Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Significance of Roberts Arundel in the 1960s

by Brian Bamford

Northern trade unionists confront police at Roberts Arundel

IN Nov 2006, the anarchist historian, Nick Heath* reflected upon his experiences in the UK anarchist movement since the 1960s, and the lessons on organisation and politics he finds valid for anarchists today.  His observations include the idea that '[o]rganisational responsibility and discipline should not be controversial'. [see 'The UK anarchist movement - Looking back and forward' posted on libcom].

Part way through his long account he ponders the problems of the failures of anarchists since its high point in the early to mid-1960s during the rise of the peace movement:
'One of the shortcomings that they had highlighted was the lack of industrial activity.  As Brian Bamford, whom I do not often agree with, has pointed out:  “At the time of disputes at Roberts-Arundel in Stockport**, Pilkington’s Glassworks in St Helens***, the strikes and stay-in occupations at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and in engineering, the miners struggles in the 1970s, the anarchist influence was tiny” (Freedom 6 August 1994)'

This year it is the 50th anniversary of the Roberts Arundel strike in Stockport, and Stockport Trade Union Council has put on an exhibition to commemorate the occasion.

At the time of the strike at Roberts-Arundel in 1966, mentioned in the above quote from Freedom, the Manchester Anarchist Group [MAG] was far bigger than the small International Socialist body with only 20 members locally and most of whom were students.   Both Colin Barker and his then friend and fellow sociologist John Lee, who later like me became an ethnomethodologist, were anxious to engage with me and some of the local working-class anarchists.  They knew that I had been involved in the national strikes of the engineering apprentices in the early 1960s, and still edited the apprentice paper Industrial Youth that came out of those disputes; both Colin and John were keen to collaborate with us with a view of building up their own I.S. group.  The trouble then was that most of the Manchester anarchists in the MAG didn't have any affinity with factory workers and trade unionists.  They were good on peace demos etc. waving their black and red flags, but it was as if they were frightened of engaging with genuine workers at their places of work.

When I was sacked for supporting the apprentices at Robinsons in Rochdale in 1965, the MAG refused to come down because they said they didn't want to be 'authoritarian', and tell the apprentices what to do!  Again in 1966, when I was given my marching orders at Tomlinsons up Milnrow the MAG held aloof yet again steering clear of the factory gates.  In similar circumstances I doubt that Colin Barker and I.S. would have been so timid, but by that time I had already decided to return to Spain, where I had a job waiting among the more practical and proletarian Gibraltar anarchists.

Under the influence of Ron Marsden, and Alan Barlow**** when the Manchester anarchists discussed the Roberts-Arundel dispute at a meeting at Mother Macs pub in central Manchester, the meeting was swayed and persuaded to not attend a support meeting called by the International Socialists [IS] to support the Roberts-Arundel strikers, the reasoning at that time being that they didn't want to swell the support for the trotskyists in IS.  This is significant and relevant to what Mr. Heath is saying, yet I believe both he and Colin Barker draw the wrong conclusions in arguing that the anarchists and international socialists needed a national organisation or party.

In an interview with Colin Barker, now a retired sociology lecturer, in 2015 in the publication RS21 (Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century) vividly describes the situation he found himself with the IS in 1966 at the time of the Roberts-Arundel dispute:
'We were a group of about twenty people.  We’d got the building workers, and we were talking on very friendly terms with one or two CP engineers.  By then I think we’d recruited one or two.  We look as if we’re going to recruit significant numbers of militant workers to the branch – I don’t want to exaggerate, but we’re a little bit confident, a little bit rooted.  We’re distinctive.  We don’t know that you can’t do things – that’s quite important, we don’t know of any limits to what we can do.  So we take initiatives, try things out, sometimes they don’t work and sometimes they do.  This is in ’67 – the next year of course everything changed.'  (on

Clearly the advantage that the Manchester International Socialist had in 1965 was not that of a mass organised party, but rather that of disciplined organised body but rather an imaginative tendency that was willing to act on its own initiative.  By acting outside the box the IS was enabled to have a great impact in regional industrial disputes such as Roberts-Arundel in Stockpost and at Pilkingtons in St Helens.  Meanwhile, the Manchsester anarchists who were so heroic in the peace demos in central Manchester were too timid when it came to turning up at the factory gates.

Drawing up a neat historical narrative
Like all historians Mr. Heath provides us with neat narrative to explain what was wrong, and how the anarchist decline could have been avoided in the past, but also how its continuing fall in the present and in the future can be stemmed:
i]  The historic issue, according to Mr. Heath, was that there was 'The increasing frustration with the swamp of pacifism, liberalism and vague humanism'.

ii]  Two now defunct bodies entitled ASA (Anarchist Syndicalist Alliance) and ORA (Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists) were potentially Mr. Heath's ideal tools for social change, but he writes the 'ASA ran out of steam pretty quickly'.
[I personally was one of the founding members of this short-lived ASA organisation, which was set-up around 1970 from remnants of the old Manchester Syndicalist Workers Federation, and went on to play a role in the Courtaulds Arrow Mill strike involving mainly Asian workers in Rochdale, and later to successful campaign for shop stewards in textiles inside the National Union of Textile & Allied Workers*****].

iii} On the other hand, Heath writes that 'The ORA had started moving away from the swamp as a result of the dockers and miners struggles and the influences of French libertarian communists.'

Mr. Heath quotes from an ORA booklet entitled 'Towards a history and critique of the anarchist movement in recent times' by K. Nathan. R. Atkins, C. Williams [ORA pamphlet no1. 1971] to support his diagnoses about the rise of Trotskyism and the fall of anarchism in the late 1960s and earlier 1970s:
'The IS [the International Socialists which later became the SWP] would not have attained their size and influence such as it is if a decent libertarian organisation had existed.  It is an unholy mixture of libertarian and Leninist groups.  The attempt by Cliffe (sic) to compete with IMG by out-trotting Mandel will make this alliance increasingly unstable. BUT do we have any capacity to attract these comrades?  In fact, the flow has been the other way. Good comrades (for the most part industrial militants rather than students) have been lost without anyone attempting to understand why.'

He argues that that was a true analysis and remains so today.   Hence, he claims, that in spite of what he calls 'the decline of Leninism' it was a 'lack of effective organisation', that has meant that anarchism will be at a standstill until we rectify this problem of organisation.

What this shows is that Nick Heath has a mechanistic Marxist approach to organisation that is rooted in a form of deterministic thinking that is part of the problem.  The main problem among the anarchists, which has been amply demonstrated in most recent times at the London Anarchist Bookfair etc., is a psychological inability to engage with real people in the real world.  Some of the left don't have an engaging relationship with working people.  This has been a long term problem which no amount of management, membership cards, statements aims and principle, mission statements, or tick lists can solve. 

Because Mr. Heath has been a white-collar office worker (a librarian) for much of his life he looks at the problem in a top-down way so that all he comes up with are cookbook solutions.  In the same way his close colleague Mike Ballard - now a retired local authority housing manager - has a similar cultural problem.  Commenting in another essay entitled 'Anarchist communism in Britain, 1870-1919', on the libertarian organisation founded in 1960 called 'SOLIDARITY', Mr. Heath writes:
'Their wilful failure to translate this into the establishment of a national organisation was a disaster, as International Socialism (the precursor of the Socialist Workers Party) was able to build on this territory abandoned by Solidarity (and by the Anarchist Federation of Britain).  They failed to engage as fully with the Anarchist movement as much as they could have, as their contributions at meetings and conferences could have considerably strengthened the class struggle current within it.' 

Thoughts on aspects of northern anarchism
There were some protests from southerners and Mr. Heath's type of 'organisational anarchists', when on November 2011, Sidney Huffman wrote his interesting  'Message from a North East Anarchists' on libcom:

'We believe the anarchists may actually be the single largest radical tendency in the North-East and wider North, yet we remain largely invisible, rarely initiating action ourselves and instead just tagging along in ones and twos with events organised by the left and liberals.  We have repeatedly found anarchists who have joined Trotskyist parties simply because they couldn't find an organised anarchist presence here.  Older comrades coming out of premature retirement spend 6 months looking for political anarchists and cannot find any during that time.  It is not good enough.  If we are serious about change, we have to step up and make ourselves visible.'

What's interesting about this statement and some of the protesting comments that followed it, is the implied organisational and activist nature of what is being proclaimed.  Sidney Huffmann writes about 'tagging along in ones and twos' on other people's events tail-ending other left protests.

In response to Mr. Huffman, Tom Harrison wrote on libcom that the 'SF [Solidarity Federation] and AF [Anarchist Federation] have been turning out regularly at the sparks strikes/demos/blockades in London, bolstering picket lines and generally providing the much needed solidarity for these workers. There was a particularly good SF turnout at the sparks demo on November 9th ... just watch this vid and you can see their placards at many point.  We're also organising and attempting to link student militancy with worker militancy.'

Mr. Heath will recognise from this that despite his efforts nothing has changed today from the stagnant pond from which anarchists seems unable to escape.  Of course, anarchists in London may have put out more flags as seen on the video on the electrician's demo, but that is not news.  What would have been news would have been if like Tameside Trade Union Council they had been in the forefront of the campaign against the blacklist moving motions to the TUC, manning lonely picket lines in the early hours since 2003, in the DAF dispute or at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 2009.  If Mr. Harrison is saying the anarchists are a kind of rent-a-mob available on street demos well that is part of the problem, because despite all the talk of organisating they don't seem to have the initiative to build serious enterprises themselves apart from bookfairs.  Now because of narrow-mindedness of some anarchists even bookfairs are becoming a problem for the anarchists to organise.

What Mr. Heath failed to grasp when he considered the Roberts Arundel strike (in his quote from Freedom above) was that the lesson from that strike was that the Manchester anarchists in 1967 failed to engage with the workers in dispute because they were afraid of real workers at the factory gate.  They didn't know how to address a real worker then, and they still have problems today.  Even in the run up to the campaign against the blacklist in the naughties people like Nick Heath's mate Mike Ballard, a former housing manager at Manchester City Council, was describing the Manchester electricians as not being involved in class struggle because they were taking 'individualuist'  actions by setting up pickets rather than collectivist actions.  Mr. Ballard came up with that claim at a meeting of the NAN in Burnley, of course it was before the Information Commissioner made his successful raid on Ian Kerr's office in 2009, and before Kerr pleaded guilty for keeping an illegal data-base at his trial at Knutsford Crown Court.

Abstract Anarchists & the ethnographic approach
The folly of the mechanistic managerialist approach of both Mr. Heath and Mr. Ballard is evident given that the subsequent development of the struggle of the 'Boys on the Blacklist' in Manchester, which Tameside TUC has been in the forefront of since 2003: had this handful of electricians often acting in opposition to the official union, using their own initiative not engaged in a series of small pickets around Manchester after 2003, the office of the Consulting Association, managed by Ian Kerr, would never have been raided by the Information Commissioner in  Droitwich Spa in 2009.  Consequently, the blacklist with over 3,000 names of building workers would never have been exposed.

In the mid-1970s, the criminologist Ian Smith and other anarchists used to talk about the contrast between the 'sectarian syndicalists' and 'shop-floor syndicalists' in the ASA,  Now we have very opportunistic 'abstract anarchists' like Mr. Heath and Mr. Ballard to contrast with more ethnographic approaches of others anxious to listen to the public.

What Nick Heath may have in mind when he envisages a future anarchist organisation is something like what Ken Weller and member of SOLIDARITY, talked about when he described the influence of the British Communist Party in 1956:
'People can’t realise how big an apparatus it was.  There were the embassies, the Friendship Societies, the printshops, the front organisations, the unions; 120 were employed by the Electrical Trades Union alone.  There were all the agencies of the Soviet government, Tass [the Soviet news agency], the Moscow Narodny Bank, all these sorts of things were full of people; I mean, the Soviet Weekly alone employed a network of people who were distributing agents for the paper, and so on.'

It must have been exactly like George Orwell said in the 1930s about it paying some folk to adopt a commie position, but to accomplish that kind of body among the anarchists would require something more substantial than what Nick Health has to offer with his own small-scale Anarchist Federation (AF) with all of its one hundred members paying their fees, and with perhaps a possible trans-gender platform to stand upon with its own estimated constituency of 0.1% of the national populous.  That would in any case be a very different approach from that experienced by anarchists in the early 1960s, when anarchism was at last part of a genuine social movement; that is the peace movement and the Committee of 100.

With the 'People in the Streets', as Vernon Richards described the peace movement in Freedom in the 1960s, the anarchists had a significant role to play on Ban the Bomb demos and in the Committee of 100 sit downsYet when the social struggle moved to the picket lines, trade unions and factories after the Roberts Arundel strike in 1967, where the communists had the great advantage, the Manchester anarchists had very little grasp of what was required.  Only in the struggles for shop stewards up in Oldham and Rochdale in the failing textile industry such as at Courtaulds Arrow Mill in 1972, did the anarchists of Manchester have an impact, and then again in London in the building workers' struggles, anarchists like Peter Turner had a role to play.   None-the-less, in the significant disputes of the late 1960s at Pilkington Glassworks in St Helens, Upper Clyde Shipbuilding [UCS] and in engineering sit-ins, the miners struggles in the 1970s, the anarchist influence was tiny.

*     Nick Heath leader of the Anarchist Federation.
**   Roberts Arundel strike from 1966-68 of engineering workers against dilution and cheap labour.
*** Pilkington strike in St Helens of glass-workers in the Municipal & General Workers Union [now GMB] in which the workers, frustrated by both the union and the bosses, attempted to set up an independent union.
****  Ron Marsden and Alan Barlow came to Manchester in 1964 and joined the Manchester Anarchist group [MAG], which was then meeting st that meeting in the Lord Nelson in Salford.   The MAG had been founded earlier by Graham Lee and James Pinkerton, then International Secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation [SWF].  Marsden from Preston, and Barlow originally from Liverpool, had recently become members of the SWF, and were hoping with the help of the Liverpudlian Vincent Johnson also of the SWF, to form a faction within the MAG and drive it in a 'class struggle' direction. 
*****   COURTAULDS INSIDE OUT:  CIS ANTI REPORT No.10.  Produced in co-operation with The Transitional Institute.

Anniversary of the Roberts Arundel Strike

by Brian Bamford
THIS YEAR is the 50th anniversary of the Roberts Arundel strike at an engineering works in Stockport (although the actual walk-out first began on the 28th,  November 1966).  The Morning Star has described the strike as one of the 'biggest strikes in the history of the trade union movement and it involved the most basic freedom of all workers – the right to organise.'
At the time, the Stockport firm of Roberts Arundel was owned by anti-union North Carolina businessman Robert E. Pomeranz, who bought the UK business in the mid-1960s.  Attempting to undermine the Amalgamated Engineering Union [AEU] he imposed sweeping changes to working practices, made union members redundant and advertised for women workers as ‘cheap labour’ to replace them - a tactic according to 'Labour Briefing' he had used in the US.

Picketing stopped goods coming in and out and led to scabs walking out of the factory. On 22nd February 1967 a mass picket resulted in the chief constable threatening to read the Riot Act as bricks and missiles flew and the pickets blockaded the site. Negotiations to settle the dispute were led by full time AEU Executive Council member for the North West, Hugh Scanlon, and District Secretary John Tocher. Prime Minister Harold Wilson tried to intervene but Pomeranz announced that while there was no harm in talking, the union 'should find new jobs for its members.'

This strike was in itself a local dispute involving some 150 workers, which may not have had the signicance that it did had it not been led by the militant former convenor at A V Roe (now British Aerospace), Woodford, John Tocher, who was then the AEU's full-time District Secretary.  John Tocher was a communist official, who backed me with the legal support of the AEU, when I was arrested while on a picket with another engineering worker called Paddy Byrne in early 1968.

In a debate in parliament on the 6th, December 1967, the MP for Stockport North, Arnold Gregory said:
'There has been a continuous daily picket of the factory, and there have been clashes between pickets and workers and between pickets and police. People have been bruised and injured, and there has been 1626 a most distasteful series of incidents in the town. On 22nd February, over 1,000 workers marched through the town, and there was a similar demonstration on 21st March and another to celebrate May Day. In September, we had a protest week. Sometimes the demonstrations brought about serious disturbances. People were hurt and there was a number of arrests. Great trouble and concern followed the incidents. For the town and the country Roberts-Arundel has become an ugly symbol.' (Hansard)

Throughout 1967 Stockport captured national headlines. One hundred and fifty workers walked out late November 1966 when their new boss Robert Pomeranz from North Carolina refused to talk to the union. The issue was his decision to start a handful of women working at a lower rate than men had been paid for doing the same work until Pomeranz had made them redundant a few weeks earlier. The dispute quickly escalated when in less than a week he sacked every striker – only four shop floor workers didn’t join the action – and immediately advertised 235 jobs in the Manchester Evening News.  Despite numerous attempts to settle the dispute, the strike lasted until April 1968 when Pomeranz finally closed the factory.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

'Catastrophic Gradualism', Inequality & Democracy

 If you want more social equality don't support 'Stop the War'
by Brian Bamford
ACCORDING to Walter Scheidel, a historian specialising in the ancient world and author of 'The Great Leveler' (2017), rising inequality ought to be expected in current circumstances.  This represents a version of what George Orwell called 'Catasrophic Gradualism' writ large, because what Mr. Scheidel is suggesting is that mass violence and wars are the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality.  

It seems that historically inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike, and conversely increases when peace and stability return.   Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that no doubt is a good thing. But it consequently casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.

To get an idea of the current relative level of inequality, Paul Mason in a review of Mr. Scheidel's book in The Guardian wrote:
'the escalating wealth share of the top 1% in the US has only just reached where it was in 1929.  And the ratio of Bill Gates’s wealth pile to that of the average US citizen is roughly the same as that of the richest Roman aristocrats in AD400.' 

The prospects for greater equality are not good because the market economies in industrial societies that do not experience revolution, catastrophe or total war are prone to generate the high levels of inequality we are currently approaching.  Thus Scheidel concludes that these catastrophic levellers are 'gone for now, and unlikely to return any time soon.  This casts doubt on the feasibility of future levelling.'

Against this pessimistic scenario Paul Mason has hopefully argued:  '....[that historically in the last half century amid these dreadful] realities [up] grew social democracy – which is actually something very new in history, if placed between the extremes documented in Scheidel’s book. Social democracy wishes to suppress inequality in a controlled, consensual way, using the very state the elite has fashioned to entrench it; heading off pestilence, state failure and violent revolution. The vast wealth being generated in the highly technologically efficient society of the 21st century must, contrary to Scheidel, offer the possibility of an even greater redistributional space in which social democracy can operate.'

Martin Wolf, the economist writing in the Financial Times on the 20th, December, is equally anxious arguing that if governments don't get a grip of inequality then  'One possible development is the sort of  "plutocratic popularism" that has become such a signal feature of the US-the country that did, should we recall, ensure the survival of liberal democracy during the turmoil of the previous century.  The future could then consist of a stable plutocracy, which manages to keep the mass of the people divided and docile.'

George Orwell may have been considering something of this kind of pessimistic vision when he wrote his essay called 'Catestrophic Gradualism' for the Common Wealth Review, in November 1945.  'The Great Leveler' is really the latest version of what Orwell called 'catestrophic gradualism'.

In 1945, Orwell wrote:  'According to this theory, nothing is ever achieved without bloodshed, lies, tyranny and injustice, but on the other hand no considerable change for the better is to be expected as the result of even the greatest upheaval.  History necessarily proceeds by calamities, but each succeeding age will be as bad, or nearly as bad, as the last.  One must not protest against purges, deportations, secret police forces and so forth, because these are the price that has to be paid for progress: but on the other hand “human nature” will always see to it that progress is slow or even imperceptible.  If you object to dictatorship you are a reactionary, but if you expect dictatorship to produce good results you are a sentimentalist.'

Orwell knew then that it was possible to use the kind of thinking Mr. Scheidel is now using, to apply a kind of post-factor justification for Stalin or even Henry VIII.  George Orwell presents the case thus: 
'Naturally this argument is pushed backward into history, the design being to show that every advance was achieved at the cost of atrocious crimes, and could not have been achieved otherwise. The instance generally used is the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie, which is supposed to foreshadow the overthrow of capitalism by Socialism in our own age.  Capitalism, it is argued, was once a progressive force, and therefore its crimes were justified, or at least were unimportant.'

Thus if we take Henry VIII and telescope history up to the present, and using this post-facto approach, as Orwell joking proposes we might say:
'Henry VIII made possible the rise of capitalism, which led to the horrors of the Industrial Revolution and thence to a cycle of enormous wars, the next of which may well destroy civilisation altogether. So, telescoping the process, we can put it like this: “Everything is to be forgiven Henry VIII, because it was ultimately he who enabled us to blow ourselves to pieces with atomic bombs”.'

Hence, perhaps we should merely yawn when we hear on the news of the mountains of corpses in the Middle East and suicide bombers from Isis exploding like rockets in the Afghan capital.  Afterall, perhaps it is just the mechanicanisms of history working its magic, and if it means violence well, according to Walter Scheidel, if you want equality the more universal the social violence the better.  Perhaps we should cancel our subscriptions to 'Stop the War'.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Labour Councillor's call to fine beggars

A Labour Councillor has said the only way to tackle begging is to fine offenders.

The controversial comments follow Labour's Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council, who described Christmas as 'peak begging season'.

In his blog post, the Labour giant urges people not to give beggars food, clothing or money saying that the cash will end up in an off-licence or in the hands of criminals, claiming the majority of begging is organised.

In a post titled 'Manchester's aggressive beggars should be fined', Rochdale Labour Councillor John Blundell said:  'The point here is: if the incentive is great enough people will do virtually anything. This is why aggressive begging is rife in our city centre. 

'There is only one way to solve this issue...crack down. Fine aggressive beggars and arrest them.'

The comments have been widely condemned by the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Greater Manchester Housing Action, who slammed Blundell's comments as 'encouraging indifference and fear.'

Former Manchester MP John Leech, who has campaigned extensively on affordable housing, said: 'Blundell’s comments are dehumanising, divisive and frankly just ignorant, only exposing his lack of knowledge and experience on the issue.

'The solution to begging, rough sleeping and homelessness isn’t fines, intimidation and social cleansing - the typical Labour way. It is fixing our broken housing system once and for all, ending luxury developments, guaranteeing genuinely affordable housing, getting people off the streets and preventing the initial causes.

'I will never understand why the Labour party seems to have such a problem with rough sleepers and homelessness - it’s just baffling.'

Recent disagreements over affordable housing, rough sleeping, begging and homelessness in Manchester town hall caused tensions to completely boil over, with Mayor Andy Burnham being forced to step in after Mr Leech accused the council of “social cleansing”.

His stinging attack came after the council approved the construction of more than 2,500 homes – not a single one of which they could guarantee would be affordable.

Earlier in 2016, Mr Leech hit out at the Council after they effectively evicted and tried to sue a group of homeless people who had pitched tents in the city centre.

Greater Manchester Housing Action responded to Blundell’s call for fines saying, 'The idea that homeless people are being driven to ask for change by a profit incentive is a distortion of reality.

'By seeing the street homeless population as individuals seeking economic opportunity, he is willfully ignoring the structural forces that have led to an explosion of street homelessness.

'Using language in this way obscures these wider systemic issues and feeds into the othering of homeless people, encouraging indifference and fear.'

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Musical Chairs on Rochdale Council

COUNCILLOR Allen Brett, Coun Farnell’s deputy, got the job as leader of Rochdale Council, after he was nominated by Councillor Sara Rowbotham and seconded by Councillor Neil Emmott,  The motion for Allen Brett to become Coucil leader was also supported by Councillor Ashley Dearnley and a number of Conservaties.
For some this feels like Musical Chairs on Rochdale, and already two cabinet members have resigned as a consequence of the appointment of Councillor Brett.

Jacqueline Beswick and Peter Williams

In his resignation email, passed to the Manchester Evening News, Coun Williams praised Councillor Beswick as an ‘excellent and very experienced candidate’ and said the rejection of a female leader was an ‘important matter given Rochdale’s history’.  But he said the main reason for his resignation was Coun Farnell’s evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), writing: “For a leader to not be able to recollect so many specific questions about his knowledge of events at the time was a disgrace. So I cannot serve alongside the apparent successors. Yesterday was a sad day with no change, or acknowledgement on this issue.”

Speaking to the M.E.N. he added: “Richard Farnell’s deputy becoming leader means there is broadly no change in the regime so I am not prepared to continue.”

Coun Donna Martin also stood down from her role as deputy leader the day after Coun Farnell’s resignation.

It’s the second time Coun Brett has served as leader of Rochdale council, following a short spell in charge in 2005.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Daniel Baird Campaign Appeal

DANIEL Baird was 26 years of age when he was fatally stabbed in the early hours of 8th July 2017, outside The Forge Tavern, Digbeth in Birmingham following a night out with friends. Dan had worked hard throughout his short life and had just been accepted by Jaguar Land Rover and was due to start work at their Solihull site which had been his long term goal.

Dan’s death may have been prevented but there was no first aid or bleeding control kit available. Dan died shortly after arriving at hospital due to catastrophic bleeding.

Dan’s family are campaigning to raise the awareness of knife crime and increase the need for advanced first aid training to incorporate catastrophic bleeding control.

Dan’s family intend to bring to the attention of the public how devastating knife and violent crime has become, and what can be done to change this so that the loss of Dan’s life will not be in vain.

Had there been a public accessible bleeding control pack available Dan may still be with us. The family believe that having publicly accessible bleeding control packs in all major shopping centres, pubs/clubs, public transport stations, all public buildings is a priority given the current risk from extremists, terrorists and the increasing rise in knife and violent crime. Their aim is to reduce and stop knife crime as no family should have to feel this pain.

Lynne Baird hoping to raise £10,000 to set up a charitable organisation which will raise awareness of knife and violent crime and the importance of having publicly accessible bleeding control packs available.

The first step will be to purchase several public access bleeding control packs which will be presented to various businesses and public building. They will also campaign for first aid training to incorporate catastrophic bleeding control. Additionally we will liaise with other organisations to ensure advanced first aid is on curriculum in all educational establishments.

The Basic version of the NAR Public Access Bleeding Control Pack provides 8 complete kits containing lifesaving bleeding control equipment such as tourniquets, pressure dressings and gauze bandages and puts them into the hands of the public to help control bleeding and save lives.

To make a donation please make cheques payable to Unite the Union, clearly marking the back of the cheque “Daniel Baird Campaign” and address to Caren Evans, Unite the Union, 9-17 Victoria Street, West Bromwich, B70 8HX

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Tony Lloyd: His Almost Invisible Surgery

THERE is a protest meeting being held outside Rochdale Town Hall at 09.30 a.m. tomorrow morning (Friday 15th).  That meeting is all about raising awareness of Tony Lloyd's record as an MP so far; including repeated and documented failure to reply to legitimate constituent queries, failing to open an office in the town for some five months since the General Election, and indeed the entire method by which you were imposed upon Rochdale by the London-based Labour National Executive Committee. 

Former Councillor Mark Birkett and Labour Party member, wrote to Tony Lloyd, Labour MP for Rochdale today warning him and saying:
'An online petition has also been held to that effect which I will be presenting to you. Some 126 signatures have been added in just 24 hours; all the counter signatories making clear their wholesale opposition to the appalling way this town's politicians - yourself included - have conducted themselves in office.
'Secondly, to be clear, I will be at your office at 10:40 am re: the letter you were sent by me and forty other Rochdalians on 10th July. I will be seeking the following:
  1. An explanation for your failure to answer any of the fifteen points that were raised. 
  2. A promise that you will answer the letter in full
  3. A promise that you will write to all forty other counter signatories whose details you were sent
  4. A meaningful apology for your failure to respond at any point in the last six months to those fifteen points
  5. A promise that you will never again deliberately ignore Rochdale constituent concerns as you have done in this example
'Thirdly, yes, there will be one other person joining me. This is in order to take clear notes and a record of all that is said. I understand you normally have your secretary Elsie Wraight to hand to record meetings too, so I am sure this cannot be a problem for you.
'Lastly, if you can clarify what you mean by "I am prepared to see you, but I am not prepared to have an advice bureau, that is there to deal with real problems, disrupted." I'll be happy to respond.'

No Double Yellow Lines for Rochdale Blacklist Co.

AT LAST night's full council meeting of Rochdale MBC held in the Gothic revival Town Hall, Tory Councillor Pat Sullivan tabled a question about problems encountered by the contractor maintaining the highways in Rochdale.  Councillor Sullivan's quiery was:
'Recently contractors [Balfour Beatty] were putting yellow lines down and were unable to complete the job as two cars were parked.  Should the contractor not put notes out the night before in order to make sure that the work can be completed?'

Even Councillor Ashley Dearnley, Leader of Conservative Group and Shadow Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, got involved.  These construction companies are not always competent themselves, the building firm Carillion which has a partnership with Tameside MBC once claimed it couldn't repair the leaking roof of Ashton Library because it didn't have a long enough ladder at its disposal.

In March 2015, Rochdale Council took out a Highways Maintenance Contract with Balfour Beatty until 2020.

The works Balfour Beatty will do includes jobs for the repair and minor improvement work to the Council's highways infrastructure, including it seems double yellow lines.

What was not mentioned at last night's Council meeting was that the Rochdale Council has a contract with a firm labelled a blacklister by the Information Commissioner's Office [ICO].

The ICO website states:
'During 2008/09 the ICO carried out an investigation into employment blacklisting in the construction industry.  As part of that investigation, the ICO seized information from a company called The Consulting Association.  Some of the information we seized amounted to a 'blacklist' of individuals who were considered to pose a risk to their employers if employed within the construction industry.'

No doubt Labour Councillor Allen Brett, the newly crowned leader of Rochdale Council (not to mention his predecessor Richard Farnell) has forgotten what one of their earlier predecessor Colin Lambert said in 2013:  'Rochdale MBC wanted no truck with companies who blacklist workers and trade unionists'.

Ofcourse, it was Colin Lambert's friend, the deceased Labour MP, Jim Dobbin, who in 2012 sponsored the early day motion:
'That this House is aware of the campaign led principally by the trades unions, the GMB, UNITE, UCATT and others for justice for blacklisted workers, many of whose lives have been ruined by the secretive and malicious practice which has denied them employment in their industry without them having either the knowledge or privilege of being able to see or challenge information listed against them; believes such practices to be fundamentally wrong and against the very principles of freedom and democracy; and calls on the Government to condemn such behaviour and consider introducing new legislation to prohibit such practices.'

These days with Rochdale Council still under the control of Farmell's Labour Party cronies like Councillor Brett, companies such as Balfour Beatty with a history of blacklisting trade unionists are now on easy street being awarded fat public contracts by uncaring Labour councils like Rochdale MBC.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017


A struggle for regional autonomy

by Martin Gilbert

MY wife Joan and I were there from 12th November till 19th on a brief holiday. Easy to find:- interesting food, beautiful buildings especially the and amazing Gaudi ones and cosmopolitania.  Much less easy to find:- developments in the conflict there, their root causes and possible lessons for left libertarians.

Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia. It has it’s own culture and language, distinct from Spain.  It is the wealthiest of Spain’s regions. Catalonia has been a part of that country for hundreds of years but time has not stopped the longing for independence from Madrid.  Many Catalonians oppose independence citing gloomy prophesies of economic suffering. Equally worrying forecasts were made about Brexit ruining London’s financial district.  Doubting such fears a multi-million pound office block is planned for “the city” by one such firm.  Another worry for the anti-independence people is that other provinces might also fall from Madrid’s power. Brussels is as much to blame for that reaction as Madrid.

Feeling sorry for the locals, Joan and I found that tourist bookings were 40% down on previous years.  Great bars and restaurants almost empty. We can blame media hype about cops beating up those trying to have a referendum months ago.  What happened was that Madrid sent in it’s own cops to do it.  That is because the central government could not trust the local Barcelona cops who are paid by that city.

Then as now both both sides have been using increasingly hostile language. Pro-independence Catalonians feel that their contribution to the civil war was all about that struggle.  Maybe what we heard was too emotive but I can only report what I heard. But the problem comes as much from Brussels as Madrid.

On the t.v. we saw big Euro boss Jean Claude Juncker. His body language and the subtitles clearly showed one message “there will be no regional autonomy, there can be none – I have spoken”.  Arrogant, pig headed or just doing his job???  

Throughout Europe there are requests and demands for regional autonomy in different forms, Solidarity is needed across the continent for these struggles.  We need a new international brigade. This time with anti-militarists, thinkers, negotiators and street performers.  Please visit Barcelona soon to up-date the above report. 
Also, take a look at who share some ideas raised

martin gilbert, December 2017

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Bread, Peace & Land: 1917-2017

Bread, Peace, and Land (1917-2017) was offered to us last Saturday at the Oldham Street Manchester Methodist Hall, presenting us with a documentary film with the talking heads of no less than eight current working class, peasant, social struggle and revolutionary leaders, men and women, from their places of struggle.  It was put on by the regional International Socialist League (ISL)*.
It was a patchwork quilt of struggles in Latin America, the Middle East, Brazil, Spain, linking these in turn to what was claimed to be the magnificent model of the Russian Revolution of 1917.  
From the jungles of Brazil with the peasant struggles against the loggers we were taken in technicolour to the disputes of construction workers in Madrid, and then on to the troubles on the Palestinians.  
All these events were generalised to being somehow rooted in what happened in the Russian Revolution in October 1917.
Awareness of the disappointing developments of later transformations in the Soviet experiment led one spokesman in the film to argue that simply because one may end up viewing a poor performance of a Shakespearean play with a bad director (Stalin?), and low quality stagecraft does not mean that Shakespeare was a bad play-write.  
The long debate following the film was open and illuminating, and it was suggested that there may be more projects in the New Year, with possible potential discussions between the Marxist and Anarchist approaches to social struggles.

*   The ISL group's origins lie in the disintegration of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (WRP) in the 1980s. It was founded as the Bolshevik Faction of Cliff Slaughter's WRP in August 1987 and from the start was sympathetic to the Latin American-based Trotskyist leader Nahuel Moreno.
In February 1988 the future ISL split from the WRP and under the leadership of the veteran Bill Hunter and Martin Ralph founded their organisation, which affiliated to Moreno's International Workers League (LIT).
The ISL remains active in the North West of England where its small membership is concentrated and was active in the Socialist Alliance. It was supportive of the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform, the Merseyside-based United Socialist Party, and the TUSC.[1] It is currently active in Liverpool as part of Old Swan Against The Cuts (OSAC);[2] Martin Ralph stood as the OSAC candidate in the May 2014 council election, polling third in Old Swan with 8.5%,[3] and stood again in 2015, gaining 6%,[4] in a general election in which the ISL urged support for TUSC and Left Unity candidates across the country.[5]

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Guys & Dolls at Royal Exchange

A Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company co-production
A musical fable of Broadway based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swearling and Abe Burrows
Directed by Michael Buffong
2 December 2017 - 27 January 2018
The cast is completely by Koko Basigara, Toyan Thomas-Browne, Nathanael Campbell, Darren Charles, Ewen Cummins, Chelsey Emery, Evonnee Bentley-Holder, Kurt Kansley, Danielle Kassaraté, Fela Lufadeju, Melanie Marshall, Ako Mitchell, Javar Parker, Joe Speare, Jaime Tait, Trevor A Toussaint and T'shan Williams.
This Christmas director Michael Buffong transports the smash-hit musical GUYS AND DOLLS up-town to 1939 Harlem in the UK’s first all-Black cast production of this iconic show. Celebrating the off-beat stories of Damon Runyon that made the gangsters and hustlers of New York City infamous, GUYS AND DOLLS is co-produced by the Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company – the UK’s primary Black led touring theatre company. Ray Fearon as the charming Nathan Detroit leads a cast that includes Ashley Zhangazha, Abiona Omonua and Lucy Vandi. The reimagined GUYS AND DOLLS is developed with the award winning hip-hop dancer and choreographer Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy and runs from 2 December – 27 January.
 Director Michael Buffong said:
"Pre-war Harlem was all about the hustle. The creativity of that era was born from a unique collision of talent and circumstance as people escaped the agricultural and oppressive South via the 'underground railroad' into the highly urbanised and industrialised North. Much of our popular culture, from dance to music, has its roots in that period. Our Guys and Dolls brings all of this to the fore, in superb, celebratory style."
Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson take every opportunity to hustle, settling every dispute with a roll of the dice. Lady Luck is on their side, until one night they both take a chance on love. With unforgettable songs including LUCK BE A LADY, SIT DOWN YOU'RE ROCKING THE BOAT and the infectious title number, this high-energy production captures the secrecy and romance of living on the edge.
Musical Supervisor Nigel Lilley and Musical Director Mark Aspinall return to the Exchange following their work on the award-winning, and UK Theatre nominated, sell-out musical SWEET CHARITY.

Saturday, 9 December 2017


'Bookfair couldn’t guarantee the banner’s safety', said Dave Douglass
by Dave Douglass (South Shields}
THE annual Anarchist Bookfair in London was for many many years the highlight of the Anarchist and radical Marxist calendar.   It brought together the most splendid , vivid fascinating and eccentric, profound and trivial, exciting and profane, hilarious and spiritual assortments of people.   They came in thousands, they bathed in the rainbow variety of factions, tendencies, visions and issues.   Workshops and presentations, entertainment and discussion filled the entire day as the crowds crammed past stalls laden with literature and art, T-shirts and stickers, posters and badges, cards and calendars, a myriad of interesting and unique stuff you would never find anywhere else under one roof.   The Vegan food commune outside the venues hawked the most interesting of pastries and butties, tatties and cakes, rich wonderful chocolate cakes and angel cakes which tested the will power of the most dedicated of health freaks.  In my own judgement the Anarchist bookfair almost vied with the Durham Miners Gala (almost) in terms of ‘not to be missed’ events.  Ancient aud Anarchists rubbed shoulders with the Mohican punks of yesterd-a-year, born again hippies, young activist, and what a Glasgow paper talking of the anti polaris demonstrators of the 60’s called ‘ beardies, weirdies and lang lagged beasties’ 
Sadly the great spirit of comradely diversity, the ‘let a million flowers blossom let ten thousand schools of thought reign’ which Mao had once said and may actually at one time believed, had started to change and smoulder into authoritarian intolerances.  In a gradual change of attitude which I think has spread from the Ultra PC ‘no platforming’ ‘shut them up’, ‘safe space’ evangelists of the US campuses, only very particular schools of thought would be allowed to be heard.  

Invited to speak one year I suggested I bring the famous ‘red’ miners banner of the Follonsby Lodge.   The banner originally drafted in 1928 famously sets forth the options and variety of radical working class ideologies and ‘roads’ depicting as it does Social Democracy, Bolshevism, and Anarcho-syndicalism, the ballot box and the gun, in the form of Kier Hardie, James Connolly in the uniform of the ICA, V.I.Lenin , A.J.Cook and George Harvey.  The banner encapsulates the trajectory of ideological struggle and events which led through the birth of the IWW, the ILP, the development of the Soviets, the General Strike, The Easter Irish rising and the Russian revolution.  In this trajectory the debate around the nature of the state and working class democracy ideas of the anarchists and syndicalists, the Industrial Unionists, how society could function once capitalism was defeated were all marked by the birth of this banner. 

I had concluded that the Anarchist Bookfair was an ideal platform to retell this story and the way in which working class history had developed.   'Nope’, I was told , the bookfair couldn’t guarantee the banner’s safety.  One look at the central portrait of Lenin flanked by the hammer and sickle would be enough to stifle any debate and could lead to the destruction of the banner.   It was an early demonstration of the chain of thought which would seek to re-write history by tearing down all statues and memorials and references to un-pc historic figures.   It would be the fingers in the ears while shouting 'lalala’ to stop the sound of words too wounding to be heard. 
Then four or five years ago we had a gang attack on Comrade Brian Bamford of the Northern Anarchist Network.  Brian has a knack of rubbing folk up the wrong way it must be said, he had been irreverent to an old stalward of traditional anarchism who had passed away, Brian’s obituary was thought to be insensitive, which it undoubtedly was.  But it led to his stall being turned over his books trashed and he beaten up and sprayed with ketchup.  This was in the middle of an event of Anarchists who are supposed to believe we can govern ourselves without enforcement and laws imposed upon us.   It got worse, as first Brian then members of his group were banned from regional anarchist bookfares, not simply from having a stall but attending on pain of violence.   Book and Newspaper shops which stocked the NAN magazine were visited and warned not to stock the journal, the printers likewise were given the Gypsies Warning.   He hasn’t mounted a bookstall since. 
Last year, a section of the Anarchist wing fighting alongside the PKK against ISIS were invited to speak at a workshop.  The hall was invaded by students from the Gulf states who although purporting to be progressives were basically supporters of the Jihadists and Theocrats.  They stamped and chanted and no platformed the speakers.  Bending over backward to preserve our traditions of free speech they were invited to present an alternative view before the anarchists spoke, which they did, and then broke up the meeting and stopped them being heard. 
This year was the final straw.  One of the anarcho-feminists had been circulating a leaflet saying why they didn’t allow transmen to attend women only sessions and workshops, when she was surrounded and shouted down and threatened by a gang of 'transmen’, who not only stopped those sessions but demanded a whole list of demands from the bookfare in general be met.  This was as to content of stalls, workshops, items displayed and on sale.  The organisers under a constant barrage have just said ’bollox’ you organise your own, we’re done’.  ‘That’s it, were done organising this event’
I cannot in conscience blame them.  The only way to stop this march of intolerance would have been to not tolerate it and to physically impose free thought and free speech on people who plainly don’t believe in it.  Which would be a contradiction too hard for Anarchists to cope with.  Its a sad reflection on where mostly middle class ‘safe space’ victim-mongering, no-platforming , witch hunting, tyranny has taken us.   It is a very sad day in my view.  We have to ensure that this intolerance and denial of free speech and basic liberty is not fed into working class organisations and events. 
Tyneside anarchists in conjunction with the Follonsby Wardley Miners Lodge Association will be hosting a Guy Fawkes Workers Bookfare in Newcastle next year, Nov 3rd.   This will be an opportunity to present books on working class political ideology and history and progressive thought which one would not get the chance to see in conventional book venues. It will very much be in the tradition of the once famous bookfare although we don’t expect the same numbers.   At this bookfare the principle of free speech and political liberty will be guaranteed, and anyone who doesn’t accept the principle ‘left’ or right will be not invited and if necessary excluded.  

Blacklist Support Group Day of Action

BLACKLIST Support Group (including 4 UNITE EC members) occupying London offices of Skanska was just one of the highlights of the Day of Action against Blacklisting which included protests against blacklisting firms across the UK and ended in lobbies of parliament in Westminster and Holyrood.

Every parliamentarian who attended the events at Westminster & Holyrood, including John McDonnell, Richard Leonard, Jack Dromey, Chris Stephens, Neil Findlay, Laura Piddock, Rebecca Long Bailey, Angela Rayner, Louise Haig, Jon Ashworth, Chuka Umunna and many others publicly called for 3 key demands:
  • Full public inquiry into blacklisting
  • Blacklisting to be made a criminal offence
  • No publicly funded contracts for firms involved in blacklisting
Great contributions from Tony Sweeney, Paul Filby and Shrewsbury campaigners to keep the MPs and unions on their toes. As acknowledged by Gail Cartmail, UNITE AGS, nothing will ever be achieved unless the rank and file keep pushing for it. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Rochdale Labour Party Boss Jumps Ship!

Faced with a no-confidence motion Councillor Farnell resigns
WORKERS at Rochdale MBC have been betting on when Richard Farnell would step down ever since he made a fool of himself at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, last October.  With each week they have been disappointed, but next Wednesday at a full Rochdale council meeting he was facing a motion of no-confidence tabled by Councillor Andy Kelly, the leader of the Lib Dems.  The motion stated:  “This council has no confidence in the leader of the council and calls for him to step down and resign his position until such time that the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) are made public.”
The Lib Dem motion follows the resignation of the secretary of the Rochdale Constituency Labour Party who protested at the party’s handling of the scandal.

The findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse are expected to be published before April.
Councillor Farnell e-mailed fellow councillors claiming he stepped down to prevent causing 'disunity.':
'Following the evidence to the child abuse inquiry there's been a persistent campaign from a small minority of members in the party calling for my suspension in an attempt to undermine my leadership and cause disunity in the party and group,'
In his letter to councillors, he blamed a ‘small minority’ of Labour members for ‘undermining’ his leadership ever since the Child Sex Abuse hearing.#

His resignation is immediately effective and his responsibilities will now be taken over by the council’s two deputy leaders, Allen Brett and Donna Martin, until a replacement is chosen.
In an agonising cross-examination at the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry, Farnell continually denied ever having known about abuse in Knowl View boys’ school when he was last leader during the early 1990s - and placed the blame firmly on senior officers.

In the summing-up at the end of the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry it was concluded that it was ‘inconceivable’ that Coun Farnell had been unaware of the scandal.

Farnell's evidence was quickly condemned by the solicitorr acting on behalf of victims and since then four Labour branches in Rochdale have passed motions of no-confidence against him.

However, the Labour Party’s standard response has been that it must wait until the inquiry reports back next April until a decision was made on Councillor Farnell’s future in his role. Until now, the leader had appeared to be keen to hang on to power at least until next April.  The healthy stipend.he is on must have been tempting.

Dave Douglass, libcom comment & Mr. Saunders

N.V. Editor:  the comment below was written on libcom following the Dave Douglass statement by MH who is an editor on the libcom website.  The MH comment seems fair and reasonable.  What is more interesting is the swift breakfast-time response from Rob Ray or Simon Saunders, the somewhat half-baked anarcho-syndicalist editor of Freedom when he's not acting as a hack for the Morning Star.  We have no hesitation in doxing a juvenile pen-pusher such as Simon a former public schoolboy from East Anglia who admitted he had difficulty getting his head around the concept of syndicalism, not having even one working-class bone in his body.  Meanwhile, Rob Ray/ Simon speaks of 'stirring'!  He might well, many people are now saying the FREEDOM COLLECTIVE STATEMENT is feeble minded, and it seems the COLLECTIVE is split over it.

MH  Nov 21 2017 00:36
Well those comment pieces/statements on the London Bookfair keep rolling out, although with some glaring ommissions - AFed & SolFed nationally, Freedom collective amongst others?
Anyways here's Dave Douglass writing in Northern Voices on 17 November. He's a former striker in 1984/5 miners strike & NUM activist. He's also spoken at a variety of Bookfair's including London several times. He's toyed with anarcho-syndicalism, and flirted with Class War in the distant past, these days he's more of a historian (i think). He may come over as a bit rough & ready for Libcom towers, but that shouldnt reduce the validity of his viewpoint. So grit your teeth and read on:
by Dave Douglass
(South Shields}
THE annual Anarchist Bookfare in London was for many many years the highlight of the Anarchist and radical Marxist calendar. It brought together the most splendid , vivid fascinating and eccentric, profound and trivial, exciting and profane, hilarious and spiritual assortments of people. They came in thousands, they bathed in the rainbow variety of factions, tendencies, visions and issues. Workshops and presentations, entertainment and discussion filled the entire day as the crowds crammed past stalls laden with literature and art, T-shirts and stickers, posters and badges, cards and calendars, a myriad of interesting and unique stuff you would never find anywhere else under one roof. The Vegan food commune outside the venues hawked the most interesting of pastries and butties, tatties and cakes, rich wonderful chocolate cakes and angel cakes which tested the will power of the most dedicated of health freaks. In my own judgement the Anarchist bookfare almost vied with the Durham Miners Gala (almost) in terms of ‘not to be missed’ events. Ancient aud Anarchists rubbed shoulders with the Mohican punks of yesterd-a-year, born again hippies, young activist, and what a Glasgow paper talking of the anti polaris demonstrators of the 60’s called ‘ beardies, weirdies and lang lagged beasties’
Read the full piece here -
Northern Voices has a couple other bits on the Bookfair - here and here - note the second (Letter in Weekly Worker) contains certain factual errors, the most obvious being that the writer says Helen Steel is a member of the London Bookfair Collective. This is not true, and never has been, as far as i know.
Rob Ray [or Simon Saunders] Nov 21 2017 08:33 
I'll break my silence on here briefly to note that Northern Voices are habitual doxxers and liars, and their admin tried quite hard to get someone from Freedom arrested after he himself had assaulted our members. I'm mildly surprised Dave Douglass would want much to do with them tbh [to be honest].
As for "glaring omissions" if groups do or don't want to make statements that's up to them, tbh [to be honest] this smacks of stirring a bit.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Ethics of Intersex:


Northern Voices Editor: 

GIVEN that in the Guardian on the 26th, November 2017, the writers Ben Quinn and Dulcie Lee concluded that 'Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert', we at Northern Voices thought it may be as well if we published an account of an earlier study in 1967 by Harold Garfinkel of the transformation of what was then believed to be an intersex person into woman with a 'manmade' vagina.  I say 'intersex' because that is what Agnes in 1967 passed herself off as, she later after the operation admitted 'to one of her doctors that she had been taking very high levels of estrogen since the age of 12'. We think the case of Garfinkel's girl called Agnes, a transexual who passed herself off as intersex, is relevant to the recent debate that is raging among anarchists, feminists, trans folk and even within parties like the Labour Party.

 A 1960s Ethnographic Study of a Girl Called Agnes

AGNES was a 19-year old woman with an accidental penis appendage.  Studied by anthropologist Harold Garfinkel and written about in a 1967 report titled Studies in Ethnomethodology, Agnes became recognized by her researchers as an example of “passing.”  After undergoing a sex transition operation at UCLA in 1959 that amputated her existing penis and transformed it into a “manmade” vagina, Garfinkel’s research presents Agnes’ construction of her own personal history of femininity, draws attention to the secrets she refuses to disclose to anyone, and paints a portrait of a woman raised as a boy and fighting to fit into a society of “normal” gendered people.

At 17, Agnes (then identified by society and her family as a male) left home to live with her grandmother for a month–leaving one day with all of her belongings, changing into “female” attire in a booked hotel room, and creating a new life for herself as a woman.  Because she was living in a society that “prohibits willful or random movements from one sex status to the other,” (125)  Agnes consciously learned the accepted and expected mannerisms that accompany being a woman.  She “passed” effectively–noticed in bars and mistaken for a wife when she ventured out with her brother. She gained a boyfriend and avoided (for as long as possible) the day when she would have to tell him about her “vestigal penis.”

In interviews about her experiences both before and after the UCLA “castration,” Agnes identifies as a natural woman living in an environment that does not recognize her penis as accidental.  She is the victim of a mistake made by nature and corrected by man.  After the operation, Agnes still fights to conceal her past.  She has lived a life of concealment and aversion (hiding breasts as a 12-year old “boy” due to a later diagnosed excess of estrogen) and  claims to have 19 years of her life to “make up for.”

Her stories to researchers are filled with positive overtones and rosy colors.  She claims her sex transition was easily accepted by her parents and her boyfriend, and easily constructs a plotline that gives an impression of herself as she wants to be seen.  Garfinkel struggles with separating the truth of Agnes’ story from its reality.  He seems to cringe at her stories of learning (from her boyfriend) about the norms of femininity–that she should not give her opinions too readily and should fulfill his sexual needs.

Reading through the conflicted and often confusing accounts of Agnes, I was most shocked by her determination to subscribe to the black and white traditional definitions of man and woman.  Despite her own personal ambiguous “sex,” she is dismissive of homosexuals and transsexuals.  She is extremely uncomfortable when these categories are seen as parallel to her life, and she recurrently refers to them as “abnormal.”  She does not want to be classified with “them.”

Unlike many transexuals known to work toward raising public awareness and acceptance, Agnes only wanted to fit easily into the mainstream.  She did everything possible to become the media representations of housewives and ladylike women that were ubiquitous in the 50s and 60s (and today.)  She didn’t long for a greater social openness or even think that she should not have to hide her “condition.”   As Garfinkel explains, avoiding any examinations or inquiries that could reveal the presence of her penis (prior to castration) became a game.  Agnes learned the script of society’s stereotypes and rules to a T.  This was the act of “passing.”

Reminiscent of the “passing” that occurred during the Harlem Renaissance as light-skinned African Americans reaped the benefits of being acknowledged as white in American society, I was uncomfortable with Agnes’ cover-up. I wanted her to be accepted by society as a woman, but I also wanted society to accept sex and gender more openly.   I wanted it to be seen as a choice–to give the opportunity to identify with what Agnes referred to as her “natural” femaleness.  Perhaps this is more true in our modern age, but I think that the black and white boundaries of male and female still exist (even if they have blurred a bit.)

Watching an MTV reality show called “Plain Jane,” these stereotypical boundaries are more than evident.  A grungy-looking brunette with glasses and a monotone black and baggy wardrobe stands beside a smokey-eyed and stiletto clad British fashionista guru.  She walks through a street fair with an ear piece feeding her tips from the glamorous tutor about how to flirt–given advice like “guys like to hear themselves talk!   Ask him questions!”

By the end of the show, the formerly drab 20-something has been made into a Va-Va Voom hourglass model in a bright purple dress and honey-colored tresses.  She flirts through bright red lips and bats hyper-extended eyelashes.  She is a complete success.  I look at her as she delicately forks her salad, and I see the stigmatized version of the beautiful woman made real.

I think then about the Irish “Real Rape” stereotype I learned about recently in a policy class at NUIG. Until 1990, men could not be raped. Even today, legislation does not allow for the possibility that a man can be raped by a woman. Until the 1980s, “marriage rape” did not exist in Ireland.  This traces back to the idea of women as property–the consent of marriage synonymous with the consent of sex. In 2011, the false belief that rape usually is perpetrated by a stranger, at night, and with resistance from the victim results in cases that don’t fit this outline are quickly dismissed.

We read facts like these (and see black and white stereotypes play out on screen,) and we recognize that they are troubling.  And yet, they persist.  How could (or should) we change the way society perceives?

Agnes might have told us that we don’t necessarily need to.

Agnes’ story carries with it a twist ending.  At the time of her operation at UCLA, it was believed by her doctors and researchers that she possessed male organs, but that her estrogen levels were naturally on the same level as a “normal” woman.  They saw removal of the penis as the most “humane” thing to do–particularly because Agnes was experiencing extreme depression at the time.  They agreed to perform the procedure with minimal fees if Agnes participated in ongoing follow-up research.  Agnes agreed.

Despite years of interviews and research, Agnes still had secrets.  After she was finally settled into a new life as a married woman with nothing recognizably “unnatural” about her outward sex, Agnes revealed to one of her doctors that she had been taking very high levels of estrogen since the age of 12.  She was a biologically “normal” male until she stole her mother’s pills at this young age.  The supplements were taken at just the right time–halting the developments of male puberty and beginning the development of breasts.  Scientists believed that her “feminine” skin, breasts, voice, and convincing “passing” were a result of biology.  This added knowledge made clear that her transformation was an even clearer choice.

How does this change her story?  Does it discount it, or give it even more credibility?

I don’t have the answers, but this week will be full of wondering.