Thursday, 5 April 2018

Jack Stevenson Obituary

by Donald Rooum 
JACK Stevenson died on Easter Sunday.  

An electrician by trade, and a keen gardener of vegetables on his allotment, Jack was prominent among London anarchists and in the 1960s.  Among other achievements, he was the founder, treasurer, and inconspicuous donor to the Sit-Down-Or-Pay-Up fund.  Which subsidised legal expenses and fines of supporters of the Committee of One Hundred anti-bomb campaign, mostly charged with obstructing traffic.
The Jack Stevenson I knew!

by Brian Bamford 

 I first attended a meeting of the London Anarchist Group in November 1961, and that’s when I first heard Jack Stevenson speak at a meeting.  Laurens Otter was there, and I’d already known Laurens for over a year, through my acquaintance with him on the Coast-to- Coast March against nuclear weapons up North, and at other meetings and conferences associated with Ban the Bomb and the Labour Party.  During the London Anarchist meeting, as I recall, there was a disagreement between Jack and Laurens over the the latter’s willingness to court imprisonment and submit passively to the authorities during his campaign with the Direct Action Committee at Holy Lock.

Jack, as I recall, asked Laurens why he and the others imprisoned for the offences in Scotland hadn’t attempted to escape, as that, according to Jack, would have been the anarchist thing to do. Laurens said at the time that they had been asked to give their word that they would not attempt to escape, but they had refused to do so.

Both Jack and his wife, Mary, were close to the anarcho-syndicalist wing of anarchism. Consequently, Jack was among that group of anarchists and syndicalists who in late 1960 wrote a letter to Freedom calling for a conference of Rank & File workers*.  Among those promoting this conference were such figures as Peter Turner, a carpenter and later one of the editorial staff of Freedom; Brian Behan, also a carpenter; Ken Weller, a shop steward in the car industry and member of a group, initially known as Socialism Reaffirmed, which published a journal, The Agitator; Ken Hawkes the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation (SWF); Bill and Joan Christopher (see ‘A Radical Born on Bastille Day'); and of course the electrician, Jack Stevenson.

I spoke to Joan Christopher about the death of Jack Stevenson last night, and we remembered that when I interviewed her a year ago that we had reminisced about her and Bill’s friendship with Jack and Mary Stevenson. How they disagreed about how Bill and Jack Stevenson had had so many disputes over their tastes in Jazz. Peter Turner, who witnessed these disputes was always going on to me about these disagreements over music.

Joan had said ‘we all had a passion for Jazz! But when were living at Cumberland Road, we made it open-plan, and on Jack Stevenson’s advice bought a Pye Black Box. We liked Bruck, Mendelssohn, Mahler and Oscar Peterson.’ The Joan said: ‘It was through Jack Stevenson we came to know the track by Jack Teagarden called “Tribute to Sydney Bechet”.’

At that point Joan started to hum the tune, and she said movingly: ‘I want that played at my funeral’

Strangely enough the last time I saw Jack and Mary Stevenson was at Peter Turner's funeral in London, and Laurens Otter was there as well.

*  The National Rank & File Group (NR&FM) of militants had some effect in the early 1960s.   In 1961, Peregrine Gerard Worsthorne was to be appointed as the first deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph; a job with fewer responsibilities than its title implies, and he rang Jim Pinkerton, then the international secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, to ask about the National Rank & File grouping.  It was in his column in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Worsthorne gave some critical coverage to the NR&FM entity at the time.  Years later, Peter Turner told me that with the dramatic rise in the 1960s of the anti-nuclear Ban-the-Bomb movement around CND and the Committee of 100, the industrial struggle was sidelined and the Nat. Rank & File groping of militant was absorbed into the C. of 100.



Donald Rooum said...

Just one point: are you sure about Ken Weller's job?? When I knew him, he was a telephone engineer.

bammy said...

Not sure, but according to the Editorial notes by the Hobgoblin Collective, 21 January 2011 based on an article by someone called David Brown, I found the following:

'We publish for the first time the following text, written in 1975 as a letter to the membership of the Solidarity group – also known as ‘Solidarity For Workers Power’. This group was founded in 1960 by Chris Pallis, an eminent neurologist who wrote under the name “Maurice Brinton,” and Ken Weller, a young shop steward working in the motor industry.

Donald Rooum said...

I guess there must be two people called Ken Weller. The one I knew was aged at least 45 (not young?) in 1975. In the 1960s he told me how one of his jobs. in a London telephone exchange, was to route a list of numbers through the Central Tapping Exchange, where reports of odd noises and harassment by phone were investigated. No doubt the list of numbers included some from police and Intelligence services, but engineers in local exchanges did not know why particular numbers were tapped.