“A perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book” … or, more simply: it’s shite

July 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm (crap, publications, scotland, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

I’ve just been idly browsing the internet looking for reviews of “The Battle for Grangemouth”, penned by former Ineos (Grangemouth) Unite convenor and current International Transport Workers Federation full-timer Mark Lyon.

I came across four reviews of the book:

http://www.cercles.com/review/r79/Lyon.html

https://rs21.org.uk/2017/04/08/review-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-workers-story/

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worthless-exercise-in-self-righteous-posturing/

http://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/18924-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worker-s-story

Without doubt, the most damning review is that written by Keith Laybourn – Huddersfield University Diamond Jubilee Professor, former Huddersfield University Professor of History, author of 47 books (that’s 46 more than Mark Lyon), and successor to the late Eric Hobsbawm as President of the Society for the Study of Labour History:

“This is a perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book. … It is written in the form of a pantomime sketch to the extent that one can almost join in and boo and hiss when the ‘devious’ and ‘greedy’ Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, appears on the page, and cheer when the ‘brilliant’ Pat Rafferty, the Unite Scottish Secretary, and others of the Unite union enter the stage.

 Lyon also adopts an anecdotal style which makes it very difficult to establish the details of the events in a clear manner, especially when his anecdotes about individuals cut across some major points of discussion, and even more so when dates seem to fluctuate. … Obfuscation is often present with the result that a smokescreen descends over the script.

 This could have been an important and perceptive book. What a pity that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, should seek to endorse a book which throws little light on the events of 2013 and little honour on his union, of which Mark Lyon is vice-chair. The story of Grangemouth deserves a detailed and worthy study. This is not it.”

(As an aside: Laybourn’s review was published by the French magazine Cercles, which describes itself as a “Review of British Civilisation”. How sad to think that Lyon’s tawdry oeuvre should be regarded as an exemplar of the state of our national culture.)

 The book review published by Counterfire is not quite as damning. But Counterfire does not do damning. And it is a review in which criticism of Unite runs in parallel with criticism of the book itself:

Lyon and his colleague Stevie Deans soon found themselves extremely deep in helping to further Ineos’ corporate lobbying. The results were about as unappealing to socialists as you could imagine.

Unite was involved in helping Ineos get tax breaks from the government, get tax-payer-funded subsidy from the government and get around environmental legislation that might have cost it money. 

I really don’t think anyone will be coming to this (book) looking for a ‘how to’ guide. Given the serious mistakes the union made lobbying for a ruthless company to achieve its socially and environmentally unfriendly goals, only to be severely attacked for its trouble, this is probably just as well.

The book is a history of things lost by our labour movement, not least because of a faulty strategy of colluding with an employer. For ideas about how to take struggle forward, you will have to look elsewhere.”

The other two reviews linked to above are no less critical.

The question which all this is leading up to is the following: Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of Lyon’s book which actually has a good word to say about it?

(Other than a ‘review’ published in a certain daily newspaper which is the recipient of substantial financial assistance from what used to be Britain’s biggest union.)

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