cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5) x 2

Editorial					Rick Gwilt 
Letter					Ted Morrison 
Scotland Road Writers Group			
Whatever Happened to the Good Samaritan?	Jimmy McGovern 
The Top Shelf				Chris Darwin
I Fought Norman Snow			Ed Barrett
Poet... Failed				Norman Clinton 
Resettlement				Anonymous
Quneitra					Giorgio Taverniti 
Pie in the Sky				Bill Eburn
Two Minutes				Derek Lee
Jubilee					Mike Rowe 
Rent Strike				John Koziol 
On the Knocker				Ken Clay
The Workers Road to Hell....			Bert Ward
A Womans Work				Jean Sutton
Trico					Tom Durkin 
Where do you go to my Doris?			Les Barker 
The Nons					Bert Smith 
Geordies					Alan Brown 
Dixie Dean - Footballer to the Queen		Keith Armstrong 
Canadian Working.Class Poetry		Brian Davis
The Last Word				Bill Eburn



For starters, I would like to wish Ben Ainley (falsely rumoured to be my grandad) a speedy recovery from illness, and hope that by the time he reads this he is busy writing the editorial for VOICES 16. In order to provoke him, I am going to stick my neck out and say that I consider this edition to be the most definitive for a long time. Whether it is the right definition of working-class writing, I am waiting to hear from our readers, but at any rate it is an attempt to answer that old thorny question:

"What is working-class writing ?" Is the answer here a step forwards or backwards? Does this seem a better or a worse balance? The material for this VOICES has probably been discussed among a record number of people, mainly in London and Manchester, but the final selection must be blamed on me.

One useful task that VOICES can certainly help with is discovering a positive British working-class cultural identity, which is neither obscured by the mass media's "cult of the common man", nor based on being not-foreign or not-black or not-female. Many of our contributions already reflect this preoccupation, but we would welcome more contributions from women and black workers.

We appeal to all artists and photographers in the labour movement: it is up to you to give VOICES an Arts section that can stand independently and not simply illustrate stories and poems. Anything that will photograph clearly in black-and-white-send it to Sol Garson.

VOICES returns to its old serial numbering and retains the page with the aims of Unity of Arts, because it is proud of both its age and its origins. But it is not afraid to change, especially if it is not living up to the target it has set itself-to be a publication of the labour movement for the labour movement.

Finally-anyone who sends a s.a.e. I will guarantee to reply to. It would help if contributors included with their work a short autobiography and indicated whether they wanted a critical response to their work. We will do our best to see that such criticism is based on the widest discussion we can manage.

Rick Gwilt-September 1977



There is a need to discuss long-term policy of Voices, and has been for quite some time. But is there need to relate this to the aims of 'Unity of. Arts' ? This ambitious, if worthy project has been virtually defunct for some years and its five aims are going to need some redefinition if they are to provide useful guidelines for Voices. Aim 4 "To provide facilities for any talent in art, literature and music workers may have", may still be relevant. But it is worth remembering that Voices is the only "facility" which endured out of a number provided, which included art and drawing classes and a cinema club. Voices has persisted because it obviously provides a facility that is needed and because small group of people are sufficiently interested in its survival to devote a lot of their time to its publication.

Ben is right when he says that most of the contributors are too geographically dispersed to take part in a Manchester workshop. When he says, however, that they are too "mature to go back to school to learn how it is done", he misses the point of workshops. It is not a matter of "teacher" and "pupil" relationships-workshops are a gathering of progressive-minded people who are keen to discuss aspects of literature, which include literary perspectives, as well as discussion of their own work and practical problems encountered.

Surely what is needed is the spread of such workshops all over Britain, with publications such as Voices serving as "nationals". Voices could provide unity and linkage in many ways. These could be discussed both by Voices editorial and in the pages of Voices. One possibility is that Voices might provide a service which published brief reports from these workshops alongside representative selections of their work. Manchester workshop could begin by publishing a report of its progress; and perhaps a small section of Voices could be given over to publishing selections from its writers.

Finally, Ben is wrong where he says in his editorial that the only possible criticism that can be levelled at writings is the "subjective" form, which he sums up in the phrase "this does nothing or says nothing to me". This seems a pretty hopeless, even anarchistic thing to say. Not at all in the spirit of the man who has devoted a great deal of his time to bringing hope and giving guidance in literary matters. I seem to remember a lecture given by Ben at New Cross Labour Club which contained the phrase "aping their betters". Ben was, if my memory serves me, referring to those misguided and aspiring working-class writers who (for want of guidance and inspiration from teachers and writers of their own class) tend to emulate writers from the bourgeois literary elite. The purpose of Voices was not merely to provide an "easy" vehicle for working people which would be outside the demands of the market, but also to contribute in the job of building in what amounts to a cultural vacuum. It is about time that some analysis was attempted as to how far Voices has made its mark in this direction.

Ted Morrison



The Scotland Road group in Liverpool has been going steadily since 1973. It was started by an outsider, David Evans, a lecturer at Liverpool University, who acts as convener, but is otherwise made up of working-class people writing for other working-class people in the community. Weekly workshops are held, and an occasional publication (also, by coincidence, called Voices). Further information from David Evans, 1 Wyndcote Road, Liverpool 18.



I watched the priest from the shield of smiled-at childhood.

He arrived at the door and six feet of shining black and white nodded at the door and with his legs slightly apart and hand clasped around a black leather book just in front of his balls, he addressed and squared up to the door. He leaned forward from the waist, legs still straight, and his right arm came up as he leaned and his toilet soaped knuckles rapped coldly on the door and the knock was a knock of decision, expecting no hesitancy, confident of reply, demanding attention. His right arm went down to clasp the book to his flies again as his body straightened and in the seconds before the door opened his neck, just his neck, twisted as he looked up and down the street benevolently.

Sheepishly Mr Roach opened the door but left his toe behind it so that it opened only slightly and then he said, 'Sorry', to the priest and fumbled about as though he was trying to see what was blocking the door and all the time his grey railwayman's face was pleading at the priest, jabbering to the priest, and hating the priest. The priest beamed silently back, waiting for the man to talk himself nervously silly in the presence of a superior being; patiently waiting for the man to move his silly toe and let him in.

Mr Roach leaned his left shoulder against the lobby wall and the door edged back a little but his railwayman's waistcoated chest barred the way and, more solid now, he felt his head cooling and so did the big black priest but he beamed silently on. Suddenly, desperately, the railwayman stopped and listened to himself, this gibbering, fawning idiot, senseless at his own front door; and he looked at the priest, the quiet presidential figure, this patronising parasite, and loathed him and anger welled within him-the stark, tearing anger behind which he could hide.

The priest saw it coming as it had come on rare occasions in the past, and, looking over the man's shoulder, trying to catch a pale wife's eye, he carefully edged his right leg in between the wall and the door. Mr Roach began to ride on zooming rays of rage and, enjoying it now, he looked down mock shocked at the charcoal leg. 'I beg your pardon, Father, but this is my house.' And with outraged dignity he shoved the priest's leg back off the step. The priest's elbow came up next and, this pushed away, a piece of shoulder or wavering thigh and gradually the railwayman was hot again, pushing and shoving at the door as if trying to close the lid of a small box on some monstrous, black, billowing balloon.

The neighbours were beginning to crawl out now and let their kids go up the street so they could go and get them and get, too, a closer look at the action; in situations like this the advantage is nearly always with the priest-he is used to such goings-on and, being a superior person, he has no sense of shame. Invariably as well the wife comes out and drags the man in and makes the priest a cup of tea and tells him all about the white wine and what it's doing to her feller. On this occasion though Father Delaney came unstuck: Mrs. Roach, upon receipt of three brown envelopes from the kids' school, had just soaked her hair in Lorexane-she wouldn't have come out for Our Lord's sake; and, it being a November evening, Father Delaney had fortified himself with a half-bottle of gin.

The gin didn't help the priest's ballooning balance and after a particularly hefty push, when he was flapping his arms like a tightrope walker, he thrust into the doorway the only part of his body he could use-a shiny black arse-and the railwayman, a Geronimo in his great rage, gave one final heave and the priest, arms whirling around, was sent crashing head first into the lamp-post from which he rebounded into the gutter.

The neighbours went clucking around, gathering in their children and they closed their doors silently out of frightened respect. Mr Roach defiantly slammed his door and went back, trembling and fighting with his face, to face his wife. Father Delaney lay bleeding in the gutter, thinking of the parable of the good Samaritan, and wondering why nobody came to his aid: "Oh why, my people, have you forsaken me ?" The thought of the attractions of martyrdom in the streets of Liverpool slowly became apparent to him. His people watched through rubber plants and lace curtains. How could they cross the social chasm and have a superior being dependent on them ? Perhaps that teacher up the road might come past soon; he could help him. As long as he takes him home, like; we don't want him coming here tonight 

Jimmy McGovern


A ship in the distance, what a sight,
Whatever made me climb to this height?
Me mam'll kill me, if I don't kill meself,
I'd better get down off this top shelf,
Now if that shelf had broken what would I have done?
I don't know I suppose I'd have run
And if me main had caught me, it wouldn't be nice,
I'd soon know she wasn't made of sugar and spice,
She'd have boxed me ears and made me black and blue, and shouted,
"You're going to pay for it, and it's going to look like new",
I don't know though it was great up there,
Looking out across the Mersey to New Brighton fair,
I think I'll climb up and have one last decko,
I'll climb on the fridge first, and stand on the echo,
I've got to do that so I won't make a mark,
If me main sees it she'll have one big nark,
I'm nearly there, not far to go,
The first shelf, the top shelf,
Ooh, I've put me hand in some dough,
Never mind I'm here,
And the day's nice and clear,
On top of Tate's I can see iron rails
And right over there I can see the hills of Wales
Ay up, the shelf's going, I'll be damned,
Aaaah, I've hurt me bloody hand,
And me foots stuck in the best pan,
"er hello mam".

Chris Darwin


The early sixties were a good time to be a Scouse in London. All of a sudden, it was very fashionable to be able to say you were from Liverpool, and I even knew one or two Mickey Mousers that were from Leeds. But myself and a few mates of mine were the genuine article and we wouldn't let anyone else into the act, even if they came from Birkenhead. And of course, it was all down to the fact, that four lads from Liverpool had made some hit records. The Beatles they were called. Remember? One of my mates was supposed to be a cousin of John Lennon, another was allegedly the cousin of Paul McCartney and me, with my hooter had to be a relation of Ringo's. Funny enough no one claimed to be related to George Harrison. Funny that.

Anyway, instead of us just being some lads from up North somewhere, we were more easily accepted as being someone. Or nearly, anyway. And as a consequence we met some very interesting people. But one of the most interesting people I met was an ex-professional boxer named Charley Burton. You most probably have never heard of Charley, even if you were a fight fan. But the same guy had three hundred and sixty four fights, professional, from bantamweight to middleweight and never got near a title fight. But of course that was in the hard times, in the 'twenties and 'thirties, when most fellows were just fighting to live.

I'll never forget the day I hurt him though. We were hanging around the betting shop in Fulham that he ran, which had become a habit with us because of the characters that popped in and out, and the conversation, which was mostly about some sort of villainy or other. Or it would be about boxing. And this of course Charley loved. He would go through all kinds of moves, jabs, hooks, blocks, feints, the lot: and generally his opponents always ended on the canvas, and Charley was the hero of Fulham.

But this day I interrupted him. I said:

"All right Charley, you've had all this number of fights, but who have you fought who was any one?"

This got a bit of a laugh from my mates, but Charley just smiled, took his cigar out of his mouth, looked at the tip for a moment or two and said quietly, but with some pride:

"I fought Norman Snow”

This of course, made some of the boys near collapse with laughter. "Who the hell was Norman Snow ?" gasped out Tony, between laughs. Now it just so happened that I had that week's Boxing News in my pocket, and funny enough it had Norman Snow's record in it, which covered a number of years and hundreds of fights. So I could afford to be a bit knowing when I said to Tony:

"Wait a minute. He was a good light and welter before the war. He must have been a good 'un, he even fought Ernie Roderick".

Now Charley started looking pleased again, because he had become more than a little annoyed when the chaps started laughing and Mickey-taking. But I was waiting my opportunity for a right giggle, because I was sure Charley's name was not mentioned in Snow's record, which you will remember I had in my pocket all the time. So I got Charley to talk about Norman Snow and he went off like a good 'un. Snow would do this and Snow would do that, but Charley blocked this and blocked that and sneaked a few of his own punches in. He talked a great fight did Charley.

So after he'd got his audience back and he was happy with the centre of the stage, I, like a louse, pulled out my copy of the Boxing News. "Well here's a coincidence" I said "Norman Snow's record is in here". I was watching Charley at the time, thinking I would catch a guilty look about him. But no, he was carrying it through. "Come on I'll sort the fight out" he said. Well he looked and we looked, but sure enough I was right.

Charley wasn't mentioned. I started to laugh, seeing the look of confusion on Charley's face and that was the signal for everyone in the betting shop to start laughing and cat-calling old Charley, calling him a right old storyteller, but not exactly those terms. After I'd had my laugh, I happened to catch the look on Charley's face and I suddenly realised, he was Old Charley, and I'd spoiled his stories and made him the butt of cowboys who wouldn't have said boo to him in the old days. So I said "Listen Charley, take no notice of that, there could be a misprint and anyway, most of these old records are incomplete. They're always making mistakes in them. We'll get in touch with Tim Riley the editor. He can put a correction in". I was saying all this to try to make it right for Charley. But I could see it wasn't working. The poor old bastard was near crying, and I felt sick about it all, as well. I felt that all I had to do was keep that paper in my pocket and Charley wouldn't feel like this. So after making a few more sympathetic noises, I made an excuse and left. The boys were still laughing.

I stayed away from the betting shop for a few weeks, knocking around the West End with some of the other scallywags. But eventually, I made my way back to Fulham to see how Charley was getting on. Surprisingly, he gave me a big hello and made quite a fuss of me, which to be honest, made me feel more guilty. So I hung around for a while chatting to him, but the talk didn't get to boxing. Just then, three fellows came in, and you could see straightaway it was trouble. The biggest started to slag Charley something terrible over some bet he claimed he had. In no time words had turned to blows. The big fellow threw a punch that Charley slipped easily, but the other two tried to grab hold of Charley, and so I even though I'm allergic to violence (I come out all cuts and bruises) had to make myself busy. I gave one fellow a crack on the chin and he went down, not surprising really. I picked on the smallest and he didn't see me anyway. Meanwhile, Charley is giving a really good account of himself with the big fellow so the other fellow turns on me. I tried to throw the head in on him, but would you believe, he beat me to it, and butted me. I don't know what was hurt more, my nose or my pride, but it was my nose that was bleeding. Fancy a Scouse losing at the nanny goat. And to a Cockney as well.

When I came to, Charley had knocked out the big fellow and even had the fellow who done me on the floor. I heard Charley say to him "You'd better be able to use that" then the geezer jumps up and punches Charley in the stomach. I thought he had punched him. Then the geezer runs out, and I'm after him. I chased him down Charleville Road and along North End Road but I lost him going towards Fulham Broadway, which the way it turned out was lucky for me.

When I got back to the shop, the other two hard cases had disappeared, but Charley was still on the floor. And old Charley really looked old. I knelt down by him and I saw all the blood from his stomach, and I realised it wasn't a punch that had put him down. It was a knife. He opened his eyes just then and said:

"I really did fight Norman Snow you know".

"I know" I lied. "I wrote to Tim Riley".

"Good kid" he said. Then he died.

A few weeks later, I was in a pub next door to the Old Vic's stage door, and an actor friend of mine who I was having a pint with introduced me to a chap. He said he was a producer. He had one of those superior attitudes and he needled me straightaway.

"Oh, you're from Liverpool are you ?" he said, speaking so far back his voice was coming from behind him. "I suppose you're a great friend of John, Paul and Ringo ?" I felt like giving him a belt. Even he didn't mention George.

"No" I said. "I never knew them. But I knew a fellow who fought Norman Snow".

Ed Barrett


I remember how I tried to be a poet, 
and tour all the folk clubs with me verse, 
but every time I tried to get a gimmick, 
somehow all me poetry got worse. 
I remember very well just how it started, 
I copied another poet, such a sin, 
'Cause no sooner had I eaten me banana, 
than the landlady she trips up on the skin. 
So then I thought that I would buy a doggy, 
and call it Mr Entwistle by name, 
But when I got him home the budgie ate him, 
and another good idea went down the drain.
A bloke I know then sold me this stuffed parrot, 
there's a cleaning bill resultant of his wit, 
£4.69 for bar-room curtains, 
'cause it flew up there and covered them in Parrot seed, 
The next time I went into a folk club, 
I found reciting in bare feet just caused no shocks, 
The only rumbles caused that night were by me, 
Some bastard pissed off with me shoes and socks. 
So I thought it time I found a new vocation, 
the singers in this club wouldn't have a hope, 
so this afternoon I bought a brand new Gibson, 
and then fell down at the bus stop and it broke!

N Clinton


It couldn't be worse than here 
or so we thought, 
the hunger, the hostile glances, 
the endless waiting 
for nothing.
so we saved up for our train fare 
our train tickets
to Auschwitz.

They crowded us all into cattle-trucks,             
no room to move, no water, 
the infants wailing, 
the old slowly fading away, 
unable to breathe in that hell on wheels.

Father was lucky 
he died on the journey 
it made me numb with loneliness 
but later
I knew it was all for the best. 

When we were unloaded
I could hardly walk 
the air 
tasted so fresh, so bitter-sweet.

We were surrounded 
by men in striped uniforms
like sleepwalkers in grotesque pyjamas; 
I heard two of them joking in Polish 
and childlike
smiled in happiness 
I asked them
Sirs...where am I? 
where have I come to?
They laughed at my naivete
and answered
- The centre of Hell.
There was nightmare in their unshaven smiles
you will leave by the chimney 
my child
smell the ashes in the air 
the sweet smell of burning 
in the morning air
The German officer jokingly shouted
- sheep to the left 
goats to the right
He ruffled a child's hair
as he pushed her
to the right
- those on the right will be dealt with first 
shower and delousing...
those on the left will have to wait 
He sounded like a gentleman
everybody trusted him. 

He wasn't kidding 
the next time we saw them 
those of the right, 
mainly women, old men and children, 
I lost my faith in Daniel.

They were a pyramid of warm corpses, 
fingers in eyes, 
elbows in mouths 
all struggling to reach the vent, 
fighting each other to reach the airhole 
through which, ironically enough, 
the poison pellets dropped 
our job?
to disentangle them. 
We waited all right, 
we waited for the allies, 
there was no other hope 
Had we not cried to God, 
Lord of Righteousness
see what thy enemies do to thy people. 
Had we not been mocked by an empty sky?
And now ? Thirty years after ... I am still waiting... 
for what?


The first light of dawn doesn't dry the dew from the roses.
The butterfly rests no more on the flowering apple tree.
The wind smells no longer of jasmine
Where the fountain was, the crowded cafes
Now ruins, barbed wire.
The robin clutches a twisted piece of iron lost without its voice
Where are the vegetable carts from the nearby valley ?
Where are the smiling children scurrying like ants
In the school yard?
Where is the young wife giving birth?
Where the Tiberian women selling country cheese
And thick yoghurt?
The aroma of broiling liver and green onions, the yellow
Of the bananas the red of the apples?
Where is all this ?
Mine is not a song, nor even a lament
Perhaps just a catch in my throat at the sight of Quneitra.
I climbed a precarious minaret hoping to see a roof;
Only tortured metal and suffocated trees.
My comrade; I would like you to see all of this
Any doubts you might have on Zionism and its principles would vanish
There is a pure sound to your name
Like the streams of Golan
A flower's name, the flower of the high plateau.
The name of a woman
I am not one of your many sons, nor your lover
Only the son of a far-away shepherd
A foreigner who loves you.
You are not dead
Your streets will echo with life.


We the undersigned 
being of sound mind 
declare our belief 
in life after death. 

It matters not 
we cannot locate 
the exact spot 
where we shall meet, 

For there can be no 
living or loving, 
taking or giving 
but thinking makes
it so.

Bill Eburn

(A Poem for Jubilee Year)

Firstly the grave announcements, 
and then
Suitably Solemn Musick on the airwaves. 

The newsreels showed
a young heiress's dash by aeroplane
from one of those warmer, more congenial spots,

favoured by English royals, 
when duty calls, 
around the onset of each native winter.

Then the publicity got under way- 
the morbid, lush magnificence of the funeral; 
that catafalque (funny word, one recollects) 
with queues of curious, acquiescent mourners. 
One must admit to being 'strangely stirred'- 
and who could not- given the machinations of a code 
with thirteen hundred years' experience dispensing intellect-defying dope?

But what sticks in the memory the most, 
is the statutory nationwide two minutes. 
Myself at the time was gainfully employed, 
boosting the national matzo-bread production. 
My hands were stiff and sore with slinging trays, 
my eyes like chapel hat pegs
through gawping at the silly squares of dough, 
trundling by the thousand through the oven.

Almost eleven-the manager raised his hand; 
the foreman threw a switch;
the belts stopped turning- 
and fifty loyal matzo-making commoners 
(trying not to look self-conscious), 
came rigidly and solemnly to attention- 
including yours truly- 
snatching a surreptitious lick at blistered fingers, 
and feeling rather glad the king was dead- 
if only for two minutes.

Derek Lee


I'd of forgot all about it if it wasn't for Phil and Charlie. They operate the borers on either side of mine.It was during the tea break on Monday when it came to light. Phil says to me. Here Lobby" they call me Lobby because of my limp. He says: "Here Lobby, it's your Silver Jubilee next week, ain't it ?" I said: "You what ?" and Charlie says: "Next week you'll have been with the firm for 25 years". And then I thought: "Bloody hell, he's right. 25 years with the old firm. I suppose that's something to be proud of. It's gone so bloody quick I've hardly noticed. 25 years, bloody hell!"I remember the day I first got the job. I'd had my name down for ages with the personnel office. The lads down at the pub used to pull my leg about it summat awful, when I used to brag that one day I'd be working at Dunkers.

"You'll never get in there." Old Ted used to say. And Albert Foster used to laugh and say that I'd be waiting ages for 'dead man's shoes'. But I got the last laugh on them, when old George Tarbury got sucked into the machine and mangled to death. I got the letter on the Friday, as he got sucked in on the Tuesday. "Can you start on Monday ?" it said. I was on the dole at the time, so I thought "Not half !" And I was down at the personnel office 7.30 sharp on the Monday morning.

It was damn good money here in those days. It's good money now, I think, but it doesn't seem to go as far somehow. It was worth getting a job, and keeping it, in those days. Not like now. You got bugger all on the dole them days. Bloody hell, look at it now ! Them lazy dossers down at the Dog and Crutch get almost as much as I get for working forty hours. And all they do is sit in the vault swilling beer all dinnertime, and then shuffle down to the bookies when the pub shuts. Everything's different now though. The whole bloody country seems to be going to the dogs. What with the trade unions dictating everything, and the Pakistanis flooding the country, and the Chinese buying up all the chip shops. Old Winston would of stopped their gallup if he'd have still been around. Aye, Old Winnie was the best Prime Minister this country ever had. Not like the bugger that came after him, that cross-eyed MacMillan geezer. Old Winnie wouldn't have gone round giving all them darkies independence., like old cross-eyed MacMillan did. Bloody hell, not half he wouldn't ! The buggar gave them independence, and the next thing you knew they were swarming over here snapping up all the plum jobs. Old Winnie would of kept them right out. He'd of restricted their numbers. He understood the ordinary bloke did old Winnie. That was because he was an ordinary bloke himself.

We've had a few darkies in here at Dunkers over the years. I've seem 'em come, and I've seem 'em go. They never stuck it long. The old boring machine is too complex for the average darkie to handle. They can't get used to it. None of them would admit it though. They were proud sods, some of 'em. They'd never admit that they weren't as clever as 'old whitey'. They'd all come up with some lame old excuse for leaving, like "The money's no good" or "The conditions are not up to scratch". Well  I’ve been here 25 years, and Phil and Charlie have been here even longer and we see nothing wrong with the money and conditions. Well, not much anyway.

Aye, I've seen some changes in my twenty five years. I suppose everything changes over the years though. Funny thing, my machine's never changed in all that time and it's still as reliable as ever. Well, nearly. I've seen a bit of bother in my time too. Like that time when they tried to get the union into the place. Bloody long haired sod it was who tried to get 'em in. A right little shitstirrer he was. Always trying to wind the men up. Always causing discon-bloody-tent. Old Greenie the General Foreman soon had him out on his arse though. The bloody union was taking on summat when they took on old Greenie. He was in that Korean dust up. He fixed the bloody commies over there. And he'd fix 'em over here too, if he got half the chance. They could do with a few like old Greenie up in bloody parliament. Tough as rocking-horse shit he is, and twice as combustible. The union put a bloody picket line outside the gates for a few weeks, after they fired the long-haired 'un and a couple of his shit-stirring mates. But we took no bloody notice of 'em. We let em shout and rant, and stew in their own juice for a few weeks. They soon got fed up of it, and buggared off somewhere else to stir up their shit. That's the way to deal with unions, just ignore the bleeders. They soon sling their hook when they know they're up against someone whose forgot more than they'll ever know about bloody work.

Phil and Charlie are trying to arrange a bit of a do for me in the canteen next Friday. That's if the management will allow it. They've both been at Dunkers longer than me. Charlie's been here since the place opened up in the 'thirties. He started in the loading bay, and then he got a chance of a job on the borer and he snapped it up. It was only a couple of coppers more a week, but it's a trade, isn't it ? Phil's been here since the start of the war. When he heard that war was about to break out he rushed down here and told 'em that he was a skilled vertical borer. It was a reserved occupation at the time. Took a chance he did, but he picked the job up soon enough, without anyone knowing the difference. You can soon pick it up though, if you've anything about you. You can't go so far wrong on a Stevenson & Whipple's vertical. I often wonder how old George managed to get himself sucked into the buggar. Charlie said that one minute he was standing there large as life, next minute he hears a scream and there he is as dead as a doornail. Still I suppose all these things are sent to try us. One man's misfortune is another man's gain.

You don't get operators like Phil and Charlie anymore. I reckon they cracked the bloody mould when they poured them two out. All we seem to get nowadays are young kids. Bits of kids, straight from school. You try to get 'em a good training, but they never seem to stay long enough. When they get to 17, old Greenie sees 'em off. Charlie reckons it's something to do with the management wanting to give the new school leavers a chance.

A lot of people say that I'll be the last fellah to get 25 years in here. They say the place'll be shut down in a year or two. But they've been saying that for years. The Foremen keep telling us that the firm's losing money. But they've been saying that for years too. Charlie says that the firm's been losing money ever since he started here. I reckon they only keep saying it so that they can keep our wage rises down to a minimum.

I'll tell you what's a bloody funny co-incidence though. Me celebrating my 25 years in the same week as her Majesty celebrates hers. Still, when I look back at it, she got crowned the same week as I started here. So that explains it I suppose. Aye, I copped for a day's paid holiday the same week as I started. It fell lucky for me, didn't it ? And now, 25 years later, I'm copping for another day's paid holiday. It makes you feel good inside to be living in a civilised country, doesn't it?

Mike Rowe

(to my mother)

Last ones to pay!
The rent-collector hasn't even the grace to snigger.
Now, thanks to a stand, struggle-by-struggle lies undone.
Paying at the end was less of a sacrifice than not paying 
at the beginning.
Like someone fleeing a fire, you carried a prized
But threw it away to help the others get out:
Last ones to pay ! That's no blemish, 
It's a bloody banner.

John Koziol


     It might have been acceptable for those piss‑artists in the Rails Branch to congregate in the Royal Oak disguised as a Union Meeting, but the Town's Branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain insisted on strict legality.  Stanier wrote formally to the landlord on CPGB red letterheaded note­paper and wasn't all that surprised, three weeks later, to get a reply re­gretting that the room couldn't be made available to 'extreme political groups of an anti‑democratic persuasion'.  It smelled of head office public relations.  Anti‑democratic! Hadn't these people read The British Road?

     The decision was regretted also by 'Hollowlegs' Ernie Barlow and his fellow foundryman Harry Horsefield.  They both suffered from an interest­ing medical condition; neither could get to sleep at night unless he had at least five pints.  Just fancy jugging it during the meeting like those lucky bastards in the Rails Branch instead of having to prod the business to a sudden close at nine o'clock so they could get over the road into the Cock and Trumpet.  But even that problem was mitigated by the fact that Barlow was the Chairman.  He suspected Jud had sabotaged the whole thing just to slow them down.  Anyway the Royal Oak was Tetley's and the required dose of that gnat's piss was nearer seven or eight pints.

     So the Town's Branch met in the Coop at three pounds a month and its conscience was clear.  It was a strange little room, cream and green like a hospital or a nick, no windows, one wall lined with mirrors, an upright piano in the corner and an Ascot gas water heater which gurgled and dripped into a massive sink.  Over a row of coathangers at the far end was a notice which read: PERSONS FOUND DAMAGING THIS DRESSING ROOM WILL BE BANNED FROM THE PREMISES.  The Party literature was on a small table near the door with a McTavish Shortbread Biscuit tin opened ready for the cash.

     It was a well attended meeting.  Eight people sat on two rows of plywood and steel tube stacking chairs facing the warning notice.  Jud Stanier, as Secretary, sat alongside Barlow behind a formica topped table facing the rank and file, the piano and the Ascot heater.  A thin young lad with long hair and a single earring sat down after making a lucid report.

 'Well, you've heard what Comrade Stelfox has had to say about the sit-­in at Greenings Wire Works.  Any questions?' No harm in getting a dis­cussion going thought Ernie.  Only one more item on the agenda and it's still only half eight.

 'What's the chance of it being made official ?' Ted Winter, schoolteacher retired, stooping, cord jacket, NHS hornrims; the u shape of his pipe mated with the n shape of his nose.

 'Support's one hundred per cent' replied Arthur.  'Picket lines aren't being crossed, lorries aren't coming and going; the area rep's coming down to see us tomorrow.'

 'Who is the rep these days?'


 'That twat!' A significant look passed from Ernie to Jud.  'He used to work at your place didn't he ?'

 'Best warn the lads when you get back Arthur' said Stanier.  'Matthews is as right‑wing as they come.  He used to spout a lot when he was on the shop floor but as soon as he got that full‑time Union job he turned right round.  He'll try and bamboozle you into going back, pending discussions with the management.' A ripple of grim laughter went round the room as Jud invested the cliche with his heaviest irony. 'Stick out for something concrete.'

 'Well Comrade Secretary I move we send a message of solidarity and support to the lads occupying Greenings and a donation of...' Ernie glanced at Ted, the Treasurer, 'Could we go to a fiver Ted?'

 'Better make it three.'

 'Three pounds.'

 'Seconded.' said Stanier.

 'All in favour ?' Every hand rose.  'You can write the letter Jud, on Party notepaper.  They're bound to have a noticeboard they can pin it up on.  And if it hasn't been made official yet they won't be getting strike pay.  Now then, item six: Morning Star sales.'

     An uneasy silence descended.  Some looked into the mirrors in an attempt to detach themselves.  Fleet, who'd only been a Party member for two months concentrated hard on his toecaps and noticed a split stitch and a faint smear of dogshit on the welt.  The Ascot gurgled.  Ted smiled inwardly and folded his arms.  It certainly wasn't like this in the forties when he was working in the Hackney Branch.  They didn't ask you to sell lit in those days.  They just dumped a pile in your arms and came back the next day for the money.  How many cubic feet had he shovelled onto the fire and paid for out of his own pocket? No doubt about it, things were getting better all the time.  Ernie gestured Stanier into the firing line.

 'As you know Comrades next year I'll be standing for election to the Town Council.  We've discussed this matter at Branch Committee and decided that it would be a good idea to combine preparations for the elec­tion with a Star Sales campaign to cover the whole of the Fairfield Ward.  George has run off copies of the street map on the Party Xerox machine which we keep in Carlisle's offices (laughter) and we've divided the whole area up into sections.  Here's how I see it working.' Jud was on his feet now.  The Branch gave him their respectful attention.  His energy was already starting to get to them like a life‑giving drip feed.

 'First we go round with this leaflet,' He held it up, 'which explains what the Star is, how it's different from the millionaire‑owned capitalist press and how, because of its financial independence it's able to fight consistently for progressive policies.' The wail of a band warming up filtered through the wall.  Sometimes the large hall next door was hired out for choir prac­tices.

 'Having got people interested we go round again the following night with the Star itself.  Not only do we sell the Star but we also make contact with every voter in that ward, note who's sympathetic and argue for the policies of the Party.  To any of you, especially you younger ones, like Arthur and Frank, who's never been on the knocker before, let me tell you it's a great experience.  And don't imagine it's a waste of time! Remember we're not going to get into power in this country by storming the Houses of Parliament or shooting coppers in the street.  And trade union activity alone isn't enough either, 26 proved that.  No Comrades!' The bright brassy beat of Onward Christian Soldiers bored through the wall.  Stanier grinned: 'And the bloody Sally Army won't be much use either! (laughter) It's not soup kitchens this country needs, it's socialism! '

     Ted was really enjoying himself.  The spectacle of Stanier in full flow was an education.  He had stuck with the Party through it all: the Fascist Pact, Tito, Twentieth Congress, Hungary, Czecho.  Total trust; total dedication.  Ted, on the other hand, had dropped out in 56 and come back in 60.  That was in London but Stanier knew because he'd been on the North West District Committee which had considered his reapplication in Manchester.  Could Jud ever forget that betrayal?

 'Class‑consciousness ! That's what it's all about.  We're going to get there by changing the way people think.  And it's not brain washing, or putting one over on them, that's the beauty of it ! It's simply a matter of telling them the truth, opening their eyes, showing up the real nature of bourgeois society, how it depends on exploitation and how it generates unemploy­ment and poverty.'

     Ernie was beginning to get impatient.  This bloody demagoging was all right on the streets or in the pub but here, among the steel‑hardened cadres of the Town branch it was verging on an insult to the membership's intelligence.  Besides, time was passing.  Still the young lads seemed to be lapping it up.

 'It's the hardest task in the world! Remember what Lenin said to the woman who asked him how she could help the revolution.  When he found out she came from England he told her to go back and work there, right in the heart of capitalism.  There was no more important job to be done.  Soon we'll be moving into a period of intensifying class struggle with problems we've not seen since the thirties.  People are going to be looking for answers.  They won't find the answers on the telly Comrades And they won't find them in the Daily Mirror! They'll find those answers in the only independent newspaper of the working‑class, the only newspaper which isn't spewing out capitalist propaganda, the Morning Star! ... Providing of course they know the Morning Star exists.'

     Ernie took off his watch and pushed it along the table in front of Jud.  The branch was no longer staring at its shoes or glancing into the mirrors; it was gripped by Stanier's impassioned rhetoric and the big eyes bulging out of a face like a piece of mauve coloured shrapnel.  He glanced down at the watch.

 'So let's show 'em that the Star exists, and that the Communist Party exists.  You've not joined to talk about revolution in Coop Meeting Rooms; We could do that till we're blue in the face and the ruling class wouldn't give a toss.  No! We're all members of this Party because we want to FIGHT for the working‑class.  And that's where we've got to do it, out there, on the streets, ON THE KNOCKER ! So let's get stuck in and DO IT!' He sat down.  It was as if a power station turbine had been shut off; a stunning, buzzing silence.

Barlow strapped his watch back on.

 'Any volunteers for next Wednesday and Thursday ?' Ted gestured.

 'Count me in' said Horsefield.

 'I'll be there if I'm not on picket duty' said Arthur.  George Bender stuck his hand up; even old Bill Vine.

 'Now then Billy' said Stanier, 'You're in no condition to go tramping round the streets with your ticker the state it's in.'

 'Just thought if you were short‑handed.'

 'You do enough for the Star already.  Bloody hell! You're collecting a fiver a week already aren't you?'

 'It's not so bad on the bike in the daytime.  Anyroad, what about you Jud? 'Y'old bugger ! You won't be running any races with what you've had.' Stanier had been badly gassed at work years ago; his lungs were still affected.

 'Reckon they might need me and Ted in case they run into any of these young Trots.' Ernie referred to a diary.

  'I won't be able to make it Thursday.  Got a Union meeting.'

  'I'm on two ten that week' said Brian Burns.

     Joe Cornelia spoke.  He flattered speakers who moved him by repeating their ideas from the floor.  His gift for redundant amplification resulted in summaries longer than the original speech.  This bored the majority, amused Ted and struck terror into the heart of Barlow.

 'I'd like to fully endorse the ... er ... sentiments so forcefully and correctly expressed by Comrade Secretary Stanier.  It is ... vitally import­ant that we increase the sales of the Morning Star, the only paper which continually pursues ... er ... progressive policies ... on behalf of the work­ing‑class.  As brother Jud ... er ... Comrade Jud has rightly pointed out, what this country needs is soup kitchens not socialism ... er ... socialism not soup kitchens I mean to say, socialism not soup kitchens Comrades and it is therefore our duty ... er ... as members of the Communist Party, to try and raise ... er'

'Think you'll be able to make it Joe?' Ernie ducked in under a gap in what promised to be a massive structure.  'Next Thursday?' he added quickly in case some of the branch imagined he meant the end of the speech.

 'Well ... er ... I was just coming to that point Comrade Chairman ... you see, unfortunately, I'll be ... er ... indisposed ... yes, indisposed on that particular evening ... er... and on the one previous to it ... and even on the subsequent evening too... on account of... er ... on account of...... interior decorating.' Ted skilfully managed to turn a laugh into a cough.  Ernie didn't try to restrain a grin:

 'You'll just have to settle for raising the class‑consciousness of the missus then Joe.  Still you've done your share in the past.  Now then, any more?'

Fleet's dread of standing on a doorstep asking strangers to part with eight p was in conflict with the moral sense aroused by Stanier's speech.  Finally he put up his hand.

 'Good on yer Frank !' Stanier beamed.  Two months in the Party was a tricky time.  Push them too hard and they back off in fright; leave them alone and they fade away out of boredom.  Got to stir their conscience, that's what made them join in the first place.

 'Well! That should be a real good turn out.  Six! We'll meet on the Rope and Anchor car park at half past seven on Wednesday; leaflet three hun­dred houses, that'll take no time at all with six of us out, then go back again on Thursday with thirty six Stars.  I'll organise them.  All right?'  He glanced at Ernie who looked at his watch.

 'Any other business?' A throat cleared menacingly.  'Right! Meeting closed!'

 'Collection for the room!' shouted Stanier over the noise of scraping chairs.  They jostled out in a wave.  Ted recalled those special meetings in Hackney when they left at minute intervals in ones in case the police were watching: things were getting better all the time.

     On the car park they sorted out the maps in the back of Ted's Volkswagon Caravanette.  Horsefield and Bender were going to do Austral and Hilltop, Stanier and Arthur took Corporation Crescent and Bibby Avenue while Ted and Fleet got Poplars and Grasmere.  Stanier gave his last instructions:

 'You and Frank better stick together Ted, while it's his first time.  The rest of us will do opposite sides as usual.  And don't bother with those pensioners maisonettes at the end of Poplars.  They won't answer the door after dark and even if they do they won't feel like parting with eight p on their screw.  Meet back in the Rope when you've finished.'

 'Last one in buys a round' said Horsefield.  He and Bender were an unlikely pair.  Harry was built like a barrel.  Ten years of humping ninety pound moulding boxes and ladles of molten iron had given him a massive upper torso which merged into a well‑developed beer gut, a product of ten years humping pint glasses.  At twenty six he'd been in the Party since he came out of his time.  Barlow was his god; he'd taught him the trade and politics at the same time.  The only trouble with Harry on the knocker was his short‑fuse temper. Bender was nearer forty, a draughtsman at Carlisle's and a specimen of an almost extinct breed; the Party dandy.  Visiting speakers from District were shocked seeing Bender for the first time in a room full of open necks, anoraks and donkey jackets.  There he'd sit, immaculate; tie, clean shirt, creased pants, perhaps even a white handkerchief sticking out of his top pocket.  This improper dress had got him the reputation of being something of a shallow waster; that and his weird wit.  Apart from the most exclusive bond of all, a Party card, that's what he had in common with Horsefield; they were both jokers.  Stanier had reservations about the pair of them; they seemed to enjoy themselves a bit too much.  As they started off down either side of the street, Harry shouted: 'Proletarians of the world unite!' to which Bender shouted back: 'All Power to the Soviets!'

     Stanier and Arthur got together before the assault on Bibby.   

  'Do the odd numbers Arthur.  You'll probably get to the end before I do at the rate I walk these days so start back on the evens till you get to me.  Don't forget to make a note of the numbers where you sell a Star and if you get talk­ing try and steer the conversation round to the Tenants' Action Commit­tee and mention that it's fighting the recent rent rise.  Tell them I'm Chairman and if they're interested in joining we have meetings in the Community Centre every Wednesday on the first week in the month.  Got that? Let's get going.'

     It wasn't long before they were dealing with that old, well‑roasted chest­nut: Moscow Gold. Horsefield had sized up his interrogator as a miserable little Tory any­way.  A painted cartwheel up against the wall and a brass coachlamp near the door suggested he'd bought his house off the Corporation years ago.  Up the drive was a trailer with a boat on it.  Stanier would probably have tried to reason with him but as far as Harry was concerned it was a big waste of time.  He thrust his face close to the man on the doorstep, looked up and down the street conspiratorially and raised his voice to compete with Coronation Street belting out of a 22 inch colour telly:

 'Course we get subsidies from Russia' he said, 'See this donkey jacket?' he tugged the lapel, 'Made in Leningrad.  Specially flown over for us lads selling papers in the streets.  Never mind the paper though.  I can see you're a man who knows how to live' he nodded at the coachlamp 'Hows about a nice tin of imported black market caviare?' Backing off from Horsefield's threatening bulk he slammed the door.

     With Stanier it was just like turning on a tape recorder.  He was a real politician; serious but calm:

 'Well I really don't know where you get your information from my friend, or what kind of newspapers you read, but that kind of lie is typical of the anti‑working‑class propaganda put out by the mass media in this country.  The Party has never got a penny from the Soviet Union, nor would it accept it if it was offered.  This newspaper here,' he pointed to the rele­vant section of the front page, 'survives on the contributions of its readers.' He paused to let this extraordinary fact sink in.  'The readers of this newspaper contribute seven thousand pounds a month just to keep it going.  That's how important they think it is.  And why do they do that?  I'll tell you why......'

Ted fielded the question in much the same way but Fleet was puzzled.

 'Where do they get these bloody ideas from Ted? You only have to be in the Party a couple of weeks to realise the whole thing's run on a shoe­string.  Christ! Only in the last bulletin it mentioned that District were having their phone cut off again because they couldn't pay the bill.'

 'Well Frank, there is a historical basis' Ted wouldn't have gone into this with those ignoramuses on the doorstep but Fleet's understanding was at a higher level.

 'In the early days the Party was subsidised by the Soviet Union, well, Comintern to be precise.  In 1925 alone it got well over fourteen thous­and pounds.  The press got hold of it because the police raided Party headquarters that year and spilled the beans.  People have got long memories, and even though the details have slipped into obscurity some kind of folk knowledge has persisted.'

 'It could have been a frame up.' Fleet seized on the easy answer like an old pro.  Ted laughed.

 'Now you're talking like Jud.  Course if you wanted to be strictly legal­istic you might say that Comintern was an independent, international organisation financed in theory by its member‑parties.  However,' The well‑oiled academic machine was now cranking inexorably....... it would certainly be completely wrong to deny that the bulk of its funds came from the Russian Party.' While Fleet absorbed the information Ted pushed open the next gate and went on:

 'Nevertheless I see nothing morally reprehensible in all that.  And the present day reality is that the British Party is completely self‑supporting.' He nodded at the knocker, 'You can do this one.'

While Fleet knocked apprehensively Ted booted back a ball which had come rolling down the path.  'Up the reds !' he shouted, 'Who are you then? Kevin Keegan?' A boy in a red sweatshirt appeared:

 'Kevin Arseholes ! We're all United here! What yer sellin' then?'

Bender was, as usual on these occasions, playing a blinder.  His smart turn‑out and classless accent really cut ice on these Corpy estates.  People opened their doors thinking he was some kind of superior clubman.  Then after noticing he wasn't wearing bike clips, imagined he was from the NAB or even the Town Hall.  They felt proud to have him on the door­step and were intrigued by his peculiar newspaper.  He was soon chasing across to Horsefield for a refill.     'Got any left ?' he inquired with ironic innocence, 'Give us a few, I've sold all mine.'

 'You've not flogged them many Bender,' said Harry, 'I've been watching.  You've been sticking 'em down grids.'

 'Give 'em here you bloody clod! Down grids! Come with me next time Harry, see how it's done.  Hey! Should've seen what opened the door at number twenty four!' He cupped his hands in front of him.  'Tits like coconuts!'

 'They peck holes in milk bottle tops too.' said Horsefield dismissively. 

'No kiddin' I'm going back next week with Marxism Today.'

 'I'll have to report this to Comrade Stanier Bender.  You're just using the Party to further your own end.'

 'Aye, somehow I just can't get rid of these vestiges of bourgeois individualism.'

At half past eight Stanier was arguing about the Wall with a man who had done his National Service in Berlin.

 'Surely every state has the right to protect its sovereignty by border  controls?'

 'Border controls?!' This dialectical karate chop has the ex‑serviceman gasping for air.  Stanier steamed on:

 'I'm English but I can't go anywhere I like.  I can't go to America because I'm a Communist.  Is that right? Land of the free eh? But what you've got to remember is the difference in material conditions between West Germany and the German Democratic Republic.  While West Germany was being pumped up with billions of dollars under the Marshall Plan the East was paying massive war reparations to the Soviet Union.  And the West was where all the industry was don't forget.  What do you think would happen if Scotland was stuck on the end of California and the border was wide open?' It was an argument young Frank Fleet had come up with in the pub one night, ingenious bugger that lad.  'Bet the Scots would be building a wall of their own if that was the case don't you think?' The ex‑corporal was blankly bewildered.  Stanier suddenly remembered Sikorski's remark:    'The fact that you've silenced a man doesn't mean you've convinced him.' Not that anyone ever silenced Sikorski.

     The insatiable Horsefield and Bender had relieved Ted and Fleet of half a dozen papers leaving them one with six houses to go.  At the third from the end they were invited in by a young man with freaked‑out hair dressed in what looked like a football shirt with green and black bars and white collar and cuffs. While they sat down on the couch, one of those cheap spiky contraptions with polished wooden arms, his wife made them a cup of tea. She had the fine-drawn vulpine features commonly found in people of Polish descent. Fleet watched her with scarcely concealed admiration; the face seemed familiar somehow.

Ted was more interested in the bookshelf, three planks of planed pine across an alcove.  He wasn't close enough to read the titles but he recog­nised by their size and colour Carr's History of Soviet Russia and most of Deutscher's work in paperback.  White cracks down their spines indicated they'd been read.  'I get the Star already' said the lad, 'On Saturdays.  But I really wanted to get in touch with the local Party.  I've been dithering for years about joining.  Been involved with the Ultra Left but it all seems so bloody pointless.  They spend more time attacking the Communist Party than they do capitalism.  And of course apart from that they don't actually do anything.' Ted smiled understandingly.

 'Inertia does help preserve a certain moral purity.  And intellectual de­bates on Trotsky and Bukharin are not without fascination but, as some­one once said, the idea isn't to understand the world, it's to change it.'

 'Quite.  But there are certain aspects of the Party I'm a bit unsure about; like Democratic Centralism. It's not democratic at all it seems to me.'

 'What is? When did you last have the chance to influence the choice of your local Labour candidate?' Was Ted trying to find out if he'd rebounded into the Labour Party?

Fleet was engaged in similar investigative speculation. His wife was a cracker, he thought, too good for him. Wonder if she’s looking for a bit on the side?

 'I accept there's no such thing as a real, workable, grass roots democracy as we stand now, and certainly the bourgeois parliamentary variety is a complete con, but the CP, seen from the outside... well… ' 'It's probably a lot more democratic than you think.  And history has vindicated its structure: it has survived.  Where do you think Tariq Ali and the International Marxist Group will be in fifty years' time? Strong leadership and a united Party are the first essentials of any revolutionary movement.'

 'I was almost on the point of joining when Jimmy Reid left over just this issue.  I admired that bloke.  The things he did at UCS!'

 'Jimmy was a good Comrade, but he was just one member of a collective leadership.  Even this small branch collected damn near two hundred quid in a house to house collection.  If you'd been with us you could have been part of that.  But I must say his criticisms of the Party structure and methods weren't too clear even in his book.  Personally I think he was overworked; he needed a rest.' He thought back to those post‑war days in Hackney when they were all working like dogs.  He'd known leading Comrades who hadn't even had a holiday in ten years, and some who'd cracked under the strain.  There was a pause.

 'I like the paintings' said Fleet.

 'That's what I do' said the lad.

 'Paint ?'

 'Teach art'.  Ted thought he could detect pedagogic overtones in His argumentative manner.  Just what the branch needs thought Fleet suddenly ashamed of his engineering background, a cultured intellectual to knock some sense into the working‑class.  Bloody teacher thought Ted, as if the movement wasn't overloaded with them already.  What we really need are more engineers; a Lenin enrolment in fact.  Still he might be good at do­ing the odd poster for the branch education meetings.

 'I used to teach too.'

 'Really ! What subject?' The lad seemed amazed that anyone so exalted could possibly be on the knocker.

'History.  But to get back to what we were talking about before, there's a good Party leaflet on Democratic Centralism.  Perhaps I could drop it in or send it round. And if you do want to get in touch I'll give you the branch secretary's name and address.  He lives on this estate.  Call in any time; Jud's always pleased to see potential new members.'

  They exchanged names and addresses.  Ted and Fleet got up to go.

  'Things in the Party are getting better all the time.  These days we're taking a much more independent line on things, more like the Italians and the French.' Personally he thought the big continental parties were hovering opportunistically on the edge of a Social Democratic deviation in order to attract mass votes, but it was the kind of line which would impress this young aspirant in fear of jeopardising his immortal soul.  'And if there are things you don't like when you get in then try and change them.  There's really nowhere else to go.  We're the only mass party of the working‑class.'

 'I'll certainly give it some thought, and thanks again for your time.' Fleet couldn't recall having been thanked for his time before.  He felt like some great psychiatrist who'd just pulled someone back from the edge of lunacy.

    Out on the street again they headed for the pub and Stanier's debriefing.

 'Hey Ted !' enthused Fleet.

 'What ?'

 'It's bloody great on the knocker ! I had no idea ! When are we out again ?'

Ted laughed.

 'It's not tea and Marxism every night Frank lad.  Usually it's just: What? Who? Piss off! Slam!'

 'I'll take that leaflet round if you like.  No sense in you wasting a gallon of petrol coming from the other side of town is there?'

 'Aye, all right.  If Jud's in a good mood we might get him talking about Spain.'

 'Spain? Jud was in Spain?'

 'Aye.  International Brigade; volunteered at nineteen; finished up as one of Franco's POWS.  Then went right through World War Two as a tank driver.'

 'And here he is selling Stars on the knocker?'

 'Don't underestimate it Frank.  As Jud said last week, raising conscious­ness is the struggle now.  He's no intellectual but that's his strength.  A life­time in the Party; forty years of hard work at grass roots devoted to the cause.  This is where it counts.' He waved his hand towards the sodium lit houses.  'What do you think these people care about the Fascist Pact or the Twentieth Congress? May be the Party has been used as an instru­ment of Soviet foreign policy, so what? If we'd all stayed at home agonizing about it we'd be nowhere today; a morally pure nonentity; a bloody debating society! Politics is a shitty business Frank, but if you opt out of the struggle you support the status quo; there's no clean ground.  So get active and keep your conscience on a short lead; deep down it's a bourgeois liberal.  The only thing that matters long‑term is the survival of the revolutionary party.  All over the country there are cells just like ours, waiting, ticking over, all connected to the centre.  One day they'll double, quadruple, increase ten‑fold.  The structure that we've preserved intact, on trust, will fulfil its historical task.' From a dissident of 56 it was a strange harangue.  Fleet was alive to its ambiguities.  Was it over‑reaction? Middle‑class middle-aged guilt? Or was it really the well‑tempered wisdom after the fire?

     In the saloon bar of the Rope and Anchor they waited for Horsefield.  The saloon bar, like the donkey jackets and anoraks, was Party style.  The ale was cheaper, and that might have been a consideration with Harry and Ernie, but the others didn't drink that much.  It was just that you got a better class of people in the saloon side; the working‑class.  Or, more accurately, the working working‑class; shiftmen, OAPS, lumpenproles.  The leisure working‑class usually headed straight through the lounge door past the NO OVERALLS PLEASE notice.  The saloon bar furniture; scuffed lino, ripped benches, dartboard, hard chairs, wobbly formica tops all contri­buted to the revolutionary tone.  They were symbols of virtue like Lenin's peaked cap, Castro's combat boots and Robespierre's lodgings.

     They sat behind frothy pints of best bitter, except Bender who had been seduced to lager by his trendy drawing office mates.  An extra one waited for Horsefield.  Bert Brimelow came across; he smelled of paradichlor‑benzine.

 'Now then Jud, when's the revolution then?' He took in the group with his single eye.

 'Next Wednesday Bert.  Think you can make it?'

 'No, got a Union meeting.  I'll watch it on the news'

 'Should be on near the end' said Bender.  'just before the weather.  Don't go for a piss or you'll miss it.'

 'What have you been up to tonight?'

 'Star sales on the knocker.'

 'Put that in the kitty' Bert dropped a quid on the table.

 'Thanks Bert lad.  You're a true friend of the proletariat! What you doing in here anyway? Thought Friday was your night out?'

 'Got called in.  Thought I'd have one on the way home.  That stirrer motor on the Paradi blew a fuse again.'He worked in the same factory as Stanier.

 'Be seeing you anyway Jud.  Keep the red flag flying.'

 'Not seen him in the branch Jud.' said Fleet.

 'No, he's not Party now.  Used to be before the ETU bust up.  After that it was either give up his Party card or his job as shop steward in the elec­tricians.  He's still Party deep down.  A good Comrade Bert.'

 'Hey! Where the hell's Harry?' Bender looked at the clock, 'His pint'll be going cold.'

 'He's probably fighting the battle of Stalingrad on somebody's front lawn.'

If Ted had made it the Imjim river he'd have been nearer the truth.  The last two houses in Hilltop looked strangely different; bigger, more separ­ate, but Horsefield saw nothing ominous in that.  It was dark by now.  One more to sell.  If he didn't flog it he'd have that bastard Bender crow­ing all over the pub.  A light came on and a huge shape filled the doorway.  Horsefield went into his spiel.  A voice cut him off in mid flow:

 'Fucking Communist scum! Get off my fucking property!'

Horsefield quickly spiralled up to action stations.  He still couldn't make out any features but after a broadside like that he'd have taken on King Kong.

 'Come outside and say ...' A fist the size of a ham shank smashed into his left eye.  As he staggered back the shape came over the doorstep.  Horsefield ducked the next swing more by luck than skill, brought his knee up into the monster's balls and butted him under the jaw.  There was a muffled crack like a piece of firewood snapping under a blanket.  Horsefield could see as he bent over him, blood dribbling out of his mouth; he'd nearly bitten off the end of his tongue: out cold.  A woman was shrieking and shouting.  After Harry had lugged him inside the police appeared, then an ambulance.

     Down at the local nick, only two or three hundred yards away, Horsefield learned that those two houses were Police houses, and that he had assaulted Sergeant McCormack.  They took a statement and let him go.  The warrior returned to the Rope.  By now there were two pints in front of his chair.  He finished off the first as he filled them in.

 'Good job he didn't cop me in the mouth.'

 'It's a bloody miracle you didn't fall down the steps on the way into the cop shop Harry' said Stanier.

 'Funny that Jud, I got the impression the lads down there didn't really like him.  They treated me all right anyway.'

 'Sergeant McCormack!' said Fleet amazed.

 'Sergeant McCormack MM' corrected Harry.


 'Military Medal; got it in Korea.  He was a POW for eighteen months.  The lads in the nick reckon that's where he must have gone off His nut.'

 'Not a good time for the Party, that period.' said Ted, 'I remember the slogans: 'Hands off Korea!' and 'The North Koreans are shedding blood to bring Communism to Britain!' The Gloucesters fought to the death while the Party called them capitalist mercenaries and lackeys of imperial­ism.  The local papers in Hackney had a field day putting Comrades on the spot over that one.  A few dropped out.'

 'Aye, the emotions may have been wrong but the line was correct' Jud stepped in, 'People were wafted about wherever the capitalist press blew them.  And because our lads were dying out there the Party was on a loser from the start.'

 'They died in Spain too Jud, while the Daily Mail supported Franco, but nobody got upset over that.' said Ted.

 'There's the morality of the British press for you' Stanier went on,   'But Vietnam changed all that.  It took more than the press, big business and a government hocked up to the eyeballs to the Yanks to whitewash that war.  For once the truth prevailed; and the British Party helped it to, in the streets, in the factories.' There was a long pause.

     As Bender came back with the third round he had a sudden thought.

'Hey Harry! You realise your dereliction of duty will have to be con­sidered at the next Branch Committee.  You left an unsold Morning Star on McCormack's front path.'

Horsefield grinned lopsidedly against the spreading bruise.

 'Oh no I've not George.  You spoke a bit too soon there Comrade.' He pulled out from his pocket the last Star.  It was blackened with soil and gravel.  Ted leaned over and took it from him.  'Still perfectly readable' he said, spreading it on the table between the glasses.  'Let's see now, this month's fighting fund stands at £4560.'

Ken Clay


I am the best
Said the white worker
To the woman at his side
Stand down about twelve inches
So the world can see my pride.

I'm second best
Said the white woman
To the black man
By her side
Stand down about twelve inches
For women too have pride.

I'm third best
Said the black man
To the woman at his side
Stand down about twelve inches
At least I have some pride.

And I'm fourth best
Said the black woman
To the brown man
By her side
Stand down about twelve inches
For I too must have pride.

And so it went
In a steady grade
Ever downwards
Shade by shade
Until there was a human stair
For those with eyes to see it there.

And up that stair
And up and up
With elegance and grace
Stepped a multi-coloured capitalist
A smile upon his face
And up and up and up he stepped
With heavy, heavy tread
Until he reached the very top,
And stood
On the white worker's head

Bert Ward


It was Monday. I was sitting on the kitchen sideboard, in the lotus position, crying. I reckoned I had lots to cry about. It was two c'clock in the afternoon and the monstrous pile of washing on the kitchen floor hadn't even been started. The sun beckoned through the window, but I was trapped. I felt the tears threaten again. I was a victim of circumstance. A knock on the front door put an end to my meditation. I leaped from the sideboard, landing on the cat's tail. "Gerrout, you black bastard", I yelled at her, and she retreated hissing and spitting at me.

I hoped it was my mother, prayed it wasn't my mother-in-law. It was neither. He was tall and handsome, and was about to knock again when I opened the door.

"Is the lady of the house at home ?"

"You're looking at her". I would make short work of this one. He looked down at me from his superior height, his face inscrutable. "Can I interest you in…”

"No !" I spat at him.

He was trained to keep his cool.

"Our loo brushes are on special offer, they're very effective."

He smiled caressingly, and heaven forbid - I blushed. I also had been well trained. It was hate week.

"Stick 'em up your arse then flower." He opened his mouth to speak again.

"No ! No ! No!" I shrieked and stamped my foot for added emphasis.

He picked up his case and fled. I closed the door, and laughed out loud. The cat eyed me uncertainly from beneath the hallstand.

Now a mad scramble to start the washing. The machine wouldn't work. I had on occasions seen my better half apply shock treatment to this temperamental lump of machinery, so I kicked it. The magic touch was not in evidence.

I stuffed the washing back into the linen bin. I mustn't miss the Yoga on telly. I switched on the set and settled down to watch. Oh the bodies on those girls. I glanced down at my own thickening waistline. At least I could watch them - and meditate.

After half-an-hour of eye glazing meditation I was refreshed and ready to continue with my duties. 4.45 Zero hour. The sound of footsteps and laughter, and oh joy- humans. I make sure I am sitting down and reading a newspaper with nonchalant air. I greet them with a smile as all homemakers should.

"Hiya Dad. What's for tea" chorus the children, and my wife takes off her coat and sits down at the table like she's some sort of queen.

"What sort of day have you had ?" she asks.

"Well for a start the washer wouldn't work. The cat went for me, and a queer tried to tap me up on my own doorstep."

"You must have encouraged him."

I looked at her suspiciously. She picks up the newspaper I have tossed aside and speaks again without raising her eyes.

"I suppose you watched television all day." It is a flat statement, not a question.

"You must be joking! I spent hours trying to fix the washer."

So great is my skill at lying to save face that I almost believe it myself, and it requires no effort to present a suitably outraged countenance. All the same I feel hurt. Nobody understands me. Even my wife, who only grunts from behind the newspaper at me setting a bad example. I will be glad to get back to work.

Jean Sutton



The Trico equal pay strike at the company's Great West Road Factory, Brentford, commenced on May 76' after a long period of management procrastination and manoeuvres to evade their obligations under the Equal Pay Act of December 1975.

Trico has a virtual monopoly of the windscreen wiper market, and is an American multinational company with headquarters in Buffalo, New York. Soon after the strike commenced, it was necessary to organise a 24-hour picket as, on a number of occasions, blackleg convoys with massive police support charged through picket lines at the dead of night to try to keep supplies moving.

But strikebreaking, arrests of pickets, police intimidation, the management's use of the Tribunal machinery, misleading letters, local press hostility, etc., all foundered. After 21 weeks of highly courageous and self-sacrificing struggle, full of problems and tensions but also of humour and dignity, a magnificent victory was won that can give new confidence to millions of women and other workers.

On October 17, after 21 weeks outside the gates, in pouring rain but in an unforgettable scene of jubilation and confidence which I was privileged to witness, the women and men strikers marched back victoriously through Trico main gate, a totally transformed force compared with those who walked out with doubts and hesitations 21 weeks earlier. Like many of the hundreds, especially young people often with music and song who "manned" the picket line at night, I was privileged to play a small part in the picket with Brent Trades Council and Secretary, Jack Dromey.

Here, I would like to pay tribute to the work and courageous perseverance of the Strike Committee, to the magnificent leadership of the Southall District AUEW and other officials, to the help of GLATC and Trades Councils and to the many Shop Stewards' Committees and others who are legion and, without whose help, this victory would not have been achieved.

My attempt at "versifying" very inadequately chronicles some aspects of this historic struggle which rightly has been compared with that of the Bryant and May "Matchgirls" of 1888. More worthy contributions in prose and poetry will undoubtedly appear in due course.


No more we'll stand at Trico's gates with heads and banners high.
No more will happy cheers or angry jeers our feelings signify.
But all will still recall with pride, though a thousand years should pass.
This immortal strike that few can equal, and none surpass.
At Trico's gates a golden page has truly now been written,
A page no sneering scribe nor cynic, even the hardest bitten,
Can dim or e'er belittle, for here was made an epic stand
Inspiring and exciting women, in this and many another land.
Near 90 years have passed since Unions first demanded equal pay,
Heralding for women, the dawning of a more enlightened day,
When sex discrimination and oppression would be swept away,
And equal rights triumphant reign, as the order of this new day.
Little did those Trico women dream before the month of May,
That fate had then allotted them a special role to play.
To stand upon a picket line, all through each night and day
And lead this hard demanding struggle, undaunted, come what may.
The Trico bosses scoffed and boasted when the strike had just begun
"In three short hours they'll crumble and crawling to us come.
Then we'll hire and fire to our hearts desire, we'll make them cringe and cower.
And they'll rue the day that for equal pay, they dared our might and power. 

But these braggart bosses had a shock. Being neither scared nor pliant,
The women through the gates marched out, determined, proud, defiant.
And thus began that struggle grim 'gainst boss and scab and law.
For when a boss's loot's at stake he fights with teeth and claw.
Not three, nor even 3000 hours, brought those women to their knees.
It was Trico bosses, cap in hand, who said "settle if you please".
Tribunals, scabs, strike breaking cops, all proved of no avail.
For the women stood invincible, like granite cliffs before a gale.

Those pickets who stood at Trico's gates from many lands they came.
Just seeking a job and better life, not fortune vast nor fame.
Some black, some white or yellow or brown, whatever hue their skin,
They're all of the human family, are mankind's kith and kin.

And at those gates the women stood neath scorching summer sun,
Beside the ceaseless traffic that forever rumbles on.
The passing drivers often spoke by flashing lights or hooter blare,
As if to say "you'll win the day, if others help and do their share."

And through the night's long silent hours they stood when all seemed dead.
When only the moon and stars looked on from their orbits overhead.
While ghostly figures of pioneers who've long since passed away.
Matchgirls, suffragettes and others, stood there unseen supporting equal pay.

They stood there when their bodies ached and spirits all seemed spent.
When few there came to the picket line to do a welcome stint.
Oft huddling close together from piercing wind and lashing rain
They longed and sheltered homes, for glowing fires and cosy beds to lay in.
They stood there too unflinching when Trico scabs and thugs
Backed up by burly cops with hate filled eyes and vacant mugs.
Smashed through that picket line with van and juggernaut.
For measly blackleg pay their wretched little souls, were bought.

And those who crossed that picket line with a snivelling "blow you, Jill"
Whose creed is grab and never give, are lowly creatures. They're not men.
And when their children ask some day "Daddy, what did you do for equal pay ?"
"I ratted and took the Judas gold", with hang dog look, they'll have to say.

But let's salute those Trico men who joined the women's fight.
Not money did they do it for, but injustice to put right.
For they can hold their hands up high, and look all mankind in the eye
And give their children this reply "I struck, for rather than scab I'd die".

The Trico women had guts galore, but never were in a strike before.
Courage and guts need something more to put bosses like Trico on the floor.
With their Strike Committee as the core and Southall District to the fore 
The fighting force they did create made Trico bosses capitulate.

A strike's a hard and searching test, some falter and some fall.
When there's debts to pay and food to buy, without the wherewithal.
When problems and worries ever mount, awaking and even in sleep.
So anger and compassion mix, for the drop-outs, and the weak.

Yes, a strike's a hard and searching test, it sorts the gold from dross.
The workers who uphold a right, from the toadies of the boss.
For progress always has its price of sacrifice and pain.
Which Trico women have fully paid, so millions more shall gain.

The bosses have no inspiring cause but they all stick together,
To rob and cheat the working-class, for this they help each other.
And though their wealth is vast indeed and buys both scab and press.
It could not buy one noble cause, though it filled this universe.

But struggles like Trico's need not be. Our Unions have such power.
Trico, or any boss could crush, within a single hour.
Without their say no wheel could turn, this country would stand still.
Bosses, even Governments, would come pleading, to settle there and then.

So, let's our tribute fully pay to sisters who bore the brunt.
Who never flinched nor faltered but proudly stood in front.
For they have shown to millions more that struggle can succeed
And millions when they strive as one, no power can them impede.

But in our flush of victory not once must we forget.
Other brave sisters who cry for aid, and who are sore beset.
In Belfast, Spain and Chile, in apartheid's ghetto hell.
Where the sadist brutes oft torture some lonely sister in a cell.

For none should have to fight alone when the cause is just and right.
And none should have to bow before the boss or tyrant's might.
Brothers and sisters hand in hand a new world we shall gain
When power into our hands we take and end all bosses' reign.

Salute then all who made this stand that echoes far and wide.
The women who broke the barrier and have released a tide.
For they have sparked a flame that grows, and nothing can withstand
Till women's rights are fully won in this green and pleasant land.
Till the new Jerusalem we have built, in England's green and pleasant land.

Tom Durkin


You talk just like Eddie Waring
And you dance just like Yogi Bear,
Your clothes are all by St Michael
And there's dandruff and bugs in your hair.
Yes there are
Oh Aye
You live in a council penthouse
Off the Boulevard Waterhead,
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And Sacha Distel's Uncle Fred.
Yes you do
Not Arf
But where do you go to my Doris
When you get on the bus?
Are you meeting a playboy in Failsworth ?
Is it all over for us ?
I've seen all the qualifications
You got at Oldham Tech
Needlework, cake icing and car maintenance,
Your 0 levels came up to your neck.
Yes they do
Oh Aye
When you go on summer vacation
You're found on Royton Sands:
With your carefully designed topless swimsuit
You look just like one of the lads
Yes you do
Not Art
And when the snow falls you're found in Counthill
With the others of the jet set;
You sip your Domestos and Soda
And down it in one for a bet.
Yes you do
Oh Aye
But where do you go to my Doris
When you get on the train?
Are you seeing a smoothie in Salford
Or a dirty old man in Dean Lane?
Your name it is heard in high places;
You know Jimmy Frizzell.
He gave you a whippet last Easter
And you race it against Colin Bell.
Yes you do
Not Arf

Les Barker 


The air in the cabin is both stale and still
Where workers' bodies will rest but their minds never will
Their muscles are aching and shoulders all bunched
Around a coke fire they will be eating their lunch
With their hands all grubby and covered with grime
Because the boss considers to wash them is a waste of good time
There he sits in the only chair
Puffing blue smoke into the warm dank air
His great fat chin extends almost down to his chest
Where his large podgy hands are clasped at rest
With piggy eyes staring out into space
He droodles tobacco juice down his unshaven face
A quick flick of the wrist his pipe is now clean
Back once again he continues his foul dream
of exploiting workers and squeezing them dry
Without even as much as a tear from his eye

Cabin door opens shattering his calm
As each worker drops damp clothes from his arm
Then each one sits in his appropriate space
On upturned tin cans that litter the place
The banquet begins with chip butties and hake
Some prefer that to bread cheese and cake
All is washed down by a good strong brew

That's been on the boil until it's almost like stew
It is thick, sweet and syrupy and has a taste of black tar
If you hadn't seen it boil you'd think it came from a car

Each settles down to read or to rest
While their great fat boss keeps his hands on his chest
Clock in the church tower rings out loud and clear
The lads, in turn, pretend not to hear
Boss makes a move in his creaky chair
By fumbling for his fob watch in the dank smoky air
With a nod and grunt a puff and a blow
He tells them quite bluntly that it's time for them to go

Outside in the rain they toil and they sweat 
For to join a Trade Union hasn't dawned on them yet.

Bert Smith 


Who was there to remind them that their forbears came at dusk in long ships darkly ? Who was there to remind them what sky and sunlight resemble?

Offspring of Otterburn moors, mostly they breathed coal dust in damp seams.

Offspring of rugged crags, white rivers, and winds, mostly they tunnelled Black Gold.

Most, hearing the term GEORDIE understood something philologists and rationalists failed to explain.

They learned the earth at its hard dark core. They had a sun in their veins. In their eyes were smudged chapels, slagheaps, gaslit back lanes. They learned how to keep whippets trim on dawn tracks; how to ring pigeons in home-made lofts.

Drinkers of strong bottled ale; of wind, of rain; clear as the blare of brass on green summer evenings.

Hoying coits with clarty hands, throwing double Two first with a cocked grin, rustling the ivories sat at little iron tables: those were the good years; before Black Bowler, the bailiff; before three slung balls held off the bairns gnawing hunger, or emptied their canny rooms of light and song. In rakish caps on corners, grey against grey; lined up for soup, for a handout: BIG DEAL!

Whose tin hats rusted in attics, in old allotments; whose leather arms diced with death (continuing crucifixion) at Mafeking, at Ypres, at Mons? These men: these Geordies.

Who were set up like targets by Shell by Amalgamated copper, by Krupps, by Middle East Oil.

These men: these Geordies.

They did not bring to History the word EXPLOITATION. They fought for Kitchener, for Monty, for Cunningham. For Haig, for Wellington ( at Waterloo) for Marlborough (at Blenheim) for Cromwell (GOD IS OUR STRENGTH ON WHITE BANNERS) for that fop Coeur de Lion, and for plain JOHN BULL (when Adam Delved and Eve span, Who was then the Gentleman?)

They did not bleed for the PROLETARIAT - that ideological abstraction -but for the Squire with his stick and plus-fours, or out of Patriotism, or because, in one case, they understood FASCISM too well.

They chalked on netty walls: JOE FOR KING. FUCK ADOLF.

They swallowed dust to keep the home fires burning; or Flander's mud so that Earl Haig could label a million more bottles and stride, smiling, in shiny boots and Sam Brown over piled Kharki and field-grey corpses. The poet Shelley gave them a passing glance in a rattling coach travelling north.

They lived their lives without a dream, without a republic; Marched from Jarrow with Marx and Lenin on red banners, knowing at last who and what they were.

May be there are others like them, somewhere else in the world; but you'd have to travel far to find them


Salt of the earth:

That's what Geordies are.

Alan C Brown


A leg
you swung and shook and balanced on; 
a muscled lever
that launched you up above the crowd, 
like a fresh salmon 
heading for the net, 
was hacked off 
this afternoon; 
goals from yesterday.

from the floodlights, 
on the sooty terraces 
of retirement, 
the careful surgeons 
through your ever-stretched sinews 
as clinically as you
with a bullet-head 
the baggy and square 
defenders of your time.

they are pickling 
the lonely 
the explosive foot; 
its sock;
its ankle-pad; 
its boot; 
hanging a legend's legacy 
on a peg 
swollen with kicks; 
a bought tool, 
notched up in the record-books; 
a board-room

Keith Armstrong 


In collecting and studying the early poetry of the Canadian working-class, I found it possesses many qualities that are never or only rarely found in the bourgeois poetry of the same period. One of the main characteristics of Canadian working-class poetry is its concreteness. You will search in vain for "Sweet-voiced seraphs with silken wings softly beating", for "coruscations bright that scintillate in cloudless night", for "emanations of the Omnific Mind" or any other metaphysical twaddle. Invariably, the poets concern themselves with this world, not with the next, and write practical, down-to-earth poems firmly rooted in the here-and-now.

Some critics have claimed that Canadian poetry can, in part, be characterised by its mythic quality, and what they say may be true-of that small segment of Canadian poetry which has always huddled in or around the universities. But the vast majority of Canadians have never been to university and have always had more than enough real problems to waste their time worrying about the fate of Pan or Persephone. So while a few well-paid professors and the students who have come under their influence have written poetry richiy-laden with mythological significance, most of the poetry written by the Canadian people has never shown any interest in a tradition and a set of symbols which were essentially alien to their experience. Instead they have always concentrated on the ordinary, the everyday, preferring concrete, home-spun images to grandiose, foreign or abstract symbolism.

Another characteristic of this poetry, closely related to the first is its practicality. The poets tend to use it as a tool. They instinctively seem to understand that one of the functions of poetry is to help us change the world. Poetry allows us to try on new thoughts and feelings to see if they fit. It allows us to see and experience the world in a new way, to reorganise our emotional response to it, and, as a result, to act towards it in a new and often very different way. Poetry is revolutionary in its implications.

A third characteristic of this poetry is its directness. Many critics often call these poems 'simple' but I think 'straightforward' is a better word. Very rarely do the poets mince their words. They do not deal in sophistry. If they feel someone is sucking their life's blood, they call him a 'parasite', preferring to say exactly what they mean clearly and without qualifications. This directness can sometimes be disarming, as in this short, anonymous poem from the last century:


Christ, the son of a toiler,
Worked in a carpenter's shop,
Then preached to the common people,
And died for us all on the cross.

The ruthless elimination by imperial powers and the local ruling class of men and women who threaten their rule by spreading a revolutionary new philosophy is an old, old story, and in four lines the poet makes this clear without wasting a word. This clear, direct, economical style is typical of the poetry of the Canadian working-class.

In the above verse we can begin to see why the ruling class and their literary critics have so studiously ignored the poetry of the working-class. They object to the message ! Lines like:

Oh heavens ! There runs a great big Norway rat,
Sleek as a banker, and almost as fat.

tend to make the ruling class feel uncomfortable. It is not very pleasant, every time you pick up a poetry book, to be reminded you only got to the top by trampling other people down, that your extravagant freedom has been purchased by enslaving others. So the rich ignore the poetry of the working-class, with its damning criticism of wealth and greed, and promote those literary critics who can find or invent the most reasons why they should. These critics provide the ruling class with a cultural shield and bolster their morale by creating artificial literary and aesthetic standards which provide them with the 'objective' reasons for rejecting the poems they do. It is not that the man is a miner or that we object to what he is saying, the ruling class and their allies are able to argue, using the cultural weapons the critics have placed in their hands, it's just that his poem is bad. Bad for whom they never say! Another characteristic of this poetry: it is firmly rooted in the local and the particular. The poets draw their rhythms, images and metaphors directly from daily experience. Another distinctive characteristic of this poetry is its strong tendency to tell a story. Whereas a large percentage of the poems written by the high priests of Canadian poetry concentrate foremost on abstract feeling and mood, the poetry of the Canadian working-class has always tended towards the dynamic, towards telling what happened. In part, I believe, this tendency towards an active poetry arises from the correspondingly active nature of the poets' own lives.

The final characteristic is optimism. Encountering it in poem after poem, I could not fail to recognise it. The irrepressible spirit and optimism of the Canadian working-class is like a cork-it cannot be kept down. For me, the attempt to recover and publish the early poetry of the Canadian working-class has raised two very important questions. First, what is the value and importance of working-class culture? I can see now that the literature of a class is an important element in the formation of that class's character. It is not merely the record of the class's mental and physical progress: it is an expression of its intellectual life, a bond of class unity, and a guide to class energy and action. It is both an organising and a potent motivating force. A class which reads only another class's literature will never know itself. For far too long now working-people have been forced to see their lives, their labours, their hopes, dreams and desires through the unsympathetic eyes of a small, self-appointed cultural elite within or buzzing around the ruling class.

The other question is why ? Why has our history and our culture always been hidden from us ? Why has it always been so ruthlessly rejected and distorted by the ruling class? Because without our history we are weak. To know who we are and where our true interest lies we must understand our relationship not only to the present but to the past. We must be able to compare the aspirations and battles of our forbears-for freedom, for democracy, for a better life-with our own. Without this constant reference to our own past we have no way of judging the true measure of our present successes and failures, and, as a result can often be led astray.

When a class's history is hidden from its members, they become disorientated, confused. Not knowing exactly what they have already achieved, or how, they hesitate to set themselves new goals. And without these goals their lives soon lose direction, they begin to drift. Having lost their sense of place in history, people live only for the moment. Isolated in a seemingly endless present, everything soon loses its importance, all values become relative. The idea of forcibly grasping history and changing its course becomes totally alien to people. Unable to master history, they become its victims. Without their history and their culture a class is defenceless.

The strength of any working-class lies in their conscious awareness of who they are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. Individual members of the class need to see what other members are thinking and feeling. They need to see what kind of conclusions people who face the same or similar problems are coming to. Out of this awareness grows unity of purpose and determination. And working-class poetry is an important part of the process whereby this conscious awareness is forged and tempered.

Brian Davis


When you're being bawled out by a shiftboss
And you take it without even blinking.
Tho' you don't say a word, I'm certain
That's something like this you are thinking.

A mucker once murdered a shiftboss,
He was taken away by a mountie
But the judge said: "We can't do anything here,
You must go to North Bay for the Bountie."

He started to work as a mucker,
But he never could muck out the round,
He said that's ajob for a sucker,
And he meant it, the big lazy hound. 

Wilson H Thomson (A Miner)


Fear hung over me. 
I dared not try 
to hold out in my hut. 

Hungry and chilled, 
I stumbled inland, 
tripping, falling constantly.

At Little Musk Ox Lake 
the trout made fun of me; 
they wouldn't bite.

On I crawled, 
and reached the Young Man's River
where I caught salmon once. 

I prayed
for fish or reindeer 
swimming in the lake.

My thought
reeled into nothingness 
like run-out fishing line.

(Old Eskimo Song) 


I am a young man, my name is Jack Burke.
When I came to this country I came to get work.
Through alders and boulders and mud I have tramped
'Till I came to the place they called Bruce's log camp.

I 'rrived in the camp, and all I could see
Was a lousy old cook and a lousy cookee.
I opened the door, what a sight met my eyes,
Some cursing, some swearing, and some telling lies.

Oh, the floor it was greasy, all covered with mud.
The dishes were dirty, and so was the grub.
The bed clothes were lousy; the straw it was damp;
It would give you consumption in Bruce's log camp.

A three-legged stool and a table to match,
And a door in the corner without any latch.
No lids on the stove and no oil in the lamps;
That is the description of Bruce's log camp.

Get up in the morning with the stars in the skies, 
While old Pat McCloskey like a skunk in disguise, 
He'd climb up the ladder and swing his old lamp, 
''Get out to work or get out of the camp."

Another lumberjack song from New Brunswick, this one is a composite 
version I constructed from three separate but related fragments. (BD) 
This anonymous poem appeared in The Ontario Workman in July 1873.


Thank God that there is one brave sheet,
In all this great Dominion,
Whose columns ne 'er refuse to give
The working man's opinion.
Those men who work, and build, and fight,
Our only safe foundation,
Whose intellects are just as bright,
As those in higher station.

Thank God the time is coming fast
When we the toiling masses,
Will swing our banners to the blast
Among the higher classes.
To dare and do the things that's right,
And closely watch election,
And with our weapons right and might,
Secure ourselves protection.
'Tis not for wealth we toil all day,
Nor do we wish for splendour,
Nor footmen in bright livery,
To care for us so tender.
We only ask for better pay,
Or one hour less to labour;
But capital will laugh and say
Work on my healthy neighbour.

Oh ! that I could have the power,
To take away their riches,
And put monopoly for an hour
Into the mine and ditches.
Perhaps they, then would realise,
How hard a man must toil,
To keep his wife and little ones
And make the kettle boil.

And now Canadian working men, 
Arise and do your duty;
Behold these massive towers of stone, 
In all their wondrous beauty.
Who builds those lovely marble towers, 
Who works and makes the plan?
'Tis he who sleepless thinks for hours- 
The honest working man.


"May I ask my Son 
what you have ever done 
to make the world 
a better place to live in ?"

"I do my best Father 
as you will see. 
That was arsenic, not sugar 
you put in your tea."

Bill Eburn

Morning Star review