Friday, November 24, 2017

Labour after the Conference

Andy Brooks during the discussion

by New Worker correspondent 
Where is Labour going was the theme of a New Worker round-table discussion at the Cock Tavern, near Euston station, in central London last week. It was opened by a panel including NCP leader Andy Brooks, Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight and Marie Lynam, a rank-and-file Labour party activist. Marie gave a full report of the ground-breaking Labour conference in Brighton this year, and Gerry and Andy high-lighted campaigning points in the run-up to what will almost certainly be another election in the new year.
            Everyone agreed that the reinstatement of Labour members suspended or expelled on trumped-up charges of “anti-Semitism” by the Blairite bureaucracy came top of the agenda and that the first act of a new Labour government must be the restoration of free collective bargaining. What comes after depends upon the balance of forces within the labour movement. Most of the subsequent discussion revolved around the problem of making the case for socialism to the new generation that has rallied to Jeremy Corbyn’s banner in recent years.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Permanent tribute to the ‘lions’ of Grunwick

last month's unveiling ceremony

FOUR decades after an initially unremarkable local dispute over working conditions in a small north-west London factory exploded into one of longest, bitterest and most influential industrial showdowns in British industrial history, the so called ‘lions of Grunwick’ have been immortalised in major new public artworks.
Led mainly by Asian women, the iconic Grunwick dispute of 1976-78 challenged not just stereotypes but also the ethos of the predominantly white, male trade union movement of the day and, in the process, inspired a generation to speak out against injustice.
           Amongst the tens of thousands who flocked to the cause of the Grunwick strikers and their inspirational leader, Jayaben Desai, were postal workers from the then Cricklewood branch of the UPW (Union of Post Office Workers).
Twice their refusal to deliver or collect mail cut the jugular of the mail-order photo processing operation after its fervently anti-union owner sacked his striking workforce after they refused to drop their demand for trade union representation.
Quickly becoming a cause celebre of trade unionism and labour relations law, at its height the dispute was reported nightly on the national television news, with footage of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group (SPG) making mass arrests and violently confronting the “strikers in saris”, as they were dubbed by the media of the day, further enflaming tensions.
Former Cricklewood branch chair Colum Moloney still vividly recalls the brutal treatment dished out to those on the Grunwick picket line – a precursor in many ways to the horrific scenes that unfolded in the subsequent Miners’ Strike
“The SPG were animals – more like an army than anything,” he told The Voice last autumn in an interview marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the Grunwick dispute.
A year on, Colum has just represented the Cricklewood postal workers who did so much to provide moral and industrial support to the Grunwick strikers at the unveiling of two large murals in Willesden that unapologetically portray the heroic stand of the predominantly female workforce who unwittingly found themselves centre stage in a wider schism in British society that directly preceded the 1979 general election and intensified under the Thatcher government.
Describing the murals as a long overdue “tribute to the strikers and all those who supported a just cause,” Colum stressed he was proud to represent his erstwhile colleagues at an event which illustrated the extent to which the ultimate moral victory is now seen to lie with the Grunwick strikers – despite their ultimate defeat in the dispute itself.
The celebratory murals, which were developed by over 80 local residents through a series of community workshops with local artist Anna Ferrie, sit at two locations with direct associations with the dispute.
One adorns a wall directly adjacent to the former Grunwick factory site in Chapter Road, while the second, larger, mural is at the railway bridge in Dudden Hill Lane near Dollis Hill tube station where many of those supporting the strikers from across London and beyond disembarked en-route to the picket line.
One of the most astonishing things about the Grunwick dispute is how a showdown that was so bitter and controversial in the late 1970s is seen as a cause for mainstream celebration of the spirit of struggle today – to the extent that the Grunwick 40 commemoration project, of which the murals are the permanent legacy, was part funded by a £24,800 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
“Maybe the further back in time it is the less controversial Grunwick has become,” observes CWU retired member and Brent Trades Council chair Pete Firmin who regularly supported the strikers on the picket line.
“For me the ultimate legacy of Grunwick is the way in which it was a turning point in terms of the unions relating to migrant workers and black workers,” he added.
“It’s great to have a memorial to the strike, the strikers and their supporters so close to the site of the old Grunwick factories. It’s a wonderful reminder of an important piece of local and labour movement history.  A job well done by artist Anna Ferrie together with all those who participated in community workshops to help design the mural.”

Soviet centenary at the Centre!

Alex Kempshall, Andy Brooks and Michael Chant
by New Worker 

Last week communists held events all around the world to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great October Russian Revolution – and last Saturday comrades and friends joined them at the NCP’s annual tribute to the 10 days that shook the world.
The main meeting room and print shop was, as usual, transformed into a bar and buffet for friends, old and new, who had come to honour the generations who fought and built the Soviet Union. Comrades from the RCPB(ML) provided a musical interlude on the theme of revolution that included the anthem of the Comintern, composed in 1928 by Hans Eisler with lyrics by Bertold Brecht and Franz Jahnke, as well as the more well-known Soviet anthem that replaced the Internationale in 1944.
During the formal part of the proceedings, opened by national chair Alex Kempshall, NCP leader Andy Brooks spoke of the achievements and sacrifices of the Soviet peoples during the life of the USSR and the achievements of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Stalin. Other guests including Dermot Hudson from the UK Korean Friendship Association, Marie Lynam of the British Posadist movement, John McLeod from the Socialist Labour Party and Michael Chant, the leader of the RCPB(ML). All talked about the meaning of 1917 and its relevance to working people today.
The communist movement needs a fighting press and the New Worker has played a crucial part in putting the communist answer to the crisis back on the working-class agenda for over 40 years. It will continue to do so but only through the continued support of its readers said Daphne Liddle, in an appeal that raised raised £451.65 for the November New Worker fighting fund.
The social closed in the traditional way with a lively rendering of the Internationale and a pledge to keep up the fight whatever the cost!