Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just In Time - Good News in 2006.

Trade unions have always needed to develop contervailing powers to that of capital at the levels at which capital itself pulls its major levers. This came to be done reasonably well in Britain on the national stage, although Thatcherism as consolidated by New Labourism set the clock back.

But with the continuing growth of the power of capital at supranational and international levels, trade unionism now needs to expand to fresh levels. A great deal of dedicated work is already done in developing international links by numbers of individual trade unions in this country and elsewhere. The work of the International Committees of our own TUC and of similar bodies is to be supported and encouraged. There also already exists international structures such as those of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

This news, however, that British, American and German Trade Union are moving to create a 6.3 million strong international union helps to take us into the essential next stage.

I realise that it is easier and more effective to base such a structure initially on Trade Unions in developed nations. But as a sign that such a form of Trade Unionism will need to embrace deprived nations, I hope that thought will be given to drawing in at least one Trade Union Movement which speaks for those at the real hard end of developments.

My suggestion? Derek Simpson and others working nobley for this new project, could do worse than contact the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the comrades who work with them in the Kurdistan Workers' Syndicates in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Everyone involved could be onto a winner.

Friday, December 29, 2006

When Is Second Best?

Anniversary Time

Whilst early forms of football were played in China 2000 years ago and in many other places subsequently, the two existing soccer teams which have the longest continuous existence are Sheffield FC (founded in 1857) and Hallam FC (founded in 1860).

As both Clubs are in the Sheffield area, they played each other in an initial challenge match on Boxing Day 1860 on Hallam's ground. Both teams now play in the Northern Counties East League, so where better to play each other in 2006 than on boxing day at Hallam itself? This splendid 146th annivery game was even played on the ground where the teams first met, for this has been Hallam's home ever since their inception.

Thanks to fellow Sheffield FC supporter Tom giving me a lift in his car, I went to see this historic contest. It was our first visit to Hallam's ground, although I used to live within a couple of miles of it at a time when I never even knew of the teams' existence.

I am now lucky enough to live only a 15 minute walk away from the ground which Sheffield FC moved into in 2001. In contrast to Hallam, Sheffield's Bright Finance Stadium (formerly the Coach and Horses Ground named after the neighbouring pub) is the first ground which Sheffield FC have ever completely owned.

Whilst 8 of my past posted items have covered reports of this season's Sheffield FC home games the game at Hallam is my first ever away visit. And what a venue.

The Perfect Setting

The ground is beautifully situated, surrounded by stone walls and with stone built houses nearbye which blend into the green of the neighbouring countryside.

The pitch is what can kindly be called "undulating" and has a significant slope from one goal to the other. You can imagine the gentlemen of 1860 trying out their newly acquired football skills on the hallowed turf. There would have been a rope for a cross bar, with the players in trousers which looked rather like the Long Johns I had put on to keep out the cold; plus at least a sprinkling of fine handlebar moustaches.

Soccer was not then what it is now - mainly a spectator sport. It was for the privileged few who could afford the fees to join a Club at which they could arrange to play football. So matches took on the form of the married man playing the single men. The 1860 challenge match (the first Club contest and the first ever derby) would set up a pattern elsewhere that would transform their initial objectives, ushering in mass working class crowds and teams of professional players normally from the same background and restricted to being paid at a maximum wage ceiling.

Today we have moved to a further stage and are dominated by Murdoch and Sky TV and (at the top end) with the millions shelled out by Abramovich and company. Unless, of course, we also discover as I have by accident, the living roots of the game.

Hallam's ground is certainly a stark contrast to Old Trafford and the like. It even has a little hillock which runs down sharply to a corner flag. The corner taker has to run down it and try to propel the ball into the danger area. It was an art which Sheffield FC (and I imagine all other away teams) have not mastered.

Hallam FC's fine web site is worth visiting here. See the link to two videos of extracts from games, which show the classic setting which I have attempted to describe.

Hitting The Bulldozer for Six

Yeovil (when a non-league team) had a famous slope on their ground as if the pitch had been tipped up sideways. Although it gave them a great home advantage and they captured some famous League scalps in the FA Cup, they eventually brought in the bulldozers to flatten it. So why don't Hallam do the same?

First, it would be an act of vandalism, for the ground is living history. Secondly, they probably can't afford it and would have to demolish high stone walls for access. Finally, it wouldn't just mess up ye olde football, there is a longer history at stake.

Hallam was first founded as a Cricket Club way back in 1804 and the ground doubles as a cricket pitch. There is a batting area neatly rolled out just past one of the football touch lines. Further over there is a score board and a pavillion. When the football season is over, the area of the football field doubles as part of the cricket outfield.

Its cricket status also accounts for the netting round the outsides of the ground. For it is much more problematic in a game if a cricket ball disappears, then if the same happens to a football.

Sheffield United's ground at Bramall Lane used to have similar characteristics. When I first saw them play in a mid-week match against Arsenal in the 1965-66 season, Bramall Lane had spectators on three sides of the ground only. There was a Hallam style score board and pavilion in the distance, but all on a grander scale. Yorkshire County Cricket Club played matches there and it had even hosted some test matches. It was only if the three sides of the ground were full, that latecomers (in the days of standing) were forced into the pavilion side of the ground.

Appropriately, George Eastham was playing for Arsenal on my first visit. He was the player whose legal action helped to smash the maximum wage provision and lead us into the modern era of the game, with sky high wages for some.

When Sheffield United modernised, they sent in the bulldozers and built their main stand on top of the wicket. I much preferred games in the atmosphere of the three sided ground at Bramall Lane and now only tend to go there if my beloved Sunderland are playing.

Sunderland's first choice strip is basically the same as Sheffield United's . Whilst when Sunderland were in the old Division 1 (then the top level of English football) they went down 2-1 on Yeovil's slope in the FA Cup in 1949. When I watched them the week before defeat Derby 2-1, (with another magical display from Shackleton) I never dreamt that a humiliation was only 7 days away. So perhaps Yeovil was a place where the bulldozers arrived too late!

The Game

350 spectators turned up for the game. This was the second largest crowd of the season so far for a Northern Counties match. The top crowd being at the equivalent fixture on Sheffield FC's ground, when 575 turned up. For my report on that one see my post of 18 October entitled "Ye Olde Footy Derby".

It was a large attendance partly because Boxing Day is a good day for crowds anywhere. Partly because Sheffield FC's leading position is adding to their following. And partly because some of us are suckers for history.

Hot drinks and food sold well, whilst the bar in the Club House was full before the kick-off and at half-time.

Tom and I tucked in overlooking the Sheffield FC dug-out near the half way line and had a fine view of proceedings. After 6 minutes James Tevendale, who played for Sheffield FC last season, broke down the slope and the left wing to put in a dangerous cross which Pete Davey turned into his own net. But Sheffield soon started to control the game.

Our Manager, Dave McCarthy played his three main strikers. Gary Townsend (as an attacking left side midfielder), David Wilkins (our recent signing, whom we all know as Wilko) and Vill Powell (an earlier signing from our rivals, Retford Town). It was Powell who had the chances. Two of them were sent wide, but he scored with a fine header and a powerful penalty.

The goal of the game, however, came from Chris Dolby. His skyward lob dropping exactly behind the goalkeeper who had only moved a few yards from his line.

A 3-1 win was was fine for Sheffield who have now won 7 League games in a row. Tom has seen the last 4 of these, his first ever Sheffield FC games.

Post Mortem

The kick off had been at noon and as Tom drove us back after the game we travelled directly past Bramall Lane where the crowd was moving in for the 3 pm kick off against Manchester City. I thought poor souls, not only did they experience a 1-0 defeat but they missed out on a chuck of the real history of their game.

For whilst Hallam are only the second oldest team in the world, they do have something that the oldest team can't brag about - the oldest ground. So they aren't only second best.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Those Were The Days

"A Love Supreme" is the award winning Sunderland Football Fanzine. In its current issue (No. 152) it has re-printed a slightly edited version of my earlier blog item which I had called
"From Beano To Keano."

It is beautifully presented, using the general title of this blog. "Three Score Years and Ten".

First, as part 1 there is a double page spread covering my first visit to Sunderland's former ground at Roker Park in 1946, headed "The Beano Years". It includes a photo of Len Shackleton, the front page of a Beano and a picture of the ground. It is given the appearance of a past old black and white film.

The part 2 double pager bursts into technicolour, with a set of equivalent photos for "The Keano Years." It centres upon my 60th anniversary visit to Sunderland's modern ground at the Stadium of Light.

My thanks go to Martyn McFadden, the editor, and his team. If my memory serves me correctly, nearly 20 years ago I addressed a meeting in Birkenhead against the Poll Tax which Martyn's father organised. So it is all power to the McFaddens.

I have had another thought about my 60th anniversary visit to see Sunderland play. If at my very first visit in 1946, a 70 year old man (the equivalent of me today) had been next to me and it was his 60th anniversary visit, then he would first have seen Sunderland play on its Newcastle Road ground in the first ever season they wore red and white stripes. The match would have been in pre-League days and would have been an FA Cup first qualifying round game against Morpeth Harriers. We were 2-0 down at half-time, but went on to win 7-2.

Those were the days.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Sobering Game

The Festive Season

Sponsors provided free mulled wine and mince pies for Sheffield FC's pre-Xmas game against Shirebrook Town. As a result, the Coach and Houses pub next to the ground did less trade than usual for this match. This was fine for those of us who prefer to select from the pub's five real ales, as we avoided the usual crush at the bar.

Our family are home for Xmas, so our son came with me for the game. The three bits of local knowledge I gave him instructions upon were all blown apart.

First, I claimed that it was inevitable that the ball would repeatedly be kicked out of the ground - into the car park, the main road, the field from which a horse normally overlooks the proceedings and the wooded area behind one of the goals. It looked like I was completely wrong, until a clearance finally made it towards the main road.

Secondly, I was adament that Dave McCarthy (the Sheffield FC Manager) would do what he always does and use all his three possible substitutions. For he likes to use as many of his squad as he can in order to keep them happy and on the books. But this also did not happen.

Finally, I said that we should slip out of a side gate to the pub for a half-time drink. The gate was sure to have been opened, as the Club now owns the pub. But when we made our way to the gate just before the half-time whistle, we found that it was still locked. We had to go the long way round. Perhaps we were expected to stay and make sure that all the mince pies were eaten up.

It was, however, a chatty Xmas atmosphere when we finally made it to the pub. I discovered a Shirebrook Town supporter who was a fellow refugee from the North East and had played for my father's old team, Stanley United.

Next I talked to a Sheffield FC supporter from Nottingham, who was on our side because his son (Jon Boulter) is our left back. Earlier Jon was a worthwhile utility player, then he started to be selected for his best spot.

Before and after the match, my son and I also met up with Tom and his wife Janet who are from Chesterfield. I had met Tom intitially at out last home game against Broddy (see my last posted item), but I didn't recognise him immediately this time, as he was wearing an Irish Football shirt. It turns out that his mother is from Dublin. My own links with Ireland are legion.

Tom is a newcomer to Sheffield FC games, but he has already chalked up three matches in a row, including a visit to the away game at Sutton. He claimed that we were lucky to win 2-1 at Sutton. They dominated the game and could have scored a few. But Sheffield moved in to steal the game with two late strikes.

I have now arranged for him to give me a lift to the Boxing Day fixture at Hallam. It is being held on the 146th Anniversary of the teams' first clash at Hallam on Boxing Day 1860. It is the oldest derby in the world and is played on their original ground , which is the oldest existing ground in the world. All of this is something that money can't buy - as long as no-one tells Abramovich.

Top Versus Bottom

Shirebrook Town are bottom of the League, having only won one match out of the previous 16. So when the game started to take on the characteristics of our last 5-0 home win over Broddy, I expected the inevitable. But I was wrong again.

Sheffield FC had the same 1-0 lead at half-time, as against Broddy. We then rushed into continuous attacking from the start of the second half and awaited the goal rush.

But Shirebrook hadn't read the script and got back into the game. Perhaps the effect of their half time mince pies had worn off, whilst Sheffield FC's mulled wine finally took its toll.

Shirebrook could well have snatched a result as the game went on. It was, however, Sheffield who settled matters with a second goal in added time and ended up 2-0 winners.

Furthermore, it was Chris Dolby who scored. I had been expecting him to be substituted by Matt Roney to fulfil my pre-match prediction. It would have been a straight positional swap. Dave McCarthy probably held onto Dolby as he had particularly impressed everyone with his first half performance. It was his cross which put David Wilkins in a position to snatch that first half lead.

The strangest thing about the game was that the crowd which I estimated was around 230 in the first half, seemed to shrink by a third or so for the second half. Had some of the spectators been attracted by the mulled wine and mince pies and then left when these were comsumed? Or was the real ale having an impact on my own perceptions of what was happening?

Whatever it was, Stephen ushered me safely home after the match - but only after the inevitable post-match celebratory drink.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Brooding over Broddy

From 1966 to 1987 I taught politics and industrial relations to trade unionists on courses run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The backbone of the courses were classes run for South Yorkshire and Derbyshire Miners.

One of the South Yorshire pits we covered was Brodsworth Main near Doncaster, which was closed just three years after I left the Department to go to parliament. To the locals Brodworth is known as Broddy.

I came across the Broddy NUM banner earlier this year. It was prominently displayed at the funeral service for Kevin Hughes the former Labour M.P. for Doncaster (known as Donny) North who was a colleague of mine from 1992 to 2005. I had known Kevin from 1978 when he was a member of one of the above Miner's classes and he worked at Broddy. He was a fine person and died of a varient of Motor Neurone disease at only 53.

So when Broddy came to play at the ground of Sheffield FC (which is a fifteen minute walk from my home) it was a game I had to attend. It was my first visit to see my local team since 14 October. Sheffield FC's fortunes had changed dramatically since then with 5 wins and a draw out of 7 league games, taking them to the top of the Northern Counties East League.

Poor old Broddy had dropped in the opposite direction. They started the season with two home wins. One against Sheffield FC. But in 15 League games since then, they had failed to win at all and had only managed 3 draws. Without a point away from home, their average away score was a 5-1 defeat.

As a consequence of their poor run, one of their home crowds fell to 18. And I only spotted the odd Broddy fan at the Sheffield game, where the home team's run had done little to boost the crowd beyond its normal couple of a hundred.

To be fair to Broddy, they had a massive crowd by non-league step-five standards of 1,251 for an FA Vase game. But they were playing FC United of Manchester in an all ticket match and only held onto 69 of the tickets for home supporters!

Another sign of the imbalance between Broddy and Sheffield FC is that just before the game, the latter had handed over an undisclosed transfer fee for a striker from fellow league team Arnold Town. Handing over (rather then receiving) cash is practically unheard of at this level of football.

Given the disparities between the teams, Broddy held out well until just before half-time when the Sheffield full-back, Gavin Smith, moved up into the six yard box to slot home a cross.

In the second half the flood gates could have opened; but the Broddy keeper, their rattled woodwork and missed opportunnities kept the score to 1-0 up to the three-quarter stage. Then on came David Wilkins, the new signing from Arnold Town, as super-sub. Although he missed an early chance, he soon had a hat-trick. He seemed to be everywhere in attack, but Sheffield were now in full flight.

My fellow locals, however, claimed that his fellow striker was the man of the match. He is Gary Townsend. He scored from a stunning shot from outside of the penalty area. After another crasher from him hit the post, it eventually returned for Wilkins to prod it home. Then another of Townsend's shots was a sure goal until Wilkins pounched to make it his own.

So in the end Broddy kept their unwanted record with a 5-0 defeat. In 18 league games they now have a 39 goal deficit. All that can be said in mitigation is that they were still in the game until around the 70th minute and 5-0 wasn't as bad as a recent 8-1 drubbing at Retford Town.

But all isn't lost for Broddy. They aren't bottom of the league. That distinction goes to Shirebrook Town. I also used to teach Derbyshire Miners from their local pit,
which was closed in 1993. They are due to play here on December 23rd. So with the family at home for Xmas, it looks as if we can boost the attendance.

It is beginning to look as if Thatcher's destruction of the coal industry also had a knock-on effect to Miner's local football teams. Perhaps this accounts for Sunderland's recent poor run - until Keane arrived. For it was when the North East was pock marked with pits that Sunderland was at its peak in the eras of Charlie Buchan and then Raich Carter. Sunderland were the Manchester United of those times.

No wonder Sunderland, Donny, Shirebrook and Broddy never voted in Thatcherites. In fact I can imagine Kevin Hughes standing at the Pearly Gates (which he didn't believe in) welcoming the arrival of Thatcher with the immortal words "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, Out, Out." !

Thursday, November 23, 2006

From Beano to Keano

Part 1 : Beano Time

I don’t know when I first graduated from reading the Beano and Dandy to the Wizard and the Hotspur. The latter were for older boys (I never saw a girl reading them) and they were dominated by stories instead of cartoons. So it is possible that I was still a Beano reader around the time I first saw a League Football match.

It is sixty years now since my father first took me to see Sunderland play at Roker Park. We travelled to Sunderland by bus from Easington Colliery and walked down to the ground.. On the way he showed me the terraced house he had been born in. It was a couple of doors away from a pawnbrokers which had the typical sign outside.

I was ten years old and I was sat upon a concrete barrier at the Roker end, having an excellent view in a crowd of 42,750. Nearly everyone stood in those days.

It was in the 1946-47 season, the first season after the Second World War and was an old Division 1 clash. Sunderland having played in no other Division than the top one. A proud record which only finally bit the dust on the last day of the 1957-58 season.

The match I saw was against Grimsby Town. Up to then Sunderland had won all their first four home games of the season, including a 4-1 defeat of Everton the previous week. In all Sunderland had had a good start to the season; with 6 wins, 2 draws and only 2 defeats.

Grimsby ended up at the bottom of the League and had lost all their away games up to then. Everything seemed set for a Sunderland victory.

We even had a new star signed from Sheffield Wednesday in Jackie Robinson, who had been bought to replace Raich Carter who had been transferred to Derby County for the start of the season.

But I was soon taught to be philosophical about my team. We went two down and a man in front of me turned to his mate to say the obvious - “we need THREE now to win!”. Only one of these was forthcoming . We lost 2-1.

Jackie Robinson got the consolation goal and was therefore always one of my heroes. The war had ruined what would have been the peak of his career. The crowd got on his back until he scored, shouting for Stan Lloyd (who I never saw play) to be returned.

Despite the defeat, I was now hooked. The team that day included three heroes from the 1937 FA Cup winning team. Mapson in goal, with the skills of Duns and Burbanks on the wings. Johnny Mapson went on to play for Sunderland until the 1952-3 season, when he was finally replaced by Threadgold, who the crowd knew as “threadbare”. No-one ever criticised Mapson, who I looked upon as a god when I later saw him sitting opposite our family when we were out having a meal at Jopling’s Restaurant in Sunderland.

The picture in my mind which I always have of Mapson is of him standing on the line in the middle of his goal with his feet together and his two hands stretched above his head to safely catch the ball. It always seemed to happen, as if he hypnotised those shooting at goal or crossing the ball.

Willie Watson, who went on play both cricket and football for England played at what in those days was called the “inside left” position, to Robinson’s “inside right”- seen nowadays as attacking mid-fielders. It was a position Watson occupied until the legendary Len Shackleton arrived on the scene. Watson was then moved to a deeper mid-field role at “right-half” and won his England football caps in that position. His gentlemanly and highly skilled performances led him to be my favourite Sunderland player, even above the great Len Shackleton.

Jackie Stelling was a tough right-back, with a sliding tackle which always disposed
the opposing winger. He became a great penalty-taker, hitting an unstoppable rocket of a shot just above the ground and inside the goalkeeper’s right hand post. Until , that is, Bert Trautman came to Roker Park in goal for Manchester City. After Stelling had beaten him with one penalty, he worked out what to do with the second one. He made an incredible save just inside the post, but was judged by the referee to have moved on the line before the ball was kicked (which in those days was an offence). Trautman threw the ball into the crowd in disgust, before going on to save the re-taken rocket.

The match against Man City was the Grimsby match written large. It was in 1950.
Sunderland were undefeated in 18 home games up to then, and Man City were bottom of the League without an away win. Of course, we lost again 2-1. If we had gained the points for a win, we would have won the League that year. Instead we finished third.
It is still our greatest achievement in the top flight in my 60 years as a supporter and I saw all of our home games that season.

I only saw four games in all over the first two season’s after the war, as I normally went to watch my father play in goal for a local team. Four of those who played against Grimsby were gradually replaced before I began to watch Sunderland play on a regular basis. They had all played war-time football with Sunderland - Jones, Willingham, Housman and Whitelum.

The remaining player was Fred Hall, the centre half. Teams didn’t use two central defenders then, and Fred was a no-sense stopper who cleared his lines. If the ball came back to him, he would again belt it up field. No wonder I have always had sympathy for route one soccer.

The game against Grimsby took place on 19 October, 1946. The nearest home match to the 60th anniversary of the first game I saw was on 21 October, 2006. The venue was now the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland under the management of Roy Keane.

Part 2 : Keano Therapy

My 60th Anniversary game was the one against Barnsley. It was appropriate that I should sit in the concessionary seats which were full of fellow oldies and young children. The lad sat next to me was 12 and had been attending since he was 6. So he will reach his 60th Anniversary game in the year 2060. I hope we win the Premiership by then.

My getting to the match at all was something of a pilgrimage. I was in Exeter the night before addressing a meeting. Even if I caught the first train on the Saturday morning to the North East, I couldn’t arrive in time for the kick-off. So I had to swallow my principles and add to the pollution of the atmosphere by joining a flight to Newcastle. The excellent Metro then took me to the land that is cut asunder by the Wear.

After soaking up the atmosphere and some Guinness at Yates, I walked to the ground past the railway station, where I had at one time worked as a clerk and where I had first caught sight of Ann whom I went on to marry. Then on approaching the ground, I walked past the end of the street where Edward Thompson’s works is. Ann became their first full time secretarial worker in the days when they started out as printers of bingo tickets.

I stopped off to purchase a football shirt produced by the “A Love Supreme” fanzine fanatics. It is the one that is half red and white stripes and the other half green . The latter showing Sunderland’s Irish connections with Roy Keane, Niall Quinn and the Irish firm who now own the Club. Once in the ground I popped into a toilet cubicle to slip into my new purchase.

“A Love Supreme” also had the wit to call Keane “Keano”. When Sunderland head for a win the fans shout this out. But they blame the players for a defeat. It is all built upon hopes and encouragements for the future.

The stage was now set for me . The Stadium of Light is even built upon the pit where my great-grandfather was killed. So that huge Miner’s lamp outside the ground means a great deal to me. Which is added to by the fact that my father and father-in-law were Sunderland supporters and coal miners.

Given that I started out watching us lose to a lowly team, it did not even matter if we lost. But glory be, we won 2-0. The icing on the cake was that Chris Brown of all people scored the second goal.

In explaining the importance of this to me, I draw completely on memory and have no record books to check. And I realise that memory is fallible. But if I am wrong on any points, then I hope that no-one will disillusion me.

Chris’s father Alan Brown also played for Sunderland. I first saw Alan play when he was a schoolboy, at Easington Colliery’s ground. I believe that it was a key cup game involving the Secondary School team from Easington and the School Team from Dronfield in Derbyshire where I now live and where our son and daughter went to school. My son Stephen was with me at the match and Alan Brown scored a hat-trick.

Not only that but Chris’s grandfather was in my class at the Infant School at Easington. There were two Brown’s : Dennis and Derrick. So I hope I am, not mixed up.

I believe that Chris’s grandfather was Derrick. Our families lived opposite each other,
separated by lengthy back gardens which tended to cut us of into different mixtures of streets. We lived in Harrison Terrace and the Brown’s were in Moncreiff Terrace. So I knew of Chris’s great grandparents. Consequently ,Chris’s goal against Barnsley is as important to me as Jackie Robinson’s against Grimsby in 1946.

My father’s support for Sunderland went back to his first visit to Roker Park when he was 11. Establishing a tradition, he was taken to his first match by his own father, my grandfather. It was a Cup Tie against Burnley in February 1920 in front of a then record crowd of 49,618. Sunderland won 2-0. From my Father’s story, on the way to the ground they crossed the Wear by an oar driven boat which almost capsized. One of Sunderland’s goals was scored by none other than Charlie Buchan.(whose “Football Monthly” I later devoured.)

I then took my son to his first game to see Sunderland play on Huddersfield’s old ground. Stephen was only four at the time, but he saw Porterfield score the equaliser in a 1-1 draw in the season in which Porterfield went on to get the winner against Leeds in the FA Cup final.

I then took my daughter Joanne with us for her first match at Notts County when she was eight. Stan Cummins got the winner in our 1-0 victory and we went on to gain promotion that season. Then Stephen and I witnessed another great 1-0 winner from Stan the following season (1980-81) at Liverpool on the last day to avoid relegation. The chant by the Sunderland’s ecstatic supporters as they left the ground was “pissed tonight, pissed tonight”.

When we take my young grandson Joseph to see his first game, we might need to put our hands over his ears. It is only my wife in this family (with her solid Sunderland links) who has never been to see them play. The worst of it is that she has seen Chesterfield play three times with me, twice in play-offs at Wembley.

My daughter-in-law Rebecca is from Tasmania and she has chalked up a respectable number of Sunderland home and away games, although living in London.

When I was an M.P. I had a question and answer session at a local infant school. A lad at the back asked who I supported. I explained that people support whoever their dad (normally) first took them to see play. I then asked who he supported. He and a pile of his mates at the back of the room shouted out “Manchester United”, whom they had never seen play. It seems that the old world is breaking up somewhat and Sky TV is taking over. But not for the 12 year old I sat next to at the Stadium of

I hope some of the old traditions live on, for it has been gripping being a Sunderland supporter. The defeat by Grimsby in 1946, followed by a 4-1 defeat by Liverpool on my next visit helped me prepare for the disasters we have seen over the past few seasons. But when we triumph it is magnificent.

Dreams live on. I am sure that I have seen those midfield qualities of Dwight Yorke somewhere before. Oh yes, it was Willie Watson. All we now need is a Len Shackleton and we are on our way. And who knows, given the magic of Keano Therapy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Will the real Peter Hain please stand up?

Peter Hain is standing for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. In a recent speech which he then posted on his parliamentary web-site under the title “We must rebuild the progressive coalition”, he states that Tony Blair is “one of our greatest Prime Ministers”.

Does such a claim and the use of the Blairite terminology “progressive” indicate that Peter is himself a Blairite? Not necessarily. For one thing, it is possible to recognise Tony’s “greatness” merely by the fact that he helped to bring about the longest running Labour Government in history. It is the same sort of greatness we can grant to the lack-lustre Lord Salisbury who managed to serve 14 years as a Conservative Prime Minister at stages between 1885 and 1902. Neither is the word “progressive” the property of Tony; although as I will indicate later he does like to monopolise its use.

Peter’s also said “(w)hereas the last century was overwhelmingly a conservative century. Tony has given us the chance to make this century, Labour’s century.” This claim has great similarities to a claim Tony himself made at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party immediately after Labour’s electoral victory in 2001.
He pointed out that whilst the 20th century had been the century of conservatism,
his audience had to help ensure that the new century would be the century of …….. .
He then hesitated to think of the word that would best express his meaning and came up with the notion of the 21st Century needing to be the century of “progressive politics.”

To Tony , but not I hope Peter, “progressive” is used as a code word for a wider political agenda. It involves opposition to a conservatism (with a small “c”) of not just the Conservative Party, but also of traditional Labour with its values of social equality and publicly controlled services. It spoke volumes that Tony would baulk at suggesting that a room full of Labour Parliamentarians should seek to usher in a century of Labour Party dominance. For what if such a Labour Party backtracked and drew ideas from its past ? Perhaps it would then be necessary (to Tony) for other forces to pick up the new progressive agenda of uniting the freedoms of the market with social justice.

The paradox of “progressive politics” is, of course, that it is as conservative (with a small “c”) as traditional Labourism is. For the freedom of the market adjusted to seek to provide some form of social justice is exactly what Lib-Labism and Social Liberalism were all about a 100 years ago. Thankfully that limited vision was then subsumed by democratic socialist ideas which, under Labour, managed to get us to a post-war settlement with a mixed economy and the welfare state. Much of which has now been surrendered, but which some of us hoped would have been built upon..

Nor is Tony‘s progressive politics unique in its call for “modernising” in an attempt to handle today’s problems of rapid technological change, globalisation and world-wide instability. All approaches to politics should adapt to meet modern conditions, be they for those who are on the side of social justice, or of free enterprise or of Tony’s attempt to guarantee the future of his own hybrid.

None of the approaches I have suggested have exclusive access to modernisation. I am in favour of a modern voice speaking out for a contemporary version of democratic socialism. This is where Peter might just come into the picture.

The question we need Peter to answer is whether he remains committed to the basic analysis he spelt out in his book “Ayes to the Left: A Future for Socialism” (Lawrence & Wishart, 1995)?

In this book he makes a strong and intelligent case for libertarian socialism, claiming it is an alternative which needs to be pursued in opposition to both state socialism and state capitalism. He stresses that an extra danger of the latter (in addition to its crude commitment to the injustices of unrestrained free enterprise) is that it requires a strong state with anti-democratic norms to police its operations (see pages 24 and 25.)

What does Peter feel that Labour has done about the problems of state capitalism since 1997 ? Have the Labour Governments which he has participated in
moved to break its hold ? Or have they basically just accepted or even solidified it. ?

Whatever factors we stress, Peter has to accept that Labour has not broken the Thatcherite mould of state capitalism.

Peter is still given to using the language of his alternative belief in “libertarian socialism”. It crept into an interview he gave to the Daily Telegraph as reported on 23 September. Indeed it is difficult for him to throw off such an approach, for he has had a belief in participatory forms of democracy , radical politics and anti-state power which go back to his expression of these ideas in works such as “Radical Regeneration” (Quartet Books. 1975) and “Don’t Play with Apartheid: the background to the Stop the Seventy Tour Campaign “ (London. 1971).

It would be a further paradox if Peter (who was at one time the leading light of the Young Liberals) should emerge as the person who could struggle to get the Labour Party to loosen the grip of a modern version of Social Liberalism which dominates Tony’s vision of “progressive politics”.

It is getting to crunch time. Peter needs to explain how close his book of 1995 will be to his manifesto for fighting for the Deputy Leadership. I don’t agree with all the books’ bits and pieces. I am not for compulsory voting, which doesn’t fit well with his libertarianism. Whilst I imagine that his own experiences in Northern Ireland will have altered his old extreme green agenda. But when he says that the “Re-distribution of ownership must remain a principle objective for socialism” (page 38) and goes on to stress the possibility of numbers of democratic structures, including municipal ownership; then I am with him.

If Peter himself wishes to be great, then we need him (a) to spell out his vision for the Labour Party (hopefully in line with his 1995 book), (b) to stand for the Leadership and not the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party (for he can’t properly enter into a battle of ideas if his position is merely to seek to be the reserve), and (c) to do something beyond what even Robin Cook did. Not just to resign from the Government, but to do this in order to run a campaign for the soul of the Labour Party.

Even if he lost such a battle, he could set a process in motion which would establish a role for a feasible libertarian left in the Labour Party whose views would influence future developments.

I can’t see a democratic socialist alternative to Peter if he will only stand up in the way I suggest. Whilst Gordon Brown has been an economic maestro , this has essentially been directed to delivering Blair’s “progressive” and flawed agenda . Why should we kid ourselves that things will change under his leadership? And the last description we can apply to John Reid is that of being a “libertarian”.

What then of John McDonnell ? As a member of the Socialist Campaign Group in Parliament for 17 years, should I not be part of his campaign ? In Socialist Campaign Group News for this September, he lists a seven point programme mainly on matters where I have been alongside him in various past votes in the Commons. I also greatly admire John’s dedication, ability and personality. But, to tell the truth, I could only ask people to support him if I decided merely to fly a flag for some of my beliefs, rather than to seriously act for positive openings for democratic socialism in tomorrow’s Labour Party.

The attractions of a Peter4Leader Campaign is that I believe that he can ride two horses at once. He can relate what he proposes to his socialist values thus giving us the vision that is currently missing from Labour Party politics, whilst trimming in order to advance policies which are feasible in difficult sets of circumstances..

When I have been in Commons lobbies with John (and against Peter who voted in line with his Government) we were often trying to stop the advance of what was passing for “progressive” politics; such as tuition fees and further privatisation. How we then move in a fresh direction after losing such votes is, however, a complex matter. John gives the impression that we just pull the switch and change directions.

Nowhere is this more strongly illustrated than over Iraq. Of course, we should never have invaded and the consequences (aided by bad handling) have been counter-productive. But we don’t return to a pre-invasion situation by just removing our troops. We have to relate to ways of tackling some of the very problems our actions helped to create.

If, however, Peter will not act in the way I recommend; then it looks as if I am left with a choice amongst the two Johns and Gordon. So I will then have to decide whether I opt for an abstention or for a bit of what used to be called “revolutionary defeatism” with John MacDonnell. I doubt whether either approach would matter much.

But if Peter will stand up and relate his principles to the realm of what is practical, then we might be onto something. I don’t believe that he would win. But we do need someone who will be in a position to stir the conscious of the Labour Party. Who else can do this properly?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Gentle Atheism

When I arrived in Iraq as a National Serviceman in 1955, I was a practising Methodist. Back home I had attended Chapel three times on a Sunday as well as on a variety of other occasions, for instance as secretary of its Christian Endeavour.

Some of the lay preachers were ethical socialists and I remember being deeply moved by the socialist content of a sermon by the leading Methodist Minister, Donald Soper who eventually I was to come across on a regular basis in the pages of Tribune. I also lived in a solid Labour and Mining area, with some of the Methodist lay preacher’s being local Labour Councillors.

But there was probably no great depth to my Christianity for my Chapel attendance was mainly a social and communal activity. I was, therefore, pretty ill-equipped for the culture shock I experienced in viewing the lives of the people in Basra and Baghdad. I felt that I was in the midst of extensive areas of poverty and exploitation.

The question which came to my mind was how could an all loving, all perfect and all knowing creator permit such conditions to exist? I had no idea that this was a perennial philosophical question, nor that it would come to form part of my later studies and teachings at University.

In the forces, I never rose above the rank of Leading Aircraftsman and I only ever found one person to discuss my religious problems with. Corporal Murphy had “atheist” on his locker where we had to designate our religion. He was an ex-Catholic who thankfully introduced me to the works of James Joyce.

I was based in Basra and a local bookseller was also helpful. Not only could I order books from him, but he sold English books and had a handsome supply of Rationalist Press Association(RPA) titles such as “Let the People Think” and “Men Without Gods”. When I heard the Anglican Minister in Basra preach a sermon against the evil influence of such books, the ideas they expressed became even more appealing to me.

Unfortunately, both my bookseller and the Anglican Minister would today be stopped in their tracks by Islamic extremists.. But to my shame the religious ideas I never came in contact with 50 years ago were those of Islam. This is in part a reflection on the absence of any form of educational facilities at our small RAF Movements Unit.

New converts to a belief (or to a non-belief) are likely to become a little strident in its advocacy. So I let people back home know of my newly found lack of faith through a letter I sent to a local newspaper. I used my home address. There was then to be no doubt locally as to who I was and the RAF were unlikely to find out.( I still had “Methodist” above my locker and was disturbed about the problems my friend told me he had in changing his designation. - but it was a tough RAF Catholic Priest he had to deal with.)

My newspaper letter is now quite quaint. The Durham Chronicle gave it the heading
“Atheist’s Views of Premium Bonds”. These were just being introduced. I quoted from George Bernard Shaw and was keen to show that Atheists as well as Christians could have prickly moral principles in opposition to any State operated form of gambling. This puritan streak is still with me in my opposition to State sanctioned Casinos, although I now care little about Premium Bonds.

But I soon stopped my new form of preaching. This was partly because the Methodists I had grown up with (including my mother) were kindly people and not ranters. I had come to disagree with a key to their beliefs, but did not see the Christians I knew as an alien force. My newspaper letter had done enough to show I was no longer fully with them.

Added to this was an experience I had soon after I was demobbed. I went to a meeting of the South London Ethical Society to hear a talk on Nietzsche by Archibald Robertson. He was a member of the Communist Party and I had read some of his books in Basra, as published by the RPA. But the whole set-up made me feel that I was back into a form of Chapel. The final straw was when they passed around what looked like hymn books and we sang to the glory of reason. I decided that I had left one church and was not about to enter another.

In fact, as an M.P. I went to Civic Services and as an old man I keep going to funerals. I always join fully in the singing of hymns to the glory of God, more than I would ever be able to muster to the glory of Reason.

It seems to me that there is plenty of scope for dialogue between those who share similar moral and political values, irrespective of their differing approaches to religion and amongst religions. Indeed the dialogue should go much wider. I spent a considerable amount of my time as an M.P. in Northern Ireland discussing its problems with people right across the political and sectarian divides. No one ever asked me whether I was a Catholic, a Protestant or neither. Which is just as it should be.

As I type this I can look out onto the Baptist Church next door, where since retiring I have addressed Dronfield Churches Together on “Making Poverty History”. I don’t know if they knew that I am an atheist. For it should not matter, for there was considerable unity on the subject matter. If their religious feelings draw them into such campaigns, then that seems to me to be to the credit of their views - even if I don’t share them.

Oliver Kamm reminds us that the late Sidney Hook had something important to say on these matters in his book “The Quest for Being” (1961). In that it is possible to appreciate the nobler feelings some achieve through their religion, without then falling for the bedrock of their doctrines. Kamm also contrasts Hook’s approach with that of Richard Dawkins in his latest book “The God Delusion”. It is one thing for Dawkins to argue that religion is false, but it becomes sanctimonious for him to argue that religion in itself is a main source of oppression. It is theocratic movements (not religions as such) that have displayed such totalitarian tendencies - as did Stalinism. The fact that Stalinism was godless, doesn’t thereby turn other non-believers into his kin.

There is, for instance, a stark contrast between a Reverend Martin Luther King drawing from his religious values to help bring about an end to segregated schools and on the other hand creationists using their religious interpretations to try to undermine scientific investigations in schools.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Iraq: The Third Big Issue

Twin Divisions

In Britain, our minds are often focussed upon two big issues concerning Iraq. First, should we have been involved in its invasion ? Secondly, should our troops now be withdrawn ?

I will outline where I stand on these matters, before concentrating on a third key concern which I feel should engage the attention of those of us who have involvements in the wider Labour and Trade Union Movement. How significant are equivalent bodies to ours inside Iraq ? What are they aiming for ? And how worthy are they of our support ?

But first let me confront those first two big issues, which I in no way wish to run away from.

(a) First, there is the matter of the invasion

I opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq in a fully fledged way and I stand by the position I adopted. For I was opposed to the invasion whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that he did not hold such weapons and that the argument used for the invasion was spurious. But at the time, I argued that if he had held such weapons then an invasion still wasn’t justified as it would have been a highly dangerous exercise - rather like prodding a mad dog with a stick.

I was also opposed to the invasion whether or not it was sanctioned by the United Nations. For, to me, if the United Nations had been persuaded to back the invasion, that decision would still have been the wrong one. For with or without such backing, the likely consequences (as we have now seen) would be shocking in terms of the loss of life, the internal conflict in Iraq and the impacts in Palestine, the rest of the Middle East and throughout the Muslim World.

Whilst I don’t accept the estimates on post-invasion deaths which have twice emerged in the Lancet, I do recognise that the loss of life in this period from conflict has been (and increasingly is) horrendous and that something like it was predictable back in the period leading up to the invasion.

But those advocating an invasion did put forward a question which the rest of us needed to answer. “What would we do instead to tackle the manifest evils of Hussein’s Regime ?” My answer was that we should have been assisting those brave
people in Iraq who opposed the regime and who struggled to have it replaced by a humane alternative. The internal struggle was the one which should have been in the lead. An article by Mary Kaldor on the Open Democracy web-site on 21.4.05, entitled, Iraq: the wrong war has since spelt out what that option was in a section entitled “Was there an alternative?”

(b) Secondly, there is the matter of what we should now do about British and American troops in Iraq. Should they be withdrawn ? When and how ?

Many assume that if someone opposed the invasion in such a fully fledged way, then they must now and always since the invasion have been in favour of the immediate withdrawal of the troops. This does not, of course, follow either in terms of logic or morality. For there is a countervailing concern.

Terrorist groups and criminal gangs are murdering masses of Iraqi people going about their normal business without such people ever giving meaningful support to “the occupying forces” or to a claimed “puppet regime”. Iraqi troops and police need to have the ability to contain this hideous aggression. American and British troops play a role in helping to build up and to supplement this difficult internal security.

The great problem is that American Forces in particular (but not excluding the British) have been involved in a whole series of actions involving prison abuse, over the top military action and a failure to link with and aid Iraqis who could have helped build the alternative democratic society which Bush and Blair say they seek.

The question then arises as to how much terrorist activity would just fall away if the British and American troops left. And would any such drop in violence be sufficient to ensure relative peace ?

I have always answered this quandary by arguing that the decision on withdrawal should be made by the Iraqi Parliament. I argue this even though I recognise (and below stress) some of the shortcomings of the actions and omissions of the Iraqi Parliament and their Government . For as a Democratic Socialist, I would criticize aspects of decisions made by almost every parliament in the world. That does not mean that I would wish to abolish them !

The Iraqi people did not support the invasion, but they should at least use their new institutions to decide just when and how the troops should leave. All I would suggest is the need for a timetable for withdrawal plus plans for replacements of troops from acceptable Arab and other nations into non Kurdish Iraq, if these are needed. The Iraqi people need to know that Britain and America will be leaving.

But Why Not A Triple Alliance?

I do not wish to draw a line under the above matters, but I do wish to turn our attention to another concern which should be given a much greater priority by the Labour Movement. Furthermore, I would claim that whatever attitude we take on the first two big issues, we should be united on this one.

We should start by asking ourselves if there are forces in Iraq who are striving to advance the values which we share? Namely, those of democracy, civil rights, social justice and a secular State.

In fact there are many such forces, including those who mobilize to achieve a status for women, youths, the maimed and disabled, or for improved hospitals, schools, electricity and other services. But I will concentrate on the organisations I know the best and who seem to me to have a massive potential - Iraqi Trade Unions.

Iraq has a population of 27 million. It is dominated by young people and only 15 million fall within the ages of 14 to 65. Because unemployment is normally said to be in the region of 50%, whilst many women in fundamentalist Muslim areas are discouraged from working outside of their homes; those in steady employment could be as low as 5 million.

Yet over a million people are organised in Trade Unions. Which is likely to be 20% of those who can reasonably be mobilised. In Britain the equivalent figure is 29.1% and we have faced nothing like the traumas and controls experienced by the Iraqi working people over the past 40 years.

When it came to Saddam Hussein’s era, Trade unions were banned in the public sector which accounted for 80% of the workforce, whilst Chemical Ali was put in charge of what was left of Trade Unionism. The latter were what are normally called yellow Trade Unions, under strict and corrupt State domination.

Trade Unions Re-emerge

When Saddam Hussein banned Trade Unions in the public sector in 1987 he stated that workers no longer existed in Iraq, whilst he turned a body called the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU who had had a fine past) into a corrupt State-controlled body for the private sector. It spied on its own members and its offices were used for interrogation and torture.

Yet within a few weeks of the invasion, workers who organised in the docks in Basra took successful strike action to remove an oppressive Baathist Management and to obtain a pay rise. Thirteen separate bodies covering 200,000 members were quickly organised and formed the units of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

How was this possible given the Baathist legacy ? As in any revolutionary turn around, it was a mixture of spontaneity and organisation.

Spontaneously, many workers in Iraq knew about the fine history of Trade Unionism in their nation and had an idea that it was needed and was now possible in the circumstances of uncertainty, disruption and confusion created by the invasion. The memory of many martyrs was also held onto firmly by their relatives and friends. Such networks are of great importance in Iraq.

When it came to organisation many activists who managed to survive, had operated in a clandestine fashion throughout the Baathist days and were in touch with comrades who had been driven into exile. Those in exile immediately returned or otherwise helped with the organisational work.

Things happen quickly when spontaneity and organisation are fused.

The Heritage

The pattern of Trade Union history in Iraq is a common one. Workers struggled for reasonable wages and conditions. They opposed Anti-Trade Union Laws. They engaged in strikes which at times had political implications. They struggled for the Labour Movement to be given a central role within their nation.

(a) When imperial interests established Iraq and it was placed under a British Mandate in 1920, we set about exploiting its resources. Railways, ports, cigarette and other factories were built. Whilst in 1927 oil was discovered.

This all led to the establishment of a downtrodden and exploited working class. So it did just what you would expect in such circumstances. The workers organised and industrial action took place in all the areas I mentioned above. The 1920s was also a good time to learn from the actions then being taken by the organised working class in Britain.

(b) Iraqi Trade Unions had a persistent battle with the law (and it is still happening today). When in 1932 Iraq technically became an independent nation, it was still under strong British dominance. It banned Trade Unions in 1936, with the inevitable reaction coming from the bodies it sort to eradicate.

(c) Industrial Action took on an even clearer political content when the Portsmouth Treaty was signed in 1948. This was an update of earlier Anglo-Iraqi Treaties which maintained British controls, including the continuation of air bases as British Crown Territories. I was to be one of the many National Servicemen sent to one of these.

The widespread nature of the 1948 struggle was possible because 16 new Trade Unions were formed between 1944 and 1946, with the Iraqi Communist Party playing a leading role in the conflict.

(d) It wasn’t until the pro-British system was swept aside in a Colonel’s led revolution in 1958 that Britain was finally obliged to leave its air bases. The mass GFTU (later to be subverted by Saddam Hussein) was established with Communists winning all ten seats on its Central Council in open elections.

They then organised a May Day March in Baghdad in 1959, with half a million people joining in out of a population of under 7 million. They were led by their Communist leaders in suits, shirts and ties as the nations leading advocates of establishing a bourgeois democracy as a means of giving the workers their place in the sun.

The March of Progress Murdered and then Reborn.

From 1963 coups and counter coups took place in Iraq until the Baath and finally Saddam Hussein came to take full power. The way the Trade Union Movement was forced into either clandestine activity, exile or was tortured and murdered is shown through the life of Hadi Saleh.

The TUC has produced a fine book entitled Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson (who is an academic and not the politician). I have already generously drawn details from the book in this article.

In 1969 (a year after a Baathist Coup) and at the age of 20, Hadi was imprisoned for Trade Union and Communist political activity, seriously maltreated and sentenced to death. He remained on death row until 1973 when under an armistice he was released and returned to his employment as a printer and again engaged in Trade Union and political activity.

The armistice arose because the Baath had signed a Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union, especially to obtain arms. But in 1977, Hadi was obliged to flee the country and when in exile linked secretly with clandestine elements in Iraq.

He helped found the Worker’s Democratic Trade Union Movement in 1980. It called a strike at Sulymanyah in the Kurdish area in 1984, involving 4,000. The regime took harsh action and four of the activists were executed.

In 2003 Hadi returned to Iraq on the heels of the invasion. He was at the forefront of the establishment of the IFTU, who I mentioned earlier. He became their International Secretary, travelling widely from his base in Baghdad to develop crucial links with the International Trade Union Movement.

He was brutally murdered in Baghdad in 2005 by terrorists who deliberately target Trade Unionists. His Trade Union records were stolen and information used to seek out others. Some 2,000 of his comrades have been deliberately targeted and murdered, using a variety of sources of information.

Imagine our own Trade Union Movement withstanding such an assault.

I had the privilege of Chairing a meeting for Hadi in the Commons. He was a fine person and his murder came as a deep shock. In fact, in my life he is the only person I have been in such close contact with whom I know was later murdered. So you will imagine my reaction. I was privileged to address his memorial service at the TUC.

Thanks to his groundwork, the Iraqi Trade Union Movement has become a significant
force recognised by the Arab Federation of Trade Unions and working closely with bodies such as the TUC, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Labour Office.

Iraqi Kurdistan

The first return to open and free Trade Unions came in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 1991 after Saddam Hussein engaged in a campaign of genocide against the Kurds, who fled to the mountains in the north, a no-fly zone was established and conditions were then created for the Kurds to operate on a fairly autonomous basis.

Although the Kurds had their own period of internal conflict after this, they are now united and Saddam Hussein’s anti-Trade union legislation has bitten the dust, with Trade Unions having full recognition from the Kurdish Regional Government where numbers of Ministers and officials come from their ranks.

Today the Kurdistan Workers Federation has a membership of 200,000. Whilst the Kurdish Teachers’ Union has 100,000 members. Added to these are what are termed civic bodies catering for several tens of thousands. These are organisations with much in common with, say, the MSF section of AMICUS.

Iraqi Kurdistan covers mainly a population of Sunni Kurds, with minorities including Shia Kurds, Turcoman and Assyrians. Together, the area covers from 20 to 25% of Iraq’s population, depending on where we draw the boundaries for the region as the status of Kirkuk has yet to be determined.

When I visited Iraqi Kurdistan in April with Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) and Trade Union officials, I became aware of numbers of factors including the following.

Outside of areas such as Mosul and Kirkuk, it is now reasonably safe to move around thanks to the Kurds operating their own tight security system. These involve regular road checks (where those questioning you can be trusted not to have links with terrorists), with key buildings being protected by huge concrete blocks and by guards.

The economy has characteristics of a command economy, but even the local Communist Party are aware of the need to attract inward investment. But in opening up the economy to the influences of capital, there is a keenness not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There is a building boom taking place covering private housing, rented flats, council housing, university students accommodation and public facilities. Road building, a hydro-electric project and plans for leisure provisions are to the fore. Cement factories proliferate.

But there are plenty of problems to overcome, including petrol shortages in an oil producing nation. This creates a huge black market for petrol smuggled over the borders. Hydro electric extensions are sort to overcome the regular breakdown in supplies. Whilst there is also a great deal of hidden unemployment. We visited a cigarette factory employing 600 workers which had not produced a fag for several years, but which the workers attended full-time in order to be paid.

The views of the Kurds about the invasion and the occupation tend to differ from those of the Arabs elsewhere in Iraq. The only people we spoke to who opposed these measures were those who shared the views of the minority Kurdish Communist Party, who had opposed the invasion and looked for a phased withdrawal of troops. They are, however, as opposed to terrorists tactics as anyone. There is, however, no feeling of being occupied by foreign troops in Iraqi Kurdistan as only 200 American troops are situated there.

Our visit to Iraqi Kurdistan was well publicised in the local media, but we were protected and closely guarded. If we had attempted the same activities in Baghdad then we would soon have been kidnapped. Our hosts from the Kurdistan Workers Federation looked after us well and carefully. They even arranged for us not to miss out on meeting the Trade Union leadership from the rest of Iraq. For eleven of these flew in from Baghdad to meet us in the Kurdish City of Arbil.

Arab Iraq

The IFTU which Hadi Saleh helped to found forms the backbone of the newly established General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFITU). This body was established to allow for links with other bodies in order to have all the recognised Trade Unions in non-Kurdish Iraq joining together into its own TUC for purposes of affilation to the Arab Federation of Trade Unions. The exception being the large Teachers’ Union, with whom they enjoy close fraternal links.

Today the GFITU covers a membership of some 300,000, with 400,000 in the Teachers’ Union, which covers all education institutions. Apart from terrorists targetting Trade Unionists, these Trade unions face another serious problem which does not operate in Iraqi Kurdistan. The law is against them.

Saddam Hussein’s measure banning Trade Unions in the public sector has not been repealed. Employers are in a position to resort to the Courts and to offialdom to act upon the legal position. This has happened causing Trade Unionism serious problems.

Even if the practicalities on the ground differ from Saddam Hussein’s time and shop floor pressures can pursuade employers in specific circumstances not to make full use of these legal powers, another crippling Government Decree hit the Trade Unions on 8 August 2005. Under the Decree 8750, Trade Union funds can be taken over by the State whilst awaiting proposals on just how the State will allow Trade Unions to function, organise and operate.

The State’s powers to sequest Trade Union funds and their threat of future bans and prescriptions when added to the pre-existing ban on Trade Union activity in the main sector of the economy, place a crippling burden upon the GFITU, its affiliates and the Teachers’ Union.

Considerable efforts are being made by the International Trade Union Movement and especially the TUC to have these restraints on free Trade Unionism removed.

Iraqi Trade Unions concern themselves with numerous measures which go beyond their own organisational viability and those of the wages and conditions of their members. Economic development is a key concern and they are insistent that the dominant Oil Industry in Iraq should remain in public ownership and become subject to democratic control.

The status of women in society is another huge issue. For instance, along with women’s organisations and non-governmental bodies, trade unions were at the centre of action leading to the repeal of Saddam Hussein’s Law 137 under which
women were under male domination in families and marriages. There are also conflicting interpretations of the new Iraqi Constitution with its free status for women clashing with its Islamic commitments which some would use to justify Sharia law.

Whilst I was in Iraqi Kurdistan I entered into discussions with women Trade Unionists at factories, on a Trade Union Training Course as tutors and students and in Civic Society meetings; but I have also met female GFITU activists at the TUC and in the Commons. In Arbil, the visiting Trade Unionists included Hasimia Muhsin Hussein who is President of the Basra Electricty and Energy Union. So far she is the only major office holder in an GFITU affiliate who is a women. Yet all of these bodies have commitments to equal rights for women and struggle for this, especially within industry.


Understanding something about the commitments, scope and potential of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement is a prelude to working with and for them. I will first give an indication of what assistance the British Trade Union Movement is providing its brothers and sisters in Iraq. I will then suggest ways in which, as individuals, we can also assist.

(a) UNISON funds Trade Union Training Courses in Iraq. We visited one of these in Arbil and later came across shop stewards from the courses in their factories. We also met the co-ordinator running the national scheme. As a former tutor on Trade Union Courses myself, I was impressed by what I heard and saw.

As a consquence of our visit UNISON representatives also made a commitment to find resources to fund a workers radio station in Iraq.

In 2004 the FBU collected and delivered 600 kits of boots, leggings, tunics and helmets to fire fighters in Basra when they discovered that the Iraqi firefighters operated without essential equipment. Recently, they delivered two fire engines to Iraq and had to pay bribes to Turkish border guards in order to be allowed to cross into Iraq.

RMT, PCS and the GMB are amongst other Unions who have provided practical help in their areas. Many Unions have facilitated visits to and from Iraq with their equivalents. Iraqi Trade Unionists attend Trade Union Education Courses in this country.

In addition to making regular representations to our Government and that of Iraq, the TUC run a “Aid Iraq Appeal” which has sponsored a major project run by the International Federation of Journalists in assisting Iraqi Journalists to establish free Trade Unions. Whilst the NUJ is one of the Unions active in the works of the TUC’s important Iraq Solidarity Committee. The workers’ rights to free expression being crucial.

(b) How can individual Trade Union and Labour Movement activists help?

First, by getting up to speed on the issues involved and then spreading the word. The key source for such information is the TUC book on Hadi Saleh which I mentioned earlier. It sells at £10 and profits go to the TUC’s Aid to Iraq Appeal. The book also provides essential details on who to contact.

As part of the TUC’s Appeal, it also collects old mobile phones with their chargers for conversion for use in Iraq. These are important as travel is dangerous and landlines unrealiable. Unlike cash, mobiles are unlikely to be sequested by the State.

Within a person’s own Trade Union and Labour Movement Organisation questions can be raised to see if adequate support is being provided to bodies such as the TUC’s Iraq Solidarity Committee and Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ). The latter will provide speakers for meetings.

Links made to the web-site run by the LFIQ will reveal other groups that operate in support of these ideals. There is, for instance, a group called Books to Iraq (with their own web-site) who collect funds to purchase and export text books for the Iraqi School of Pharmacy.

In Conclusion

I started by commenting on the two big issues which often dominate our thoughts on Iraq - where did we stand on the invasion and where do we now stand on the question of “troops out”? I then said that whatever divided us over these matters, those active in the wider Labour Movement could and should still unite together over a third big issue; namely, support for an Iraqi Trade Union Movement that pursues workers’ rights, democracy, civil rights and a secular state. This Movement is one of the best hopes for a decent future for Iraq.

In fact, merely to concentrate on the invasion and on the current position of the Armed Forces is a rather Western-centred approach. These matters are, of course, also of key importance to the Iraqi people. But their daily struggles show that we need to go beyond our own two big issues if we are to link in with their needs. After all, whose side will we be on when the troops leave ? If the answer includes the Trade Unions, then shouldn’t we be active at their side already ?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ye Olde Footy Derby

1860 and all that

This is more than a report on a football match, for it is about the oldest derby in the world between Sheffield FC and Hallam. They first played each other on Hallam‘s ground on boxing day 1860. So when they met for the game at Sheffield FC’s ground on Saturday, it was quite correctly turned into a festive occasion.

Nowadays both clubs are members of the Northern Counties East League. So we get home and away versions of this derby each season, plus cup games and friendlies. Before Saturday’s match, honours were even over the past ten league games. Each team having won 4 and drawn 2.

If they remain in the same league in 2010, the 150th anniversary derby at Hallam should really be something. I hope that it will be played on boxing day, to replicate the original meeting.

Hallam still play on their original ground and it is the oldest ground in continuing use in the world. So a 150th anniversary on its hallowed turf would be an historic oldest derby in the world on the oldest ground in the world.

If the teams find themselves in different leagues in 4 years time, then I hope they will fix up a friendly for boxing day. Whatever happens I want to be there (even if there is no game): unless they are playing each other on my local Sheffield FC’s ground that day!

For although Sheffield FC do not play on their original ground, they are the oldest team in the world, who helped codify the rules of the game. Hallam are only the second oldest team in the world.

Jameson with orange juice

When I arrived just before the kick off, I had probably missed the best bit. The ground was full of youngsters and of half drunk orange juice bottles, indicating that I had missed some festive binge.

The young orange half-drinkers were all from Sheffield’s FC “feeder” teams which are organised by AFC Dronfield. They provided a guard of honour when the derby day contestants came out onto the pitch. Two of them acted as mascots, with their parents lining their children up alongside the match officials and the team captains for the photo shoot.

Other parents came to see their children and we, therefore, had a packed ground by Sheffield FC standards - of some 500. I don’t know how many had to pay at the turnstiles and a much smaller official crowd might be recorded in the next edition of Sheffield FC’s fine programme.

Needless to say, every youngster’s attention wasn’t fully glued to what was a fine game. The trees at the top of a bank in the corner of the ground provide an attractive play area. So twice, loud speaker announcements had to gently admonish children to get them to stop their antics, which were seen as a danger to themselves.

As with the last game I witnessed at the ground, the match was played in good conditions The grass was spruced up by earlier rain, but the sun shone brightly for the first half and it only clouded over some ten minutes into the second half. Just the right condition for spectators, whether they were 7 year olds or ye three-score-years-and-ten .

Although I did not join the children playing on the embankment. I did manage a Guinness at the Club’s pub both before the match and also at half-time; with a quick Jameson afterwards before I caught a bus back to the top of the hill to my home.

No wonder I fell asleep after all that, not even being too bothered about the news of Sunderland’s 4-1 defeat at Preston.

We was robbed, again

Sheffield FC edged the early exchanges with a recent hero, Chris White, fluffing two chances to put them in the lead. It wasn’t to be his day and he was substituted on the hour.

Hallam came back to dominate the rest of the first half, with the home team still being a threat on the break. But it was goalless at half time.

The Sheffield FC manager played his usual three card substitution trick in a ten minute spell leading up to the three-quarters stage. The move seemed to work. It turned Sheffield into an attacking team and they pressed and took the lead. A fine cross from Darren Holmes was met with an even better header by their new striking striker, Vill Powell. More Sheffield goals now seemed to be on the cards, but it was Hallam who scored from a deflection.

Overall, a 1-1 draw was probably a fair result. But Sheffield FC supporters were deflated as it followed a straight five wins. This extends the shared honours with Hallam to a run of 11 games.

But we are used to Hallam spoiling the party. What are local derby’s for ? Last Xmas, I went with Rebecca my daughter-in-law and my son Stephen to see the equivalent game. Sheffield were then in the middle of a great unbeaten run which could have led to promotion. Inevitably, Hallam pinched that game 1-0. Here is a reasonable version of what happened, in the words of the latest Sheffield F.C. programme.

“A right controversial one this game. Tom Franklin gave the Countrymen the lead in the 32nd minute, after hitting Sheffield on the break following some sustained pressure by the home side. Hallam managed to fend every Sheffield attack away, and then had some amazing luck when Martin Taylor in the visitors’ net hauled down Duncan Bray on the edge of the box when he was clearly the last man. Not only was the Hallam keeper able to escape by staying on the pitch, he then rubbed salt in the wound by producing some top drawer(sic) saves to help take all three points over to S10.”

S10 is the postal area for Hallam. Sheffield FC’s is S18. So you can see that these are as close derby matches as are Sheffield United against Sheffield Wednesday. They are of course, much better value.

There will always be a next time.

Next Saturday, if everything goes to plan, I will be at a match which will have even greater historical significance for me than Hallam vs. Sheffield FC will on boxing day 2010. After Saturday, I will reveal all.

Sheffield FC’s next home game is against Liversedge, but what I really have my eye upon is a coming away game in Round 2 of the FA Vase at Durham City. It will be held a few miles away from the areas where my wife and I originated. It will take me back to seeing the Miners’ banners at Durham Big Meeting, listening to Donald Soper address the less well known Durham Methodist Big Meeting, Ann and I watching the film version of James Joyce’s Ulysses at its main cinema, climbing the Cathedral steps, catching all those trains from Durham’s fine Station, plus meetings of the Durham Fabian Society and an ILP Conference.

But it will be “howay the lads” for Sheffield FC, although that mackems terminology should give a clue to the big match I am aiming for next Saturday.

Monday, October 09, 2006

That Was The Century That Was...

A “Parliamentary Labour Party Centenary Conference” is to be held at the London South Bank University on 24 and 25 November; organised by the Society for the Study of Labour History. I have booked in. For one thing; it is being held just round the corner from a flat I occupied for almost 18 years when I was a Labour M.P.

There are, however, more than nostalgic reasons for my attending. Keynote speeches will be made by writers whose works litter my bookshelves - Kenneth O Morgan, Robert Taylor, Patricia Hollis, David Howell and Bernard Crick. Whilst more than a dozen other worthies will be participating as panel members and in the chairing of sessions.

Discussing, studying, teaching and participating in Labour Movement Politics came to dominate my life - starting out in a halting way 50 years ago, so what can now be more appealing than this double half-century bash ?

The Conference has a neat title as it concentrates upon the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). It needs to do this as it was actually 106 years since the Labour Party set forth at a conference at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London on 27 and 28 February, 1900. Although it initially called itself the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).

Today’s label for all of Labour’s bits (and here I ignore the unofficial and ideologically suspect term “New Labour”) was only adopted following a significant electoral breakthrough at the General Election held between 12 January and 7 February, 1906. The LRC had endorsed 51 candidates for the contest. No less than 29 of these were elected .

When the successful candidates met in Committee Room 13 of the Commons on 12 February, they adopted the more meaningful title of the “Parliamentary Labour Party”. The Annual Conference of the LRC was held again at Farringdon Street from 15 to 17 February and it then rechristened itself the “Labour Party”.

(Here is more nostalgia : Farringdon Street was a regular route for me when I used a taxi to get from the Commons to St. Pancras.)

I will end this section with a political puzzle. Where was the 1907 Annual Conference of the Labour Party held ? For it was the first Conference not to have been set in motion as if it were to be a LRC Conference. The answer will surprise many. Perhaps the Society for the Study of Labour History could have a Conference there next year. If so, they can put my name down now for a place. It was once a second home for me.

More Monuments - 1900 and 1893

A 1900 General Election had been held only 7 months after the birth of the LRC. But only 2 out of its 14 candidates were successful. One of these was Richard Bell of the Amalgamated Railway Servants, who was the initial Treasurer of the LRC. He was elected for Derby in a two-seater Constituency. The Liberals and the LRC ran one candidate each, against two Conservatives. The ploy worked as the Tories lost out completely. The 1901 LRC Report records that the Liberals had “co-operated” at the Derby election.

I had the pleasure of attending the centenary event commemorating this break-through, held at the Derby County Football Ground in 2000. We did not, however, fill the stadium. But we did fill a large reception room.

The other successful LRC endorsed candidate was none other than Keir Hardie. He stood in two seats, being unsuccessful at Preston and triumphant at Merthyr. Again these were two-seaters. At Merthyr, the LRC Report states that the local “Trade Council loyally helped”. There is no reference here to any help from the Liberals. It should also be noted that all LRC endorsed candidates were described as “Labour Candidates” even in the LRC’s 1901 Report.

Hardie had already served a term in the Commons between 1892 to 1895. He was initially elected as one of three candidates who are called “Independent Labour”. The term “independent” was used to illustrate that they had nothing to do with the two main political parties - the Liberals and the Conservatives. Hardie, in particular, was keen to show that he differed from others from labouring backgrounds who were willing to operate as Liberal Candidates and became known as Lib-Labs.

In 1893, Hardie helped found the “Independent Labour Party” (ILP) at a Conference in Bradford. The word “independent” being used in the same fashion as above.

I was a member of the ILP’s successor organisation, Independent Labour Publications, before entering parliament. I have now joined a supporters group entitled “Friends of the ILP”.

It was therefore inevitable that (along with Margaret Beckett) I should invite people along to the ILP’s centenary event in the Commons on 14 January, 1993 and be one of the speakers - exactly 100 years after their inaugural Bradford Conference. The crammed reception being hosted by the ILP, the New Statesman and Tribune.

At the Derby centenary in 2000, I also spoke alongside Margaret Beckett and her fellow Derby M.P., Bob Laxton. Amongst other speakers was Dai Havard, the current M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil (Keir Hardie’s old patch) who at the time was the Prospective Labour Candidate.

My question for this section is, can the Labour Movement ever fulfil its potential if it discards the monuments I am dealing with?

Progressives or Labourites?

What’s in a name ? Sometimes quite a lot.

When the franchise was extended in the 19th Century, it began to spread to important elements of the male working class. Women did not even gain a restricted franchise until 1918.

With the 1867 Reform Act, roughly a third of men of voting age were entitled to the franchise. In 1872 voting for the first time became secret and workers were free from intimidation by bosses and landowners. With the 1884 Reform Act, some 60% qualified to vote. The male workers’ vote was up for grabs.

The Tories went for one-nation Conservatism under Disraeli. So David Cameron’s current tactic isn’t all that new.

The Liberals in areas dominated by working class voters, tended to move to progressive politics to attract support. (Another modern trend in certain areas). This was a form of non-socialist leftist politics. When the Liberals were really up against things they were even willing to run candidates from the developing labour movement. These came to be known as the Lib-Labs. Two of these were elected in 1874, with the number rising to 24 in 1906.

The Miners Federation of Great Britain (but with regional variations) was attracted to this. For whilst they had a strong chance to deliver votes in constituencies dominated by Coal Mining, they had problems about meeting election expenses and parliamentarians’ salaries - as M.P.s were not paid until 1911. So deals could be done with the “progressive” elements of the Liberal Party. The Miner’s Federation, therefore, had its feet under the table before the LRC was established. In 1900 only their Lancashire and Cheshire area participated in the LRC’s inaugural conference.

Yet the Miner’s came to be of great significance in the Labour Party from 1909. For there was a counter trend amongst Miners presented by the position of Keir Hardie whose early activity was in the Ayrshire Miners Union . His position helped to attract numbers of like-minded Miners into he ILP ( and hence via that route into the LRC, as the ILP was an affiliate). They all looked for a separate and distinctive party of Labour.

Labour’s political success in 1906 plus surrounding industrial and economic pressures, helped bring the Miner’s Federation into a prominent position in the Labour Party. Under a ballot decision of 1909, its MP’s changed their labels (if not always their politics) from Lib-Lab to Labour. The ranks of the PLP swelled from what was by then some 30 to about 42.

At a 1909 Mid-Derbyshire by-election, a Miners’ Federation candidate was the first of many to be elected to parliament in the Labour interest, with Keir Hardie out canvassing. Two General Elections then took place in 1910. Although Labour only ran 78 and 56 candidates respectively (with 40 then 42 successes), the Miner’s now formed a sizeable block. Added to this, in the inter-war years prominent Labour figures such as Ramsay MacDonald and Arthur Henderson had periods representing areas dominated by Coal Mining.

Amongst the Constituencies MacDonald represented was the old Seaham seat, where I grew up. Whilst amongst Arthur Henderson 5 different seats was the old Clay Cross Constituency. Clay Cross was itself part of the seat I represented in Parliament. So really everything that appears above is, after all, one big exercise in nostalgia.

But I will end with one final question. It is the easiest yet. Lib-Labs saw themselves as progressives (as distinct from socialists or labourites). Which leading politician today is given to employing the term “progressive” to describe his politics? And how far is what he says Lib-Labism in a post-modern dress? Whilst in a world of sweeping technological change it is good to know what is new and what changes are on the horizon, it is also good to know what can stay with us.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Phoney War

Click here. After you read this, the following comment is a killer. You will see that I was fired even before the war commenced.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ref, Blow Your Whistle!

I have just been to an incredible football match. This was not because of the score, the quality of the play or the performances. All of these were high level, but what will be remembered and will be discussed is the incident which happened three minutes into injury time, when nothing any longer was at stake.

Sheffield FC were winning (and then won) 5-1 in a Northern Counties East Premier Division match at home to Arnold Town. On the 90th Minute of normal time Arnold Town scored their consolation goal - although the score could easily have been 7-4 by then.

The referee had played 5 Minutes of injury time at the end of the first half, delaying my half time visit to Sheffield FC’s pub at the Coach and Horses. But it was worth the wait as the pub has been refurbished and the Guinness supply has been installed.

At the end of the game the referee repeated his added march of time. No one understood why. There had been a bit of a delay over an injury, but it wasn’t an ill tempered game, nor had there been any time wasting.

It was three minutes into this final bout of added time that everything went crazy. In all it was now the 98th Minute. Two opposing players finished up fighting after one had had a go at the other. Then all hell broke loose.

Players dived in from all over the place. It was like a huge rugby scrum gone mad. The players who merely watched on were the exception and not the rule. It was open warfare.

The referee and his two young novice assistants strove to assert their authority. Two Sheffield FC defenders and an Arnold Town player were given red cards. Strictly speaking another ten or so should have been booked, but who was doing what to whom? If enough red cards had been issued, the game would have had to be abandoned.

The referee showed that he was as confused as the rest of us as he eventually did not give a free kick, but bounced the ball. Then instead of immediately blowing his whistle for time he left the two tribes to circle around each other for another minute or more.

The referee can’t, of course, be blamed for not foreseeing the incident. But if he had only blown his whistle earlier, it would have been the match itself which would have been memorable.

Up to the tomfoolery at the end, the match was a joy to behold. The weather conditions set the scene. It had rained the night before, so the grass was green and the pitch looked grand; although Sheffield FC’s Darren Holmes was heard to complain that the grass was too long.

The sun was shining, yet there was no oppressive heat. Everything was ideal for playing and watching. And so it was to prove for the first 98 Minutes.

It was a distinct contrast with the last game I saw at what I call “The Stadium of Bright.” On that occasion, rain drove across the pitch and the spectators huddled together under the sheltered area. It was a bleak goalless draw against Retford United, enlightened only be the efforts of Vill Powell, Retford’s striker.

Vill was now playing for Sheffield FC having been transferred. He made an impressive home debut, scoring a hat trick and setting up two fine assists for goals by Chris White and Chris Dolby.

Under the Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Football scheme, he would have received 15 points for his three goals and 6 for his assists. He would get 2 points for appearing in the starting IX , but as he was substituted before the punch up he would neatly have avoided the danger of finding himself in the free-for-all and losing a possible 5 points for a red card. Then he would undoubtedly have been awarded 3 points for being the Man of the Match.

That is a staggering 26 points, just one short of Thierry Henry’s League haul in last Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph, covering the first six weeks of the season.. Well OK, I know that Premiership Football is somewhat tougher than that in Step 5 of Non-League Football, but this is my fantasy after all.

For anyone who has not come across the fascinations of fantasy football, I will return to the topic in the future.

To be more succinct, Vill’s performance was the tops. Let us hope it is just the start. It wasn’t, however, just Vill who impressed. Arnold Town had the run of the early exchanges and although Sheffield finally edged the 50 minute first half, their 2-0 lead flattered them - and was all down to Vill.

In the second half Sheffield FC became increasingly dominant, although Arnold Town kept causing problems on the break. Finally, David Wilkins found the back of the net for them.

Sheffield had numbers of players other than Vill who were at the top of their form, including Chris White who had dominated the clash between these two teams in the President’s Cup match which I reported upon in “Shuffling the Pack”. He took his goal well, latching on to a defence splitting pass from you-know-who . Whilst substitute Chris Dolby scored with his first sight and Vill’s flight of the ball.

Amongst other Sheffield FC players, Gavin Smith and Darren Holmes as usual impressed. But the memory does fade as the scene of the melee takes over.

As two of Sheffield’s central defenders were sent off, the pack will once more need reshuffling for the coming games. Except there could be an appeal about the red cards. The Club believe that it was all a matter of mistaken identity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who is more civilised?

As a former student at Ruskin College (but not at the times of either John Prescott or Dennis Skinner), I recently went to an ex-students’ get-together at the Rookery at Headington, near Oxford. Much to my shame it was the first time I had been to one of these Ruskin Fellowship events for about 40 years. I had even fallen out of membership.

It wasn’t that I had had a fit of conscience. They invited me to speak. But I have re-registered and paid up. It was good to be back, so this is nostalgia time.

There are two sections to Ruskin College. The one at Headington which has further scope for development, and the site near the heart of Oxford at Walton Street. The latter is hemmed in by surrounding developments, including that of Worcester College.

Way back when I was a Ruskin student from 1960 to 1962, most of us studied for the Oxford University Diploma in Economics and Political Science on a two year full-time course. In our first year we studied at the Rookery and then moved on to Walton Street.

We did not make it to Ruskin due to any formal qualifications we held. It drew students mainly from the wider labour movement who were late developers.

To gain entry, I had to submit two essays. One was entitled “Does it make sense to speak of a ‘Welfare State’ in Britain today?”. (It sounds a more relevant question for 2006). The second essay asked “Do you consider yourself more civilised than your grandparents?” (I will put that one to my 17 month old grandson, Joseph , in a few years time.)

My references came from Manny Shinwell my local M.P., my Trade Union Branch Secretary and a former school teacher who was active in our local Labour Party as he was looking for a Headteacher’s job in a Labour dominated area. I, for instance, was a local School Governor.

I was Secretary of both my local Labour Party and of the Local Fabian Society, so my first visit to the Rookery at Headington was to a Fabian Society Summer School. The speakers included Hugh Dalton, Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland; whilst Bill Rodgers was in charge as the General Secretary of the Fabian Society. It was at the School that I first discovered that “Ruskin was for people like me.”

The Fabian-do was a bit of a right-wing shin-dig (given that Crosland had written the major work of socialist revisionism and Jenkins and Rodgers would eventually break with Labour to help found the Social Democratic Party). My political schizophrenia is revealed by the fact that although I consorted with such company, I came across the advert calling for applications to Ruskin in the pages of the left-wing Tribune.

Once I was accepted by Ruskin, I was eventually placed on a transformation belt from being a Railway Clerk to an Adult Tutor in Politics and Industrial Relations; numbers of whose students went on to Ruskin and its equivalents.

Over 40 ex-students registered for the week-end at the Rookery. Only half a dozen were from a more modern setting than mine, where the scope of provisions at Ruskin have altered to accommodate for changing educational patterns . Some had been students even before my time. A 1951-53 student having made it to University Lectures addressed by GDH Cole (see my “GDH Cole and the root of the matter”).

I intend to comment on Ruskin College and the changing world of adult education in a future blog. But this is still nostalgia time.

I had just started my talk on Iraq when in walked John and Vi Hughes who were Ruskin College Lecturers back in my days as a student. John was my tutor in Economic Organisation. I eventually attended his tutorials with a friend of mine - Ian Pickard. But first of all, I had listened to him lecture. Vi taught on other courses.

After nearly half a century, the roles were now reversed. In the Lecturer Room, John was now listening to my words of wisdom. In fact he had gone on to be the Principal at Ruskin (1979-89) and I took up a parallel job to an earlier appointment he held at the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The current Principal was also present which all added to my sense of having cracked it , as if I was a novice giving an initial lecture in a time warp!

I told John afterwards that he had written a comment on one of my essays saying it lacked an “analytic framework” and I had then wondered how on earth to find one .

As I later studied Philosophy, I can now come up with analytic frameworks at the drop of a hat. It is the empirical detail to back them up that is now problematic ! But not I hope on the topic of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement.

In fact, my notes for my talk were really the headings for my analysis. I am now padding and polishing to make these into a finished article, which I will at least provide blogging access to in the future.

The end of my talk was as pleasing as events at the start, for I sold all my six copies of the TUC book “Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement.” I have now ordered ten more, as I “Have Speech, Will Travel”.

The next two stops are Exeter Labour Students and the Sheffield Fabians. I have also fixed for Sue Rodgers (Chair of the TUC’s Iraq Solidarity Committee) to address a discussion meeting of my local Labour Party at Dronfield. Whilst I am looking to help launch a North Derbyshire Fabian Society around the topic.

Organising and participating in political/adult education meetings is where I came in and this gives some sense to that Kierkegaard quote which is above this item.