Wednesday, 27 August 2014

You are history, you are legend:75th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War


As a young Mancunian socialist and trade unionist I was fascinated by the involvement of women and men from the British labour movement in the Spanish civil war.

Soon before I left Manchester to go to Ruskin College Ruth and Eddie Frow opened the Working Class Movement Library in Salford (in 1987) and this aided the development of my fledgling knowledge both of the background to the war itself, but in particular the contribution played by the International Brigades.

The Library still carries on its vital work of championing the cultural history of the working class, but needs your support: Please also pay a visit to the Marx Memorial library if you too have a fascination with the war in Spain, as this library is a leading international repository:

This is just a brief post to thank the International Brigades Memorial Trust (IBMT) for choosing Ruskin as the host of its 2014 annual general meeting (AGM) on 6th Sept - 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the war. The AGM is part of a weekend series of events designed in part to raise funds for a permanent memorial (to be unveiled during the weekend) to the women and men of Oxfordshire who fought in the Brigades.

If you can join us in Oxford for these events please do come along:

I had hoped to work closely with Ruskin colleagues Keiron Winters and Paul di Felice on delivering a presentation during the AGM on Ruskin's link to the Brigades, but other workload stopped me from making a full effort in tracking historical material down. And so it has been left to Keiron to unearth some fascinating archival material.

For example, here is a recorded interview with Ruskin student Jim Brewer, a miner from South Wales, who fought in the war:

The title for this post is taken from the famous speech of Dolores Ibárruri, leader of the Communist Party of Spain, given to the Brigades as they assembled to leave Spain in November 1938.

Maxine Peake, herself a patron of the IBMT, delivers the speech in full - one of my most enjoyable YouTube clips. I encourage you to listen to this short video, not least to get some sense of the occasion, and how it must have felt to feel the war concluding, and to reflect on the role of the Brigades:

If you can make the weekend of the IBMT AGM that would be great, but if not perhaps you can make a donation to the work of the IBMT and/or the WCML and MML - all of whom play a phenomenally important part in chronicling and championing the historical political, economic and social lives of working class men and women.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 21 August 2014

We Make Our Own History


Just back from a relaxing, exhausting, exhilarating two weeks in Morroco, with my family.

As a north African country Morocco reflects positive global currents of militant worker/social resistance in the national context of an entrenched colonial-era constitutional monarchy.

As is shown by the ITUC's Global Rights Index for 2014 ( the over weaning powers of the current monarchy, despite putative governmental reform, allows national and multinational companies and corporations to act with impunity in their violation of workers' rights.

Even Danone, a company supposedly operating in part under an international framework agreement, and often reported upon positively by the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) feels free to operate in a wholly arbitrary, vindictive manner as evidenced by both the Index for 2014 and also the ITUC's sister survey on violations of trade union rights:

How best can we perceive of and analyse arguably contradictory currents of resistance on the one hand and autocratic state/corporate power on the other?

The latest book from Laurence Cox (an impressive writer on Marxism and social movements and who directs the MA in community activism, equality and social activism: and Alf Gunvald Nilsen (also an influential writer on global social movements)) helps to do this, although I do have a concern regarding some assumptions they make.

We Make our own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight on Neo-Liberalism was released by Pluto Books on 20th August, and follows hot on the heels of their 2013 publication Marxism and Social Movements co-edited with Colin Barker and John Krinsky.

The introduction to the 2013 publication is here ( and is worth a browse as the latest book covers similar themes and pick ups where the prior ends as in essence both books focus on how best to generate a Marxist theory of social movements.

The essential reference point for each book is how best to understand, analyse and translate diverse movements within a coherent framework in order to gauge, for example, whether and how such movements are replicable in diverse contexts.

Both books are, I argue, essential reading for labour and trade union studies students who wish to gain some sense of the historical and contemporary relevance and interrelationship of workplace inspired/based protest/action and wider protest/action/movements for social justice and of oppositional politics.

I am yet to read reviews of the 2014 publication (I don't take much stock of book reviews but read them all the same) but I am generally cautious about the notion of that we are in or approaching a twilight of neo-liberalism.

I cannot fault in anyway the canvas of myriad, collective, global protest and action that Cox and Nilsen paint, however, the forecast of a decline in the factors which coalesce to inform and construct neo-liberal dogma and policy are, if anything, in the ascendancy as a result of austerity-era economic policy.

In this article published soon before the release of the new book there is a convincing argument made for the need to better understand and comprehend an increasingly sustained, integrated body of global protest emanating from the outcome of neo-liberal policy: 

Even the article itself however appears to suggest that the rise in militant action is symptomatic of an increasingly aggressive form of state/corporate power pursued at local, regional and international level. I argue that one is largely reflective of the other, not in any significant sense combating or overcoming the other.

This is not to diminish in anyway the profound importance of such struggle (nor 2013 and 2014 publications - both well worth buying), particularly in the global south, more to caution against an assumption that the fight is nearing an end. I don't see enough evidence of  this.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Education as the Practice of Freedom


Just a brief, final post, before I head off on leave before the start of the new academic year.

I was hugely fortunate yesterday to spend a day in the company of a fantastic group of trade union teachers, activists, learning reps and others with a profound interest in adult, worker and trade union education. The event was called to discuss the future of working class education.

And so I must send a sincere thanks to those behind the event, Trade Union Solidarity magazine and Bridgwater Trades Council (particularly Dave Chapple) for organising one of the most thought provoking and engaging events that I have attended recently around this theme. Thanks also to these sisters and brothers for ensuring that Ruskin College was formally invited to speak.

There was some great debate and I was particularly pleased to hear Paulo Freire drawn upon on several occasions by those attending as having influenced their approach to teaching working class adults.  In particular he was cited as informing an approach which inspired formal and informal learning approaches predicated on Freire's notion of education as liberation and the practice of freedom.

I am keen to illustrate the event, rather than provide a narrative, as the images reveal the energy, engagement and insight of the event.

The pictures below are: Bridgwater Trades Council banner, my comrade and brother Mark Everden evidences an ability for manual labour having erected the Somerset Community Defence Campaign banner, examples of the archive of Plebs league material held by Dave Chapple, Dave kicks off the event with a few choice words about the Labour Party (and the left generally) but ultimately underlines the underlying concern around the educational needs of working class children and adults, Carole Valelly (GMB regional organiser) and Andy Newman (GMB Swindon GMB) awarded a vintage labour movement picture for recent successful campaigns), the event is kicked off by trades council chair Vicki Nash with the first panel including Trish Lavelle (CWU) and Marie Hughes (REO South West TUC), the second panel included Nigel Costley (SW TUC Reg. Sec.) who spoke passionately about his own trade union background and importance of language in working class education, I was honoured to join the final round speakers sandwiched between two proper trade unionists Carole Valelly and Becca Kirkpatrick - who now works for Citizens UK followng a long stint as a hugely effective UNISON activist in the West Mids. I was pleased to get the chance to talk about the continuing mission and ethos at Ruskin which centers proudly on the provision of education for working class adults. Final picture is captioned - lost at birth, twins Mark Everden and Peter Martin - found one another again at Bridgwater.

In Solidarity