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!

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.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Longbridge Journey - part one

What ‘The Austin’ means to me...

Some Journey’s remain forever imprinted in our minds – this is a memory I have.... I am travelling in an Austin A35 from Cloverdale, Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove to Kingswood Road, West Heath, Birmingham to visit my Grandparents in was in 1967 The Summer of Love
The Austin A35- Motoring for the masses!
The A35 was a laugh, when my Dad wanted to turn a corner he pulled a stopper on the dashboard that was connected by wire to ‘indicators’ that popped up out their slots in the sides of the car like the ears of a curious rabbit. Going up the little hill out of Stoke Prior to Hanbury Turn was a bit of an effort for the A35 so my Dad encouraged me and my little sister in the back to rock forward like little chickens pecking at seeds – he convinced us this helped the A35 maintain the momentum to get up the hill.
We drove through Bromsgrove and Rubery and as we came down the Bristol Road South 'The Austin' began to fill the horizon. We turned left at Longbridge Island and I remember seeing the shiny steel body shells of Mini’s piled up on the back of Car Transporters lined up along the side of the West Works. As we turned right into Longbridge Lane I looked back through the tiny rear window of the A35 watching the sunlight bounce off the steel –

I was proud that my Dad, Barry France, was one of the people who helped transform these empty body shells into finished Mini’s – I also knew he worked hard and I missed him when he was working nights as I hardly saw him. The fortnightly change of shifts was the background rhythm of my childhood.
Once a Month my Dad went out on an evening – very unusual as he only ever went out to go to work the rest of the time he was always with his little nuclear family. It was only years later that I found out where he went.

Barry was the Branch Chair of the Longbridge National Union of Vehicle Builders and once a month travelled to Selly Oak for the meetings held in a small office above the Shops where the Number 11 Bus crossed the Bristol Road.
As we turned into Kingswood Road, West Heath I was looking forward to playing on the swing at the bottom of my Nan and Granddads garden and the cup of tea which they made with a frugal splash of sterilised milk – the tea always tasted creamier at Nan and granddads. Len and Kath’s House was spotless, perfectly decorated and the garden lawn a soft, short, bouncy brilliant green. At the end of the Garden was a shed containing wonders – old engineering tools, a lathe, heavy bench vices and an old motorbike painted Khaki Green, awaiting restoration. Just beyond the Khaki Green painted shed was a Khaki Green painted gate [I suspect Len managed to get hold of a job lot of Khaki Green paint at sometime] The gate opened onto a mysterious forbidden Jungle across the gap created by a brook.... Less than a mile from one of the Largest Industrial Plants in the World I stood on the bank of this brook as mottled sunlight penetrated the tree canopy.

Silence and Sunlight – Green Grass and Blue Skies, this was part of my life as the son and grandson of Longbridge workers in the Summer of Love 1967.

My Granddad, Len, got a mortgage on the 3 bed house in Kingswood Road in 1938 on the basis of his earnings as a worker at the Flight Shed in Longbridge assembling Fairy Battle single engine bomber aircraft and he went on to work on Hurricane Fighters.
A Hurricane taking of from Longbridge Airfeild 1942
4minutes 30seconds into this archive film Len France can be seen pushing the tail of the Plane out of the Flight Shed.

Len, like thousands of other workers, was proud of his contribution to the struggle against Fascism. As an active trade unionist and early member of the National Union of Vehicle Builders, Len, had high hopes for a fairer world and a bright future for his young family. Len joined the Labour Party and contributed to the landslide victory of Labour in the 1945 General Election.

In the aftermath of Fascism and War and with a ‘National Debt’ much higher than it is today, the process of reconstruction began. Yes, there was austerity, but the pain was shared far more equally and evenly than in 2012. The continuation of ‘the ration book’ helped ensure some fairness in the distribution of the most basic necessities in life.

The Attlee Government Nationalised the, Coal, Iron/Steel and Inland Transport Industries. The NHS was created, 100,000’s of new homes constructed and the framework of a welfare state established that promised to care for each citizen equally ‘from the cradle to the grave’.
Now to Win the Peace!
The Austin turned from War Production to civilian work – manufacturing 3,000 Austin ‘Welfarer Ambulances’ for the new NHS.  The K9 Truck previously used for military purposes was to become the backbone of the newly nationalised road haulage industry. The Austin workforce which was reduced from its wartime peak of 37,000 as thousands of women in south Birmingham and North Worcestershire stopped making Bren Gun Magazines, aircraft fuel tanks and other war materials, many started families. A new generation born in peacetime into a new era of a Welfare State emerged from the long shadows cast by War.
The predominantly male workforce that remained at the Longbridge plant was soon pressed into work to assist in reducing the National Debt. The USA, as soon as the War ended began demanding repayment of War time loans from the new Labour Government. Under this duress the newly Nationalised Steel Industry only allocated materials to those companies manufacturing for export so Longbridge designers and workers produced the Austin Atlantic aimed at the American market. All this effort proved in vain as the ‘Atlantic’ ended up selling better across other oceans most notably in Australia. The ever inventive and innovative management, designers and workforce at Longbridge took this setback in their stride and investigated new opportunities as the period of post war austerity gradually came to an end. When my Dad, Barry France, started work at The Austin in 1954 the focus was still on production for export. The first car Barry worked on was the Nash Metropolitan exclusively aimed at the American Market. His home in Kingswood Road, West Heath was only about 15minutes walk from his spot on the track assembling the Nash.
The Nash - the first car Barry worked on
In the Mid 1950’s most Longbridge workers used public transport, works buses and trains, bicycles or ‘shank’s pony’ [Walking] to get to the plant. Although relatively well paid, car ownership was still far too expensive for most workers. The newly established British Motor Corporation centred on the two huge plants at Longbridge [Austin] Birmingham and Cowley [Morris] Oxford, was by far the largest car manufacturer in Europe and the 4th Largest in the World.

A combination of factors including the increasing capacity of US manufacturers to meet domestic demand and a weakened car market in the UK and Europe meant that BMC management were faced with a crisis of overproduction.  The efficiency and productivity of the workforce led to thousands of vehicles being stockpiled and these were not selling in Britain, not because of any problems with the quality of the cars, but because the British working class were still too poorly paid to buy the products of their labour. There was emerging crisis and in the summer of 1956 BMC management acted to implement their preferred solution. Without consultation BMC announced the sacking of 6,000 workers including 3,000 at Longbridge. Management had clearly not understood the mood of ordinary workers and their unilateral act triggered the ‘Big Strike’ which was the first major test for the NUVB and other unions at Longbridge in the post war period.
The Big Strike 1956
The newly established ATV in this archive clip covered the strike:
In the first days of the strike the Police turned up with Horses and threatened to break up the picket line outside the West Works. As the tension between strikers and police rose the NUVB Convenor, Dick Etheridge, asked my dad if he used to collect marbles as a kid, my dad bemused by the question said ‘yes – and I still have a big bag of them at home’.  Dick said ‘well leg it back home and bring all the marbles you can find’. Within half an hour Barry was back with his marbles ready for whatever they were needed for. The ‘plan’ of Dick Etheridge was to roll the marbles under the hooves of the Police Horses if they charged, but the picket line held firm and Barry never ‘lost his marbles’.

Faced with such spirited resistance the police withdrew the Horses and over the next few days the Strike became an expression of a new found confidence as ordinary workers joined picket lines and participated in spontaneous marches up and down the Bristol Road South.
Often at the forefront of the Big Strike were women workers from the ‘Trim Shop’ who would wait at the various gates to ‘slow hand clap’ those ‘blacklegs’ at the end of their shift. These shaming tactics worked and the numbers on strike grew. The highly charged atmosphere during the last week of July came to a head after a failed attempt by Sir Oswald Moseley to hijack the anger of Longbridge workers to support his campaign targeting Jamaican immigrants. Longbridge workers wanted nothing to do with the Fascists and drove them away from the picket lines. My dad Barry was there at one confrontation and remembers a bloke he knew getting his hands badly broken and bloodied by a Fascist wielding a hammer. It was the ‘Longbridge Fortnight’ annual summer plant closure that took the heat out of the dispute. BMC management shocked by the resistance had to negotiate a return to work after the holidays lifting the threat of compulsory redundancy for thousands of workers.

The confidence of Longbridge workers and the faith they placed in their unions has often been distorted as some sort of disease or problem that needed to be tackled. However, in 1956 the ‘Big Strike’ was not about ‘greedy wage demands’ or ‘bloody minded troublemaking shop stewards’ – it was a simple demand that jobs and skills be preserved and not sacrificed because management bets on global market opportunities proved incorrect. In fact the growing strength of Longbridge Unions led in time to their members becoming the best paid industrial workers in the country and the creation of a new market for BMC products. The revolutionary Austin Seven 850 [later rechristened the Mini] was launched in 1959 a vehicle which was the culmination of everything great about Longbridge.
The brilliance of the design testing and production process that produced the Mini is show in this three part Pathe Documentary:

My Dads older sister June had Married Ronnie Steadman who also worked on the track at Longbridge while June worked half a mile down the road at Kalamazoo. June and Ron were the perfect example of the young families whose lives revolved around ‘the Austin’. By 1958 June and Ron, still only in their mid 20’s were able to get a mortgage on a brand new 3 bedroom detached house on the Callowbrook ‘Mucklow’ Estate in Rubery. This well designed community of semi detached, and detached 3 bed family homes had the backdrop of the Waseley Hills, was within walking distance of Rubery village, but close enough to open countryside that the sounds and smells of nearby dairy herds were a feature of daily life. For many Longbridge workers moving to Rubery with recent memories of Wartime Horror and Post War squalor, this transformation in the quality of their life was exactly what they had been fighting for.
When my mom and Dad were saving for a deposit to get their own home June and Ron put them up for a while in Rubery – and this sort of mutual self help was part of the spirit, not just of my own family,  but motivated many Longbridge workers in this era. A form of social solidarity based on a shared identity and common goals shaped daily life. It wasn’t a ‘political’ philosophy and it was not articulated or discussed – it was something straightforward that was implemented quietly and unobtrusively.

By the early 1960’s couples like June and Ron Steadman were the first generation of manual industrial workers to own their own home and purchase their own car to transport their kids to holiday and leisure activities and to get to and from work. June and Ron bought an early example of innovative design by ‘the Austin’, the A40 Farina the first ever ‘compact, economical hatchback’.
The A40 - Auntie June and Uncle Ron had one
By the time I had my 1st Birthday in July 1963 my mom and Dad had moved to 99 Cloverdale, Stoke Prior – from my bedroom I looked out over open fields that as a toddler I was able to explore in complete safety. One night I was awestruck as a huge Harvest Moon filled the sky while fireflies played in the eaves of the house – I was happy to be so close to nature and slept like a log. We even used to get casual work from the farmer at harvest time and me and mom would pick the farmers spuds for a bit of extra cash, but Barry got really annoyed when we said how little we were paid.
The boundary between the Farmers Field and the small back gardens of the Cloverdale Estate was a patch of rough uncultivated ground about 12 feet wide. Early one Sunday morning when I was still a toddler I was woken by lots of activity at the back of the house. All the adults in the road, most of them Longbridge workers, were ‘extending’ the back gardens by simply moving their fences about 6ft further into the uncultivated border of the Farmers Field. If the Farmer noticed his missing acre – he never complained – and the great Cloverdale Land Grab was successful.

Back to the Journey in the Austin A35:  When we finally arrived at 53 Kingswood Road, West Heath I asked my Granddad, who worked at Kalamazoo with Auntie June, ‘what do you do at ‘the Zoo’?’ Len said ‘Oh! My Job is to ‘Muck out the Elephants’. For another 5 years I was increasingly frustrated that even though my own Granddad was a Zoo Keeper we never ever got to visit ‘the Zoo’. Then one day we travelled a million miles to Dudley Zoo. It was on a damp drizzly day in Dudley that I learnt the painful truth about my own gullibility and the tremendous capacity of adults to ‘lie’. My Granddad wasn’t like Jonny Morris in Animal Magic, complete with a Zoo Keeper peaked cap, but an industrial worker like all the other adults I knew.
Not a photo of my Granddad Len at Work!
By the time of the Dudley Zoo trip we had moved to Stirchley, Dad still worked at Longbridge and my mom was working at Wilmott Breedon, a component company that supplied ‘the Austin’. Mom used to assemble car door locks that were a couple of weeks later fitted by my Dad on the track in CAB 2 to the cars. Much to my mom and Dad’s disgust Harold Wilson was no longer running the country and a grinning Ted Heath was trying to ‘take on’ the Unions. By this time Longbridge employed 28,000 workers and the sense of collective strength that most of these workers felt was a major influence on local politics. Even Bromsgrove felt this power when a By Election in 1971 led to the return of a Leyland Employee, Terry Davis as the Town’s first ever Labour MP.
Being a son of Car Industry workers in the early 70’s meant growing up with a sense of optimism and a feeling that things were changing for the better. Each year our standard of living improved, we lived in a clean modern home with good furniture. We ate good food, we went on 2 camping holiday’s a year. My Dad’s main hobby was buying a different car every 6months or so and at weekends we’d go for trips to the Lickey Hills for long walks. In the summer we’d drive to the Vale of Evesham to ‘Pick Your Own’ wandering around strawberry fields stuffing our faces all day until Barry would buy a single punnet of strawberry’s on our way out. In the autumn we’d walk the country lanes surrounding Bromsgrove collecting thousands of blackberries. Looking back I realise that Mom and Dad who were stuck inside noisy, dirty alienating factory environments all week found a way to get back to nature at the weekend.
When Holidays came we spent them on the nearly empty and unspoilt beaches of Pembrokeshire that my Dad first discovered while doing his National Service at Castlemartin Tank Range. Even in Wales – Longbridge was still with us, I remember that one summer at Kiln Park Campsite near Tenby, virtually the entire Longbridge Joint Shop Stewards Committee were able to meet to discuss tactics to use against management the following week.

At Christmas we got all we could dream of.  Me and my sister Shellie were the first kids in our street to get electronic calculators! When the Rayleigh Chopper bike came out I got a Bright Yellow one!
A Raleight Chopper in Yellow - Just Like Mine!
In the early ‘70’s the changes came thick and fast - we got a Colour TV, Split Level Cooker, fitted carpets, a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner was a godsend – until it arrived me and my mom used to clean the carpets once a week by tearing foot long strips of Austin Grey Tape off the big roll Dad had nicked off the track. We’d press the strong duct tape down on the carpet and yank it back up – picking up all the grit and dirt out the carpet pile.But the washing machine was not as welcome; I missed the regular Sunday morning trip to the Laundrette on Pershore Road. Chatting with Mom as the Big Tumble Driers did their work. The Laundrette was my Church and my Mom was my Vicar.
By the time we moved into a brand new 3 storey town house with an integral double garage in Hazelwell Fordrough in Stirchley – Dad was driving a massive Austin 3Litre and bought mom a little green Mini [but she never got round to learning to drive]. Dad had bought the big second hand Austin after a bad experience with the first ‘brand new’ car he bought. On one of our regular trips to Soho Road, Handsworth to buy a pair of Stiletto shoes [My mom liked wearing Stilettos – but by 1971 they were out of fashion and only shoe shops catering for the tastes of the West Indian Ladies still sold them] Dad spotted a garage while we were in Handsworth selling cars made in the Soviet Union dirt cheap. For some strange reason he bought Mustard coloured Moscovich Van and for a few weeks me and my sister had to bounce around in the back of the van with only pillows for seating. Dad used to park up at Longbridge next to the Apprentices Hut off Longbridge Lane. After completing one shift he got back to the Mustard Moscovich to discover the paintwork had been keyed... he concluded that some fellow worker must have taken exception to him driving a ‘foreign’ car. Or perhaps it was a heroic act of resistance against ‘communism’? Dad learnt his lesson and bought an old Austin 3Litre to be on the safe side.

The world was getting more dangerous and polarised and the local paper the Evening Mail was deepening its anti-trade union stance and painting a picture of car industry shop stewards as the bad guys. I used to watch the TV News with my Dad and the continuing images of death and destruction from far away Vietnam were joined by similar scenes much closer to home.
Derry Civil Rights Banner Soaked in Blood
As a 9 year old kid I was horrified by the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry and it seems that warlike confrontation was getting closer to home. Less than a fortnight after Bloody Sunday the Battle of Saltley Gate took place. 30,000 Brummie workers many from the car industry had struck in solidarity with Striking Miners and descended on Saltley Coke Depot. As my mom had been born in the Rhondda and my Uncle Idris was an active NUM member our family had natural sympathy for the Miners. The Battle of Saltley Gate was won by the strikers and the Police ‘Closed the Gates’. The Miners won their immediate demands for a substantial pay rise thanks in part to the solidarity shown by workers from Longbridge.
Less than five years on from the start of my Journey in the little Austin A35 from Stoke Prior to West Heath during the Summer of Love the world seemed to be falling into hostile camps – I began to realise that the journey to a fairer world was not going to be easy and may even become a matter of life and death.
By 1973, after nearly 20 years at ‘the Austin’ my Dad was beginning to get a real insight into the huge problems affecting British Leyland. Barry had always been contemptuous of the intellectual capacity of many of the middle managers at Longbridge. His unfavourable assessment grew from many face to face negotiations with managers in his capacity as a shop steward representing workers on the track. By 1973 Barry was in lower management himself, a shift Foreman, and he gained further insight into the problems, especially in the run up to the launch of the Austin Allegro.
Barry remembers that most track workers were surprised that instead of incorporating a hatchback, that proved so popular with the Maxi, the new model was going to have a traditional boot. Apparently, management on the Maxi side lobbied for the Hatchback to become a unique feature of ‘their’ car. It was this separate ‘silo mentality’ that not only meant different parts of British Leyland were in ‘competition’ with each other but different sections of the Longbridge plant management were fighting each other for dominance. On top of that Senior Management were drafting in teams of outside consultants to carry out extensive time and motion studies in preparation for a move away from the popular piecework incentivised pay system to something called ‘Measured Day Work’. This hugely expensive and unpopular process proved another disaster for industrial relations at Longbridge. Caught in the middle between an increasingly angry shop floor and a completely incompetent, out of touch management Barry decided to Unionise the Foremen and other lower management grades into ASTMS so their voices would be heard and not ignored by senior management.

When the Allegro was launched I went with my Dad to a showroom to sit in a Mustard Coloured 1300 with its quirky Quadratic Steering Wheel and bouncy HydroGas Suspension. I loved it! During it’s 10 year long production run nearly 650,000 were sold and 40 years on there are still 1,000 kept running by enthusiasts. Perhaps the Austin Allegro doesn’t deserve the awful reputation it has in popular culture? Maybe, if the design had incorporated at hatchback the Allegro would have competed with the early Ford Fiesta and VW Golf?
A Mustard Austin Allegro - BOSTIN!
The winter of 1973/74 is one that my generation will never forget. It was fantastic! Christmas got off to a great start me and my sister attended the best Xmas Party Ever at the Gay Tower Ballroom, Rotten Park Reservoir in Edgbaston. We joined over 2,000 other sons and daughters of Longbridge Workers at the free party organised by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee. By January it seemed Christmas just carried on with romantic candle lit dinners, card games and woolly jumpers. The New Year 1974 was memorable for the 3 Day Working Week, fuel shortages and Power Cuts as the confrontation between the Miners and Ted Heaths Tory Government reached its climax. It was a great time for kids and we loved every minute of it – Adults seemed more serious and an unusually glum looking Ted Heath appeared on Telly and asked the nation ‘Who Governs Britain?’ I remember thinking ‘NOT you mate!’
Mom and Dad got involved in the local Labour Party in Hall Green Constituency and before long I was enthusiastically helping to deliver leaflets and doing ‘poll station’ duty in both February and October General Elections. Labour just about formed a government in Feb and gained a stronger parliamentary majority in October, but it seemed like everything was coming to a head – all the underlying contradictions within the framework of the British State were beginning to show. Even as a 12 year old kid I sensed this. Maybe I was just growing up but the feelings of progress improvement and security started to fade and within a few weeks I witnessed and felt the uglier side of life.
On a cold November morning in 1974 my Dad came home from Night Shift as I was getting up for school. The normally calm, relaxed, smiling Dad I knew, who would be looking forward to his bed was agitated, nervous and visibly troubled. Dad told us how the news of the Bombings of the two City Centre Pubs came through to the night shift in CAB 2. He explained that an angry mob of workers left their work stations on the track seeking out Irish workers at the plant who were suspected of being sympathetic to the IRA. [The Provisional IRA were immediately assumed to have planted the bombs that killed 21 people earlier that night] At one point Dad and other Shop Stewards had to physically intervene to prevent a ‘Lynch Mob’ who were intent on dragging one already battered and bruised bloke into Cofton Park to ‘hang from the nearest tree’.
After hearing this harrowing tale my Mom left for work and Dad went to bed. I left the house walked to the Pershore Road to catch the bus to school. The top deck of the bus that morning had a very different atmosphere – normal routine had been shattered by the Bombs. School kids and Adults were in animated conversation that grew increasing loud as we travelled through Cotteridge. Then one middle aged woman with a fag held high shouted out ‘The RAF should Bomb Belfast to Hell’- most of the passengers responded with cheers. As the bus started trundling down the hill to Kings Norton and the commotion was dying down - I stood up from my seat at the back of the bus and asked a loud question “If we didn’t have troops in Ireland and if we hadn’t killed all those people on Bloody Sunday then would there be Bombs in Brum?”  You could hear a pin drop as I walked down the aisle and down the stairwell. I got off the Bus at my normal stop on the Redditch Road to go to Kings Norton Mixed Secondary Modern but the group of schoolmates who I normally walked into school with hung back – so I walked alone through the gates.  Word of my ‘question’ must have got round the school fairly rapidly – at first break I was surrounded by a group of older 4th and 5th year School kids most of them girls. I was mercilessly beaten and called a ‘fucking bog wog’ and ‘murdering Irish bastard’.... from my position on the floor as the mob continued to kick me - I looked up and saw the Head Teacher Mrs Patterson a few yards away. Unlike my Dad a few hours earlier, who faced down grown men at the Longbridge plant to prevent an injustice, Mrs Patterson did not have the courage to take on a group of angry young women beating an innocent 12 year old boy, she didn’t intervene. Mrs Patterson was fairly typical of the degree educated, well paid professionals in Birmingham who were contemptuous of Longbridge Trade Unionists like my Dad. I was proud of my Dad for standing up to a wave of reactionary anti-Irish sentiment at Longbridge and horrified at how fast that wave had spread through the City. If I was getting beaten up and blamed for the pub bombings as a 12 year old English boy – what on earth must it be like if you were a middle aged Irish/Brummie with Republican sympathies?
The Innocent Men Frame By West Midlands Police
As the winter of 1974/75 deepened, I became more conscious of the darker side of life but I took my lead from my Dad who never really dwelt on negatives. He was always light hearted, and as a family we shared the good humour of ‘The Morecombe and Wise Show’"The Morecambe and Wise Show" and me and my sister were allowed to stay up a bit later to watch "The Dave Allen Show". I don’t think Barry ever forgot how people he had like and trusted had turned into a Lynch Mob on that Night Shift at Longbridge – some of the faith he had in humanity and in his ‘brother’ trade unionists had died.

At the start of 1975 Longbridge and British Leyland were constantly in the news. European and Japanese Car Industries with much higher levels of capital investment, new plant and equipment and rationalised management structures were producing more reliable cars that were selling well in the UK. The situation at British Leyland and at Longbridge was reaching crisis point. Sir Don Ryder was called in by the Government to carry out an in depth investigation and The Ryder Report recommended the effective nationalisation of the company as the only way to prevent complete collapse with the potential loss of nearly a million jobs.
Tony Benn as Secretary of State for Industry confirmed a massive package of capital investment in British Leyland. A total reorganisation of BL was to be negotiated in partnership with the Trade Unions; the investment meant securing the future of Longbridge with the development of a completely new range of Models including a replacement for the MINI. We could all breathe a sigh of relief.
The Very Nice Mr Benn
For me 1975 will always bring back memories of a convoy of ‘Flame’ coloured Morris Marina’s travelling through Devon. Len and Kath, June and Ron, Ken and Mo, Barry and Jem and seven kids, three generations of France’s driving 4 bright orange brand spanking new motors. A holiday that represented the pinnacle of one family’s shared experience of working class affluence and confidence via working lives that revolved around ‘the Austin’.
A 1.3 'Flame' Marina Coupe

Immediately after the flame coloured Devon adventure we moved again - from a gloomy monochrome Stirchley to the bright colourful Callowbrook Estate in Rubery. Our new home at 42 Rea Avenue was a ‘Mucklow’ 3 bed semi with a long back Garden. Me and my sister could not believe our luck when my Mom and Dad announced they were moving into the 8ft by 6ft box room meaning that we each got a big double room. Soon the plan of the Parents became clear as Dad started drawing out plans for an Extension to the House. Rubery was closer to Longbridge and was right on the edge of the countryside. It felt like you were in a protected crater bounded by the Lickey’s and Beacon Hill - to the south, the Waseley Hills to the west and Frankley beaches to the north.... and the Giant Longbridge Plant to the East. We even had our own micro climate! We’d have snow in Rubery, but if you got on the number 63 bus into Brum by the time you got to Longbridge Island no snow!
Life in Rubery in 1975 was like a new Dawn. Maybe it was because the nice Harold Wilson was running the country and Mille Ripperton was in the Charts

Just like Tony Benn, Barry was also ‘investing’ in the future and with a little bit of help from me completed the extension to our new Home...Mom and Dad now had a Double Bedroom ‘en suite’ and a DIY hot air central heating system held together by thousands of feet of ‘Austin Grey Tape’. Clearly, all difficult problems could be solved by the practical application of Tony Benn and ‘Austin Grey Tape’.

For years my dad had talked about a beautiful concept car he had seen at the Longbridge design centre – the full size clay mock up he had viewed was called ‘Diablo’  I knew my Dad, wanted to get one.
El Diablo - A car with an Identity Crisis
The “Diablo” the concept became the 18/22 Series, or the Princess, or the Ambassador It was available as an Austin, a Morris, a Wolseley or a Vanden Plas. This car like the whole of British Leyland suffered from an identity crisis. Dad came home one day with a Lime Green 1800 Wedge but within a few weeks I remembering him saying ‘why on earth didn’t they put a hatchback on this?’ So the Princess was replaced by a huge Ford Zephyr ‘Farnham’ Estate which gave him the Hatchback space he needed for his DIY projects. As a complete surprise one Friday we got home from school and were bundled into the Zephyr and drove all the way to Loch Ness and back in one weekend for a Scottish Adventure sleeping two nights in the back of the giant Estate.
Moving to Rubery meant I’d escaped from the horrors of Kings Norton Mixed Secondary Modern and was now attending Waseley Hills High School where my Dad, Uncles and Aunties had studied in the 1950’s. Waseley Hills High School was heaven. It even had a ‘Quadrangle’ and some of the senior staff wore ‘Academic Gowns’ around the school. Most of my fellow students had parents working at Longbridge I made new friends easily; there was no culture of bullying either by or between pupils and staff.
After the Glorious Long Hot Summer of 1976 – I returned for my 2nd year at Waseley Hills High School and I first fell in love with Dawn Graves. Dawn lived in Grange Crescent just behind my Auntie June’s House. Dawn’s Dad, Terry Graves was a Fireman at Longbridge [the plant had its own Fire and Rescue Service]

Michael Edwardes - CEO of British Leyland 1977-1982
Just as things looked like they were getting better, Longbridge workers and their family’s discovered they had a new Boss: the face of international capitalism reared its ugly head in 1977
 A Longbridge Journey... what ‘The Austin’ means to be continued...