Saturday, 18 November 2017

Court Win for Birmingham Bin Men

FOLLOWING a High Court decision supporting the Birmingham binmen in September. Birmingham City Council has had to withdraw the redundancy notices it had served on 113 binmen.  This was after a long 'Summer of Discontent' and a work-to-rule by the lads over job losses and pay cuts.

It is reported in his union's magazine Autumn issue Unite Works:'The shock redundancies came after Unite and the council agreed to an Acas deal with compromise on both sides - the coucil then reneged on the deal without warning, later prompting council leader John Clancy to resign.'

Now Howard Beckett, Unite's assistant general secretary, says:
'This judgement will be a huge relief to Birmingham bin workers, who in just a matter of weeks facing losing their job or pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year.'

MR. Beckett  called on Birmingham City Council Cheif Executive, Stella Manzie, to follow Mr. Clancy and stand down for her part in scuppering the Acas deal.

'{The High Court] ruling underlines that Unite will not shrink away from using all the tools at its disposal to defend its members and the services they deliver,' Beckett said.

'We urge the council to stop wasting further taxpayer's money in defending its dishourable actions and honour Acas deal which offers compromises on all sides and will settle this dispute once and for all.'

This dispute was caused by Birmingham Council trying to drop the grade 3 bin loader's job which would have left workers facing pay cuts of up to £5,000 to keep a position in the refuse service.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Letter in 'Weekly Worker'

 N.V. Editor:  The Weekly Worker this week carried a letter from Danny Daly, which questions the absurd logic of some narrow-minded anarchists who reject the historical 'melting pot' approach of the successful London Anarchist Bookfair that has been going for 35 years.  Particularly loud in calling for disassociation from the traditional London Anarchist Bookfair has been elements within the Anarchist Federation tendency such as 'AFED TRANS ACTION FACTION', 'Edinbugh Anarchist Federation', Liverpool A.F., and South Wales A.F.   We publish the letter below because it chimes with what Dave Douglass has said in his statement.  We believe in the assertion of a positive freedom which removes those who seek to censor, gag and silence others.  We want a policy of diverse views and differences which in recent years has been undermined by certain orthoxies which are now violently intolerant of views they disagree with.

Safest space

AND so we bid farewell, for now at least, to the Anarchist Bookfair, London’s only major anarchist-orientated event for the last 34 years. For those who don’t already know, the Anarchist Bookfair collective this year won’t be attempting a 35th year, following threats of a boycott and active picketing by certain groups and individuals.

This is due to a small group of radical feminists handing out leaflets opposing changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This caused quite a stir among the trans activists present, who surrounded those handing out the leaflets and demanded their ejection.  When bookfair collective members such as Helen Steel attempted to intercede to stop what was likely to spill over into violence, she was herself surrounded and called names such as “ugly terf”, “terf scum”, “bitch” and - most amazingly -
“fascist”.  This was all justified on the basis of demanding a safe space for trans people to express themselves.  As far as Helen Steel or the collective were concerned, the bookfair attempted to accommodate both groups to put forward their positions.   But, as far as I’m concerned, nobody was being threatened by a leaflet debating a big issue for many feminists.

Of course, the groups who denounced the bookfair did not see it this way.  The logic of safe spaces in this particular instance seems basically to destroy the very essence of the bookfair itself: namely a space for all ideas to be exchanged and argued out.  But it seems that name-calling, physical confrontation et al do not challenge safety at all - as long as only the correct positions are allowed.   A Strange logic indeed.

The bookfair has always been an eclectic mix of political causes and positions, all loosely orientated around the broad organisational and historical traditions of anarchism.  All the way from anarchist communism to full-on anti-collective individualism.  You would often see Catholic worker or other Christian anarchists mere tables away from an old punk with a banner proclaiming all religion as murderous and bigoted.  The understanding obviously being that this was an open platform for the exchange of ideas, a forum to find common ground for struggle in the future.  And many initiatives were indeed sprung from this melting pot over the years.

I look forward to the new and ‘completely safe’ incarnation of the bookfair in the coming years, as seen by those who opposed its previous model.  Without the messiness of the plurality of positions, those left with the right politics will be able to really buckle down to the serious issue of winning the hundreds of totally separate campaigns brought into focus.

And so now the anarchist movement finds itself in a position where it no longer needs to worry about differences of position or orientation of activity.  Every group and individual can have their own complete anarchism without fear of challenge or debate, with all the anxiety-inducing rage such ‘liberal’ concepts seem to bring up among younger comrades these days.  For, as we all know, the safest space is, of course, no space at all.
Danny Daly
email

SORRY END TO A GREAT INSTITUTION

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’ 
 
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 Bookfare was an ideal platform to retell this story and the way in which working class history had developed.  'Nope’, I was told , the bookfare 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. 
 fiveleavespublications.blogspot.com/2012/10/
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Monday, 13 November 2017

Catalan Leader to Exorcist Tune

still from The Exorcist in which a girl is levitating as two men watch, looking shocked
THE Spanish state broadcaster has been asked to explain why it ran the theme music to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist under a clip of the ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
The theme is taken from Mike Oldfield's composition Tubular Bells.
It was played under Mr Puigdemont's voice in RTVE's flagship current affairs programme Informe Semanal last Saturday.
RTVE's own professional standards council said this was bad practice.
It started an investigation to find out who was responsible.
Informe Semanal - the title is Spanish for Weekly Report - has been running for 43 years on national television.
Last week it focused on the Catalan crisis. At about four and a half minutes in to the programme, Mr Puigdemont's clip came on, edited with Tubular Bells underneath.
Mr Puigdemont was saying that he and others were aware they might go to jail but would fight extradition.

Since the last government of Catalonia held a banned vote and declared the region independent, Spain's government has imposed direct rule, sacked the government, detained some Catalan leaders and called a snap election.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Jeremy’s Promised Land!


by Christopher Draper
I’ve just come back from a day-school on the Balfour declaration where no-one mentioned the elephant in the room.  Speakers gave Arthur Balfour, Lloyd George and Lord Rothschild a well deserved kicking but ignored those ultimately responsible for handing Palestine over to the gang of Zionist thugs who concocted the apartheid State of Israel.
The Spirit of ‘45
On 26th July 1945 a British Labour government took office with an overwhelming majority, a popular mandate for Socialism and legal responsibility for the administration of Palestine.  Despite Jews being a in minority, owning just 6% of the land, Zionist terrorists launched a murderous campaign to drive the Arab population from their homeland and transform Palestine into an ethnically-cleansed State of Israel.
As well as attacks on Palestinians, Clement Attlee and his Labour chums were left in no doubt of the Zionist’s systematic savagery after 91 people were murdered at the King David Hotel, the British Embassy in Rome was blown up, a bomb was planted in the Colonial Office and Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin himself received a letter bomb but instead of defending the Palestinians from colonisation Labour opted for expediency. In 1947, even before the government’s mandate had expired, this most left-wing of Labour Governments announced its intention to walk away, leaving Palestine to the Zionists.
Ignorance is Bliss
This utter betrayal characterises the record of the 1945-51 Labour regime so revered by activists who imagine Jeremy might lead us back to that Garden of Eden. This is a fiction apparent to anyone who takes the trouble to examine the real record of that government though many lazily prefer the myth. I don’t want to bludgeon readers with endless argument but instead offer a few pointers you can investigate and decide upon for yourself.
Conscription
Post-war Labour was expected to rapidly demilitarise but instead Attlee established permanent peace-time conscription that continued throughout Labour’s reign until it was finally abolished in 1960 by a Tory administration. It soon became apparent that Labour required a conscript army to carry out its industrial and colonial policies.
Labouring Under Labour
· July 1945, within a week of taking office Labour sent strikebreaking troops into London’s Surrey Docks. The strike was defeated and 900 dockers suspended.
· October 1945 - 21,000 conscript troops broke national port strike
· Aug 1947 - 40 Grimethorpe miners taken to court for striking
· Jan 1948 - 191 Durham miners summonsed for striking
· March 1948 - 2 Neath miners prosecuted for stay-down strike
· May 1949 - troops defeated Avonmouth strike
· Sep 1950 - 10 members of gasworkers strike committee charged with conspiracy
· February 1951 – 7 London and Mersey dockers charged with conspiracy
Between 1945 and 1951 Labour ordered troops across picket lines 18 times. It retained Wartime Order 1305 to make strikes illegal and twice invoked the Emergency Powers Act of 1920. Labour even revived the secret Supply & Transport Organisation the Tories had used to break the 1926 General Strike. Ever ready to act against workers Labour never once invoked the 1305 clause that prohibited employers from imposing “lock-outs”. Printworkers locked-out by the London Master Printers Federation in August 1950 got no support from Attlee’s government but successfully defended their jobs and conditions through their own collective action.
Pacifying the Natives
Pacifying the Natives
In 1924 J H Thomas, foreign minister of Britain’s first Labour government reassuringly declared; “I am here to see there is no mucking about with the British Empire”.  On the day of Labour’s 1945 election victory his successor, Ernest Bevin announced, “British foreign policy will not be altered in any way under the Labour Government”. In practice this meant;
· 1945 September Vietnam – bloody suppression of popular uprising
· 1945 October Java - Seaforth Highlanders crush popular uprising
· 1945 December Greece - 5-year military campaign against socialists
· 1946 Albania - naval action and confiscation of gold reserves
· 1946 January Cyprus – 18 trade unionists imprisoned
· 1947 Kenya - troops shoot “uncooperative” Kenyans
· 1947 Aden – brutal suppression of “civil disturbances”
· 1947 August India – abandoned to partition and violence
· 1948 Malaya – brutal colonial war against insurgency
· 1948 February Ghana - Nkrumah jailed and 29 killed
· 1949 April Uganda - 8 demonstrators killed many arrested
· 1949 November Nigeria – 21 strikers shot dead at Enugu Colliery
· 1950 Korea – troops sent to support US intervention
· 1950 March Botswana – exiled Seretse Khama for marrying a white woman
· 1951 June Persia – “Gunboat diplomacy” of cruiser Mauritius
In Bed With Fascists
Whilst continuing to wield the big stick in the colonies Labour kow-towed to its new best friend, the United States. Bevin created NATO as an anti-communist alliance to facilitate American hegemony in Europe.  Alliances with fascists proved preferable to friendship with socialists soft on communism. After the war Labour kept interned at Chorley concentration camp 226 Spanish anti-fascists who’d fought against both Franco and the Nazis.  An even worse fate awaited their 136 comrades who Labour deported back to Franco’s torture chambers.  Attlee’s government then proceeded to grant Franco’s fascist regime official recognition as it did to Fascist Portugal, a fellow member of NATO, an organisation supposedly founded to defend freedom!
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Following Attlee’s agreement on the 1945 nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki he insisted that Britain must now have its own nuclear bomb.  Bevin agreed, with obscene enthusiasm, “We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs…We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it”.
MP’s & Pensioners
With wages averaging around £5 a week Labour raised the Old Age Pension to just a quarter of this amount, 26 shillings, but they managed more for themselves, increasing MP’s salaries from £600 a year to £1000 with £5,000 for the Postmaster General.
Ethel’s Prescience
Despite this shameful record Labour loyalists cling to the legacy of the NHS, but this was a Liberal scheme and would have been introduced by them if they’d been elected in 1945.  After all it was Lloyd George who started the Welfare State by introducing Old Age Pensions in 1908 and Liberals Beveridge and Keynes who drafted the welfare measures Labour carried out (Labour’s education system was devised by a Tory, Rab Butler).   As the Guardian noted, even “the Tory manifesto pledges were not all that different from Labour’s”.   Labour’s NHS used the same top-down, hierarchical model as in its other Nationalisations. Just before Labour government took office, in 1944, the writer Ethel Mannin presciently identified “ersatz socialism”, “Socialism without tears, an attempt at pacifying the capitalist with compensation for his confiscated property – a sort of social appeasement, which will leave a class system of society, and which offers no new
approach to life and no recognition of “the soul of man”… “Coarse comfort, like petted animals” is exactly the aim of such palliatives as the Beveridge Plan.
What sort of fool imagines the rich would simply relinquish their power and wealth on the vote of a Parliamentary majority?  Only by organising and educating ourselves at work and in our own communities could we ever hope to wrest control from the powerful and manipulative. Jeremy might well lead us down the Parliamentary road but it won’t, never did and never could, lead us into the Garden of Eden.

CD November 2017 
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Flaccid Fantasy: 'Jubilee' at Royal Exchange

 by Brian Bamford
ALMOST nodded-off at this performance of the play Jubilee, directed by Chris Good  at the Royal Exchange.  In the end, I found myself delicately picking my nose with my the little finger of my left hand up my left nostril as a bit of light relief.

It seems that the run up to the staging of the play was more interesting than the play itself.  Days before the kick-off of the play, the lines which had been included that gave a favourable reference to the child murderesss Myra Hindley were removed owing to protests from the cast.

Toyah Willcox, who was in the film and is now in the play, said that using the lines in the city where Hindley and her partner Ian Brady operated, it would have 'undermined the whole play'.  The feeling was that had the words been uttered in the Manchester Royal Exchange it would have led to walkouts in the audience. 

It seems, Chris Goode, the director, initially resisted attempts to delete the reference but in the end admitted he had underestimated the strength of feeling her spectre still stirred, particularly in Manchester.

Hindley and Brady's crimes shook Manchester in the 1960s - when they tortured and killed five children between the ages of 10 and 17.

This play has its origins in the original film by.Derek Jarman’s Jubilee that divided opinion in 1978. Its harshest critics were the leaders of the punk movement it seemingly celebrated, with Vivienne Westwood who claimed it was boring.  Judging by what I saw of this play Vivienne got it right.

Derek Jarman was a leftist shock-jock with very little talent or wit.

In the theatrical review The Stage, writes:  ' What should be a short, sharp shot in the arm feels frustratingly flabby, with a spirited cast never quite corralled into a cohesive whole.  Its self-awareness is refreshing but even that palls during an overlong running time.'

I'm glad that I left after the interval.  That was a first!
******

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Unite decrys McAlpine's ethical standard award

Unite sent the report below to Northern Voices:
THE Unite [union], the UK’s largest construction union, has described the awarding of an ethical labour standard to leading blacklisting company Sir Robert McAlpine as ‘shocking and disgusting’.
This week Sir Robert McAlpine became the first construction contractor to be awarded the ‘Ethical Labour Sourcing’ standard by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).
Sir Robert McAlpine was at the centre of the Consulting Association blacklisting operation, supplying both the first and final chairman of the organisation and being one of the principal users of the blacklisting process which ruined the lives of thousands of workers.
The Consulting Association existed to enable companies to check the names of potential recruits (frequently workers recruited via employment agencies) against a central list.
Unite is currently suing Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd on behalf of victims of blacklisting having already secured millions of pounds in compensation for blacklisted workers from firms involved in the Consulting Association.
The award of the ethical labour standards to Sir Robert McAlpine is also controversial as 74 MPs have signed an early day motion calling on the company to be stripped of the contracts to refurbish Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower because of its involvement in blacklisting.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Awarding an ethical standard for labour sourcing to Sir Robert McAlpine is both shocking and disgusting. There is nothing ethical about blacklisting workers and ruining their lives.
“Sir Robert McAlpine was at the forefront of the Consulting Association ruining workers’ lives by blacklisting them and the victims of those practices will be very distressed to learn that its recruitment practices are now being lauded.
“While BRE’s intentions to monitor and improve the recruitment of construction workers should have been a step forward, the organisation has shot itself in the foot by glossing over the stench of blacklisting which permeates from Sir Robert McAlpine.”

Monday, 6 November 2017

Shock 'ethical award' for blacklist company

  Sent to Northern Voices by Joe Bailey with additions by NV

AN ethical labour standard award to a leading blacklisting company Sir Robert McAlpine has been described as ‘shocking and disgusting’ by the construction union Unite. In October, the company became the first construction contractor to be awarded the ‘Ethical Labour Sourcing’ standard by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).  But Unite says Sir Robert McAlpine was at the centre of the Consulting Association blacklisting operation, supplying both the first and final chair of the organisation and being one of the principal users of the blacklisting process which ruined the lives of thousands of workers, many targeted for raising safety concerns.  Unite is currently suing Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd on behalf of victims of blacklisting, having already secured millions of pounds in compensation for blacklisted workers from firms involved with the Consulting Association. 
 
The Unite union says its concerns about the firm have been reinforced by MPs, with 75 signing an early day motion calling on the company to be stripped of the contracts to refurbish Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower because of its involvement in blacklisting (Risks 822).

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said:
‘Awarding an ethical standard for labour sourcing to Sir Robert McAlpine is both shocking and disgusting.  There is nothing ethical about blacklisting workers and ruining their lives.’

She added: ‘While BRE’s intentions to monitor and improve the recruitment of construction workers should have been a step forward, the organisation has shot itself in the foot by glossing over the stench of blacklisting which permeates from Sir Robert McAlpine.’

The Ethical Labour Standard award created by the British Research Establishment, a certification and standards firm, in response to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.   The standard aims to verify firms that apply the proper due diligence around human rights and ethical concerns when sourcing materials, products and service.
Sir Robert McAlpine, whose projects have included the 2012 Olympic Stadium*, Bloomberg’s new London headquarters and Victoria Gate retail development in Leeds among others, are already leading the sector in its approach to sustainability and ethical sourcing.

Responding to the award Paul Hamer, chief executive of Sir Robert McAlpine, said:  'Forced labour can have no place on Britain’s construction projects; it is an unseen and evil practice that must be stopped.
Our business is working incredibly hard to demonstrate that Sir Robert McAlpine will not tolerate it and this ELS accreditation is testament to our commitment.'

Force labour may well be unpleasant, but what of its opposite 'forced unemployment' in the British building trade?   The evidence shows that the company Sir Robert McAlpine did for years finance the Consulting Association which engaged in the blacklisting of workers.  

Force labour may well be 'an unseen and evil practice that must be stopped', but isn't blacklisting mostly unseen?  Isn't blacklisting unseen carried out by furtive firms with nosey Human Resources staff and sleek, spying secretaries like the Consulting Association's boss Ian Kerr's wife?  

One of the directors of Sir Robert McAlpine is Cullum McAlpine, who was one of the defendants eight of the contractors involved in the High Court blacklisting trial have apologised “unreservedly” after they admitted using the secret database to vet workers.

Executives at the company, including Cullum McAlpine, a director and member of its founding family, were allegedly 'intimately' involved in the operation of a 'clandestine' organisation holding a list of people barred from the industry.

Mr. McAlpine was in communication with Ian Kerr, the director of the Consulting Association (TCA), the organisation which held the list on behalf of construction firms, up until it was dissolved, it is alleged.

It is further claimed that Kerr, when he was exposed and prosecuted in 2009, was warned of possible commercial repercussions for Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd if Cullum McAlpine's name emerged in public.

Cullum McAlpine has already admitted before a House of Commons committee three years ago that he was the founding chairman of the Consulting Association, the organisation that grew out of the ashes of the Economic League in 1993 to manage a list of construction workers considered ‘subversives’ and a risk to employers.   He admitted that he was responsible for the commercial success of the blacklisting operation.   However, he said that if there were names on the list that should not have been on the list, it was nothing to do with him or his company, as he merely used the service and was not in charge of running it.

 Never-the-less, the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that questioned Cullum McAlpine, declared that Mr. McAlpine's company ought not to be awarded public contracts.  His company pleaded guilty to Breach of Confidence; Misuse of private information; Defamation; Conspiracy; and Breach of Data Protection.

The defendants which included Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI – said their use of a secret database to screen potential employees 'infringed workers’ rights to confidentiality, privacy, reputation and, latterly, data protection'.

A statement issued jointly by the firms, known as the Macfarlanes defendants, added: 
'We accept that this had consequences for affected workers in terms of loss of employment, refusal of work, reduction in earnings and an impact on their personal lives.'

At a hearing yesterday, construction companies represented by Macfarlanes solicitors – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI – said their use of a secret database to screen potential employees 'infringed workers’ rights to confidentiality, privacy, reputation and, latterly, data protection'.

A statement issued jointly by the firms, known as the Macfarlanes defendants, added:  'We accept that this had consequences for affected workers in terms of loss of employment, refusal of work, reduction in earnings and an impact on their personal lives.'

The trade union Unite said the confession that the workers on the list had been defamed was 'groundbreaking' and opened the door to larger payouts that could total tens of millions of pounds.

The ethical award that the company Sir Robert McAlpine has now received is assessed on 12 issue areas: Organisational Structure, Management Structure, HR, Procurement, Bribery & Corruption, Forums, Management Policies, Immigration, Supply Chain Management, Learning & Development, Reporting and Assurance & Compliance.
Sir Robert McAlpine’s most notable projects include the 2012 Olympic Stadium, Bloomberg’s new London headquarters and Victoria Gate retail development in Leeds.


*   24 January 2013 - The Institute of Employment Rights website:
Director of Sir Robert McAlpine Cullum McAlpine admitted using a blacklist to recruit for large public projects including the Olympics.
As a witness brought in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee, which is currently running an inquiry into blacklisting, Mr McAlpine claimed ignorance or a poor memory over many of the key issues, but confessed to heavy use of the Consulting Association's blacklist during 2008.
However, he stated that McAlpine was not using the blacklist to look for trade unionist activity, but to look for illegal migrants following a raid on one of its sites in previous years.
In fact, Mr McAlpine denied that his company - or any of Consulting Association's members - intended to use the blacklist to weed-out trade unionists and workers who were members of left-wing parties.
******

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Reasons for the Catalan Crisis

'The elections in February [19]36 was celebrated with [the former Catalan President, Lluís] Companys* and his [Catalan] government [still] in prison, later what followed was the proclamation of the Catalan republic inside the federal Spanish republic.  Then with the victory of the Popular Front [parties] came amnesty [for Companys and the other Catalan politicians].  How it is that history repeats itself, unfortunately with other parameters, but without gun shots, physical violence, and despite the social break (the catalan society is divided in two parts)" '
Carlos Beltran:  former representative in the Madrid CGT / CNT 

GERALD Brenan, the anthropologist and historian (who lived in Spain from 1919 until his death in 1987), in his book 'The Spanish Labyrinth' (1962) wrote:
'Both linguistically and culturally Catalonia was originally an extension of the south of France rather than a part of Spain and, under the rich merchant class which ruled it during the Middle Ages, it acquired an active, enterprising character and a European outlook very different from that of its semi-pastoral neighbours on the interior plateaux.'

More recently in 2006, after lengthy negotiations a Socialist PSOE government had agreed a Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia that devolved further powers to the Catalan region in 2006.

This statute was put to a vote in the Spanish and Catalan parliaments and it was endorsed in a referendum in Catalonia.  At that stage, support for Catalan independence stood at just 14 percent. The conservative People’s Party (PP), then in opposition, promised to reverse the statute unilaterally and took the issue to the Constitutional Court. In 2010, the court struck down a large part of the statute.  The response in Barcelona was a huge demonstration of more than a million people under the slogan  'We are a nation. We decide.'

The following year, Rajoy’s PP won an outright majority in the general election.

As a consequence, the Catalan government and its supporters were annoyed and attempted to negotiate with Rajoy about what should happen next.  Rajoy refused to engage.  The results were to drive up support for independence, increased success for separatist parties in regional elections, the first of a series of attempts to hold a referendum on independence, and the replacement of the Catalan government’s centrist leader Artur Mas by the more radical Carles Puigdemont.  Thus it was Rajoy and his refusal to negotiate that almost single-handedly brought about the election of a majority-separatist government in Catalonia in 2016.

Meanwhile, a Madrid judge has jailed eight MPs involved in the Catalan government that had declared independence.   


Now with television channels showing images of police vans with flashing blue lights said to be taking the former ministers to different prisons, Catalans took to the streets in anger and disbelief.
There were protests in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, the regional capital, with police estimating a crowd of 20,000.  Others gathered outside town halls across the region including 8,000 people in both Girona and Tarragona.

Marta Rovira, a lawyer and Catalan separatist lawmaker, briefly broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters in Madrid after the announcement of the detentions.
'The Spanish state is a failed state, a state that has failed democratically," she said. "I'm convinced we won't surrender, we won't, we will fight until the end.'

Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive former president of Catalonia, on Sunday handed himself over to Belgian police before a European arrest warrant invoked by a Spanish judge triggered his capture and detention.

Today, the Belgian vice-premier and interior minister stated that Madrid had overreacted and all efforts must be made to ensure that Mr Puigdemont and his colleagues get a fair trial if he is returned to Spain. Jan Jambon, who criticised the “silence” of the European Union on the issue, said:  'I am just questioning how a European Union member state can go this far and I am asking myself whether Europe is to have an opinion on this.'

*   Lluís Companys i Jover (Catalan pronunciation: [ʎuˈis kumˈpaɲs]; 21 June 1882 – 15 October 1940) was a leftist politician. He was the President of Catalonia (Spain), from 1934 and during the Spanish Civil War.
He was a lawyer and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) political party. Exiled after the war, he was captured and handed over by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, to the Spanish State of Francisco Franco, who had him executed by firing squad in 1940. Companys is the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed.[3][4] [5]
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Farnell’s Danczuk Moment?


by Les May
AFTER the publication in April 2014 of the book which Matthew Baker appears to have written and Simon put his name to, Danczuk was the ‘go to’ man for all things to do with sexual abuse.  No-one bothered to check whether his stories were true or just so much hot air. Leicestershire police discussed aspects of the investigation into Greville Janner with him.  Aspects which later appeared in a national newspaper. (see Appendix)
Once he got into his stride he was ‘Mr Rent-a-quote’ for comments on the Labour leadership and when Corbyn became leader in September 2015 he had a lucrative sideline dishing the dirt in articles in the Daily Mail.  And then on the last day of the year after a few ill considered ‘tweets' it all unravelled.  From then on it was downhill all the way.  The slow slide back to the bottom of the heap had begun. In just 2 years he converted a 14,000 majority into a vote of less than 900.
The problem for politicians is that once the ball starts rolling downhill the once friendly press is happy to give it an occasional push to keep it moving.  The stories may have nothing to do with the job of being a politician, but they go to build a picture of someone who dos not deserve the voter’s trust.
Now I don’t think that Richard Farnell was entirely fairly treated at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). It appeared to me that he was treated as a hostile ‘witness’ which did not seem to be necessary if the intention was to elicit the facts.  But that being said, his claim that he knew nothing of the unsavoury events at Knowl View special school is, to say the least, implausible. But was it his Danczuk moment?   Is it enough to start the downward slide to being an electoral liability?
How long before the press notice that Knowl View wasn’t the first time that things went badly wrong on Farnell’s watch.  As Oscar Wilde put it in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness’.
Those with long memories will recall the Middleton Ritual Satanic Abuse scandal which resulted in 21 children being taken into care and in 2006 a substantial payout by Rochdale MBC.  Northern Voices pointed out in 2016 that this occurred when Farnell was Labour Leader in an article dated 21 January, but no-one seemed to notice.  Perhaps it is time for someone to ask him what he knew about this fiasco.
http://northernvoicesmag.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/councillor-farnell-relaxed-about-danczuk.html 
Farnell has a choice he can ‘fall on his sword’ and go gracefully, or he can face the prospect of a less than favourable report from IICSA just before the 2018 local elections.  If he decides to stay he may face the prospect of some Labour members feeling unable to campaign whilst he is still Leader.

Appendix
25 August 2015
Chief Constable
Leicestershire Police Force Headquarters St Johns Enderby Leicester. LE19 2BX
Dear Sir,
I refer to statements made by Simon Danczuk MP in the House of Commons on 23 June 2015 and recorded in Hansard Column 214WH. I have extracted below the portion of his statement which I believe raises matters of concern about the actions of your force.
Quotation starts:
'I know the police are furious about this, and rightly so. Anyone who has heard the accusations would be similarly outraged. I have met Leicestershire police and discussed the allegations in some detail: children being violated, raped and tortured, some in the very building in which we now sit. The official charges are: 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988; two indecent assaults between ’84 and ’88; four counts of buggery of a male under 16 between ’72 and ’87; and two counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988. My office has spoken to a number of the alleged victims and heard their stories.'
Quotation ends.
Taken at its face value this suggests that Leicestershire police discussed with a third party, who though an MP, does not represent a constituency within the Leicestershire police area, matters of a confidential nature relating to a police investigation. I draw attention to the fact that Mr Danczuk specifically used the word 'discussed' suggesting that information was passed to him by the police service rather than that he was simply questioned about information which he might hold which was relevant to the police investigation. The detailed information regarding the nature of the charges in the remainder of the statement suggests that this interpretation is correct.
Even if it is considered appropriate to discuss these matters with Mr Danczuk the question arises as to why he was apparently not instructed that these matters were confidential. Mr Danczuk's choice of words in the first two sentences of the above extract could leave the impression that by not instructing him that the matter was confidential the police service was attempting to use an extra-judicial method to bring pressure to bear upon the
Director of Public Prosecutions. I stress that I am not making such an allegation.
The apparent failure to instruct Mr Danczuk that the discussions were confidential extends to an article in the Sun newspaper of 24 June 2015 headed 'Lord Janner "Raped kids in Parliament" claims Labour MP Simon Danczuk', and in which the matters discussed with him by Leicestershire police were repeated. As Mr Danczuk had made his claims under Parliamentary privilege he gave himself, and the Sun, protection against being sued for libel. On 24 July 2015 Mr Danczuk received a payment of £10,000 from the owners of the Sun for an article he had contributed to. He declined to say which article the cash related to.
If this payment does relate to the Sun article I believe it raises further questions about the wisdom of discussing material relating to the Janner case with Mr Danczuk without instructing him that the matter was confidential.
I am arranging for a copy of this letter to be sent to the Home Office because I think the concerns raised are applicable to similar discussions between other police forces and MPs who may use parliamentary privilege to make the discussions public.
Yours sincerely,

Dr Les May

Saturday, 4 November 2017

NUT activist calls for comradely dialogue

 Kiri Tunks is an activist in the NUT, writing in a personal capacity, in the Morning Star.
THE government’s announcement that it will consult on a change in the law on gender self-identity means that a fierce debate that has, until now, been taking place off-stage is being thrust into the public arena.

One argument is that a change in the law is not up for debate and that anyone raising concerns or challenging the proposal is transphobic.

Such a position will not help to accommodate the discussions which are vital for any social, political or legal shift.

The relaxing of any legal definition of what it is to be a man or a woman could render sex discrimination law meaningless and any imposition of change without winning people to it is likely to cause a counter-productive backlash.

Neither is it helpful to say that these proposed changes only affect the trans community because it fundamentally isn’t true.

The ability to define one’s own “gender” will undermine the legal characteristic of “sex” and could lead to serious implications for women and their ability to fight sex discrimination and oppression.

It is also likely to impact on society’s ability to plan for and accommodate the needs of its population and the way it attempts to even out inequality.

Concerns about access to single-sex spaces are often dismissed as unjustified moral panic. The truth is that this society has failed to ensure equality of treatment for women and girls: single-sex spaces exist to try to ameliorate the oppression women face.

Removing legal exceptions will mean that services already under attack from austerity politics will be further hampered in their ability to deliver for the people they were created to serve.

If necessary, where services do not exist for a specific group then they must be created and we must all fight for that.

The demand for self-identity has huge implications for all of us and how we are defined. And, because women are an oppressed group (whose fight for equality has never been won or sustained) it is women who are most affected by the proposals.

It is also the women who have raised concerns who have been attacked as bigots for speaking out — often by men whose rights are simply not affected in the same way.

This debate about identity is one that necessarily affects everyone in society. Unless you are someone who thinks there is no such thing…

The growth in identity politics is becoming an atomising force, creating division among groups of people who have much in common and could be a common force for change.

My belief is that our individual identities are made up of many complex parts — self-expression and self-identity are part of that. But individuals are also part of society and the terms we use to describe ourselves necessarily involve some level of common agreement.

Terms that are used to describe people of and from specific groups must be determined by all the people in those groups. But the term “woman” is now being defined in several ways. For the majority of women it is still determined by biology; for many transwomen it is by a strongly held belief or “knowing.” In this context, how can the term mean the same thing to both?

Natally born women now find any number of terms being used to define them (most of which have not involved any discussion inside the women’s movement): “cis,” “non-men,” “non-transwomen,” “vagina owners,” “menstruators,” “non-prostate owners.”

There is also a growth in the substitution of “queer” for “lesbian” or “dyke.” These terms, we are told, are being applied in an attempt to be inclusive. The term “vagina owners” was used in a recent article on anal sex in Teen Vogue, a magazine primarily catering to teenage girls and young women.

The diagrams accompanying the article had removed the clitoris and the vulva — a journalistic excision that symbolises the erasure that women are starting to feel. This doesn’t feel very inclusive.

Words that exclude and erase women’s experience and opinions cannot ever hope to be universally adopted. They are more likely to insult and offend.

For a movement that prides itself on inclusivity, it feels like, once again, women are the exception. When we express our disquiet, we are abused or silenced, like the FGM campaigner who was called a Terf (trans exclusionary radical feminist) for referencing female genitalia.

Terms and definitions must be based in some kind of material reality that is apparent to more than just an individual. If “woman” or “man” mean different things to different people then the terms become meaningless — and useless. Women, who are told that our biology is not female when we feel that is what makes us female, are left with no term to describe ourselves. And yet, the sex oppression we face does not disappear.

Another trend is the casual substitution of “gender” for “sex” when they mean very different things. At the very least, this is a misrepresentation of the law under which “sex” is a protected characteristic because of the discrimination and oppression which women face. Yet the debate around identity often dismisses “sex” and insists on the term “gender.” This is certainly the case in lots of the NGOs that have sprung up to deliver sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools, but is also the case in other organisations, including big corporations and government departments.

Gender roles are socially constructed and are commonly formed in stereotypical ways that reinforce discrimination.

Sex is biological and the fight of feminists going back decades has been to challenge the assumption that one’s sex should determine one’s options or behaviour.

There are people in this debate who claim that sex is also a social construct and cite biological variations to show that a binary does not exist. To accept this is to ignore the biological reality of billions of people. It does not challenge our social expectations; nor does it help women deal with the oppression they face. Instead, the terms they have had to name that oppression are taken from them; the tools with which to fight are rendered useless.

Women who suffer FGM, sexual harassment or rape cannot identify out of these attacks. Women who live in poverty, cannot access education or equal pay at work cannot identify into wealth or equality. Sex data on issues as diverse as pensions and pay or domestic violence become harder to collect and use as part of our battle for equality.

This is a woman’s rights issue because women’s rights are still not won. We are still fighting a battle for universal access to reproductive rights services or abortions — look at Northern Ireland or the ridiculous moralising from Boots over the morning after pill.

And yet women are being told they cannot talk about “a woman’s right to choose” or refer to vaginas or ovaries because to do so is transphobic. I recently had an Abortion Rights flyer removed from a Facebook “feminist” group for these very reasons.

We also know that abortion rights groups are coming under pressure to use the term “pregnant people,” but this term obscures an ongoing, historic battle by women globally to assert control over their bodies.

To say that all of this is scaremongering amounts to the age-old advice to women not to worry their pretty little heads; that someone else will take care of it. Well, as a feminist, I think women must be in charge of our own destiny. Women must be allowed to define the terms that name them and their experience.

Any change to those terms must be agreed as part of a collective understanding or the terms lose all meaning and all impact.

To deny any group or individual in that group the right to be part of a discussion about their identity is insulting and will result in a failure of the great liberation we are all seeking.

To get there we will need comradely dialogue and understanding — something a trade union movement committed to equality, with a majority female membership, is surely well-placed to facilitate.
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Helen Steel & the problem of bullying

Editorial introduction:  Northern Voices has been aware of an incident that occurred at the London Anarchist Bookfair last Saturday.  Last Tuesday, I contacted a bookfair organiser to ask for an official statement as to what happened.  The reply we received was:

'The Bookfair collective are trying to find a time we can all meet to debrief, discuss and talk about putting out a statement. We hope this will be soon but can’t say anything further at this time.'

 Northern Voices is still awaiting an official statement from the bookfair organisers, but in the meantime there have been accounts of what happened on various websites including mumsnet; past tense; libcom to mention but a few.  The Anarchist Federation has issued a statement and some of their AF sub-groups in Edinburgh, Liverpool and South Wales have been trying to put pressure on the bookfair organisers to specifically legislate against certain people they disagree with.  Below we publish a statement from Helen Steel, a well-known campaigner against injustice, police spies and a core supporter of the Blacklist Support Group.  
While we haven't formed a view with regard to the plan by the Tories to 'amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law' (see reference in bullet point [1] below), we are deeply concerned about the methods used by some groups to stifle debate.  Because of this we are publishing the statement issued last night by Helen Steel, with a link to her full statement.  
Our concern doesn't just relate to this one case.  Indeed not, it relates to a series of attacks on individuals going back a number of years.  This started with censorship in publications like Freedom and the banning of certain groups and individuals at anarchist bookfairs in Manchester, and has now ended up with physical attacks on Helen Steel and others at the famous London Bookfair.  The London Bookfair organisers must now consider what they must do to resolve these problems which have become institutionalised in the anarchist community, and we up here in the North don't envy them in this task.
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HELEN STEEL'S STATEMENT:

I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.
Short statement on the facts:
  • The Tories are planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law. This does affect women and as such, women have a right to express their views on this issue.
  • I am aware of three leaflets which were distributed at the Bookfair. I did not actually write or distribute any of them, but I supported other women’s rights to distribute them.
For more go to: https://helensteelbookfairstatement.wordpress.com/

CNT / CGT union's statement on Catalonia

AS signatory organizations, unions at state level, we share our concern about the situation in Catalonia, the repression that the state has unleashed, including the diminution of rights and freedoms and the rise of a stale nationalism which is appearing again in much of the state.

We defend the emancipation of all the working people of Catalonia and the rest of the world.  Perhaps, in this context, it is necessary to remember that we do not understand the right to self-determination in a statist way, as nationalist parties and organizations proclaim, but as the right to self-organization of our class in a given territory.  Thus understood, self-determination passes more by control of production and consumption by workers and by direct democracy from the bottom up, organized according to federalist principles, than by the establishment of a new frontier or the creation of a new state.

As internationalists, we understand that solidarity among working people should not be limited to state borders, so we are not really concerned where these are drawn.  What we do find very disturbing is the reaction that is being experienced in many parts of the rest of the State, with the enthusiasm for a stale Spanish state, which is more reminiscent of past times, brewed by the media and in line with the authoritarian drift of the government, notable after the imprisonment of persons for summoning acts of disobedience or the application of article 155 of the Constitution.  We do not forget that this nationalist outbreak lays the groundwork for further cuts in rights and freedoms which we must be prevent. The shameful unity of so-called “democratic forces” in justifying repression shows a gloomy picture for all future dissents. It seems that the post-Franco regime that governs us for 40 years, close its ranks to ensure its continuity...

...The Catalan crisis may be the brink of a dying state model.  Whether this change is in one sense or another will depend on our ability, as a class, to take the process in the opposite direction of repression and the rise of nationalisms.  Let us hope that the final result will be more freedoms and rights and not the other way around.  We risk a lot.

CGT – Solidaridad Obrera – CNT, October 26, 2017. Original article in Spanish here. Translation made by and reposted from Enough is enough.

Friday, 3 November 2017

George Orwell Statue


A STATUE of the writer and social critic George Orrwell is to be unveiled at the BBC HQ in London this coming Tuesday.  Orwell worked for the BBC from August 1941 to September 1943.  He was placed in the BBC's Overseas Service as a talks assistant, with other outsiders such as the anarchist art critic Herbert Read.

When the Freedom anarchist, George Woodcock, in Partisan Review in 1942 criticised Orwell, while Orwell was working for the BBC, for being 'the preacher of a doctrine of Physical Courage as an Asset to the Left-wing intellectual...' and 'conducting British propaganda to fox the Indian spendemasses'.

To which Orwell pointed out that 'Most of our broadcasters are Indian left-wing intellectuals, from Liberals to Trotskyists, some of them bitterly anti-British'.

He mentions as an example Herbert Read as a broadcaster, and others included T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Reginald Renolds, Stephen Spender, J.B.S. Haldane, Tom Wintringham.


GEORGE ORWELL's SOCIALISM

Wakefield Socialist History Group:
Brian Bamford's contribution to the event at the Red Shed
yesterday discussing George Orwell & Socialism 
(a more extensive report on the other four speakers will follow):

BECAUSE the subject of this talk is specifically about Orwell's socialism I ought to say what I won't be dealing with.  Orwell is such a vast subject, and he featured on Radio 4 only this week.
I’ll only be touching on Raymond Williams's differences with regard to Orwell. With regard to the philosophical issues, and what has been called the 'Plato Problem', the 'Chomsky Problem', and the 'Orwell Problem', I do not intend to tackle these unless someone should ask a question relevant to this.

Here I'm going to try to explain how Orwell was transformed into becoming a socialist.
In 2011, I gave some talks in Newcastle, London and Bristol dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.  About that time at a meeting of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, the historian Professor Preston had described George Orwell’s book 'Homage to Catalonia' by saying: 
'George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is a book which I would rank alongside Spike Milligan's “Adolf Hitler: My part in His Downfall”, another interesting book by a footsoldier who played a small part in a much wider conflict'.
Since then Professor Preston has cheerfully repeated this claim from time to time.  He did it at a lecture at the Imperial War Museum; on 'Start the Week' with Andrew Marr; and on Radio 3 on 'Night Waves'.
At that time in 2011, as an ethnomethodologist, I was keen to show that Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia' was an eye-witness account in the tradition of an ethnography rather than an attempt at historical analysis.
In December 1936, George Orwell left England for Spain, but he was STILL unsure  whether he would participate as a soldier or as a journalist.
Orwell's biographer Michael Shelden in his book 'Orwell - an Authorised Biography' writes:
...[Orwell] doubted whether he had the stamina or the skill to be a good soldier. And because of the chronic weakness of his lungs, he suspected// he would be turned down for health reasons if he tried to enlist. Yet he did not rule out joining one of the Spanish political militias if they could use him.
But he decided that the best way to serve the cause was to observe the war and write about it for the New Statesman or some other English paper that was sympathetic to the Republican government.’
We know now that in the end Orwell opted to join the POUM Militia.  And we know that Orwell kept a journal and wrote notes in the trenches.  It is now on record that this journal was seized by the communist police from his hotel room while he was on the run sleeping on building sites in Barcelona in May 1937.

When I made reference to doing an ethnography in my Bristol talk in 2011, I was invited to explain was an ethnography was.

The definition taken from the Glossary of terms written by Simon Coleman and Bob Simpson is that:
'Ethnography is the recording and analysis of a culture or society usually based on participant-observation and resulting in a written account of a people, a place or an institution.'

Before I go on to consider its limitations and the methodological problems of what Orwell is doing here and perhaps elsewhere, let me say something to my current talk:
Timothy Garton Ash, who reported on the wars in the Balkans described Orwell's book 'Homage to Catalonia' as a gold standard in war reporting, and the journalist Paul Foot in his Guardian review of the book claimed it made him into socialist.

Yet Orwell eludes to the fact that his Spanish experiences and the good fortune to be among Spaniards turned him into a socialist.  Before that he had been described as a Tory anarchist.
About half way through the book, on page 101 of my own Penguin edition, Orwell wrote:
'I had dropped into by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites.'
And he goes on:
'Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly but not all, of working-class origins, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality.'
He speaks of the sense of near perfect equality that he found up there on the Aragon front., and he says he felt he was 'experiencing a foretaste of socialism adding that he found 'ordinary class-divisions had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England.'
He writes that:
'No one was there except for us and the peasants, no one owned anyone else as his master.'

So, up there in the trenches South of the Pyrenees, Orwell concluded that for most people 'socialism means a classless society or it means nothing.'
Orwell also talks about the fashion to deny that socialism had anything to do with equality and he writes;
'In every country in the world a huge tribe of party hacks and sleek little professors are busy "proving" that socialism means no more than planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact.'
Orwell claims that 'the mystique of socialism is equality and it's this idea that attracts ordinary folk to socialism.'

That's what Orwell maintained in the 1930!
So for Orwell it was equality that mattered not left-wing Keynsianism or half-baked Fabianism.

I think it was over this distaste for 'planned state-capitalism' that Orwell and Raymond Williams differed.

So what is wrong with Orwell's book on Spain?

According to Professor Preston in the Guardian this year:
'However, limited to the time and place of Orwell's presence in Spain, Orwell situated on a quiet sector of a quiet front, his book would certainly not be there as a reliable analysis of the broader politics of the war, particularly of its international determinants.'
He clearly, says Preston, 'knew nothing of its origins or of the social crisis behind the Barcelona clashes.'
To grasp the bigger picture 'the broader politics of the war', Preston seems to be saying that to get the analysis right we will have to turn to proper historians who have the benefit of hindsight.
Perhaps the kind of historians like Gabriel Jackson, that Noam Chomsky describes and critiques in his essay 'OBJECTIVITY AND LIBERAL SCHOLARSHIP'.
In that essay, Chomsky argues that what these academic historians like Jackson tend to do is ignore the views of the workers in a struggle such as that in Spain. 

Look at what Professor Preston says about Spike Milligan's book, belittling 'footsoldiers'.  Or where he writes:
'Homage to Catalonia is a book about the Spanish war written from a narrow perspective, by someone who left out much that the professional historian could now encompass, supported as he is, by the enriched body of scholarship which has been published in Spanish, Catalan, and English... since 1996.'
With the greatest respect to Professor Preston and the rest of the community of scholars, I think we should remind ourselves of what Isaiah Berlin had to say and history and the historians.   To remind ourselves that no-one, not even Marx, managed in their powerful attempt to turn history into a science.

As an ethnomethodologist, it seems to me that history often verges on the art of advocacy.  Professor Preston's main gripe is that Orwell's book is the only book most people read about the Spanish war.

Why is Orwell's book so popular?  Why is it so widely read?

In the last few months I have just finished interviewing Joan Christopher about her husband Bill Christopher, who was a socialist and anarcho-syndicalist in the ILP, and she told me that Bill Christopher became politically transformed to socialism while serving in the Second World War.
Similarly, I have just discovered that the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was writing 'The Tractatus', while fighting in the Austrian army on the Russian front in the First World War experienced a similar transformation.  Before the war Wittgenstein had considered that he was preparing a book on logic, but after his experiences in the war he decided that he had written a book that was fundamentally ethical.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised then, that Orwell describes his transformation following his Spanish encounters thus:
'I was hardly conscious of the changes occurring in my own mind'.
Or where says on page 103 of the Penguin edition:
'I hope I can convey to you the atmosphere of the time.  The good luck of being among Spaniards with their innate decency, there ever present anarchist tinge.'
And when he writes this, unlike the 'sleek professors' and the historians, he's not trying to tell us something, he's not lecturing us as his readers, he's conveying something - he's showing us something of what it was like.  He's giving us a picture!

Orwell's memory broods over 'incidents that might seem too petty to be worth recalling':
'I am in the dug-out at Monte Pocero on the limestone ledge that serves as a bed.'
'I am... struggling to keep my balance and to tug a root of wild rosemary out of the ground.  High overhead meaningless bullets are singing.'

What Orwell is doing is showing us a picture of the underlying nature of the war.
Professor Preston feeds us facts and figures, while Orwell shows us something of the true nature of war.  Hence, 'Homage to Catalonia' is the most widely read book on the Spanish Civil War precisely because of this.
At my talk in Newcastle a lad there claimed that he'd stood where Orwell had stood on guard in Barcelona on guard on the Ramblas just opposite the Cafe Moka.  And he said that he didn't believe Orwell's account because he wouldn't have been able to see the Civil Guards across the street he was supposed to fire at.

Not being able to see everything symbolises the problem of Orwell's limitations.  The limitations of the eye-witness account; the limitation of the foot-soldier.

If we consider Tolstoy's Epilogue to 'War & Peace', we find that it was Napoleon not the foot-soldier who couldn't see the battle from where he was standing.  He couldn't see for all the smoke and dust produced in the battle.  Consequently, Napoleon had to depend on the dispatch riders whose messages were unreliable and useless, because the situation had changed in the time it had taken to reach their Emperor to get his orders.

Yet we find that at the Battle of Borodino, according to Tolstoy,  it was precisely the foot-soldiers and their morale that mattered, rather than the commands of the great man.

Regarding Orwell's lack of prior understanding of the Spanish conflict I want to say something.

I knew Vernon Richards the old editor of FREEDOM, the anarchist newspaper.  Vernon was close to Orwell in the 1930s and 40s, and he told me that Orwell didn't have much background knowledge of Spanish politics or indeed really deep understanding of the nature of the Spanish conflict before he went to Spain.

Orwell was really in the same situation as David in the Ken Loach film 'Land and Freedom'.  David was a bit of a scous bumpkin in the film, and he had to mature during the course of a two-hour film.  Yet precisely by being naive, both David, Orwell and the viewer, can begin eventually to see things as  we shall say, 'anthropologically strange'.  

Martha Gellhorn, who travelled around Spain during the Spanish Civil War reporting on events, shows us the importance of the on the spot account when she says:  'I wrote very fast, as I had to, afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures, which were special to this moment and this place.'

Philp French in his Observer review of 'Land and Freedom' writes:
'David has a painful lesson that leads from naivety to maturity without making him a cynic.  He retains his belief in the essential decency of working people and their right to control their own destinies, individually and as a community.'

Hence, I believe it was an advantage from the point of view of an anthropological account that George Orwell didn't have any apriori made-up opinions when he first went to Spain.
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