Monday, 20 May 2019

REBEL FOOTPRINTS - a guide to uncovering London’s radical history by David Rosenberg

REBEL FOOTPRINTS -  a guide to uncovering London’s radical history by David Rosenberg

Pluto Press

Visiting London or you’re one of its residents? This second edition of an excellent book contains eleven walks, none too strenuous, each beautifully illustrated with a map and guide, around sites where radicals fought, successfully and not, to create a democratic, poverty ridden, classless society of equals. 

The walks cover the areas around Clerkenwell Green, Bow, Spitalfields, Bloomsbury, Battersea, Cable Street/Long Lane, Bermondsey, Westminster, Poplar, Fleet Street and Bethnal Green/Shoreditch.

The latter two are new walks and I was particularly drawn to the latter as it is an area I know reasonably well from living in North East London between 1988 to 2000. Fighting for decent, affordable housing has a long tradition in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. There was no legislation governing the standard or quantity of housing for the working classes until the 1850s and even then new laws only laid down stipulations about sanitation standards in lodging or ‘doss-houses.’ 

When bread riots broke out in 1861 the author John Hollingshead wrote a series of articles focusing on living conditions in which dozens of families were crushed into dilapidated accommodation. Almost three decades later Bethnal Green’s medical officer, George Paddock Bate, estimated that 45% of houses could not be made fit for human habitation. 

In the 1880s political reformers created the London Municipal Reform League and their efforts bore fruit when the London County Council (LCC) was set up in 1889 and the following year a Housing Act ‘empowered a progressive alliance of LCC liberals, labourites and socialists to embark on council-housing projects.’ Slums were cleared and as new buildings were constructed a new group was formed in the LCC architects’ department the ‘Housing of the Working Classes Branch.’ Architectural means were used to change lives. Many of these houses still exist. Some of those who benefitted were immigrant Jews, many artisans, who faced discrimination in seeking employment and private housing to rent. 

In the first decade of the twentieth century Jews formed 50 per cent of tenants on the Boundary estate and many children had very happy memories of their childhood. In the 1930s the Communist Party helped create a tenants league that successfully won a maximum scale of rents, official recognition of the Tenants’ Association and an understanding that necessary repairs would be carried out on a regular basis. Tenants fought off an attempt by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to distort their activities. 

The walk for this chapter starts at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch High Street E1 6JN. It contains ten distinct landmarks including Brick Lane and Columbia Road flower market.

My favourite chapter is Coming in from the Cold: Immigrant Agitators and Radicals in Spitalfields where the walk includes a) Whitechapel Art Gallery that when it opened in 1892 became known as the ‘People’s University of the East End’ b) Angel Alley, home of the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, now over 130 years old, c) Wentworth Street, home of Sarah Wesker who led strikes in many east London trouser factories throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

The book also details many plaques and as the organiser of the Unite Rebel Road project I am aware that the number of plaques on it from London is a lot less than should be the case. 

As such if anyone can get me photos of those such as those to rebellious MP Robert Waithman in Dorset Rise in Farringdon, Liberal MP Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, in Roseberry Avenue near Finsbury Old Town Hall and to Bertrand Russell in Bury Place near to Bloomsbury Way that would be appreciated. 

Sone of the other plaques and statues that are listed within Rebel Footprints and that I need to include on Rebel Road are :-

  1. Fenner Brockway statue in Red Lion Square 
  2. John Howard - 23 Great Ormond Street
  3. John Archer - 214 Battersea Park Road
  4. Eleanor Rathbone MP - Tufton Street 
  5. Emmeline Pankhurst statue - Victoria Gardens 
  6. Millicent Fawcett statue - Parliament Square 
  7. Mural of Sylvia Pankhurst and local suffragette activity on side of Lord Morpeth pub on Old Ford Road 
  8. George Lansbury at 39 Bow Road 
  9. East End volunteers who went to fight against fascism in Spain - St George’s Town Hall 

The final paragraph in the book, which contains a general appeal for more public illustrations to highlight London’s rebellious past, is correct when it states, ’London remains a vibrant and rebellious city, and we should honour those who had the courage, conviction and determination to blaze the trail.’ Time to get some walking shoes out, keep fit and educate yourself at the same time. Enjoy. 

Stop press 

6pm on Thursday 17 October at Unite HQ, Theobald’s Road, Holborn - first meeting to organise to erect a plaque and mount an exhibition to remember the life of Micky Fenn, docker, trade unionist, socialist and anti fascist. 

Incinerator inquiry postponed

Incinerator inquiry postponed 
Big Issue North magazine, 13-19 May 2019
Skip hire firm’s plans face public opposition 
A public inquiry into whether Calder Valley Skip Hire will be allowed to incinerate waste at its West Yorkshire site has been adjourned until November. The company appealed to the secretary of state when its planning application was refused by Calderdale Council on
the grounds that polluting emissions would reduce air quality locally and be harmful to health. 
Inaccurate expert advice on the chimney flue height — which affects the dispersion of gases released by incineration – led the planning inspector to make an adjournment after four days of evidence recently. 
Long-running inquiry 
The company claimed the proposal would be small scale, incinerating waste otherwise sent to landfill, but it attracted significant local opposition and there was over 1,000 responses from members of the public opposing the plans. 
A maximum of six tons an hour would be burnt – around 15,000 tons annually. This represents a sixth of the amounts incinerated at the smallest municipal waste incinerators (MWI), the safety of which has been the focus of a long-running inquiry into any link with infant mortality by Public Health England (PHE). 
MWI burn solid waste to convert it into ash, flue gas and heat to generate electricity. More than
35 per cent of all local authority waste is now being incinerated despite emissions that may pollute the air, water and soil and have harmful impacts on the environment and animal health. 
The issue of whether there are any links between infant mortality levels and MWI has been consistently raised in recent years by MPs and campaigners but PHE has not announced that its study, first promised in 2003 and started in 2011, has now concluded. Researchers at Imperial College London examined all 22 MWI, including those in Bolton, Kirklees, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent, operating across Britain between 2003 and 2010. 
A PHE spokesperson said the study did not prompt any change to its position and that there is “no evidence of a link between modern MWI and infant mortality... these incinerators are not a significant risk to public health”. 
Infant mortality 
The apparent unwillingness to publicise a study appearing to confirm what PHE has contended for many years has left campaigner Michael Ryan “distinctly unimpressed”. Ryan’s research, reported on by Big Issue North since 2011, was significant in forcing PHE to conduct the study. 
He points out that other international studies have produced very different findings, such as in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which looked at births and deaths in Massachusetts in 2001-2007 and found “statistically significant associations between lifetime exposure and infant mortality”. 
Ryan began his own studies after two of his children died, one at 14 weeks, and considered their deaths could have been related to living downwind of an incinerator. He challenged the accepted wisdom that high infant mortality levels can be solely attributed to deprivation and cultural problems. 
When he mapped infant mortality levels for all 625 London wards between 2002 and 2011 he discovered that the wealthy Chingford Green area of North London, located close to the Edmonton waste incinerator, had a rate of 10.3 infant deaths per live births in the nine years. The national average was 4.56. 
Nationwide analysis produced similar results. In Bolton, which burns 90 tons annually, five of the top six wards with the highest infant mortality levels border the Great Lever incinerator. 
“The public is concerned about MWI emissions. Cross- party MPs have raised the issue in Parliament. Why the silence?” said Ryan. “The subject is still alive as the study is flawed.” 

Big Issue North put Ryan’s points to PHE and to those who conducted the study but did not receive a response. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

What is the far right and how does it exploit racism and Islamophobia?

What is the far right and how does it exploit racism and Islamophobia?

The far right consists of individuals such as Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) and organisations such as the English Defence League and the outlawed National Action. 

The far right glorifies the nation and/or race as transcending all other loyalties. Myths of national or racial rebirth are emphasised following periods of decline. It thus aims to destroy ‘outside’ or ‘alien’ forces that threaten the nation and/or race. In Britain during the 1930s, the Jewish community was under attack and today it is mostly Islam and Muslims. 

The far right is also elitist, insisting that ‘the peoples will’ is embodied in a select group or more generally, in one supreme leader and from whom authority proceeds downward. As such the ideology of the far right is not only about superiority between races but within races.
The far right rejects class struggle and workers' internationalism on the grounds that they threaten national or racial unity. It does, though frequently exploit genuine grievances against capitalists and landowners by developing radical-sounding conspiracy theories and ethnic scapegoating. 

The far right may use Parliamentary methods to try and gain power but it ultimately rejects representative government or democratic organisations like trade unions. Once elected to power, the far right will stop future elections and smash trade unions, the Labour Party and independent working class organisations.

Examples of far right or fascist regimes from the past include Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, Italy under Benito Mussolini and fascist Spain under General Franco.

Monday, 13 May 2019

PULLING OUT and the decline of the West Midlands by Andrew Nickson and Nick Wood

A very decent pamphlet from 1986 on how transnational companies increasingly controlled the world by putting profit before people.

Nottingham Forest are now oldest Football League club as confirmed by Football League

I was glad to be able to help confirm that following Notts County's unfortunate relegation to the Conference that Nottingham Forest are the oldest Football League club. Stoke City had tried to claim this but the records show that their first game was in 1868. The original Stoke also went bust in 1908 and were reformed fairly quickly as a new club that re-entered the Football League after WWI.

Stoke's first game was in 1868

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Review of Annie's Song by Lisa Lees

Annie's Song - Lisa Lees

“It was my emotional survival, an attempt at a closing point.”

“I tried to make a difference and when I failed I tried to understand that.” 

Unite member Lisa Lees has worked for almost a quarter of a century for the NHS, which she is passionately committed to as a public service she deeply believes in. She is a health visitor (HV) and was training to become a midwife when she was forced to stop work suffering from with complex post traumatic stress disorder. [cPTSD] She seems highly unlikely to return to the mental health trust where she worked in the future. 

Her book was started in early 2013 after she was sacked from one of her two part time jobs with the NHS. She was forced to leave her four day disciplinary hearing when her seriously unwell mother needed support at hospital. Accused of bullying, Lisa’s dismissal notice for gross misconduct arrived a few weeks later on the day her mam died. 

Lisa claimed it was herself that had been bullied. Unite agreed and represented her at the subsequent unsuccessful industrial tribunal. Lisa had no previous disciplinary record against her. Lisa believes that a lack of union organisation at work made her problems more difficult. She praises Dave Monaghan, her full-time officer, for his help in her case but believes “it would have been better if as members we had got someone to step forward as a rep who was familiar with the work processes.” 

Lisa had complained to her managers for sometime about how the stress of her job with its many home visits and the need to support families, some with complex problems that included sexual abuse, was creating lots of trauma for her. “This was seen as part of the job, which I tried to overcome by keeping busy. It is hard enough to ask for help, when you don’t get any then it makes it impossible to do so again. I needed sympathy and for someone to say, ‘you are safe here’. “ Lisa told her employers she was feeling suicidal and was struggling to survive. She believes there is a lack of emotional intelligence in the NHS which she has attempted to explain in Annie’s Song. 

Lisa’s problems multiplied when her mother Annie became unwell. “My mam was born and bred in Hull, she and the generations before came from large families who struggled to make ends meet.” Lisa explains how her mother, who was employed in many physical jobs such as at Metal Box, and father successfully battled to bring up their four children. When Annie became unwell she got on with it, she accepted her lot and made the best of what she had. It is a familiar story of working class women who want their children to do better than themselves. Annie comes alive in Lisa’s book and she seems a very decent sort.

We all have to die, of course. If we are fortunate then we live to a good age and then when we need help for our health problems we have got the NHS to turn to and then eventually we die peacefully. Sadly, Annie was badly let down by a lack of care and her family was also left devastated at not being informed by nurses in her ward that she was close to dying. Annie thus died alone. Lisa and her brother were left devastated when they arrived very soon after. This intensified Lisa’s mental health problems.

Sacked, angry and grieving at the loss of her mother, Lisa began “writing every day, sometimes quite a lot about what had happened. It was a process of trying to understand and it was my way of fighting back.” Lisa also began legal action and a small amount of compensation was later paid out for the failure of the hospital to properly treat her mother’s gastric bleed during her illness. Lisa is currently taking her mother’s case to the Ombudsman. She has only recently received all her mother’s medical records. “I want to try and make sure we have a public health service worthy of its name. It let down my mother as a patient and myself as an employee, forcing me to eventually leave my job. Standards of care need improving. The book is my way of making sense of my circumstances and helping others.” 

The compensation she received was used in 2017 to self publish Annie’s Song. The fact that first edition is now sold out is a tremendous tribute to Lisa and, of course, Annie. 

Annie’s Song examines a complex and highly traumatic story and Lisa is to be congratulated for her efforts in explaining it.