Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Speech to Halifax 1842 meeting on 17 September

Could it happen again?

In 1842 Britain was a society where parliament sent troops against civilians.  But parliament understood the implications of this terrible state of affairs and from then on has largely sought – with the exception of Ireland and which I will return to in due course - to control protests using the police, a civil force with coercive powers – which many people opposed - that began under Sir John Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act 1829 and which resulted in a network of police forces over the following quarter-century with the Lighting and Watching Act 1833, the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 – which enabled the first local authorities to set up borough forces, the County Police Act 1839 allowed the provincial counties to do the same, the City of London Act 1839 similar, The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 clarified police powers and in 1856 the County and Borough Police Act required all local councils to establish forces.

The police had, of course, demonstrated by 1833 that it was capable of spying on political activists and acting brutally as was the case at the Cold Bath Fields Meeting, declared illegal by the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne, of the National Political Union of the Working Classes.

Since then, any regular protestor will tell you that they expect the police to misbehave on protests, that in fact there has always been a shared understanding between police and protestors that the police will resort to unlawful violence at political protests.

Even the Countryside Alliance supporters in 2001 found themselves being roughed up outside Parliament when they protested against Tony Blair’s plans, forced on him due to popular pressure, to outlaw fox hunting with hounds. The attacks on  women who attended the vigil earlier this year for Sarah Everard, murdered by the police, came as no surprise to many people.

Returning to the past, on Sunday 13 November 1887, the Met deployed military tactics to prevent a demonstration in support of Home Rule in Trafalgar Square on what became known as Bloody Sunday. 2000 police officers, backed up by troops and cavalry prevented a quarter of a million people protesting and 200 afterwards required hospital treatment. Later many members of the public sought to bring charges of assault against 34 officers.

At the start of the 20th century – November 1910 - the police acted violently and also indecently assaulted numerous members of the Women’s Social and Political Union whose actions included  disorder and violence when seeking to breach police lines to gain entry to the House of Commons In total 296 women were arrested. All but 52 defendants later had their charges dropped. The Home Secretary Sir Winston Churchill later refused to hold a public inquiry into events.

Of course, the military were still during this period used where necessary. The Featherstone Massacre of 1893 during the national lock out of miners:-

Here is the Guardian report, dripping with support for the military.  It was about nine o'clock on Thursday night when the South Staffordshire detachment first fired on the mobs which were besieging the colliery of Lord Masham and were charging the soldiers with stones. The first shot was only by one file of two men, and these did not take effect. Shortly before ten o'clock one section of the Staffordshires fired two volleys.

So far as could be ascertained seven of the mob were hit. James Gibbs, of Loscoe, was shot through the breast, and expired. James Perkins, knee shot away, died yesterday.

A sculpture was unveiled at Featherstone in 1993 marking the centenary of "the Featherstone massacre", in which it says two miners died.

Then, of course, there was Tonypandy in 1910 where another joint police, involving local forces and the Met, and the army attacked striking miners resulting in the death of Samuel Rhys, who it is believed was hit by a police truncheon.

In August 1911, troops of the Worcestershire regiment shot dead two striking railway workers in Llanelli where strikers, taking part in national action, had already been brutally attacked by the police.

February 1919 – the police and military were jointly used to suppress a strike in Glasgow for 40 hour working week.

In none of these cases did any police officer or member of the military find themselves arrested or imprisoned.

In 1926 the army were used to break the strike by undertaking roles vacated by strikers.

Joseph Foster, interviewed in April 2005, recalled events in Burnhope in 1926 , when he was 14, as “being a terrible time. I saw the worst of the strike. No clothes, no shoes, no food... families couldn’t make ends meet.

Foster remembered an incident in which a delivery van was tipped over by four striking miners, Ted Close, Harry Hobbs, Jim Hobbs and Frankie Armstrong who had all been left angry after they had been forced to dive out of the way when the van was earlier driven at them. The events led to soldiers being sent to Burnhope. “They were walking about with bayonets, with guns.”

There is, of course, a place little more than 100 miles from here where British Troops have regularly been employed to put down demonstrators marching for rights that most people would accept be granted. On 30 January 1972 the largest civil rights (organised by NICRA) march in the history of Northern Ireland was ruthlessly suppressed with 14 killed, none of whom were armed

Later, Lord Saville's report was made public in 2010 and concluded that the killings were "unjustified" and "unjustifiable". It found that all of those shot were unarmed, that none were posing a serious threat, that no bombs were thrown and that soldiers "knowingly put forward false accounts" to justify their firing. The soldiers denied shooting the named victims but also denied shooting anyone by mistake. On publication of the report, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom. Following this, police began a murder investigation into the killings. One former soldier was charged with murder, but the case was dropped two years later when evidence was deemed inadmissible. This is now subject to appeal.

 Bloody Sunday fuelled Catholic and Irish nationalist hostility towards the British Army and worsened the conflict. Support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) rose, and there was a surge of recruitment into the organisation, especially locally.

Nearer to the current day, what are we to make of the fact that during Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader of the Labour Party we witnessed soldiers filmed using a Jeremy Corbyn poster for target practice.

The video showed servicemen from the Colchester-based Parachute Regiment in a shooting range, believed to be in Kabul, Afghanistan. The soldiers were disciplined but not sacked.

 Or in 2015, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton told the BBC's Andrew Marr that refusing to launch nuclear weapons would "seriously undermine" Britain's "deterrent". And he said he would be worried if such a view "translated into power".



Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Youtube videos by Rough Jersey


No Pasaran - James Alwyn of Bolton when to Spain to fight for democracy and lay down his life in doing so 




Edward McHugh - rediscovering a lost -working-class hero 




Ellen Strange - the light that still burns 




Friday, 13 August 2021

Halifax public meeting on 17 September will help build for 180th anniversary of the fateful events in 1842


Remember the people in Halifax who marched for democracy and an end to poverty in August 1842, some of whom paid with their lives


Public Meeting


to build for 180th anniversary commemoration in 2022


Friday 17 September 2021

7.15 pm

Maurice Jagger Centre

junction Lister Street & Winding Road, Halifax, HX1 1UZ


Speakers include:

Catherine Howe Halifax born author of Halifax 1842

Matthew Roberts Sheffield Hallam University

Cllr Jenny Lynn Park Ward councillor

Mark Metcalf Halifax freelance journalist


For more information email: info@calderdaletuc.org.uk


Peterloo 1819


Halifax 1842

In August 1842, striking industrial workers in Halifax were attacked by 150 soldiers and 200 specially sworn in constables. At least four were killed whilst many others suffered brutal injuries that are likely to have killed them.

Workers were participating in a nationwide general strike that combined demands for better pay with an extension to those allowed to vote.

Massive wage reductions over the previous two decades had left many workers in great poverty.

At the same time only one man in seven had the right to vote at a General Election.

The strikers called for the same right for all men, because they believed their own parliamentary representatives would bring them some control over the laws under which they lived: laws fashioned to protect property and profit. 

In the 179 years since that atrocity of 1842, what has changed for the people of Halifax?

The wealth gap between rich and poor is still here. In recent years it has widened under both Labour and Tory Governments.

Workplaces were hazardous in the 1800s yet are still not safe.  We have had a disproportionately high number of COVID deaths in front line workers, and deaths from accidents continue because of cost cutting by employers who ignore Health & Safety laws.

Our environment has greatly changed due to industrialisation.  Climate change needs measures taken that do not simply make ordinary people pay for polluting companies going green.

Housing costs – whether to buy or rent have risen sharply. Many young people still have no chance of owning their own home.

Unionisation is no longer a prosecutable offence but today there is still employer and government hostility to the existence of trades unions with Amazon being the latest major company to refuse to allow unions to organise employees.

Tax avoidance is still a fundamental issue with many major companies such as Amazon failing to pay their fair share.

As in 1842, new technology threatens us with unemployment:  driverless cars and automation mean millions face being out of work.

We have our NHS but it is facing privatisation with citizens paying exorbitantly for the building of Calderdale Royal Hospital because it was built using expensive private finance.

Today we have a national pension scheme but the state pension age has been increased. Capped pay rises (and pay freezes) for public sector workers also result in lower pensions on retirement.

Many of us enjoy the benefit of university education but students now pay for higher education and once they are saddled with debt, many cannot find decent jobs.

Sexism and racism are no longer left unchallenged as they once were but legislation is hard to enforce. Women should be safe. Ethnic minorities should be empowered to effectively challenge discrimination. The prosecution of attackers should be vigorously pursued.

Today, soldiers are not employed against demonstrators but there is an increasing militarisation of the police whose powers to prevent effective protests including strike action are set to be strengthened through the Policing Bill. 

As in 1842 we still live in a society organised on the basis of profit before people.

We will not forget what happened in Halifax in 1842. We will campaign for the changes needed for a better, fairer, more equal society. 

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Ellen Strange: the light that still burns documentary video

A Rough Jersey documentary of 18 minutes in length on how the oldest site in the world to commemorate  a domestic violence victim is providing inspiration for campaigners today:-  


Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Stanley Taggart; an ordinary man on an extraordinary day – a Unite booklet by Mark Metcalf


Stanley Taggart; an ordinary man on an extraordinary day – a Unite booklet by Mark Metcalf

When the spectre of fascism came marching into Stockton in September 1933 it aroused great passion and anger. Ordinary people recognised that fascism would destroy democracy, the trade union and labour movement, create a permanent one-party state, crush individual identity and force the individual to serve the interests of the state. It would lead to genocide and the persecution of minorities and women.

The story of Stanley Taggart is a story of an ordinary man, who did something extraordinary. It’s often said that history is made by the acts of extraordinary individuals, yet it is ordinary people standing together who really make the difference as Bertolt Brecht points out in his fantastically powerful poem, A Worker Reads History – “Each page a victory, at whose expense, the victory ball? Every ten years a great man, who paid the piper?”

 The story of a rank-and-file trade unionist, a member of the T&G, (predecessor union to Unite), is the story of us all. I’m sure on that far off morning in September 1933, when Stanley woke up, there must have been a slight temptation to roll back over in bed or choose to do other things that day. Many of us confronted by the choice of taking a stand against injustice, or simply going about our normal daily business, choose the latter.

Stanley Taggart alongside several thousand other local people, when asked by their grandchildren, “what did you do when the fascists came to our town?” was able to stand proud in the knowledge that he wasn’t passive, that he didn’t choose to leave it to others, but that he went out to stop them from spreading their messages of hate and division.

There are lessons for us all in Stanley’s story. It’s often said that evil succeeds when good people fail to stand up to challenge it. When we decide whether to attend that demo, to join that picket line or go to that rally, we place ourselves in history. When we are asked by our grandchildren what we did to stand up to far-right extremism, we need to have a tale or two to tell.

stanley-taggart-book-final.pdf (wordpress.com)