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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
LETTER FROM TED MORRISON...
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.
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.
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.
THE SCOTLAND ROAD WRITERS GROUP
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.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOOD
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
THE TOP SHELF
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".
FOUGHT NORMAN SNOW
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.
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.
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
"I fought Norman Snow”
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
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
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.
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:
did fight Norman Snow you know".
"I know" I lied. "I wrote to Tim Riley".
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.
said. "I never knew them. But I knew a fellow who fought Norman Snow".
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!
It couldn't be worse than here
or so we thought,
the hunger, the hostile glances,
the endless waiting
so we saved up for our train fare
our train tickets
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
I knew it was all for the best.
When we were unloaded
I could hardly walk
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
smiled in happiness
I asked them
Sirs...where am I?
where have I come to?
They laughed at my naivete
- The centre of Hell.
There was nightmare in their unshaven smiles
you will leave by the chimney
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
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...
QUNEITRA I'M NOT ONE OF YOUR MANY SONS
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.
PIE IN THE SKY
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
(A Poem for Jubilee Year)
Firstly the grave announcements,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
(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.
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
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
'Better make it three.'
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'That's what I do' said the
'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
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.
'It's bloody great on the
knocker ! I had no idea ! When are we out again ?'
'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
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
'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
'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
'Good job he didn't cop me in
'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
'Sergeant McCormack!' said
'Sergeant McCormack MM'
'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
'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
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.'
THE WORKER’S ROAD TO HELL
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
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,
On the white worker's head
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
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 ?"
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
trained to keep his cool.
brushes are on special offer, they're very effective."
caressingly, and heaven forbid - I blushed. I also had been well trained. It was
"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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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
TRIBUTE TO THE TRICO HISTORIC STRUGGLE AND VICTORY
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.
WHERE DO YOU GO TO MY DORIS?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
Otterburn moors, mostly they breathed coal dust in damp seams.
rugged crags, white rivers, and winds, mostly they tunnelled Black Gold.
the term GEORDIE understood something philologists and rationalists failed to
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.
strong bottled ale; of wind, of rain; clear as the blare of brass on green
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!
hats rusted in attics, in old allotments; whose leather arms diced with death
(continuing crucifixion) at Mafeking, at Ypres, at Mons? These men: these
Who were set
up like targets by Shell by Amalgamated copper, by Krupps, by Middle East Oil.
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.
on netty walls: JOE FOR KING. FUCK ADOLF.
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.
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
THE EARTH IS
SALTED WITH SUCH MEN
Salt of the
Alan C Brown
DIXIE DEAN – FOOTBALLER TO THE QUEEN
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
goals from yesterday.
from the floodlights,
on the sooty terraces
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 explosive foot;
hanging a legend's legacy
on a peg
swollen with kicks;
a bought tool,
notched up in the record-books;
CANADIAN WORKING CLASS POETRY
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.
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.
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.
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 A TOILER
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
for fish or reindeer
swimming in the lake.
reeled into nothingness
like run-out fishing line.
(Old Eskimo Song)
BRUCE’S LOG CAMP
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.
THE LAST WORD
"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."