Sunday, 30 August 2015


Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine 
Right to buy given to social housing tenants 
Market rents may force some out of their home 
Government plans to extend the right to buy for tenants of social housing have been widely criticised. 
Social housing consists of homes provided by councils, housing associations and registered social landlords. 
Nearly a fifth of Britain’s homes are social housing, and demand for it remains high, with 1.8 million households on waiting lists. 
Giving tenants the right to buy was a flagship policy of the Thatcher government and maintained by subsequent administrations. It resulted in a large reduction in council housing stock. 
Although the full details have yet to be revealed, David Cameron’s government now aims to extend the current right-to-buy discounts for council tenants, which start at 35 per cent after a tenant has been in a house for three years, to housing association tenants. During the general election campaign, Cameron claimed the policy showed the Conservatives were the party of “working people, offering you security at every stage of life”. 
Housing associations will also see their income drop after they were instructed to reduce rents by 1 per cent annually for the next four years. The government has told councils they must sell their most valuable properties to fund the new right-to-buy discounts. And from 2017 social housing tenants will be forced to pay market rents to remain in their homes if their annual household income exceeds £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere. 
Barry Faulkner from Liverpool is among those set to be affected. He moved to Pyrford Village near Woking – not classed as part of London – to live with his partner and her severely disabled daughter, aged 10, who requires constant attention. They live in a specially adapted three bedroom council house that they rent from Woking Borough Council at £545 a month. 
‘Entire income’ 
Faulkner earns over £30,000, his partner has a £61 a week carers allowance and the family also has funding for  a vehicle with a lift in the back. Market rents locally for similar properties are a monthly minimum of £1,800 and average £2,000. 
“There is no way we can afford to pay anything like such sums, which are equivalent to my entire income,” said Faulkner.
“I may have to move out as clearly we cannot disrupt where my partner’s daughter lives because it is specially adapted for her needs. 
“We are hoping for some form of remit around disability and a heavily tapered rent increase based on income. Better still if the policy was scrapped.” 
Chancellor George Osborne announced in the budget a new £9 an hour national living wage from 2020. This will mean that a couple living outside London and both working 34 hours a week would be classified as higher income and liable for the market rent. Any surplus from a market rent must be paid back to central government by councils. 
These plans are set alongside the freezing for the next four years of working- age benefits, as well as the cap on benefits that can be claimed by a family to £20,000 outside London. This will cut the incomes of many families in social housing and may threaten their ability to meet their basic needs. 
‘Administrative nightmare’ 
Yorkshire Housing (YH) is a registered social landlord providing more than 18,000 homes. YH’s social rent tenants in a typical two bed property in Halifax pay just over £350 a month rent – around a third less than local market rents. YH also builds homes for sale on the open market and rents out homes at market rates. 
A YH spokesperson said it was “concerned” about charging higher rents to tenants earning over £30,000 “as we have no mechanism
to know what tenants earn, feel it will affect only a small number and may prove an administrative nightmare costing more than it generates in extra rent”. 
YH is waiting to see if it will be paid full compensation by the government when tenants buy their homes at a discounted rate. 
“Whilst supporting tenants’ home ownership aspirations we don’t want it to undermine our housing association business model as we want to continue providing good quality affordable rental housing for those who need it,” continued the spokesperson, adding that rent reductions would cut its income and hit reinvestment. 
According to the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, nationally they will lose £3.9 billion under the policy. In some cases tenants may find it cheaper to buy the property rather than paying market rents, further depleting social housing stock. 
Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham City and shadow housing minister, said charging market rents for households with incomes above £30,000 could prove a “disincentive to people to work more hours or secure promotion”. 
She added: “Also extending right to buy to housing associations risks making the housing crisis worse. Housing experts have criticised the plans as unworkable and uncosted and, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, they risk adding £60 billion to public debt. 
“The government does not understand the scale of the housing crisis and their policies will deepen, not ease, it.” 
Radically different 
Despite the concerns of many experts and tenants, NHF chief executive David Orr said: “Given the scale of the housing crisis it is understandable that the government is looking for higher earners to pay what they can afford for housing. Housing associations would like to work with the government on its plans... and can do much more to help people, including our own tenants, into home ownership.” 
The NHF’s A Plan for Homes aims to build 120,000 homes annually – half for sale and half for letting at market or affordable rent levels. “Affordable homes” is a relatively recent housing term that is increasingly replacing social rent, where rents would be set at around half local market rents. Affordable rents are set at 80 per cent of the local market rent. 
A radically different approach is offered by Defend Council Housing (DCH), which argues for direct public investment in council housing with lower rents and secure tenancies. 
DCH spokesperson Eileen Short claimed the introduction of market rents and right to buy were designed to force people into buying, whether or not they could afford it. 

“It will line the government’s pockets while destroying social housing by reducing it to housing of last resort – just when millions are in desperate need of secure and really affordable homes to rent,” she said. “We will be fighting to put council housing back where it belongs, as
part of the answer to Britain’s growing housing crisis. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Mark Jenner - police spy

I contributed heavily to this excellent piece of research on police spy Mark Jenner:-

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


A slightly revised version of this will be the September book of the month for Unite Education.


Edited by David Whyte, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Liverpool. 

Pluto Press.

Bribery may not routinely happen in British police forces, public services or in government. But, as 
a wide range of campaigners demonstrate in this book there is endemic institutional corruption and that Parliament, regulatory bodies and the police are so implicated in this that they cannot hold others to account. 

So successful has been the neoliberal project, which was started by Pinochet in Chile in the 70s and advanced by Thatcher and Reagan in the 80s, in establishing corporate control, even in liberal democracies, that when the banks collapsed because of their own dodgy, frequently illegal, practices in 2008 and Chancellor Alistair Darling stepped in with £500 billion of public funding he didn’t even reference Parliament. Instead he negotiated with a hand-picked group of elite bankers whilst eating a Balti takeaway. 

Five years later David Cameron flew 131 business leaders to China on a government trade mission. The delegation included companies involved in bribery allegations connected to Chinese officials plus a broker fined for participating in the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal. Cameron defended the participating firms because he knew that if he vetted them for their unethical practices then the trade delegation would have be much smaller. 

The 'big four' accountancy firms - Deloitte & Touche, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young and KPMG - assist many UK companies to avoid paying tax, including income tax on bonuses for an elite that includes corporate executives now earning 160 times the average UK worker’s pay. This is 20x the 18:1 ratio in 1980.

With its overseas territories and crown dependancies, Britain's role as the world's number 1 purveyor of financial secrecy ensures the City of London controls 25 per cent of the global market for offshore financial services. This helps conceal tax evasion and avoidance, estimated at £120 billion in 2012/13. David Cameron is himself the product of an offshore dynasty as his father chaired a  Jersey investment firm and co-founded a Panama registered investment company. 

In the U.S, the big four, who, of course, gave the UK banks a clean bill of health when they audited them before the crash, have all been fined for corrupt practices. There has been no effective retribution here though. What may have helped the four was donating £3.5 million to the Tories before the 2010 General Election plus previous hefty donations to New Labour when it was in government. 

There is also the ‘revolving door’, now common right across the state and corporate sector, whereby senior figures move from the private to public, and vice-versa, sectors. Former PwC staffer Mark Hoban thus became treasury minister responsible for oversight of tax laws between 2010-12. PwC partner Richard Abadie has been head of private finance policy at the Treasury.

The authors in this book, which includes essays on state torture, Hillsborough - including one from Sheila Coleman - and child sex abuse scandals, understand that many people realise how serious corruption is in Britain. What concerns the writers is that the public will regard corruption as unstoppable and something they can do nothing about. That each crime reported will lead to apathy, alienation and atomisation. It is up to all of us to ensure that is not the case.  

The first player to score 40 goals in a top-flight season: Ted Harper

One of the most radical changes in the rules of football took place at the start of the 1925-26 season when the offside trap was reduced from three to two players. One man benefitted more than anyone - Ted Harper!

The Golden Boot: Football's Top Scorers by Mark Metcalf via @AmazonUK

Season: 1925-26 
Goals scored: 43 (out of 91) 26 home, 17 away 
Percentage: 47%
Runner-up: David Halliday (Sunderland) 36 
Blackburn Rovers finished twelfth

Born in Sheerness, Kent on 22 August 1901, Ted Harper arrived at Ewood Park in 1923 from Sheppey United on the strength of his goalscoring record in the Kent League. Critics said he looked clumsy and had no ball control but as a goalscorer there were few better. He was quickly off the mark with 18 goals in his first season. 

In February 1925, Rovers signed Syd Puddefoot from Falkirk for £4,000. Despite being aged thirty, the ex-West Ham United favourite was a gifted playmaker whose vision and passing ability would - particularly in light of the new rules that reduced the offside trap from three to two players - carve out the sort of chances Harper could happily put away. The result was that in their first full season, Harper was to become the first player to crash through the barrier of forty goals in a League season. It remains a record no one at Ewood Park has seriously threatened since. 

Harper’s season hardly started with a bang, but after failing to be selected for the first three games of it - all of which Rovers lost, including a 6-2 thrashing at Roker Park - he scored a stunning five goals in his first match, aiding his side to a 7-1 win at Newcastle United. The home side had beaten Notts County heavily in the previous game and were in a confident mood before kick-off. 

Few could have predicted how wonderful the away side would play as a team, yet by half time they were already three goals up. Long before the end Harper joined the select band of players who have scored five goals in a top-flight match. He did it by staying well up the field, constantly seeking to break through Newcastle’s continued use of the offside trap that a few short years earlier had been the best in the business, but was now unable to come to terms with the law changes. With Puddefoot inside him, and wingers Joe Hulme and Arthur Rigby outside Harper was presented with numerous chances and did his best to grab as many goals as possible. In the event, five wasn’t too bad. 

Back at Ewood, Harper then scored his first of the season there with a penalty against WBA. Two days later, at Bramall Lane, the Kent lad got his seventh of the season in a 1-1 draw. 

There was a large crowd inside Ewood for the return fixture with Sunderland. They witnessed some of the qualities that had brought Rovers success at Newcastle. Puddefoot, given a roving commission, pulled the Wearsiders' defence apart and after Rigby opened the scoring, Harper added two more in the second period in a 3-0 success. Harper’s nine League goals in just four matches rose to 12 in five in the next game as Cardiff were beaten 6-3 at Ewood Park. 

Two more in his next two games meant it was fourteen in seven. Newcastle arrived much better prepared than in the first game and shocked the home support by winning 2-1, and also stopped Harper scoring for the first time in the season. Bolton repeated the feat at Burnden Park, but Notts County were unable to and his two goals, one a penalty, took Harper’s record up to sixteen in ten starts. 

This rose to nineteen in eleven and as the hat-trick was at Turf Moor, there was extra joy for the Rovers fans that were able to make the short journey to Burnley. With the game tied on 60 minutes at 0-0, Harper pounced when Harold Hill and Jerry Dawson dallied over who should clear the ball. It was a typical opportunist goal, one of many the Rovers man happily picked up during his time with the club, and on 80 minutes he was again in just the right place to accept Puddefoot’s pass and make it 2-0. Just before the end, he again scored to ensure his side won 3-1. A penalty at home to Leeds the following weekend made it twenty in twelve games. 

At home to Everton on Christmas Day, Harper got another couple. The first, reported the Liverpool Echo, was ‘a brilliant equaliser, Harper, after a run of many yards (In which he thrice mastered efforts by McDonald to stop him) leaving Hardy helpless with a fine shot.’ It was now twenty-five in nineteen games. Three more followed in his next four matches before a temporary blip in form saw him score just twice in Rovers’ next five games. 

Nevertheless, with seven from the next eight games it meant that prior to kick-off against Manchester United on 10 April, he had notched thirty-seven League goals and needed just two to overtake Everton’s Bert Freeman and Bolton’s Joe Smith, whose thirty-eight in 1908-09 and 1920-21 respectively remained a League record. Furthermore, a hat-trick and Harper would also overtake David Brown as the top scorer in any league, the Darlington man having scored 39 in the previous season’s Division Three North. 

Despite his successes in front of goal, the Rovers man was not even assured of finishing as Division One top scorer.  Sunderland’s David Halliday had already scored thirty-eight and with Harper certain to miss Rovers’ penultimate game of the season to  represent his country in his debut match against Scotland then he really needed to find the net.

He certainly did so, hammering home four goals in a 7-0 win. Each of his goals was greeted with special cheers, especially the second that took him on to thirty-nine for the season. 

The first was another piece of opportunism and cheeky skill, pouncing on the ball after Alf Steward had saved to drill it just inside the post as he fell backwards. Then after beating Charlie Moore for pace, he cleverly placed the ball beyond the ‘keeper. His third was similar, a brilliant run and a powerful shot, and when he touched home his fourth the crowd roared its approval. Coming off he then learned that Halliday had failed to score against Arsenal, to leave him three ahead of the Sunderland man. 

It was the perfect boost prior to his first international, but with Puddefoot alongside him it was to prove a disappointing afternoon as Scotland won 1-0 at Old Trafford.  Never selected again for his country, it meant Harper never played at Wembley because when Rovers got to the FA Cup Final in 1928 he had already left the previous year to join Sheffield Wednesday.

Back home for the final League game of the season Harper struck a further two goals against Aston Villa to take his seasons record to a remarkable forty-three goals in thirty-seven games. 

At Sheffield Wednesday Harper scored thirteen goals in eighteen games and helped the Owls, with five goals in six games, capture the First Division title in 1928-29. He moved to Spurs in 1929 and scored sixty-two goals in sixty-three League games before returning to Lancashire with Preston in 1931. He saw out his career back with the Rovers in November 1933 before joining the club’s backroom staff until 1948. He broke individual goalscoring records at Blackburn, Tottenham and Preston during his career. His Rovers record reads 177 League and FA Cup Apps, 122 goals. Ted died in Blackburn on the 22 July 1959.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Business owner’s first mistake over employee

Her son was killed in industrial accident

 Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine. 

A prominent safety campaigner has criticised the authorities’ treatment of a dying businesswoman. 
Linda Whelan’s care company in Bishop Auckland was closed down after she was prosecuted for breaching safeguarding laws for the first time.

Diagnosed earlier this year with bowel cancer and given six months to live, Whelan had herself become a health and safety campaigner after her son died in a fire at his workplace.

Now Hilda Palmer, co-ordinator of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, says “justice has been turned upside down” for Whelan.

Whelan set up Unique Home Care in 2002. A domiciliary care company, it grew to have 200 clients under the care of 90 staff with contracts from Darlington Borough Council and Durham County Council among others.

The business was inspected annually by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which in August 2013 raised no cause for concern.

But in late 2013 a client reported the loss of some money after a UHC worker, Veronica Newton, had completed her home visit. 

In a previous job, Newton had been placed on the Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) list of care workers who have harmed vulnerable adults in the past, following a theft in a client’s home.

But for her job interview with UHC she forged a letter from Durham Constabulary recommending that her name be removed from the POCA list. 

Following the UHC client’s complaint, Whelan discovered Newton should not have been working with vulnerable adults and she was sacked.

Whelan handed over Newton's file to the police. Newton was convicted of fraud and theft. An eight month prison sentence was suspended for two years. 

The CQC then ruled that UCH was failing in a number of areas including clients being inadequately protected from the risk of abuse and Whelan pleaded guilty at the Magistrates Court on 16 July 2014 to “allowing a person to engage in an activity regulated by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006”. She received a conditional discharge for six months, the minimum sentence at a magistrates court. 

The CQC told Whelan, an experienced care worker before going into business, that she must remove herself from UHC's day-to-day operations. 

Whelan employed a new manager to run the UCH but closed the company in April this year after the CQC rated the company as inadequate in four out of five categories. 

Whelan said: “Whereas other care companies would have sacked Newton I believe they would have avoided going to the police for fear of damaging their business. I felt I was doing the right thing. I had successfully undertaken hundreds of staff checks before and was harshly treated for making one mistake.”

Whelan’s 23-year-old son Craig, a steeplejack, died in 2002 when he was helping demolish a chimney at Bolton company Carnaud Metal Box and fire broke out.

Three Metal Box managers admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by knowing the chimney was unsafe and failing to pass on information that it was “flammable and toxic”. The three men said they had not received sufficient health and safety training. Fines totalling £17,000 were imposed on the company.

Following her son’s death Whelan became a founder of the Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) campaigning group, which is assisted by the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre. With 142 people killed at work in 2014-15, FACK wants “government action to halt the complacency about deaths at work and introduce decent laws which will bring dangerously negligent bosses to justice”.

Palmer said: “What has happened to Linda Whelan is not good enough. Justice has been turned upside down. I think the fact the magistrates imposed the minimum sentence indicates their sympathies. Linda has been badly let down by a state that allows a firm that was responsible for her son's death to pay a small fine. Yet she makes a mistake and ends up losing a previously very well run business, which I know she wanted to see continue under her son, Dean's, direction.”

A CQC spokesperson said: “We are satisfied that the findings of our reports and judgements are correct. Consistency and fairness are core principles that underpin our work… In addition any regulatory decision that CQC takes is open to challenge by a registered provider through a variety of appeal processes.”

Whelan – who has refused treatment for her illness and wants to “die with dignity” – has requested all CQC's materials on her. She has been told she needs to submit a Freedom of Information request and will be charged £750 for the retrieval of the information. 

She said: “I will pay it. I want my family to go through it carefully after my death as I believe what CQC has done requires further investigation.”

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Unite book of the month for August

Lydia Becker plaque commemorates suffragette

Lydia Ernestine Becker, Chadderton, Oldham 

The Lydia Becker blue plaque was unveiled at her family home of Foxdenton Hall, Foxdenton Park on 28 September 1999. She was born in 1827 and was the eldest of 15 children. After hearing Barbara Bodichon lecture on women's suffrage at a meeting in Manchester in 1866 she became converted to the idea that women should have the vote and spent the rest of her life campaigning on the issue. 

Becker supported Radical MP John Stuart Mill when added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would have given women the same voting rights as men. The amendment was lost. In 1870, Becker established the Women's Suffrage Journal and when the 1870 Education Act allowed women to vote and serve on School Boards, Becker was elected to the Manchester School Board and took a keen interest in raising the educational standards of girls in the city.

Between 1881 and 1884 Becker was the paid secretary of the Central Society for Women's Suffrage and was elected in 1887 as president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage. She died on 21 July 1890. 

Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep at BAE Systems at Middleton, Manchester for ensuring Lydia Becker features on Rebel Road. "As a local Oldham lad I am proud of my town's radical traditions and want to see them replicated today. I am delighted to know Unite has the Rebel Road project," said Alan.

Alan Bedford 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Joseph Burgess plaque in Failsworth, Oldham commemorates ILP creator

Taken from Rebel Road project at Unite Education. 

Joseph Burgess, Failsworth, Oldham 

A blue plaque at the birthplace of journalist and Labour politician Joseph Burgess was unveiled at 64a, Old Road, Failsworth in October 2007. Failsworth Historical Society had campaigned for the erection of the plaque with Kevin McPhillips dissertation key to the resurrection of interest in Burgess’s life and work.

Burgess, a Christian Socialist, spent his life, talents and energy in the cause of the working class. He was just six when he began work in a card-cutting room and worked as a cotton operative until he was 28 when he began work as a correspondent for a local newspaper. 

His talents as a journalist could have earned him an easier life but he refused to compromise to satisfy the major print employers. Burgess established and worked for a number of socialist papers including the Yorkshire Factory Times and Bradford Pioneer

Burgess was active in the creation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a socialist party established in Bradford in 1893 and which was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906 to 1932. Burgess was unsuccessful on a number of occasions when he stood as an ILP Parliamentary candidate but he was elected as a member of Glasgow City Council and served between 1902 and 1905. 

Burgess married three times, had six children and died January 1934.

Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep from Oldham, for ensuring Joseph Burgess is on Rebel Road.

“I want to help ensure that the labour movement heroes of the past are not forgotten as hopefully they can act as an encouragement to activists today.” said Alan. 

Samuel Bamford Obelisk in Middleton commemorates Peterloo leader

Samuel Bamford, Middleton Cemetery behind St Leonard’s Church. 

One years' imprisonment for treason in Lincoln gaol was the fate suffered by Samuel Bamford for leading the Middleton contingent on 16 August 1819 to St Peter's Fields, Manchester where armed cavalry charged on a peaceful pro democracy crowd of 70,000 demonstrators, killing at least 18 and seriously injuring over 700 people. The 'Peterloo Massacre' is now annually commemorated in a 'Campaign for a fitting memorial to the martyrs of democracy.' See 

Bamford was born in Middleton on 28 February 1788 and became a weaver and then a warehouseman but it was as a radical poet and writer that he became best known and his Passages in the Life of a Radical (1840-44) is regarded as a historically important guide to the conditions of the working classes after 1815. 

Bamford was convinced after Peterloo that the superior physical power of the state would always overcome radical militancy and although he continued to campaign for radical reform he opposed any activism involving physical force.

Bamford died on 13 April 1872 and was given a public funeral that was attended by thousands. The huge obelisk memorial to him that was paid from public subscription was unveiled at Middleton Cemetery in 1877 and includes an inscription: ‘Bamford was a reformer when to be so was unsafe, and he suffered for his faith.’ Sadly Middleton Cemetery behind St Leonard's Church, much of which was erected in 1412, is now quite badly overgrown.

To read more on Samuel Bamford see:-

Come along to Peterloo, Manchester on Sunday 16 August 2015

Peterloo, Manchester 

Manchester’s Tiananmen Square

Taken from Rebel Road project of Unite Education department

There is a small red plaque to the 1819 Peterloo massacre on the wall (it’s on the corner of Peter Street and Southmill Street) of the Radisson Hotel (the Free Trade Hall as was), Manchester.
In 1819 only 2% of people could vote and there was widespread poverty, due mainly to the corns laws that artificially inflated bread prices. On 16 August 1819, contingents from across the Manchester region marched in disciplined fashion to St Peter’s Field to support parliamentary reform by listening to radical speaker Henry Hunt. The crowd was at least 60,000, half the population of the immediate Manchester area. 

Banners demanded REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE AND EQUAL REPRESENTATION. Those in a government representing their own needs wanted no such things and sought to arrest Hunt and disperse the crowd. 

Wielding sabres, Manchester and Salford Yeomanry galloped into the unarmed, peaceful masses. Two-year-old William Fildes was the first casualty when a late arriving trooper knocked him from his mother’s arms. Fifteen people, at least, were killed and 600 to 800 injured.  

Amongst the dead was ex-soldier John Lees, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Peterloo became a mocking reference to Waterloo at which soldiers were viewed as genuine heroes. In recent times Peterloo has become compared with the slaughter of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

Not content with their killings the authorities in 1819 cracked down on reform. However, liberty could not be suppressed and demands for economic and political justice multiplied. The great Reform Act of 1832 meant Manchester, previously unrepresented in Parliament, elected two MPs. Sweeping democratic changes followed later.
Annual commemoration 

There is an annual commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre on the 3rd Sunday in August. This is organised by the Peterloo Massacre Memorial Campaign, which is seeking by 2019, the bicentennial anniversary of Peterloo, ’A fitting memorial to the martyrs of democracy.’ 

Manchester City Council is committed to a new memorial, which will be part of the redevelopments of the St Peter’s Square area. Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller has been commissioned to design the memorial.

For more information on Peterloo, including details of the annual commemoration events, go to:-

The 2014 Rally 

Article on Patrick O'Connell from Labour Briefing

Article on Bradford Fire Disaster from Labour Briefing

Ellen Strange article from Labour Briefing

Labour's first majority government

Go to:-

Leeds Pride 2015 was a success

See: -

Monday, 3 August 2015

Oldham's Robert Ascroft statue commemorates a Tory MP who was a trade unionist.

Robert Ascroft Memorial Statue, Alexandra Park, Oldham.

Taken from the Rebel Road project of Unite education at

A bronze statue of Ascroft was erected in 1903 by public subscription in memory of 'The Workers Friend' who acted as the legal advisor to the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners * (AOSC) that represented male mule spinners between 1870 and 1970 and which had 18,000 members at the time of Ashcroft's sudden death in 1899 at aged 51. The high density of union membership amongst cotton spinners meant AOSC members could negotiate significantly better wages and working conditions than other British industrial employees such that mule spinners became known as the Barefoot Aristocrats. 

Ascroft was a skilled negotiator who ensured that the 1892 Brooklands Agreement - one of the earliest and most famous of the agreements between capital and labour for the purpose of providing machinery for the settlement of disputes without having recourse to strikes or lockouts - that emerged out of a bitter dispute helped place industrial relations in the cotton industry on a more balanced footing. 

Ascroft was also a leading campaigner for better working conditions and between 1895 and his death he was one of Oldham's two Conservative MPs. 

Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep at BAE Systems in Middleton, Manchester for information on Ascroft. "I can't imagine in years to come that anyone in a trade union will want to put up a statue to the current lot of Conservative MPs," said Alan.   

Mary Macarthur statue and plaque, Cradley Heath

Mary Macarthur, Cradley Heath

Taken from Rebel Road project of Unite education at

The successful strike by women chainmakers at Cradley Heath in the Black Country in 1910 is commemorated by a statue of Mary Macarthur, who led the strike, and a monument to the strikers in a park named after Macarthur.

It took artist Luke Perry more than two years to create the statue which stands at 10ft and weighs nearly three-and-a-half tonnes. It was unveiled in 2012.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland next to the
Mary Macarthur statue in the Mary Macarthur Park.

The strike is celebrated at an annual Chainmakers Festival that is organised by the Midlands Trades Union Congress. There is live music, comedy, stalls, speeches, street theatre re-enactments and fun fair rides along Cradley Heath High Street where many of the women lived and worked over a century ago.

Cradley Heath High Street during the 2015 Chainmakers Festival

Chainmakers were highly skilled and badly paid. Writer Robert H Sheard described their lives in his ‘The White Slaves of England’ book.  'At Anvil Yard...I could see nothing but sorrow and hunger and grime, rags, foul food, open sores and movements incessant and laborious.'

Non-union women workers, who earned less than the unionised men doing the same jobs, were especially poorly paid, earning well under 10 shillings (50 pence) a week. 

Trade union organiser Mary Macarthur started the fightback by establishing in 1906 the Hammered Chain Branch of the National Federation of Women Workers. 

There was further progress when the Chain Trade Board - established by the Trade Boards Act 1909, which created the first boards legally able to set a minimum wage - agreed a 100 percent pay rise.  Many smaller companies though sought to avoid paying up and exploited their female employees illiteracy by tricking them into signing contracts that started the new rates six months later. 

Realising they had been duped around a thousand women, inspired by Mary Macarthur, began strike action to force their employers to pay the newly agreed minimum hourly wage of 2.5d (1 p). 

Strike funds were collected and when MacArthur, aware of the media's power, encouraged Pathe News to cover the strike this produced worldwide public sympathy and donations. The £4,000 collected maintained the struggle for 10 weeks at the end of which a famous victory was achieved when all the employers agreed to pay the minimum rate.

Actor Lynn Morris 

At the 2015 Chainmakers Festival, Macarthur’s victory speech was wonderfully recaptured by actor Lynn Morris. ”You no longer need a Mary Macarthur. You will find your own leaders and voices, but a word of warning on this glorious day, take heed for that which has been so hard won can be so easily lost. So keep the unity, keep the union and keep together.” Morris said today’s young women should use Macarthur as inspiration.

The Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland told the crowd the women Chainmakers are being replicated today by “women workers in hotels, who after decades of campaigning are beginning to make gains because they are getting organised through Unite.

“The Cradley Heath women Chainmakers show that if you are organised and in a union you can win in the most difficult of circumstances. They also by helping found the national minimum wage showed unions are not going to allow a race to the bottom. 

“It is important that we keep alive the memory of those brave women of over a century ago and this Festival is a marvellous way of doing so.” 

For more information on the strike go to
See also The Cradley Heath Women Chain-makers’ Strike of 1910 by Margaret Bradley 

Monument to the women chainmakers  in the Mary Macarthur Park.

All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography, Sheffield.