Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Chronicle of Easington Colliery

 Mary Bell with her book 'A Chronicle of Easington Colliery'.

I was delighted when Mary Nightingale Bell (above) asked me to write a foreword to her fine book "A Chronicle of Easington Colliery". She has kindly agreed to my republishing that foreword here, as a means of explaining something about the nature of her work.

Details of how to obtain the book can be found here. I am sure that those who read it, will then be interested in turning to her related book of poems, which was published two years ago under the title "Where the Pits Were : Poems from Easington Colliery".
These works are not just appropriate for those who know or knew Easington Colliery. They provide fine insights for anyone interested in the nature and development of working class communities.


This book is a remarkable achievement.

Too often we have to make-do and mend when examining the nature of life in a working class community. In autobiographies, established writers or celebrities who come from such backgrounds may hand us some snippets about their formative years. Then historians may report on research material which they have unearthed. But unfortunately, these are all just bits and pieces. For as Peter Crookston pointed out in his book “ThePitmen's Requiem” (Northumbria Press, 2010), working class people themselves seldom keep a “shoebox in the wardrobe” in which they have stored key source material about their family and community activities. So much of what we need to know about such communities gets missed or remains shrouded in generalisations.

Thankfully, Mary Bell is a solid exception to the rule which Peter Crookston pointed to. Although she has collected together far more material about her community than that which a mere shoebox could accommodate. Mary was born in Easington Colliery in County Durham in 1930. It was only after the pit was closed in 1993 and the bulldozers were later coming to knock down former Colliery houses in the area in which they lived, that she and her late husband Jim moved to a bungalow just two miles away at nearby Horden Colliery. But she never really left Easington, for she could not keep away from it. One of the solid links she developed was with a group of “Easington Writers”; where she came to contribute poems and articles for their fine publication “Shrugging Off the Wind”. 

Furthermore, Mary has an exceptional memory. Yet she does not just draw from her own experiences, for throughout her life she has sought (and retained) information from friends and relatives. On top of which she has conducted original research into Easington Colliery's past, via avenues such as the Durham Miners' Association and Beamish Museum. Her efforts are fully revealed in this book. First in her fine chronology of Easington Colliery's history, then finally when she traces the details about the 193 men and boys who were killed during the lifetime of the local pit. She has kept, compiled and used a stack of key information, which would fill masses of those shoe-boxes.

Mary has, however, done far more than keep records which others can turn to. In this book, she has used her store of information to illustrate and explain the nature of the area's solid working class community, whose life before the closure of the pit in 1993 rested overwhelmingly upon the mine's existence. For only a year after production had first got underway at the pit, her husband's parents and their three sons had moved into a Colliery house just across the road to the pit itself. Then by she was born, her parents and elder sister were already settled into local Colliery life.

The Colliery area that she was born into was then at its peak population of ten thousand. This population fell somewhat afterwards, thanks to the spread of birth control techniques.But it was the closure of the pit in 1993 which had the biggest impact on its make up. Its current population now being under half of the peak shown via the 1931 Census.

Mary tells us how key events shaped the life of her community. It was often a school of hard knocks. There was the impact of the First World War (see the local War Memorials for the many former miners killed in action) and the serious influenza epidemic at its close. This was followed by a series of industrial disputes culminating in the lengthy Miners' Strike of 1926; then came short time working as a consequence of the 1931 economic crisis. From Mary's direct experiences as a young girl, we find out what local life was like during the Second World War. Then just as everything settled down to a form of relative post-war prosperity, Easington was hit by a devastating pit disaster in 1951 which killed 83 men. Later significant industrial unrest returned, culminating in the major strike of 1984-5 and then the closing of the pit in 1993 – plus its consequences.

But these are merely the broad facts, Mary explains the key elements - what these facts mean in terms of the nature and quality of life in her community. She can do this because she is a full insider. I am like many others, in what is now often too much of a mobile society. It is a world in which people often feel obliged to uproot themselves and where they may eventually find fresh communal connections. I left Easington Colliery over 50 years ago and finally settled in North Derbyshire. I have dabbled in writing three short articles about my old roots, covering from 1899 to 1935, which are the years before my birth – often with the help of Mary's records. But Mary has now herself covered the broad sweep in both key detail and via the understanding which can only come from experience and involvement.

If many communities are short of “shoeboxes in their wardrobes”, then let us hope there are those who will read this book who will decide to follow Mary's alternative example. The more we know what daily life is like (and has been) in differing neighbourhoods, the better we understand the strengths we need to nurture and the factors we need to tackle.

Hat Tip for the photo - Hartlepool Mail

For more on my own bits and pieces on Easington Colliery, see the "Easington' label below.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Constitutional Conundrums

Map of the UK

Labour's response to the result of the Scottish Referendum and to the promise of further devolved powers to Scotland must first of all be to press to deliver what has been promised. Yet we also need to work towards a federal-style structure for the United Kingdom in which equal and co-ordinated powers will be held (as near as is possible) by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Regions of England.

In the meantime, MPs from Scotland should retain the same rights in the Commons as other MPs. For they will have been elected to a UK parliament. We should not even have a passing provision in our constitutional practices for first and second class MPs. It undermines the democratic process.

 If Scottish MPs were to be refused parliamentary rights over matters which refer to England, then surely this provision would then have to apply to MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland. But as the powers devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all differ from each other; we would then have a confusing pattern as to which MPs could participate in what.

In moving for a federal structure for the whole of the UK we need to resolve two major problems.

First, what will the people of Northern Ireland agree to for their own internal arrangements?  Under a federal model, the province would be a small and barely viable unit within the UK, with a population of only 1.8 million. Then if they were offered a significant federal status, this would be seen as a form of detachment from the UK. This is a position that is likely to be rejected by the majority of the Unionist population. Moves to introduce a federal solution in the province, could even lead us back to major paramilitary conflict.

Secondly, what is an appropriate federal structure which should be shared across England?  If England were to become a single federal unit, then the UK pattern would become constitutionally and politically lopsided. England has a population of some 53 million, Scotland 5.3 million, Wales 3 million and Northern Ireland 1.8 million. Powers devolved to a large area such as England would need to be different from those devolved to our neighbours. There is, therefore, a case instead for establishing a number of federal units within England. But how many and where? There are different degrees of local identity across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But what local regions do those living in England identify with? And what structures would be an improvement in terms of democracy and social justice?

For administrative purposes, England is currently divided into nine regions. These are the populations, The South East 8.6 million. Greater London 8.1 million. North West 7 million. East of England 5.8. West Midlands 5.6 million. Yorkshire and Humberside 5.3 million. South West 5.3 million. East Midlands 4.5 million. North East 2.5 million. But how far do people operate within and identify with these regions? Perhaps an examination of traffic links could be used to give these potential federal units adjusted boundaries. Then there are other indicators of interconnections,  as shown in the above map of phone calls (also see here). It might be possible to roughly amalgamate some of those linked areas. pattern of major amalgamation of the above regions could give us, say, three federal units for the UK.  There could be a Northern federal unit, run from say Manchester. The populations of the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside coming to 14.9 million. Then there could be a Midland's federal unit run from say Birmingham. The populations of the East Midlands, West Midlands and the East of England coming to 15.9 million. The largest city in the remaining Southern federal unit (of 22 million) is London; although it might be worth looking for an alternative centre for its federal unit. For Lands End is almost as far away from London as Newcastle is. Again traffic flows/phone-links (etc) might lead to adjustments of the boundaries of such three federal units.

So it looks as if we are looking for between three and nine federal units within England, which have to make sense to their populations whilst advancing democratic participation and economic and social justice. Then what is proposed for the internal powers of each federal unit? How far can we find a fairly common pattern that will be acceptable to people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English Regions? How far will the federal powers need to be identical within each federal unit? Will these powers need to be guaranteed within a new written constitution? 

None of this can begin to be sorted out on the back of fag packet. We need (a) to pass greater powers to the Scottish Parliament as a consequence of referendum promises, (b) retain Scottish MPs powers at Westminster for the time being and (c) engage in a Constitutional Convention to help us establish a federal or federal-style solution. This will be no bad thing if it eventually comes to involve something of the degree of political participation which we have recently witnessed in Scotland - as long as it does not go over the top in the streets of Belfast.

1st October - Update : Another area to employ in seeking to establish regional identity in England, is regional television coverage. A map showing the areas used by the BBC can be found by scrawling down from this link

2nd October - Comment : This item has also appeared on the Web-site of Independent Labour Publications (ILP) who are the successors to the Independent Labour Party. See here. Barry Winter their former Secretary submitted them this following comment,which appears here at his suggestion. Thanks Barry.

 Harry’s thoughtful contribution clearly sets out the challenges facing any attempt to reform the UK on a more democratic, equitable and balanced basis. It will not be easy and, as yet, Labour is running scared of dealing with these issues. That’s partly understandable given the difficulties it faces but the issue is likely to become more pressing. It cannot be dodged indefinitely. Already new parties are being formed advocating the decentralisation of power.

Calling for devolution to city regions, as Labour has done, lacks one key element – the need for real democracy. Such deals between city leaders and business people fail to tackle the growing political crisis. Nor is much, as yet, being offered to those areas outside the city regions.

The party could help by starting a conversation both internally and externally about how to proceed. To be fair, it is taking some steps in that direction. But it needs to be a Big Conversation, reaching out into the wider society. It should involve more than submitting ideas to the centre. Party leaders should be coming to listen to party members. I recently attended my constituency party meeting where devolution was on the agenda. Half an hour was allocated to the discussion and the MP spoke for 20 minutes!

One leading question is how we can begin to deal with the mass hostility/disinterest in contemporary politics. As Colin Crouch wrote some time ago, we are living in what he calls a post-democracy. Democracy has been hijacked and increasingly centralised. Large corporate and financial interests, together with leading civil servants and Westminster politicians, shape politics. No wonder people feel cynical and that mood is not going to be easy to overcome. What can be said is that in Scotland, when people were given a tough political choice about their future, politics came alive.

                                                                              Barry Winter


Monday, August 11, 2014

50th Anniversary - Dronfield Contact Club

In 1962, the local Labour Party at Dronfield in Derbyshire commenced the publication of a printed magazine which was called "contact" (in small case). With a red cover, it came out roughly on a monthly basis and was printed in Derby. Amongst the copies I hold is the second edition, which was published in January 1963. It is a neat document. Its 20 pages were just 8 inches by 5. As  it was delivered door to door to the towns 3,000 homes, it attracted plenty of advertising. Almost half its pages were taken up with no less than 25 adverts. All but three of these were for local Dronfield services, such as Dunham's hairdressers on Dronfield's main Chesterfield Road.

Bill Gilbert wrote articles on Dronfield's past, but the magazine otherwise tended to concentrate on the prominent activities of the local Labour Party, the Dronfield Trades and Labour Council, the Dronfield Young Socialists and also on local government matters effecting the Derbyshire County Council and the Dronfield Urban District Council.  Whilst the later had operated since 1894, Labour had only first obtained a majority on the Council in 1958 and its initial breakthrough only lasted for a period of 18 months. Then Labour reclaimed control in 1962 - with the Contact Magazine emerging later in that year. By the 1964-5 session, Labour controlled the Council by 10 seats to the Conservatives 3.

The editorial board of the Contact Magazine was made up of five people - Brian Morgan, Arthur Smith, Norman Rutherford, Eric Chetwynd and Fred Machin. The majority of these served periods as local Labour Urban District Councillors.  In addition to their standard editorial work they were connected with (a) liason with the printers, (b) attracting and maintaining advertisers, (c) fund raising exercises, (d) seeing that the magazine was delivered to every home in Dronfield.

In addition to all these efforts helping to aid Labour's cause in Dronfield, there was a further spin off when Labour was at its peak in Dronfield.  This was the establishment in the town of what became a large and viable social club, appropriately named the "Contact Club".  The idea for the Club was first put forward by Bill Gilbert. At the time there was an Old Comrades Club in the High Street in Dronfield which had existed since the 1920s, but it was on its last legs. So in 1964, a deal was struck to take over its debts of £25 and establish a "new" Contact Club. The finances for the full transformation were provided by a loan of £100 from the North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party and the support of Wm. Stone's Brewery, who installed a bar and furnishings for the main room. Money was also collected and kept in a dried milk tin.

A prominent figure in these developments was Lou Howson. He was a local Labour District Councillor, who later became Secretary of the North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party and a Derbyshire County Councillor. In a letter written some ten years ago well after his return to Scotland, he wrote that initially a small group, including Bill Gilbert, Fred Broadhead and himself "set about patching the whole place up and installing central heating. We decorated throughout. We applied for a licence which came through about August 1964. We appointed a Committee and Eric Chetwyn was Membership Secretary and Entertainment Secretary. We recruited our first 40 odd members and opened for business on a Saturday night..(on what seems to have been 15 August)... Eric had booked a group for our first Sunday night. The sound reverberated around the town and we had to turn people away. Within a short time we had the maximum membership and began to search for new premises". Lou and Tom Staveley were the Club's original trustees. A position which, Graham Baxter, the leader of the North East Derbyshire Council now holds.

Within three years the Contact Club had moved to its present imposing site on Snape Hill Lane. It was a substantial venture. What achieved this massive transformation is explained in an article which appeared in "The New Contact" in Autumn 1972.  It states - "What had the Contact Club got at this stage to,plan a £30,000 venture? Money? Little or none. Expertise? A committee with two year's experience of running a small club on a shoestring. Not the most heartening of assets, so what decided them? Only an urge of a body of people to create a social centre using the most important asset of all; an abundance of energy and a social conscience".

As shown on a plaque in the entrance to the Contact Club, Manny Shinwell undertook the formal opening of the present site on 12 August, 1967. I was away teaching a Summer School at Coleg Harlech at the time and I missed that fine occasion. I was doubly sorry because I had known Manny well, as I originated from the area in County Durham which he represented in parliament. But although I was living in Sheffield at the time, I had had the good sense to join the Contact Club as it moved into its site on Snape Hill Lane. I regularly attended the Club's discussion meetings on a Sunday Morning which were held in the Lounge.

Within a couple of years Ann, Stephen (aged one) and myself had moved to Dronfield. The Contact Club was a major attraction. Over the years it served as a centre for May Day activities, public meetings, electoral organisation, plus Labour Party meetings and discussions. I currently organise the continuance of the later in the Committee Room, carrying on the tradition I first experienced on Sunday mornings 47 years ago. No one owes a greater debt than I do to the Contact Club for the considerable support it gave to me in my 18 years as its local MP.  So I fully wish the Club all the very best for its next 50 years.

Too many peoples names are missing from this tribute to the Contact Club, for it has always involved a collective activity. But at one time the Club was synonymous with the name of its long serving secretary, Harold Garbutt. His tradition is carried on today by Pete Honeybone.

The final word needs to go to Lou Howson. Ten years ago he wrote "At a meeting in Ayr a few years ago regarding the setting up of a Labour Club, a man stood up and advised that we go and visit the 'best Labour Club in Britain' in a place called Dronfield. I got an ego boost when I showed my life membership card". 



Monday, August 04, 2014

The Day After War Broke Out

 It is a hundred years ago today since Britain entered the First World War. This event and the military conflict which ensued, is at the moment being brought to our attention solidly by the media. However, the war also brought in its wake massive social change. Up to the outbreak of the war,  the main form of employment for women (and the leading form of employment throughout  the country itself) had been domestic service. But to replace men who had rushed to sign up to fight for their country, women then entered into a wide range of employment which they had mainly been excluded from in the past. As the war ended, they gained their first major form of enfranchisement.

Then dramatic events shaping the political future of the Labour Movement took shape around the time that Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August, 1914.

Sunday, 2nd August - a massive anti-war demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square addressed by Keir Hardie (below), Will Thorne, George Lansbury and Arthur Henderson - who was the General Secretary of the Labour Party. By that time the Joint Board of the Labour Party, the Trade Union Congress and the General Federation of Trade Unions had summoned a representative Conference for 5th August to agitate against British involvement in the the war.

Monday, 3rd August - with that day's German invasion of Belgium, Ramsay MacDonald made what was to be his last parliamentary speech as the then Leader (known as Chairman) of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He argued that "this country ought to have remained neutral".

Tuesday, 4th August - at 11pm Britain declared war on Germany.

Wednesday, 5th August - Ramsay MacDonald resigned as Labour Leader (only being re-appointed to that role on 21 November 1922). He was replaced by Arthur Henderson. MacDonald resigned as he opposed our entry into the war, whilst the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party either supported the war effort or accepted that they would have to work through what was then a fait accompli. Henderson came to look for a peace agreement. 

The Labour movement meeting that had been convened for 5th August to organise against Britain's entry into the war, found itself faced with a stark new situation. So it changed tack and set itself up as "The War Emergency Workers' National Committee" in order to safeguard working-class interests during the period of the conflict. Arthur Henderson was appointed as Chairman, until he entered the Coalition Government in 1915.  Ramsay MacDonald was eventually appointed to serve on the Committee from the Labour Party itself.

Thursday, 6th August - "Labour Leader" the newspaper of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) put forward its case against the war as shown here. The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party.

"The War  Emergency Workers' National Committee" was a remarkable body which covered a wide variety of people. Some were solidly pro-war. Others generally supported the war effort, but looked for avenues to reach a peace settlement. Then others opposed the war, either for pacifist or political reasons.  Yet due to the War Emergency Commission concentrating their efforts on the protection and advancement of working class interests, they found a remarkable area of common ground - outside of attitudes to the conflict itself.

Sidney Webb (who was often at his very best as a committee man) was immediately elected to the Emergency Committee. He soon produced a comprehensive set of relevant demands entitled "The Workers And The War" which can be found here. In 1915 he was then appointed to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, working closely with Arthur Henderson and producing both the traditional Clause 4 of the Labour Party Constitution, calling for the "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". He also shaped Labours Manifesto in the 1918 General Election with his publication "Labour and the New Social Order".  Although Sidney Webb held a solid role through the Fabian Society as a leading socialist intellectual, it was his work with the Emergency Committee which finally drew him into the centre of Labour Party activity and its (then) democratic socialist development.

The Emergency Committee pressed solidly for working class interests and concerns. It also shaped future approaches within the Labour Movement, even though it took a Second World War to create the conditions which went on to lead to full employment, the welfare state and the public ownership of key industries. A heritage, much of which has been undermined in recent years.

For an invaluable analysis of "The War Emergency Workers" National Committee, 1914-20", see Royden Harrison's article  in "Essay's In Labour History 1886-1923" (MacMillan, 1971).  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ed's Hat Trick Of Own Goals


The following is from today's Sunday Times (well from a piece you can get free from their web-site). 

ED MILIBAND’S policy chief has launched a coded attack on the Labour leader for creating “cynical” policies designed only to “chime with focus groups”. 

Jon Cruddas accused Miliband’s inner circle of wielding a “profound dead hand at the centre” to stop the party adopting bold policies. 

He attacked Labour’s plans to cut jobseeker’s allowance from those aged 18 to 21 unless they undergo training as “punitive” and suggested welfare cuts had been adopted only to placate the media and floating voters. 

At a meeting of the left-wing pressure group Compass last weekend, Cruddas complained that plans drawn up by Labour’s policy working groups had been “parked” by the leadership and replaced with “cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and press strategy”. 

We now have had (1) the fiasco of Ed Miliband's support for the Sun Newspaper (see here),  (2) his attack on welfare provisions for 18-21s (see both here and above) and now (3) the "parking" of Labour's review procedure for something entirely counter-productive.

So we now have a hat-trick of own goals by Ed being unearthed in the past week.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Labour : Will We Now Get A Hat-trick Of Own Goals?

 Ed Miliband

The latest employment figures show an increase in self-employment of 8% in the past year, compared to an increase of only 1.8% amongst employees. This has been presented as being an "entrepreneurial boom", showing the residual strength of the free market and its ability to overcome the economic collapse of 2008; with the Coalition's economic policy being firmly based on public service cuts, wage restraints and the removal of constraints on the operations of a capitalist market system.

Unfortunately, single person entrepreneurial activity is not a sign of the growth of economic prosperity at all. Quite the opposite. It is a sign of collapse. Even if we ignore agriculture, single person entrepreneurship is 88.7% in Benin, 75.4% in Bangladesh and 66.9% in Ghana; whilst it is only 6.7% in Norway, 7.5% in the USA and 8.6% in France. The move to becoming single person entrepreneurs, is a move to desperation. What we need is a boom in paid work at a level which can provide decent living standards. (See pages 158 to 160 of this book). 

But when we turn to Labour what do we get? They wish to force the young unemployed into dubious training schemes at the threat of losing their benefits. Never mind about losing even further electoral registrations and votes amongst the working class and the young. And certainly never mind about justice and equity.

After Ed Milband's debacle over the Sun newspaper (see here) and now this benefits' blow, what will he do for his hat trick of recent own goals? And how much more can the Labour membership take? We should not be trying to catch up to and surpass the economic and social programme of the coalition. There is an alternative approach - for justice, equality, an active democracy and the advance of socialism.      

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ralph Turns In His Grave

Ralph Miliband turns in his grave. I turn my stomach. Does it also mean that Ed has given up on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - as well as Liverpool?

 Miliband The Sun