Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars is a revisionist history, reclaiming the role of bicycles in the development of roads and the cars that dominate them. When a class, a race, a gender reclaims its history it is usually in the cause of self-assertion. After reading this I was indignant when a privileged usurper tooted me for walking across the entrance of a cul-de-sac which they were turning into. Listen, these are my f***** streets too, you know.
The later Victorian age. The railway lines had cut through the country on their purpose-built tracks and profoundly changed ideas of mobility. The roads, once well maintained for mail coaches, had fallen into disuse. But in the 1870s and 1880s people started pedalling themselves at speed and with the commercialisation of the Safety bicycle in 1885 bicycling became popular with the elite, affordable for the middle-classes and then finally through second-hand sales and mass production, taken up by the clerks and the factory workers. It powered invention. In 1896 more than half of the 28,000 patents were for improvements in bicycles.
The Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle -1889. Step through for the skirt problem
Cyclists were heading from the paved streets to the countryside, on roads which unlike the railways were not then seen as conduits for fast-moving traffic. Roads were originally made for a human or horse pace and for short journeys. But a new desire had been formed – for self-propelled travel over a distance on a smooth surface.
Passage on the king’s highway is an ancient right in England. A landmark court case in 1879 established bicycles as “carriages” under law and so with the rights to use the roads in the same way as broughams and hackneys. The Cyclists’ Touring Club had one of their members (an MP) add a clause to the Local Government Act of 1888 which effectively prevented county councils from creating by-laws to prohibit cycling on the roads.
Along with lobbying for legislation cyclists campaigned for better surfaces via bodies like the Roads Improvement Association. Some roadworks the members funded themselves. They produced equipment including a ring to measure the size of stones for surfacing, kept an eye on maintenance and made themselves guardians of the highways as modern cycling advocates act as wardens for cycle paths. Eventually this work was taken over by the Road Board “the first central authority for British roads since Roman times”.
Where the cyclists went the motorists then followed and their lobby groups were often the cycling groups with “Automobile” added to the name. One of Cartlon Reid’s main themes is that this was not a case of the poor man’s transport (the bicycle) overtaken by the rich man’s vehicle (the automobile). Bicycles were at first expensive – the high-wheelers (“penny farthings”) were ridden by moneyed athletes. Aristocrats like the Marquess of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s enemy, were keen cyclists as was Daisy, Countess of Warwick, one of Edward VII’s mistresses. Arthur Balfour was president of the National Cyclists’ Union and Herbert Gladstone, son of W E Gladstone and one time Home Secretary vigorously pedalled, and pushed for street paving and road maintenance. In the USA the League of American Wheelmen was founded in Newport, the millionaires’ holiday village,
The League of American Wheelmen also campaigned for better roads via the Good Roads Movement, again with a combination of politics and practical demonstration. Their campaign included rolling “road shows”. “The Good Roads train.. would disgorge road builders, a traction engine, a road roller, a sprinkler and broken stone, from which an “object lesson” road would be constructed at prearranged stopping points.” Railway interests opposed them, and farmers, who were responsible for half-heartedly maintaining the rural roads, did not want to be taxed for the benefit of city-slicker cyclists, however much their own wagons jolted on the ruts and ridges. ”Eventually the farmers were won over and the politicians found there was mileage in a publicly paid for road system.” In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act was signed by Woodrow Wilson, himself a cyclist who had been much impressed by the roads in Britain and France on cycle journeys in his youth.
By then many of the cyclists had become motorists as well. They were the rich who loved speed and self-propelled travel and the very latest gadgetry, promoted by the cycling industry’s flair for advertising. They used the maps that Messrs Bartholomew had crowd-sourced from members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. The technology behind these early motors – the pneumatic tyres, the ball bearings, the spoked wheels, the precision engineering skills – had been created by the cycling industry.
French cycling poster, 1897
“Carl-Benz’s Patent Motorwagon, the first true automobile, was a motorised two-seater tricycle… The key components for Henry Ford’s Quadricycle – including the wire spoke wheels, bush roller chains and pneumatic tyres – were from bicycles.”
The Nazis erased the cycling origins of Benz’s Motorwagen from history and monument and at the launch of the 15 millionth Model T in 1927 the Ford company claimed that the “Ford car… started the movement for good roads.” The now plebeian bicycle became something of an embarrassing ancestor to the more powerful and more progressive seeming vehicle.
So the well-connected cyclists who had lobbied for good roads became well-connected motorists who wanted unthwarted access to these roads. And they took them over, though they numbered only in thousands, while the cyclists were in the millions because the masses had begun to ride bicycles.
The rights to the passage on the King’s highway was a liberal right which then in the spirit of Ayn Rand was taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. Even a speed limit law was seen as “unEnglish” and as the motorists were of the upper echelons, they resented being treated as criminals for breaking it. (The motoring public is still resentful that they are subject to law – witness fury at speed cameras. One of the cycling groups’ aims is to lower speeds in urban centres to 20mph.)
Carlton Reid compares this to the enclosures “when land in common use by the many was fenced in and appropriated by the few.”
And like the landowner the motorist feels himself entitled to the roads. Hold up his passage he won’t feel merely inconvenienced, but righteously outraged, spluttering like Hilaire Belloc’s JP:-
I have a right because I have, because,
Because I have, because I have a right.
Moreover, I have got the upper hand,
And mean to keep it. Do you understand?
Familiar political themes run through this book. One is of how laissez faire can become devil take (or run over) the hindmost. Another is the Revolution Devouring Its Own Children. A group or class will agitate to bring about a change that will ultimately destroy them, like Iranian leftists demonstrating for the removal of the Shah only to end up being killed by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. The cyclists lobbied for good roads and got them, and were then pushed off them by the sheer force of a ton of metal, going at five times their speed.
However though Roads Were Not Built… is a polemic shot through with a sense of injustice for the written out and colonised – the literally marginalised literally pushed in the gutter when they had literally paved the way for the motorist – it could be enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson. It buzzes and hums with innovation and invention. It’s crowded with energetic promoters and lobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs and tinkerers, sportsmen and pioneers. Cycling did come as a miracle, bestowing a sense of speed and independence. “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.” wrote Charles-Louis Baudry de Saunier in The Art of Cycling (1894).
In our own equally exciting and innovative age of computing we are half flesh, half digital stream. Thus Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built… was kickstarted by crowdfunding. He put his researches on his entertaining blog. You can get the book as a big dead-tree soft-back with lots of colour plates (histories of cycling always have cool pics) or as an “iPad version with 10 videos, two audio clips, a 3D spinnable object, and 580+ illustrations, many of which zoom to full-screen.“
Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce
The book ends with potted biographies of many of the motor grandees with a cycling background and their firms, my favourite being that of Lionel Martin. Eton rich. Held long-distance records on tandem and tricycle. He and his friend Robert Bamford were both members of the Bath Road Club and were souping up ordinary cars.
Their advertisement in the Bath Road News:- “If you must sell your birthright for a mess of petrol, why not purchase your car – from Bamford & Martiin Ltd, the most humorous firm in the motor trade.” These cars became Aston Martins.
“Martin was a tricyclist to his dying day. He was killed in October 1945 after being knocked from his tricycle by a motor car on a suburban road in Kingston-upon-Thames.”
Above: Aubron Waugh
Robin Carmody writes:
As someone who greatly enjoys your occasional ‘Enemy intelligence’ feature, would it be possible to expand it to include old articles presenting enlightenment from unexpected sources? In this case, Auberon Waugh, who was undoubtedly fanatically anti-working-class and anti-socialist but when he got it right, he really got it right. These pieces are both from the Daily Telegraph in September 1995 (first piece slightly edited, second piece complete), and the sadness of both is that they could pretty much still apply today, just with a few names changed:
Saturday 16th September 1995:
(…) Villagers of St Tudy, the small Cornish village near Bodmin, were recently moved to address a petition to Mr Major asking for a referendum on further European involvement. A senior villager, Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, 80, one time head of “intelligence” at the Ministry of Defence, thought the petition would be ignored. He explained.
“I would not be so naive as to suppose that what St Tudy says today, the Government will do tomorrow. But at least, before we die, we have done the best we can for our grandchildren.”
If that is the best he can do, it is pathetic. So is the entire level of political debate in Britain (…) What these people fail to realise is that we have a much better prospect for resisting change within the protection of a selfish, inward looking Europe than we have when exposed to cultural takeover by the United States and economic takeover by the Pacific Rim.
Terrified and resentful of the tiny changes required by participation in the European Union, Britons miss nearly every opportunity to shape the union to their own advantage. Instead they mumble their platitudes about British sovereignty, and having fought two major wars to preserve it.
Let them examine the picture of [Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and John Major] laughing cruelly about a goldfish. They are what is left of British sovereignty.
Saturday 30th September 1995:
At the time of the Gibraltar shootings, I remember taking the rather pompous line that if we Brits were to adopt terrorist tactics and start executing people on suspicion, we had no business to pose as upholders of law and order in Northern Ireland. Those who argued, as they did in every saloon bar, that the only way to deal with outlaws was to give them a dose of their own medicine, were quite simply wrong, or so I maintained.
The three terrorists, two men and a woman, were unarmed, none carried a remote control device to a nearby bomb, nor was there any bomb nearby. At the time it seemed more likely than not that it was a planned assassination, an illegal execution of three suspects, and that a cock-and-bull story about explosives in a parked car and remote control devices was a limp afterthought for the benefit of the inquest.
Seven years later it seems probable that the SAS were indeed misinformed, and that they genuinely intended to arrest the three terrorists, although there was remarkably little planning for their removal from the scene as prisoners. What remains slightly frightening is the weight of opinion behind the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to execute suspected terrorists without trial, on the basis of unexamined and highly questionable intelligence information.
One expects this degree of moral crassness from The Sun and from at least some of its sexually confused readers. The Sun summed up its own reaction to the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in a sentence: “Terrorists have no human rights”. That is an attitude people are free to take, but they still have to establish that the people from whom they propose to remove all human rights are terrorists. You can’t condemn people on a wink and a nudge, or on the untested gossip of an intelligence service which seems to get three quarters of its information wrong.
However we look at the matter, the SAS goofed. When someone described as a “senior Cabinet minister” talks of the “prompt and courageous action of the SAS” and announces that in response to the European Court’s unfavourable verdict many Cabinet ministers want Britain to leave the Court of Human Rights, I think we should start to tremble. It is unpleasant enough to have to live surrounded by people of The Sun‘s intellectual and moral calibre. One does not want to be governed by them.
Let us be thankful for every bit of self-determination we sacrifice under these circumstances. For my own part, I shall even welcome tomorrow’s arrival of the litre and the kilo. Those most vehemently opposed to them are just the sort of people who ought to be in prison.
The last really positive development towards a just peace in the Middle East came in 1978 when, following Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat‘s unprecedented visit to Israel, he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began secret negotiations at Camp David. These talks led directly to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. (aka the Camp David Accords). As a result Sadat and Begin shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. As part of the Accords, the two also drew up a Framework for Peace in the Middle East, which dealt inadequately but generally fairly with the Palestinian question, but was written without participation of the Palestinian leadership of the time, had little impact and was condemned by the United Nations.
But this was a far more hopeful and potentially fruitful moment for peace in the Middle East than the 1993 Oslo Accords, or the second – abortive – Camp David negotiations of 2000.
However, according to an article in today’s Guardian, had Yasser Arafat been willing to defy his closest aides and the Syrians who then controlled Lebanon, he would have accepted Sadat’s invitation to join the 1978 talks and, indeed, “welcomed” them. The authors of the piece, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi know what they’re talking about: Khalidi is a former Palestinian negotiator who was part of Arafat’s team at the time.
How different the last thirty years or so of the tragic history of the Israel/Palestine conflict might have been if only Arafat had had the courage of his own personal convictions at the time.
The crucial passage is this:
His style of leadership was consensual. He was conscious of the need to maintain support among the broader leadership of Palestinians and their institutions. He cultivated and heeded the opinions of his associates, and often gave way to their demands, sometimes using their objections as a foil to avoid difficult decisions. He never moved too far without the support of those he felt were important in lending political legitimacy to his stance. He would have welcomed Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem and the ensuing Camp David political process had he been free to decide on his own. In a room packed with most of the Palestinian leadership and senior cadres at which the Sadat initiative was being discussed and volubly denounced, Arafat sat with eyes half-shut, pretending to show no interest, until one of the present authors was asked his opinion. When he suggested that anything that would free Arab land from occupation without bloodshed would be in the national interest and proposed that the Palestinian leader should join the Egyptian-Israeli meeting at Mina House, as invited by Sadat, Arafat’s eyes popped open and he nodded in vigorous assent. But his close aides rejected any such notion and he had to go along with the prevailing mood. After the meeting was over, Arafat took the author aside, saying that while he was convinced of what he had said, the Syrians – then in control in Lebanon – would never allow it, and made a cut‑throat gesture with his hand.
Read the entire fascinating article here.
The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by the East German state, was a symbol of the totalitarian Stalinist systems. The wall was a monstrosity and we are glad it was torn down by Berliners on the night of 9 November 1989. The collapse of Stalinism was a victory for freedom. Despite a wave of capitalist triumphalism that followed, the workers of the former Stalinist states are now able to meet, discuss and form their own organisations. Here, an editorial in Workers’ Liberty magazine of July 1990 examines the reasons behind Stalinism’s collapse in Eastern Europe.
For over 60 years the typical totalitarian Stalinist society — in the USSR, in the USSR’s East European satellites, in Mao’s China, or in Vietnam — has presented itself to the world as a durable, congealed, frozen system, made of a hitherto unknown substance.
Now the Stalinist societies look like so many ice floes in a rapidly warming sea — melting, dissolving, thawing, sinking and blending into the world capitalist environment around them.
To many calling themselves Marxists or even Trotskyists, Stalinism seemed for decades to be “the wave of the future”. They thought they saw the future and — less explicably — they thought it worked.
The world was mysteriously out of kilter. Somehow parts of it had slipped into the condition of being “post-capitalist”, and, strangely, they were among the relatively backward parts, those which to any halfway literate Marxist were least ripe for it. Now Stalin’s terror turns out to have been, not the birth pangs of a new civilisation, but a bloodletting to fertilise the soil for capitalism.
Nobody foresaw the way that East European Stalinism would collapse. But the decay that led to that collapse was, or should have been, visible long ago.
According to every criterion from productivity and technological dynamism through military might to social development, the world was still incontestably dominated by international capitalism, and by a capitalism which has for decades experienced consistent, though not uninterrupted, growth.
By contrast, the Stalinist states, almost all of which had begun a long way down the world scale of development, have for decades now lurched through successive unavailing efforts to shake off creeping stagnation.
The Stalinist systems have become sicker and sicker. The bureaucracies tried to run their economies by command, and in practice a vast area of the economic life of their societies was rendered subterranean, even more anarchic than a regular, legal, recognised market-capitalist system.
The ruling class of the model Stalinist state, the USSR, emerged out of the workers’ state set up by the October 1917 revolution by way of a struggle to suppress and control the working class and to eliminate the weak Russian bourgeoisie that had come back to life in the 1920s. It made itself master of society in a series of murderous if muffled class struggles. Its state aspired to control everything to a degree and for purposes alien to the Marxism whose authority it invoked. And it did that in a backward country.
In the days of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and crash industrialisation, the whole of society could be turned upside down by a central government intent on crude quantitative goals and using an immense machinery of terror as its instrument of control, motivation, and organisation.
When the terror slackened off — and that is what Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin essentially meant: he told the members of his bureaucratic class that life would be easier from then on — much of the dynamism of the system slackened off too.
To survive, the bureaucracy had to maintain its political monopoly. It could not have democracy because it was in a sharp antagonism with most of the people, and in the first place with the working class.
So there was a “compromise formation”, neither a self-regulating market system nor properly planned, dominated by a huge clogging bureaucratic state which could take crude decisions and make them good, but do little else. State repression was now conservative, not what it was in the “heroic” days either in intensity or in social function.
The USSR slowed down and began to stagnate. And then the rulers of the USSR seemed to suffer a collapse of the will to continue. They collapsed as spectacularly as the old German empire collapsed on 11 November 1918.
Initiatives from the rulers in the Kremlin, acting like 18th century enlightened despots, triggered the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe. But it was a collapse in preparation for at least quarter of a century.
The Stalinists had tried nearly 30 years before to make their rule more rational, flexible and productive by giving more scope to market mechanisms. Now, it seems, the dominant faction in the USSR’s bureaucracy has bit the bullet: they want full-scale restoration of market capitalism. Some of the bureaucrats hope to become capitalists themselves. But with its central prop — its political monopoly — gone, the bureaucracy is falling apart.
The fundamental determinant of what happened in Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989 was that the Kremlin signalled to its satraps that it would not back them by force: then the people took to the streets, and no-one could stop them.
It is an immense triumph for the world bourgeoisie — public self-disavowal by the rulers of the Stalinist system, and their decision to embrace market capitalism and open up their states to asset-stripping.
We deny that the Stalinist system had anything to do with socialism or working-class power. Neither a workers’ state, nor the Stalinist states in underdeveloped countries, could ever hope to win in economic competition with capitalism expanding as it has done in recent decades The socialist answer was the spreading of the workers’ revolution to the advanced countries; the Stalinists had no answer.
The Stalinist system was never “post capitalist”. It paralleled capitalism as an underdeveloped alter ego. Socialists have no reason to be surprised or dismayed about Stalinism losing its competition with capitalism.
The bourgeoisie has triumphed over the Stalinists, but it has not triumphed over socialism. And genuine socialism receives the possibility of rebirth as a mass movement from the events in Eastern Europe.
Above: dying YPG fighter
From today’s Times:
The hearts of the Kurds are breaking and we must heed their pleas. In Kobane, lightly armed Kurdish fighters are defending people against a genocidal enemy with tanks and artillery. If the city falls, the Da’esh fanatics will butcher the men and sell the women into sexual slavery; not even children will be safe. Meanwhile, Turkish troops sit idle on the frontier and the authorities stop Turkish Kurds from crossing to assist their comrades. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the Warsaw uprising of 1944 in which Stalin held back the Red Army to allow the Nazis to wipe out Polish resistance fighters. The world must call upon Turkey to arm the Kurdish fighters. Governments must also drop the designation of the Kurdish YPG fighters as terrorists; they are secular nationalists who pose no danger to the world, and earlier saved the Yazidis from annihilation.
DR JOHN TULLY
Senior lecturer in politics and history, Victoria University, Melbourne
(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)
150 years ago today the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.
Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.
Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.
ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.
The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.
They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
What about us, today?
I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.
Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.
Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.
“The miners needed solidarity”
Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?
Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.
Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?
Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.
I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.
Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?
Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.
Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?
Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.
Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?
Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.
I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.
The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.
The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.
Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?
Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.
When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.
There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.
Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?
Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.
I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.
Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.
In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.
Solidarity: What do you think about the film?
Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.
Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.
My friend Victor
Guest post by Mick Rice
Above: Saltley Gates mass picket, 1972
Vic Collard was a friend of mine. We met in the late 1960’s when the heady days of revolt embraced the young. I was a “child of 1968” when the French events demonstrated that different politics were possible. Vic was 10 years older than me and a worker intellectual of the finest calibre. As well as being widely read he was also an AEU Shop Steward! There could have only been a handful of AEU Shop Stewards who knew about Marshall McLuhan never mind being conversant with his theories. Vic knew about the Frankfurt School. He was deeply interested in philosophy and psychology. He knew about Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse.
How much different the world might have been if the Left had concentrated on perfecting the “Orgone Box”! It has, unfortunately, so far, been singularly unsuccessful in promoting world revolution.
Vic once confessed to me about his role in the Second World War. I thought I was going to be entertained by a humorous Spike Milligan type – Adolf Hitler-My role in his Downfall – story. But Vic was ashamed of his behaviour. He had gone out, with a relative, for a walk by the canal. He must have been 5 or 6 years old. Alongside the towpath a group of German prisoners-of-war were clearing overgrown vegetation. Vic, our intrepid Brit, took a run at the first German POW and kicked him in the shins. No doubt thinking the juvenile equivalent of: “Take that you dirty Hun!” The Dandy and other boys’ comics of the time have a lot to answer for as they, of course, were bastions of British Imperialism. Vic had not yet read Marx.
The poor prisoner was probably just a conscripted German worker. However, if Vic felt that he had something to atone for, he certainly made up for it in later years. In the early 1970s the Birmingham East District Committee of the AEU was considering submitting motions to the union’s National Committee. One branch had sent in a motion supporting the boycott of goods to Pinochet’s Chile. If I remember right a Scottish factory with AEU members had already blocked the export of vehicles. Ted Williams, the leading right-winger, was pouring scorn on the motion. “These do-gooders want to interfere with international trade”, he thundered. “They risk putting in jeopardy AEU jobs”. Normally the later point was the ace that floored left-wing opposition as “AEU jobs” was paramount.
Vic played a blinder which completely changed the meeting. “No doubt”, said Vic, “If Brother Williams had been a member of this committee in the 1930s’ he would have been in favour of exporting Gas Chambers to Hitler’s Germany so long as they were made by AEU members”. Yes Vic was great with words and great at thinking on his feet.
Another time the full time officer was singing the praises of equality as he proudly told us he had negotiated an agreement to allow women to work night shifts! Vic had to point out that we wanted equality up and not equality down as working nightshifts was bad for men. It could not be regarded as a giant leap forward for womankind that they were going to be subjected to the same anti-social, unhealthy working patterns!
In the mid 1960’s Vic and his friend Geoff Johnson, were members of the “Labour Loyalist” group. They would go around meetings campaigning for an end to Incomes Policy which had been introduced by the Labour Government. Of course their intention was to be entirely disloyal to the Labour Government of the day. Calling themselves “Labour Loyalists” confused their opponents and, as they explained to me, it was really the Labour Government that wasn’t being loyal to the workers! A neat strategy that put Labour apparatchiks on the back foot! Read the rest of this entry »
Well, I have had one of the worst evenings of my life in the theatre. It’s the Edinburgh Festival, and of course that is to be expected, but a bad night there is usually stumbling into a hopeful group of students doing the Medea on roller skates in a church hall performing to an audience of four. It is not going to the splendid Festival Theatre to see a play that has received pages of press coverage and is sold out.
This was James III: The True Mirror, the third part of a trilogy about the early Stewarts. James was a useless king who irritated his nobles by promoting favourites and neglecting business and was eventually killed- i.e. he was a little like Richard II and Edward II, and though you can’t expect any dramatist to use language like Shakespeare or Marlowe, you would think they could learn a bit about structure and tension and narrative drive. But instead of, say, alternating scenes of a frivolous king with the powerful plotters against him,, there were endless going-nowhere soap opera domesticities of him talking to his wife the Danish Queen Margaret (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing, who made her likable) fighting over custody of the children, a whole meandering pointless mass of boneless characters, sweiry words and button pushing jokes that got knowing laughs – eg – James to his missus – “all I got with you was Orkney and Shetland”. James III was presented as an anarchic guy pissing round, like Russell Brand and the play was as intellectually light-weight.
The staging of a high wall with a tier of benches for the meetings of the Three Estates was rather grand and looked promising. Then it began. A red-haired laundry maid tells a bloke that she’s heard James the King is gorgeous. Then discovers she is in fact speaking to James. Squeaks from the maid, and his wife tells James that he’s been doing his man of the people act again. This was the first ten minutes, with dialogue so self-conscious, slack and banal I wanted to leave at that point. At the interval my friends and I discovered that we were all having a bad time, and what the hell was everyone laughing about? But we hung on to the end, and that’s when we got to the worst part of all – cringe-making, boag-inducing awful – a final speech from Queen Margaret who has become regent and tells the Scots lords (who rhubarb aye, aye) that she is a rational Dane from a rational country and they are heaps of manure, but aren’t they a lovable lot, and Scotland could be a nation again, and never fear for the future – in short a party political broadcast for the Yes side of the referendum. Oh how the audience loved it- tell us we are rogues with a bad attitude but lovable and we’ll lap this like Irn Bru.
There are other shows dealing with this matter of Scotland, all pro-independence, which is to be expected as Yesses are full of vision and enthusiasm and poetry, while Noes are grumpy. I did stumble on a comedian, Erich McElroy The British Referendum. He’s an engaging American guy, a naturalised Brit, who is evidently put out and a little puzzled that his newly adopted country could lose one third of its land mass. With some easy laughs comparing British talking head politicking and American raw gun-shooting advertisements, he did get a few digs in the referendum’s vitriol, with pictures of what a nationalistic country looks like (ie an American flag-lined street). And facetiously warned Scotland that the USA could have interesting designs on an oil-rich country with no defences. There were a few Noes in the small audience, relieved that someone was speaking to them.