Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Power Of Community - Lessons from CUBA

!Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

1st May 2012, The Cuban People on the March in Havana
Yesterday saw a huge mobilisation of the Cuban People on International Workers' Day. Visible proof that the Cuban Revolution is still on the March and remains a source of inspiration to all those struggling across the planet for a future based on justice, dignity and equality for all.

I haven't the time today to analyse at length the development of the Cuban Revolution over the past half a century. However, I do want to point out that one of the key reasons for it's survival against all odds and against all predictions is the sense of community that exists throughout the island. The Power of Community is one of the fundamental lessons that the Cuban People have to teach us.

In 1991 I travelled to Cuba as a 'Brigadista'. I was based at Campamiento Julio Antionio Mella working to increase Agricultural production at the hieght of the crisis caused by the collapse of Cuba's main trading partner, the Soviet Union. The crisis was given a name 'The Special Period in a Time of Peace' or 'period especial'. Essentially, this was a complete economic collapse including the complete loss of Oil Supplies from the Soviet Union. By 1991/92 power cuts lasting hours were a feature of daily life across Cuba, water shortages, severe food rationing, the complete collapse of public transport systems, in other words the sort of crisis situation that only usually occurs during Total War.

Yet out of this crisis the Power of Community in Cuba - produced something wonderful - not only did the Cuban Revolution survive it became a model of how the whole planet can survive the problem of 'Peak Oil'. Cuba became a model for the future of the whole of Humanity. Since the 'Special Period', a sustainable local food production system has emerged. Urban Permaculture Projects sprang up across Havana, and organic horticulture now provides the bulk of ordinary peoples calorific needs. One of the champions of explaining how Cuba was able to achieve this is Roberto Perez. I had the honour of speaking with Roberto at a meeting organised by the Birmingham Transition Town group in December 2008. Anyone, concerned about the growing global environmental and ecological crisis that capitalism has produced needs to learn from Cuba's solutions. All Socialists and all Green activists will benefit from listening to the wisdom and the Power of Community that Roberto Perez represents.

Long Live the Cuban Revolution!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Unfinished Business? For God? For England? For St. George?

For an English, Republican,
Green and Socialist Revolution!

Happy Saint George's Day to all readers of "The Green Fields of France". Unfinished Business always has a tendency to reappear on the agenda, that holds true in our personal lives, in politics and in the development of national identity. The English Revolution of the 1640's was a cathartic explosion which saw the emergence of a radical plebeian wing in the form of Leveller agitation in the New Model Army, Utopianist Religious Sects and the infamous experiment carried out by the Diggers on St. Georges Hill. 

Gerrard Winstanley - Englands Pioneer Green Socialist
The outcome of the great social upheaval that radical elements of the Revolution fought for never materialised. Instead, Cromwell's invasion of Ireland led England soaking with blood into the imperialist construct of the Union. Great Britain, with a restored Monarchy, shackled all the peoples of these islands to the project of Empire just as firmly as it shackled the millions of African Slaves below decks on  the Atlantic crossing. An Evil Empire based on brutality and exploitation gathered the resources to allow the space for the innovation and experimentation that powered the Industrial Revolution. Still, unfinished business reared it's head - and English Radicalism in the shape of the Luddite Revolt in the Midlands and North of England expressed the continuity of a Republican and Revolutionary tradition.

This Republican and Revolutionary tradition in England was to experience it most prolonged and heroic expression during the decade of  Chartism in the 1840's. Of course, however, heroic or prolonged the resistance to the Imperialist British State was, all these struggles ended in failure. Nevertheless, this thread of radicalism which always included elements of collectivism, internationalism, support for the liberation of women and support for religious freedom, does represent a continuity. In fact, many individuals involved in the continuing struggle for a better, fairer world today can trace that continuity back through the generations of their own family history. 

Perhaps, in the:  Huddersfield Luddite Bicentenary Events taking place this weekend; the plans for the Wigan Diggers Festival; the growing popularity of the Levellers Day in Burford, we see the emergence of a pride in the History of the English Revolutionary tradition? The TUC sponsored Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival has become increasingly popular despite difficult times for Socialists and Trade Unionists over the last decade. Maybe I have got it all wrong and what we are experiencing is not a great cultural revival of English Radicalism but the culture of defeat, a kind of retreat into wistful nostalgia to compensate for a retreat from active struggle for change? Either way, something is happening and it is not just middle aged lefties taking part in these commemoration events. These events are helping to educate a new generation about the hidden history of the English Working Class. Hat's Off! To the comrades in Wigan, Huddersfield, Tolpuddle and Burford for helping us rediscover our true history.
So, on St George's Day, lets celebrate a Martyr with a military background who fought oppression and intolerence who in local Palestinian tradition, is also known as Al Khader [The Green], associated with fertility and growth. For too long we have allowed the far right in English political life to capture the flag of St George and Englishness. The EDL are wrong when they seek to portray the English as A White and Christian People  and it is no accident that today all those in England who desire the end to imperialist wars, an end to racism, an end to the British Monarchy also have a new 'St George' to pay homage too, thanks to the voters of Bradford West. 
George Galloway - Slaying the Blairite Dragon
Saint George Galloway of Bradford West!  On St. George's Day let everyone in England remember all those in past generations who resisted oppression in this land, let everyone in England welcome the Bradford Spring. Let us all pray that the revolt is fertilised by new gains for RESPECT and the Green Party across England on May 3rd.
On Saturday 19th May in Burford, in the English Cotswold's for the 38th year running there will be a March where some participants with sea green ribbons in their hats, will commemorate the three Leveller's Soldiers, Thompson, Perkins and Church, executed in Burford, for refusing to fight with Cromwell against the Irish. "It was not long before we were told that either we march to Ireland or we take our discharge without arrears of pay. Whereupon we determined to stand firm and demand that those who wished to be disbanded should be paid. When our Colonel heard of this, he waxed exceedingly hot and said we were already guilty of Mutiny and with every minute making our case worse. One soldier, wearing our Levellers' sea-green ribbon, spoke up boldly. 'Sir,' he said, 'will your goodself be leading us into Ireland?' whereat our Colonel, taken somewhat aback, said that he had not made his mind up on the matter. Whereupon some did laugh." 300 of the Levellers were held prisoner in Burford Church and 3 were executed as ringleaders... but maybe we will still get to have the last laugh. 363 Years after the Burford Executions we still have the task of opposing Imperialist Wars and standing up against all forms of injustice. We still have the Monarchy as a bulwark against genuine democracy. We face a vicious Government bent on destroying the remaining vestiges of the Welfare State which previous generations struggled so hard to establish. But English Radicals can take heart from the growth of support for Sinn Fein in Ireland [North and South] the SNP in Scotland and the New Leadership show by Leanne Wood in Wales. In England too the Bradford breakthrough against the establishment parties by RESPECT and the growth in Support for the Green Party is a reflection of a growing rebellion which, if it learns from the past, can finally hasten the break up of the UK, the abolition of the Monarchy and move towards a Green and Pleasant Socialist Republic in England. On St George's Day 2012 we can mark a sea change, the tide is turning and an authentic English Republican, Eco-Socialism is growing. Comrades! we have 'unfinished business' to attend to, high time to finish the tasks history has set us.

Tony Benn on the  Levellers Day March in Burford

Billy Bragg - Singing 'The World Turned Upside Down"
At the 'Chainmakers Festival' in the 'Black Country' September 2007

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

An International Workers Day Tribute to Jem France

A May Day Tribute to Jem France:
Born in the Rhondda Valley, October 25th 1940 - Died in Huddersfield, April 8th 2012

Alice Jemima France: Aged 18
On Easter Sunday 2012, my Mother, Alice Jemima France [nee Jones], died in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Jem was only 71 years old. On Friday 27th April 120 family, friends and comrades sang the Red Flag at her funeral... on May Day 2012 this is my personal tribute to her.

Jem was born in Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley on the 25th October 1940, the second child of Dolly Jones [nee Poulton] and Morgan Douglas Jones. Jem's dad was a Miner, trade unionist and anti-fascist and despite the 'protected' status of his employment he volunteered to fight fascism at the start of the War that was engulfing Europe. Jem's mother took the decision to leave the Rhondda and move to Birmingham. - The family lived in squalid conditions in Birmingham town centre and while Jem was still a baby in arms and her older brother Idris just 3 years old they narrowly escaped death when part of William Street was destroyed by the bombs of the Luftwaffe. At the very end of the War the news came through that totally devastated the family - Morgan Douglas Jones had been killed in action, when a German anti Tank missile destroyed the Tank he was driving, on the 1st April 1945.
William Street, Birmingham circa 1945
The trauma of losing her husband, affected Dolly deeply, and life in Central Birmingham with its bomb sites, Post War Austerity and Rationing was hard to cope with. The Attlee Labour Government was establishing the framework of the Welfare State but it would take a years to tackle the entrenched poverty and slum housing that blighted the centre of Birmingham. Dolly moved on in her personal life and gave birth to a baby boy in 1947 called Edward so Jem now had a younger brother and, in 1953 Jem's sister Delia was born. The family  lived in William Street, close to Birmingham City Centre and Jem became life long friends with her neighbour, Josie Everral and her sister Annette they all attended  St. Thomas's School. Dolly went on to have two more girls, Jacqui and Linda and the growing family moved to nearby Owen Street and were on the City Council waiting list to move to a new larger home. As the Eldest Daughter Jem took on a great deal of caring responsibility for all her younger siblings while she was still a child herself. Back in Wales Idris followed his late fathers footsteps, becoming a Miner in the Rhondda Valley, Jem could never afford the expense of travelling to Wales to visit her older brother.  As soon as Jem finished school in 1955 she found industrial work to help support her family, as a result of the extra income Jem was able to organise the first holiday the family had ever had, staying in a caravan, with a 'bucket and chuckit' toilet in Stourport. To this day Jem's siblings have fond memories of this first Holiday and a photo shows smiling faces of a family group outside the Stourport Caravan who were blissfully unaware that inside Jem's Brain a Tumour was growing. In 1957  Jem's friend Josie's family moved to a new Council House in Leach Green Lane and Jem spent every weekend in Rubery with the Everral Family. About the same time Jem began experiencing distorted vision and blinding headaches, at first it was assumed this was a form of migraine. It was Dolly's partner, Peter Green, who first suspected that something more serious was happening and he insisted that the local GP refer Jem. After investigations carried out at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Jem was diagnosed with a Brain Tumour. Although, the prognosis was very bad, Jem tried to get on with life and one weekend in early 1958 Jemima Jones, Josie and Annette Everral decided to dig out the bridesmaid dresses they had worn at Jean Everrals Wedding a few months earlier.
The Billberry Tea Rooms circa 1957
Where Jemima Jones first met Barry France
Dressed 'up to the nines' they walked from Leach Green Lane, Rubery to Rose Hill up the Lickey's.  The three teenagers walked into the Bilberry Tea Rooms, and soon caught the eye of Barry who was at the Dance with workmates from the Longbridge Car Plant. That night Barry nervously asked the Girls if he could walk them home because the 10.15pm deadline to return home was fast approaching, Barry did get to walk the Girls home but there wasn't even any holding of hands let alone doorstep snogging. Barry and Jem met again at the Billberry Tea Rooms the following weekend and this time Barry Danced all night with Jem. Although the music was a live band playing Rock and Roll couples were not allowed to 'Jive' or engage in lewd behaviour and the strict No Alcohol policy and vigilant Tea Room Stewards ensured that no hanky panky took place. At the end of the night Barry France asked Jemima Jones if he could take her home [Assuming she lived at Leach Green Lane] Jem said "yes" and led Barry on a 9 mile trek to Owen Street in Birmingham City Centre. Barry was due at work the next morning and the last bus had gone so he had to get back to Kingswood Road, West Heath, 8 miles away on foot, but being a young man filled with testosterone and excitement he ran the entire distance in 45 mins. Fortunately, for Barry's legs Jem's Mom, Dolly gained a tenancy on a 4 bed Council House with Gardens front and back on the tree lined street, Allens Croft Road, Stirchley. 
The Shops at the Top of Allens Croft Road
Stirchley/Kings Heath circa 1960
Jem, despite her constant pain from the tumour, could breathe a sigh of relief, at long last her siblings now lived in a modern easy to manage and heat home with good schools and shops  nearby. Eddie was now old enough to help with some of her caring duties and she could concentrate on her own health and her new love. At first it looked like a Doomed Romance.... Jemima Jones had a life threatening Brain Tumour and Barry France had just got his call up papers for two years National Service. Jem and Barry became living proof that true love is capable of overcoming all obstacles.  Jem was to go on to have several operations at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in Selly Oak, over the next five years. NHS Brain Surgery was in it's infancy in the late 1950's and early 1960's and Jem France was one of the first patients to survive experimental techniques and surgical procedure's. After every operation surgeons would still be uncertain of success and told Jem to "prepare for the worst". While Barry was away at Castlemartin Tank range in Pembrokeshire learning to drive Centurion Tanks -  Jem took an extended visit to the Rhondda to spend time with her brother Idris and other family members who she had not seen for many years. Jem, loved being back in the "Land of my Fathers". Jems, Uncle Cyril used to sit with Jem next to the cast iron range in the little Terraced House in Treorchy and as dusk fell he would start singing songs. Jem's favourite was Kevin Barry. Perhaps the lyrics which speak of about bravery and dignity in the face of certain death actually helped Jem recover from her first major Brain Surgery faster than anyone one expected? The song certainly has a special poignancy for me as my mother used to hum the refrain as a Lullaby for me as a small child.

Whether Barry was stationed in barracks in Pembrokeshire or West Germany, they wrote to each other at least 3 times a week during his two years of National Service. Their love for each other grew stronger and Jem was able to survive further invasive Brain Surgery and cope with extended periods in Hospital. Jem and Barry were always grateful to the Welsh Socialist Leader, Nye Bevan, who established the NHS and clearly without Nye Bevan and Barry France, Jem would have never lived see the 1960's or wear the mini skirts she loved so much. 
Queen Elizabeth Hospital in circa 1958
However, grateful for the NHS they were, Jem and Barry did not take the medical advice to "prepare for the worst", they were too busy being in love and sharing a faith in a brighter future. After Barry completed his National Service and returned to work at "The Austin", they prepared  for the best. They got married in St Chads Church in Rubery on 25th November 1961 and Jem gave birth to me in the summer of 1962. They moved into their own home, 99 Cloverdale, Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove in 1963 a brand new 3 bed semi detached house overlooking open fields to the rear. Jem faced another  major operation at the end of this year which was made potentially more risky because  Jem was over 5 months pregnant. Jem and the baby survived, my sister Michele was born in March 1964. After nearly 6 years of struggle Jem had finally cheated death, defeated the Tumour and she settled down into a blissful home life with her husband and kids. The icing on the cake was that Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were back running the country and Barry bought a 'stereogram' to play their growing collection of six inch singles. Barry and Jem had their own house, a car, a fridge a TV, twin tub washing machine and two nice kids. 

Jem and Barry were loving parents, my childhood was free from the violence and brutality that so many children suffer in their own homes. Our home was filled with love and tenderness , peace and security. As a couple Jem and Barry shared everything as equals and both worked hard to ensure that me and Michele never suffered the deprivations they endured in their own childhoods.  In 1968 our family moved to Stirchley to be closer to Dolly, Eddie, Delia, Jacqui and Linda. In the early 70's Jem and Barry were both strikingly attractive and they dressed very stylishly, I was always proud that my parents seemed so vibrant and full of joy in comparison to the parents of many of my school friends. Although they may have been 'Glamorous' Jem and Barry were not 'Shallow', by 1974 Jem and Barry, were active members of Hall Green Labour Party. They worked hard for the return of a Labour Government in both the February and October General Elections of that year. I remember helping out with leafleting and poll station duty, we also went as a family to a Mass Rally in Birmingham Town Hall where the best bit was singing 'The Red Flag" and "Jerusalem" at the end. In 1975 our family moved to Rubery and Jem and Barry continued, activism in Bromsgrove and Redditch Constituency Labour Party. Jem worked as a machinist at Jet Filter's on an Industrial Estate in Rubery and helped unionise the workforce into the AUEW [Engineers Union] bad workplace Health and Safety led to Jem loosing a finger in an Industrial Accident at the Factory and she fought to improve conditions for her fellow workers to prevent anyone else suffering as she did. Jem supported Barry when he was successfully elected as a County Councillor in May 1981. The following year, Barry accepted the offer of a job working full-time for the Labour Party in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. They were well liked and respected as a couple and really enjoyed their new found freedom, as me and Michele stayed up in Brum. Jem and Barry rapidly gathered a wide circle of new friends and comrades and they were universally admired as a loving couple who were generous and open hearted. In the middle of the Tory Party Heartland, Barry and Jem stood up to Thatcherism and rallied people towards the alternative.  Now in the Prime of their Life and just like their hero Tony Benn, Jem and Barry became more radical the older they got and never gave in to the cynicism or despair that affected so many people in Thatcher's Britain.

When they moved to Huddersfield in 1985 Jem worked in Care Homes, often doing night shifts and becoming an expert in the palliative care of the elderly. Jem was appalled by the management of one Care Home she worked in and fought to expose the disgusting 'granny farming' mentality of the private sector management. Jem was targeted by Management as a trouble maker when convinced fellow workers of the need to join a Trade Union to prevent their own exploitation and the exploitation of the vulnerable elderley people they cared for. Barry worked hard to transform the fortunes of the Labour Party in Huddersfield and Colne Valley most noticeably by working closely with comrades in the Sikh and Muslim communities in Huddersfield whose needs had until then been ignored by all political parties. As a couple they made lasting friendships, despite their 'Brummie Accents' and 'Comer  In' status. Jem and Barry's, good humour broke through the sometimes grumpy and miserable exterior of the native born Yorkshire folk they encountered. Over the decades Jem put massive amounts of energy into supporting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, The Peoples March for Jobs, Anti- Apartheid and, above all spent an entire year between March 1984 and March 1985 raising funds to support Striking Mineworkers and their families. Jem was heartbroken when she watched the Welsh Miners march back to work, but also proud that they were the last back. In 1990 Maerdy Colliery - the last pit in the Rhondda Closed Down. Her brother Idris had worked at Maerdy pit as did his father Morgan Douglas Jones. For nearly 20years after the end of the Great Strike, just outside their bedroom door, stood a corner cabinet in the hall, this was a 'Shrine' to the National Union of Mineworkers, constructed by Jem and Barry to preserve the memory of the struggle. As a committed but impoverished revolutionary political activist myself, I rarely saw my Mom and Dad except on Labour Movement Demonstrations. Jem used to say "we just used to turn up and listen out for the 'loudest voice' shouting out the slogans of the day... we walked in that direction and always found you!"
Spring Grove School - Huddersfield
It was in the 1990's in Huddersfield that Jem discovered her true vocation. Jem became a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant at Spring Grove School, a Multi-Cultural primary school in the centre of Huddersfield. Jem also established a functioning Library in the school and carried out many hours unpaid voluntary work to ensure every child mattered as well as acting as a mentor to newly qualified Teachers struggling with the Job. If Jem did not have responsibilities as a carer and surrogate mother, while she herself was a child, then I feel sure that Jem would have discovered her vocation earlier on in life. Jem really enjoyed her work at Spring Grove and planned to carry on Voluntary work at the school after her retirement. Instead, these plans had to be abandoned, while on a family camping holiday in Pembrokeshire with Barry, she was struck down by a stroke in July 2001.

Over the next decade Jem struggled with further strokes and illness and always at her side was Barry who became her primary carer. No matter how ill Jem felt she always took time to nurture her grand children Jordan, Conor and Calum. No matter how ill Jem felt she also continued to fight for a peaceful, fairer world. On 23rd September 2006 Jem France attended her last Demonstration. Barry dismantled Jem's mobility scooter and stowed it in the luggage compartment of the Coach  waiting opposite the statue of Harold Wilson in St George Square Huddersfield. Jem with Barry at her side joined the Thousands of Stop the War Coalition Protesters Marching past Labour Party Conference shouting "Time To GO! Tony Blair Terrorist!".... Many times in the past Jem and Barry were Delegates or Guests at Labour Party Conference. Now, despite her disability and age Jem was an 'Outsider'.  Jem was not just calling for an end to the Unjust Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she was also venting her anger at the Blairites who had not only abandoned the principles of Nye Bevan but also forced Barry into early retirement in 1998. Barry, loved his job as a Labour Party Organiser for Huddersfield and Colne Valley, but the new regime could not tolerate his independent mind. To have given so much for so long to the Labour Party and to be stabbed in the back by the traitors who attempted to brake the spirit of her own husband, was a difficult cross to bear. Jem would never again be an active member of the Party.
Dawn and Mark alongside Jem and Barry 26th July 2008
at All Saints Church Bromsgrove
No matter how ill Jem felt she always rallied and found the strength to smile. On July 26th 2008 Jem travelled down from Huddersfield to Bromsgrove with Barry to celebrate my Wedding to Dawn. It was confirmation and proof that Love does eventually conquer all obstacles... In brilliant sunshine under Blue Skies Our Happiness was Perfect.

In my last two telephone conversations with Jem, we talked of hopeful signs of Change in both Wales and Yorkshire. Leanne Wood a young Socialist from the Rhondda had won the Leadership of Plaid Cymru and two weeks later George Galloway had won a stunning victory for RESPECT in the Bradford West By Election. Jem seemed pleased that the tide was at last turning. I never got to hear my moms voice again. The next time I saw Jem she was unconscious in a hospital bed...The best memorial we can construct for Jem, is to make sure that tide keeps turning until it is unstoppable and sweeps away all injustice, violence and oppression.

 After 6 decades of personal and political struggle, Jem  spent another decade battling to recover from a series of strokes, falls and infections. Through everything, Jem and Barry carried on and it was their love for each other that enabled them to maintain a sense of pride and dignity. It was only when Barry himself was struck down by two strokes, that removed his capacity to speak and weakened his body, that Jem accepted the need for daily visits from carers, as Barry could no longer physically care for his wife. Jem, a woman of great courage and dignity finally lost the strength to fight any longer. Jem passed away peacefully, after spending several days surrounded by those she loved the most. Jem has left a lasting legacy in the hundreds of children she helped to educate in Huddersfield, in the thousands of people whose lives she has touched during her long and often painful Journey. Gentle and sweet Jem was never judgemental and always helped heal conflict, she will always be remembered. REST IN PEACE JEM

Jem France
Funeral 2pm, FRIDAY 27th April 2012, Huddersfield Crematorium...the 'Humanist' service will be followed by a 'Wake' at 'The Field Head Pub', Quarmby Road, Huddersfield.

All comrades and friends of Jem and Barry are welcome to attend... during the service participants will sing Jim Connell's 'The RED Flag' as Jem's parting hymn...

"It waved above our infant might.....
... this song shall be our parting hymn."

MayDay Update...Over 120 people saluted Jem's Coffin by singing the Red Flag ... many through a "vale of tears"... the Wake was beautiful experience as people separated by the trials and tribulations of life reconnected, remembered and became whole again.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Afghanistan: Time to GO NOW!

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians
The latest Massacre of 16 Civilians including 9 Children in Kandahar Province coming just days after 6 British Troops were killed by a massive Taliban bomb underlines the insanity of the War in Afghanistan. Yet many people in England appear frozen in a mindset where questioning the validity of the War is to disrespect the young men who wear British Military Uniforms. Earlier, today I was listening to a BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester morning 'phone in' The question posed was 'Should the UK Withdraw its Troops from Afghanistan? The presenter, Tony Fisher, played a 20 second prerecorded 'inteview'  with Worcester Stop the War Coalition Secretary, Neil Laurenson. Tony referred to my mild mannered mate  Neil as 'vociferous' [crying out noisily; clamorous] then took a call from an elderly ex-serviceman named John who spoke for nearly 10 minutes live on air. To be honest, the contribution of the ex-serviceman [and I mean no disrespect here] was incoherent, reactionary and rubbish however, it was his viewpoint that dominated the 'debate' and was never 'challenged' by the presenter. It is really important for Anti-War voices to be heard, now more than ever, so I urged everyone who reads this to sieze every local opportunity to try to make their voice heard in the local media. A great recent example of how to keep a cool head under fire was the John Rees vs Jon Gaunt battle on the Jeremy Vine Show BBC Radio 2, well worth listening to, especially as Mr Gaunt's attempts to goad were an epic fail. 
Over a decade after the US and UK led Invasion of Afghanistan, the nightmare of the Afghan people continues and after over a decade of Anti-War campaigning many activists are also exhausted. Nearly 5 years ago I organised a petition campaign in Bromsgrove for Military Families Against the War.
May 2007 - Bromsgrove Military Families Against the War
During May 2007, in Bromsgrove High Street, despite the attempt by the District Council to deny us permission, we established petition tables two weekends running.  Our Petition Campaign was also an opportunity for Marianna Fontanelli to get useful 'vox pop' interview footage for a Documentary titled SHADOWS on the issue of UK Troops who suffer PTSD as a result of the Trauma of participating in the War. We got tremendous support from most local people who enthusiastically expressed their opposition to the war. A mother of a son serving in Afghanistan for the Mercian Regiment helped staff the stall and together we collected over 500 signatures in two Saturday sessions lasting about 5 hours in total, even the Local Paper gave the petition campaign favourable coverage.  I had managed to get a ticket as a new member of Bromsgrove Labour Party to attend a Regional Deputy Leadership Hustings event. This event was also doubling up as the unofficial 'Coronation' of Gordon Brown as the new Leader of the Party. I intended to present the petition to the heir apparent of Tony Blair on behalf of the people of Bromsgrove.
Young Afghan Woman with PTSD
When I arrived in Warwick University for the Deputy Leadership Husting on 20th May 2007 the place was crawling with the Media and Security was very tight. I was lucky enough to make friends with people who could protect me. I sat on the right side of the auditorium about 10 rows from the Platform, on my left was Daniel De'Ath [yes that is his name] a tall dual heritage youth from Rugby Labour Party and on my right, a slightly built bespectacled Methodist lay preacher from Bromsgrove Labour Party.
Polly Toynbee, was chairing the Hustings and Gordon Brown was to be making his first keynote speech as the New Labour Leader. Very early on a protester from the Stop the War Coalition attempted to speak and raise a anti-war poster at the rear of the hall.... within seconds about 10 burly private security contractors silenced the protest and bundled the poor woman out, 'her feet did not touch the ground'. About 30 minutes after this incident -  the Chair was asking for 'Questions from the floor to Gordon', most of these 'questions' were clearly scripted the 'questioners' planted in the audience... then suddenly there was a brief silence in the room ... someone wasn't sticking to the 'script' or had just forgot their 'que'. I seized my chance. I put my hand up and said 'Polly... POLLY!... I have a question'. Polly Toynbee, seemed momentarily confused and nodded towards me and said 'Yes'. I stood up and said "Out there, and everybody knows this, the elephant in the room is that this war has gone on too long. Everybody has had enough of the war. We have to take decisive action. When are you going to bring those troops back home?'' Then I produced my petition sheets and held them in the Air "I have over 500 signatures here to present to Gordon from the people of Bromsgrove, many of whom have sons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan...." Already the Security  were moving in but they couldn't get close enough without trampling over more 'loyal' party members. I sat down and Gordon Brown stood up... his reply to me made the evening TV Bulletins but my question to him remained unreported. Strangely, enough the only media outlet to report my comments was The Hindu an Indian Newspaper. The earlier protest by the young woman who was dragged out by security was briefly shown on the TV news bulletins, but typically framed in a way to present Stop the War supporters as some sort of 'Anarchist Thugs'.

Back home in Bromsgrove - 'The Great Helmsman' of Bromsgrove Labour Party Councillor Peter McDonald was a tad upset with me. I was Expelled from the Labour Party AGAIN! [I  joined Bromsgrove and Redditch CLP at 15 years old in August 1977. I was expelled in 1982 from Northfield CLP and expelled again in 1985 from Sparkbrook CLP] While I was waiting patiently to face a Labour Party National Executive Committe Appeal Hearing in October 2007 other people were very busy: General Sir Richard Dannatt Chief of the General Staff of the British Army was involved in the Launch of 'Help For Heroe's' with the willing assistance of Rupert Murdoch via the 'Sun' Newspaper. The new 'Charity' began it's work with massive resources, other long established military charities like Combat Stress established in 1919 who worked without the support of the Tory Party and  Rupert Murdoch were effectively sidelined or turned into client organisations.
Two years after I questioned Gordon Brown at Warwick University, a well loved, liked and respected 18year old lad from Bromsgrove, Robbie Laws, was killed in Afghanistan. Robbie's Funeral was huge and the disgraced local MP, Julie Kirkbride, attended as part of her attempt to rehabilitate herself in the aftermath of the MP's Expenses Scandal. By this time the public activity of charities like  'Help for Heroes' and 'Support Our Soldiers' was becoming really prominent feature of life in Bromsgrove. The local free papers the local Council and all the local Schools seemed to be holding fundraising events. It seemed that participation in this sort of activity 'to support the troops' was far more appealing than participating in campaigning activity to 'Stop the War'. The clever thing was that this huge surge of 'charitable' campaigning 'had nothing whatever to do with politics', the truth, however, was that those who 'set up' 'Help For Heroe's' were very political.  By November 2009 General Sir Richard Dannatt formally 'retired' from the British Army to take up the role of 'Defence Advisor' to the Leader of the Opposition David Cameron. It was becoming clear that powerful forces were determined to undermine widespread Anti-War sentiment via manipulation of 'public opinion'. This was a classic 'Low Intensity Operation', a counter insurgency technique outlined by one of Sir Richard Dannatts mentor's in the Army Frank Kitson

The Following year in the General Election of 2010, I stood as an Independent Candidate for the Bromsgrove Constituency and was the only Candidate with a clear Anti-War Platform. There was a vicious and 'vociferous' campaign launched against me by the local Tory Party and BNP with the active colusion of the Labour Party. The only other Candidates to treat me with any kind of respect were the Lib-Dem and the UKIP Candidate  [I may write about this peculiar campaign in more detail in future] This campaign, in part, focused on presenting me as a 'Traitor' for my Anti-War campaigning. In the video above you will see Dawn Turner [not Dawn Butler as Gary erroneously names her!] talking of her sons who were both serving in Afghanistan. Dawn was heavily involved in the West Midlands 'Help for Hero's' Charity work, she comes from a Labour Movement background and was active in the early opposition to the Iraq War . Well,  Dawn's support for my Electoral Campaign couldn't overcome the huge resources that the established parties put into the Election and I only got 336 votes. But it was interesting that whereas the average increase in the  Tory vote across English Constituencies was about 7% in Bromsgrove Constituency the Tory share of the vote fell by 7.3%. So consistently Anti-War Candidates can have some impact in helping to shake up the local political establishment if they are prepared to take the flack that comes with  stepping on their toes.

What worries and concerns me is that as the War in Afghanistan drags on the most reactionary elements in British Society have been able to pose as the 'champions' of 'our troops'. Even though it is they who continue to pursue the unjustifiable and unwinnable war that sends those troops back home in coffins with increasing regularity.
Welfare Not Warfare! - Don't Attack IRAN!
On February 15th 2003 over 1.5 Million People Marched in London Against War. In the 9 years since then, despite all our efforts, we failed sustain and develop a true mass movement capable of ending the carnage? The opinion polls conducted anonymously may still produce an anti war majority - why does this majority have no voice? Who has silenced them? What psychological processes are at work to keep people placid in response to war atrocities committed in their name? When the issues at stake are so clear that young children understand them - why are so many adults in complete psychological denial of the obvious truth? Was the spectacular growth of  'Help for Heroe's' an 'emotional plague'  deliberately spread by the ruling elite to silence opposition? Meanwhile, the agony of the Afghan people continues and many of the older generation in Kabul long for the largely secular, sense of security, peace and progress of the 1970's. This wishful thinking is a sentiment I share too. What was it that the world had in the 1970's that it doesn't have now?

No! I am not on about the Austin Allegro! One of the things that is missing today is the Soviet Union. The objective of the Regan/Thatcher regimes was to break the back of the Soviet Union, forcing it to compete in an Arms Race it couldn't win. The USA deployed  'first strike' Cruise Missiles in Britain and Thatcher gladly coughed up the money for Trident Nuclear Subs - while Regan spent $Billions on Pretend Star Wars Projects to scare the bureaucrats in the Kremlin. Not content with this escalation which began to cripple the Soviet Economy, they began a proxy war against the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan Regan/Thatcher in Alliance with the House of Saud, funded and armed a reactionary rural rebellion against an essentially socially progressive and secular Kabul Government. In the Tora Bora  Caves Frankenstein's Monster, was brought back to life by the CIA, to lead this proxy war against the Soviet Union - Osama bin Laden.  To capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan was supposedly the original purpose of the US and UK led Invasion in 2001. Osama is like the Soviet Union GONE! The USA is already conducting a covert War in Pakistan using unmanned 'Drones' that have killed more people than died in the Twin Tower on 9/11. The same covert war is well underway in Somalia and Yemen, but despite the 'stealth' technology of the US Military, Iranian Defence Forces Shot down and captured a Drone last December.

To legitimise the carnage they carry out in our name the Warmongers LieThey carried out over 30,000 bombing raids on Libya killing 10,000s of Civilians and destroying the infrastructure of the country all in the name of 'protecting civilians'. They gloated as 'so called' Rebels finished their dirty work for them by slaughtering the already wounded Gaddafi. Now they are preparing the way to attack Iran and Syria.  Still they carry on with their Wars and their lies and they will continue.
-WHO ARE THEY? The Answer is simple - the worldwide Occupy Movement nailed that question They are the 1% - We are the 99%
The question we need to come up with a collective answer to is HOW CAN WE STOP THEM?

Friday, 9 March 2012

The New Welsh League of Hope

UPDATE: 15th March 2012. 6pm - Leanne Wood Wins Plaid Cymru Leadership!!!!!
Urdd Gobaith Cymru - Welsh league of Hope
For a couple of days this week I was fortunate to get the opportunity for a trip to North Wales, my wife Dawn was working in the Dee Valley so I was able to travel with her and we stayed overnight in Corwen. Going to Wales always triggers Saudade within me, a kind of wistful nostalgic feeling overwhelms my senses. My mother's maiden name was Alice Jemima Jennifer Jones and she was born in the Rhondda in October 1940. Her dad Douglas Morgan Jones was a miner, a trade unionist and an anti-fascist. Douglas was to die before my moms 5th Birthday in a Churchill Tank on German Soil on April 1st 1945.

When I was a kid our family holidays were always camping in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. I have memories of hot white sands burning the soles of my feat while I explored the beach at Stackpole under blue skies. In the middle of the Bay was Church Rock, I often set out to swim to the rock but never made it. Sometimes, I would lie back and float on the cold swelling sea, looking up to the sky, it felt as if my body was melting into the ocean, a sensation of well being and peace would seep into every cell in my body. I didn't need to get to Church Rock, the tides would just gently deliver me back to dry land. By the time I'd walked back across the vast expanse of the beach to the sand dunes, where mom and dad had set up camp, I would be bone dry and ready for a soggy cheese sandwich.   But alongside childhood oceanic feelings and happy memories Wales also triggers much darker memories...
Aberfan Disaster October 1966
I was profoundly affected by Aberfan... often at night I imagined I was one of the 116 schoolkids trapped and overwhelmed by sodden, black debris, suffocating in the darkness. In the Summer of 1969 we visited my mothers older brother Idris Jones who was a Miner, like his father before him, at his home in the Rhondda. The small terraced house of Idris and his family was overshadowed by a huge 'mining debris hill' or 'Slag Heap' as we called it, it blocked out the daylight from entering their living room. I remember asking uncle Idris if the Slag Heap would fall on us 'like in Aberfan?' I accepted his confident assurance that 'No Markie Bach [little one] - we are all perfectly safe here'. 

The atmosphere of life in the valley's was still dominated by the effects of a Century of rapid industrialisation to exploit the Anthracite Coal reserves buried underneath the ground. The landscape and the people of the Valley's were scarred by the efforts to extract the coal. Whenever we visited relatives in the Rhondda, it was always raining everywhere was grim and grey. I was always reminded of the opening scenes of the hollywood film 'How Green Was My Valley' .

Having provided the fuel to power the Industrial Revolution and and enable the British Empire to dominate the World, the South Wales Coalfield was now in terminal decline. The sense of community was still strong but the people of the Valley's were left with a terrible environmental legacy.  The shock and anger provoked by the Aberfan disaster contributed to a resurgence of a more militant form of Welsh Nationalism and on the night before the  Investiture of the Prince of Wales two members of the group Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales), George Taylor and Alwyn Jones died in a bomb blast in Abergele.
A decade later came another wave of resurgent Welsh Nationalism, largely in response to the offensive launched by the Thatcher Government, which had no mandate from the people of Wales. I remember the burly group of bearded Welsh speakers who joined me and 300 others on the South Wales Youth March Against Unemployment initiated by Revolution Youth in the spring of 1981. The March went from Port Talbot to Cardiff via Maesteg getting a great response especially from NUM members, unfortunately I had to leave the March early to get back to Birmingham and my Manpower Services Commission Training Scheme as a Painter and Decorator. As a consequence of going back to work I never got to speak with the handful of Meibion Glyndwr [Sons of Glyndwr] who had joined the March. 

Owain Glydwr
So, over 30 years later, I am in Corwen, admiring the new statue of Owain Glyndwr in the middle of the village and thinking of the huge changes that have taken place in Wales during the intervening decades. Despite my own Welsh heritage I was far more attracted as a youth to a study of Irish History than Welsh History. My little two day trip to North Wales has helped pull the fragments of my own identity and heritage together - and gave me a opportunity to learn a bit more about Welsh History. I was definitely English but was re-connecting with the land of my mother and maternal Grandfather. After morning walk from Corwen Town up to the Pen y Pigyn Woods where I sat by the side of a mountain stream absorbing the atmosphere of Owain Glydwr Country - I got a move on. Luckily, I had access to Dawn's car while she was at work, and left Corwen to drive to Lake Bala where  I had spent a brief but happy time camping with my son Jordan in 2007.
Lake Bala - approaching from the south, 7th March 2012
This time I was alone, and on a mission to go to Fron-Goch, a tiny hamlet about two miles north of Bala Town. A distant relation of mine called Green was imprisoned at Fron-Goch for his, very minor, part in the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916. Over 1800 Irish Prisoners were held at Fron - Goch Internment Camp in the aftermath of the Rising and the place is known by some as The University of the Irish Revolution. I stood outside the tiny school in Fron-Goch and felt foolish...  I sort of knew that somewhere in the hamlet was a small plaque which had recently been placed to mark the historic significance of the place, but I couldn't find it. There was a tiny shop so I thought I'd go in and ask, but my confidence evaporated, for some reason I felt embarrassed. Earlier in the day, faced with the imposing memorial to Owain in Corwen my spirit seemed lifted. Now, I felt deflated - I hope that in the near future a more visible memorial is erected at Fron-Goch to mark its Historic Significance.
Jordan and Me - Outside CAT 2007
I decided, to move on and take a trip to The Centre for Alternative Technology but was worried about using too much fuel and stayed near Bala to visit the Statue of  Owen Morgan Edwards and his son Ifan ab Owen Edwards  I took a photo of the statue [at the start of this article] which symbolises the process of passing down knowledge and hope from one generation to the next. The son of Ifan was Owen Edwards who became head of SC4 the Welsh TV Channel. I thought of my son, Jordan, and my hopes for him to have a happy future as he moves into Adulthood. Thinking of past generations and pondering what the future holds, I headed back towards Corwen, then I noticed, upon the hillside above me, a wind farm. For me this was a real symbol of how Wales had changed over the past 3 decades... producing clean, green sustainable energy... from a great natural resource... I LOVE WIND FARMS... so I found the single track road up the hillside and parked up. The Wind Turbines were about 40metres Tall and made a wonderful, whooshing sound. These Turbines were manufactured  by VESTAS. [the company logo was painted in blue on the side of the Turbine hub]  VESTAS was the only major UK windturbine manufacturer until its closure with the loss of 525 Jobs in the Isle of Wight in 2009. It seemed a tradegy to me that there were not Wind farms just like this on the Hillsides of Worcestershire where I live, if such projects had been developed in England then maybe VESTAS would still be employing hundreds on the Isle of Wight.
Wales is leading the way in developing wind power and maybe in the future could establish it's own Wind Turbine manufacturing Industry?
Wind Turbine - HAFOTY UCHA , 7th March 2012
Today other winds of change are sweeping across Wales a new brand of Republican Eco-Socialism is emerging in and at its head is Leanne Wood who is a standing for the Leadership of Plaid Cymru. This time it is a working class Woman from the Valley's of South Wales that is passing a message of hope to the next generation not a Man from the North. The Result of the Ballot will be announced on March 15th. I've got my fingers crossed! The Welsh League of Hope has a new champion and victory for Leanne will also give hope to the embryonic movement towards an English Republic too.

Leanne Wood - candidate for the leadership of Plaid Cymru. Good Luck!

Mark Anthony France.

Leanne Wood.... Wins Plaid Cymru Leadership

A tremendous victory - from 'outsider' to 'Elected Leader' in a just a few weeks!

Monday, 5 March 2012

International Women's Day - A tribute to Mairead Farrell

"Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep..."

Mairead Farrell

Mairead Farrell,  a mature student at Queens University Belfast, was shot down unarmed by the SAS in Gibraltar on March 6th 1988. Mairead died of  Internal hemorrhaging, caused by multiple bullet wounds, alongside her comrades Sean Savage and Dan McCann. This is my personal tribute to a remarkable woman for International Women's Day 2012.

Nearly a quarter of a century after her death it is still very difficult to talk of anything connected with the dirty and brutal war between the British State and the Irish Republican movement. Ten years after Mairead, Sean and Dan were slaughtered on the Rock, The Good Friday Agreement brought the war to an end. However, the painful legacy of the conflict still resonates and the process of peace and reconciliation is slow. It is slowest in England, in fact there is no process of peace and reconciliation in England. The bulk of ordinary people in England are still blinded by a deep seated ingnorance of what drove young women like Mairead to become IRA Volunteers.

When I first travelled to Belfast in 1980, I was already aware of the central role that inspirational women leaders had played in the struggle for Civil Rights, figures like Bernadette Devlin who became the youngest ever woman elected to the Westminster Parliament in April 1969.

Within an couple of hours of my arrival in West Belfast I was to suffer a real shock. I was picked out of a crowd of other Troops Out Movement  activists 'picketing' a British Army Fort in Turf Lodge by Suzanne Bunting and Barbra Brown. Suzanne and Barbra told me that Anne Marie McMullan, a personal friend of mine, had been critically injured 6 hours earlier and was in Intensive Care at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Anne Marie had be shot by a Plastic Bullet while standing next to a traditional Internment Night Bonfire, just yards from her home in Horn Drive Lenadoon, West Belfast, she had suffered extensive brain damage. After spending hours at Anne Marie's bedside I returned to Horn Drive and stayed awake all night talking with Barbra Brown, who was a 27 year old Teacher and activist in the National Committee Against the H-Blocks.

After over a decade of traumatic struggle, women in the nationalist  community were still at the forefront of campaigning activity.  Women like Miriam Daly, a member of the Relatives Action Committee, who was assainated by a Loyalist Death Squad just 6 weeks before I met her comrades and sisters at a RAC meeting in August 1980.

I remember travelling on a coach organised by Belfast Women Against Imperialism in early October 1980 to a protest outside Armagh Gaol. Inside the Gaol was Mairead Farrell and she was to to join her comrades in the H-Blocks on Hungerstrike for the return of Political Status for Republican Prisoners. On the coach to Armagh I sat next to Noel Little, a gently spoken and thoughtful socialist who had the exhausted look of a political activist prepared to sacrifice his health because the demands of the struggle took priority, I liked him. I never met Mairead Farrell, but on that cold October morning in 1980 standing outside the gates of Armagh Gaol with others chanting slogans in support of the Prisoners I did hear Mairead, she shouted from the barred window of her cell Tiocfaidh ar la "Our Day Will Come".

Back in England - a couple of weeks later, I was waiting to catch a train at Bristol Temple Meads to go to Swindon. I was to speak at a meeting of Swindon Youth Against the Missiles a new youth group established in support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There was a rapidly growing movement against the deployment of Cruise Missiles in the UK. CND, after years in the doldrums, was experiencing a huge revival and was planning its first major Demonstration for decades in London on October 26th. Anyway, while waiting for my train I bought a copy of the Guardian and a few pages in what I read made me feel physically sick. Noel Little had been murdered,Ronnie Bunting [Suzanne's Husband] had been murdered and Suzanne Bunting had suffered multiple gunshot wounds and left for dead.  A counter revolutionary 'death squad' had killed people I knew and liked. I was 18 years old and I had already spent time at the bedside of a young friend of mine, Anne Marie McMullan, from Lenadoon, who was seriously brain damaged by a Plastic bullet on August 9th 1980. Now death had taken my new friend Noel. Despite the shock I was still able to speak at the Swindon Youth Against the Missiles meeting and encouraged the 60 or so young people to make every effort to attend the CND Demo two weeks later in London.

The CND Demo on 26th October was huge, at least 70,000 and many of the young people who participated were also open to supporting the struggle of Irish Political Prisoners who were on Hungerstrike and some of the youth from Birmingham Youth Against the Missiles went on to get involved in campaigning for the Prisoners 5 Demands. These young people represented the 'honourable exception' most political activists and socialists had little interest in the life and death struggle going on just across the water and they frequently denounced young women like Mairead Farrell as "petit bourgeois nationalists" and "individual terrorists".

Today, 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement and 24 years after Mairead's murder, many English people who pride themselves on their understanding of history still fail to appreciate why Irish Republicanism produced figures like Mairead. Maybe it is me who is just too sentimental,  but I genuinely feel that the years to come a form of English Republicanism will emerge to complete the unfinished business of the English Civil War  and perhaps New Levellers will look to heroines like Mairead for inspiration. TheThe Spirit of Irish Republicanism has taken a battering but remains unbowed and unbroken and the leading role of Sinn Fein women like Mary Lou McDonald has much to teach those of us in England who believe "Fair is worth Fighting For" 

On International Women's Day 2013, I hope that the 25th Anniversary of Mairead,s murder will see more commemorations and widespread appreciation of her contribution to the liberation of humanity from all forms of oppression.

"Unbowed, Unbroken" the 25th Anniversary of the Hungerstrikes 2006.