The funeral was nicely done and there were a good number who attended at Burnley Crematorium.


Kenneth McKellor singing "Will ye no come back again" was played during the service in recognition of Jim's Jacobite interests, just one of his MANY interests and passions.

On Saturday 12 September here will be a solemn requiem Mass at 12 noon at St Alban's Church, 320 Great Cheetham Street East M7 4UJ
followed by a lunch at 12.45pm (Bring and Share) and at 2pm a Service of Remembrance to honour the life of Father Jim.

I have written a few words about Jim's life and interests - more than a few words, actually, so I hope I will be allowed the time to read it all out - I'm no good at off the cuff speaking.

I hope you will come whether or not you are religiously incline.

All the best
Susan Ewens

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your obituary above.

I posted a message on The Burnley Voice Message Board to inform jim's friends and of his death and the funeral details but no-one seems to go there now. I posted links to three of Jim's favourite songs there. I hope you will look them up and listen and enjoy them here http://oogleboogle.proboards.com/thread/1318/petty-founder-burnley-voice-magazine?page=1&scrollTo=5607

The funeral was nicely done and there were a good number who attended at Burnley Crematorium.


Kenneth McKellor singing "Will ye no come back again" was played during the service in recognition of Jim's Jacobite interests, just one of his MANY interests and passions.

On Saturday 12 September here will be a solemn requiem Mass at 12 noon at St Alban's Church, 320 Great Cheetham Street East M7 4UJ
followed by a lunch at 12.45pm (Bring and Share) and at 2pm a Service of Remembrance to honour the life of Father Jim.

I have written a few words about Jim's life and interests - more than a few words, actually, so I hope I will be allowed the time to read it all out - I'm no good at off the cuff speaking.

I hope you will come whether or not you are religiously incline.

All the best
Susan Ewens

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your obituary above.

I posted a message on The Burnley Voice Message Board to inform jim's friends and of his death and the funeral details but no-one seems to go there now. I posted links to three of Jim's favourite songs there. I hope you will look them up and listen and enjoy them here http://oogleboogle.proboards.com/thread/1318/petty-founder-burnley-voice-magazine?page=1&scrollTo=5607

The funeral was nicely done and there were a good number who attended at Burnley Crematorium.


Kenneth McKellor singing "Will ye no come back again" was played during the service in recognition of Jim's Jacobite interests, just one of his MANY interests and passions.

On Saturday 12 September here will be a solemn requiem Mass at 12 noon at St Alban's Church, 320 Great Cheetham Street East M7 4UJ
followed by a lunch at 12.45pm (Bring and Share) and at 2pm a Service of Remembrance to honour the life of Father Jim.

I have written a few words about Jim's life and interests - more than a few words, actually, so I hope I will be allowed the time to read it all out - I'm no good at off the cuff speaking.

I hope you will come whether or not you are religiously incline.

All the best
Susan Ewens

Bishop Damien Mead said...

Dear Susan, I hope you see this message. I am hoping to write an obituary for Jim for our Church magazine and I know he was a man of so many varied and interesting involvements, opinions and experiences. I only have knowledge of his involvement in Church. This article here tells me a lot more but I wondered if you might be able to send me what you have written. I can't promise to use all of it, and may need to edit it for the magazine, but I will credit your help in providing me with information if you are able to assist? Thank you Bishop Damien Mead

Susan Ewens said...

Dear Bishop,

Nice to hear from you! Perhaps we will meet at the Mass and memorial service on Saturday? I hope so.

You can find my Eulogy on this message board, here:

http://northernvoicesmag.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/eulogy-for-james-petty-anarchist.html

For any further info phone me on 0113 2704805 or email me at ssnewens@aol.com.

Regards,

Susan Ewens

P.S. I hope you can reassure me that I will be given time to read out the whole of this eulogy on Saturday. It should take about 25 minutes, though I have not timed it.

Susan Ewens said...

Dear Bishop,

Nice to hear from you! Perhaps we will meet at the Mass and memorial service on Saturday? I hope so.

You can find my Eulogy on this message board, here:

http://northernvoicesmag.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/eulogy-for-james-petty-anarchist.html

For any further info phone me on 0113 2704805 or email me at ssnewens@aol.com.

Editor said...

Dear Bishop,
If you look on this Blog on the 8th, September postings you should find Susan's post in full entitled 'Eulogy for James Petty: Anarchist & Anglican'.

Editor