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 Secondly, should our troops now be withdrawn ?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.