Gus John and the Moss Side Defence Committee

Gus John lived through the 1980s as a community activist and youth worker in Moss Side, having arrived in the UK from the West Indies in the 1960s. In the aftermath of the 1981 Moss Side riots, he was a key figure in the Moss Side Defence Committee, which assisted with legal support to the youths charged by the police, challenged police violence and attempted to convey to the press and public a different interpretation of the events which had taken place. The committee would later undertake a detailed critique of the Hytner Report, established by the government to investigate the disturbances and their causes. Here Gus recalls his experiences of the times, in an interview carried out by Andrew Bowman just a week before the outbreak of rioting across England’s urban centres in summer 2011.

1981 was the year in which British people of African descent protested against racism and police oppression as never before in modern history. The Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981 brought around 25,000 people onto the streets of London to protest against the massacre of 13 young Africans in a fire, suspected to have been caused by racists, at a birthday party in New Cross in South London. Protesters also attempted to highlight the misconduct of the Metropolitan Police force in their subsequent investigation, the bias of the press, the inadequate response of the government to the tragedy and the generalised racial discrimination in British society. Added to the problem of racial discrimination, the Conservative government’s economic programme was making conditions worse in many poorer communities in inner city areas.
Between April and August that year there was violent urban unrest in St Paul’s in Bristol, Brixton in South London, Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, Handsworth in Birmingham, and elsewhere in the country.

Gus, what were conditions like when you arrived in Moss Side?

I arrived in Moss Side on the 1st January 1971, having worked on youth and race in Handsworth in Birmingham for the Runnymede Trust. There was a vibrancy about it, in that people had organised themselves around a campaign to do with housing. The local authority was doing compulsory purchases and knocking down houses which were actually rather sturdy – some of them had fallen into disrepair but structurally they were pretty fine. There were campaigns to save these houses because people were not enamoured with what they had seen in Hulme – these deck access crescent buildings, which were not just an eyesore, they became very dangerous after a while.
But the two things that stuck out for me were, first, a lot of young people coming out of school and being unemployed for a long time. It was taking the average school leaver about six months to find any employment, and some of them simply joined an earlier generation of fathers or siblings who had not worked. The second thing that was obvious was the way in which the police operated within the community – they tended to see black people as exotic … and generally formed the impression that the older people were safe and sound: they shared commonly held values, they were disciplinarians keeping the children under control, and it was really the youth which were at odds with the establishment, and the police as the most visible arm of the establishment.
It is true that at that time many parents didn’t want to see the police having cause to come near their home – it was seen as a massive stigma.  It took a long time for parents to understand, based on their own experience, that your child didn’t have to do something wrong for the police to appear on your doorstep. It wasn’t always that young person’s fault that the police got involved in their lives.
In 1972 I had got some money from the British Council of Churches to set up a hostel for young black people, because they were sleeping on their friends’ floors or sleeping rough in Moss Side, the reason being that their parents had been decanted to places like Sale and Partington, as part of the whole so-called ‘regeneration’ business. And they continued to gravitate back to Moss Side, they would be here until after the last bus left, some of them would be in the night time dives – shebeens as we used to call them – and there was generally a sense of drift and disaffection among them. That made them even more in danger of getting involved with the police.

How similar were things in Moss Side to other areas of the UK you had worked in?

The four issues I just mentioned were present in all inner city areas I had worked in. I had just come from Handsworth, and one of the reasons for the Runnymede Trust commissioning the research I did there was that the Birmingham Evening Mail had run a series of stories called ‘The Angry Suburbs’, and one of them I remember was called ‘Must Harlem come to Birmingham?’ There were issues highlighted in those reports of unrest between black and white people which I have to say were not what I found in Birmingham.
Yes, there were tensions, with some white people feeling that black people were coming in numbers, taking homes etc, but what happened in Birmingham as in other parts of the country, was that the newcomers, black people from the Caribbean especially, were coming to find employment in areas where there was already an established working class, a neglected working class. So the quality of accommodation that local whites had was pretty poor anyway. As is typical of these situations, and not just in this country, the incoming black people were blamed for the squalor that had existed for generations.
So there were nuances, but generally you could identify issues which were common to most of those former industrial towns and cities. Many black children were being sent to schools for the educationally subnormal, not because they were in any way deficient, but because the schooling system refused to believe that those children were coming with a language of their own that was not Standard English.
That early period of 1968-73 was also the time when psychologists were propounding theories of scientific racism – suggesting that the intelligence levels of black people were lower than that of whites for genetic reasons. You had to battle against that gunge, especially as it was being taught in colleges that were training teachers – it really was horrendous.

What kind of police harassment did youngsters face in Moss Side?

I remember the first situation in which I personally intervened after arriving here, the police had stopped a young boy of about 13 cycling along Moss Lane West by the Hyde Brewery for riding his bicycle without lights. They were aggressive, and he was frightened. Rather than calming the situation, they started telling him to “stop being cheeky”, and before long there was a confrontation. As you went up and asked what was going on, they would tell you to “mind your own fucking business” or they would arrest you as well, for “obstructing the police in the course of their duty”.
We became aware of how vicious the police were to young people, so that when an incident like this happened, we would begin to gather, because the community wanted the police to know that we were watching what they were doing. The police became very on edge about that, very intolerant of the idea that anyone would witness what they were doing and question their conduct.
Here in Moss Side, as I had also witnessed in Oxford, Birmingham and London, it was not just happening to young people. Caribbean families, the men in particular, were proud of their cars. To own one was prestigious, and these men worked hard and bought their cars, and they were regularly being stopped by the police, for daring to own a vehicle like that: “Is it yours? Can you prove it is yours? What is your address? What is the proof of your address?” Constant petty harassment! There was a level of crime in these urban centres anyway, petty criminals as well as organised criminals – who were white. That criminality had not contaminated the black community in any measure when I came to Manchester.
Yes, some people got involved in crimes, burglaries etc. I used to teach black history at Wakefield Prison, and I was astounded by the zeal and zest with which prisoners there took to an understanding of black history and its relevance to them. They were interested in what was happening in the United States at the time, as they were about the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act, the 1968 Race Relations Act.
I told them about the work that I and others who were members of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination did. How I would pair up with a white person and we would go looking for a room to rent or something. The black person would go in first and typically would have the door slammed in their face: “The room’s gone.” Your mate, the white person, would then go and was told, “It’s five shillings, when are you moving in?”
We did the same in relation to job applications. The black person would present a form with the best qualifications, the white person would present a form with lower qualifications, and the white person would automatically be given the job. We did this research up and down the country, and we were able to present the government with incontrovertible evidence of the extent of visceral racial discrimination, and that caused the Harold Wilson government to enact the 1968 Race Relations Act and establish the Race Relations Board which was the precursor of the Industrial Tribunal.
All those people in Wakefield Prison had what I called arrested growth: very bright people. Some could give you the most horrendous stories about their schooling, and why they dropped out of school. In some cases they had had physical altercations with teachers, and were either expelled from school or never went back.
The fact is, there was not a high degree of engagement in delinquency or criminality among the African-Caribbean population … Now relative to our numbers in the population overall, the highest proportion of people in the prisons and young offender institutions are black people.
Ever since the beginning of the 1960s there has been systemic structural and structured exclusion of black people within the society, and that has got certain consequences. It becomes easy to believe that that is because black people don’t have brains, which of course is complete nonsense. All of that is an important back-story to what people in Manchester were experiencing and grappling with in the 1970s and 1980s.

How active were organised racist groups in Manchester during the 1980s? Groups like the National Front?

Very active. In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the NF. They had the temerity to come and hand out leaflets in Moss Side and Hulme, trying to inflame the passions of white people and encourage them to blame black people for whatever social deprivation they were suffering. What was pleasing about that was that the white community determined that they wanted nothing to do with the NF, and joined political activists such as myself, deciding that they as a white community would not allow the NF to get one inch of space within the white community, and physically booted them out.
So you had the harassment of the police, and then you had the planned collective attacks by white racists – people would be physically attacked, have excrement and firebombs put through their doors, or there would be NF signs put up around the place. That didn’t come from nowhere – the neo-fascists became emboldened by the lead politicians gave…

Such as Enoch Powell?

Yes, such as Enoch Powell, but he could be seen as the extreme end of the spectrum. His problem was that he was open and honest about those matters. It was the people who were passing laws in Parliament, one more draconian piece of immigration legislation than the one before, who were constantly conflating immigration and race relations and holding up the spectre of an alien black force destabilising an assumed settled and cohesive society.
It was like a mantra: “You can’t have good race relations unless you control immigration”.  In other words, if you don’t control immigration, the white population will get fed up that you’re expecting them to be too tolerant of these blacks. Or the black population would start creating mayhem. As a consequence, every year at a certain point, even before the Office for National Statistics published their reports; you would find some newspaper, principally the tabloids such as the Sun and Daily Mail, publishing figures about the number of live births to immigrants. It was all scaremongering, a moral panic about black people, and an insistence on keeping Britain white. And people talked openly about the need to keep Britain white.
You have to situate the 1981 uprisings in that broader context, and if you don’t, you fail to understand the structural relationship between the way black people experience living in the society, and the way they choose to resist.
And the resistance took many forms, it took political forms, it took cultural forms, through music, art, publishing or through soundsystems and travelling discos – people find ways of surviving, and not allowing their essential humanity to be debased, and expressing and affirming their creativity. Cultures of oppression inexorably spawn cultures of resistance.
Given all this background, how surprised were you when the riots broke out? A lot of the press coverage at the time, and now in reflection, talks about the riots being a ‘spontaneous’ event.
It wasn’t a surprise to me nor many other people in Moss Side. It could have happened any time before that July. It could have happened in March that year, when a cache of illegal weapons were found stashed in Moss Side police station. Those weapons were found to be knives, hatchets, coshes, clubs, and a considerable quantity of cannabis was also found.
We were alarmed because we knew the police planted cannabis on unsuspecting citizens, and would then throw the book at them for drug possession. They also used to give cannabis to prostitutes to sell, and if they didn’t comply they would be dragged in for prostituting themselves. Typically, when people got arrested and taken to Moss Side Police Station or Platt Lane Police Station, they were likely to get a good hiding from the police, to reveal the names of others or confess to some crime, or just for being ‘lippy’ and standing up for themselves, whether they did or did not commit a crime.
So it was alarming that this cache was found in the police station. What were the police going to do with them? No sooner did the reports come out than everything disappeared. That was on March 12-13 1981. Ten days earlier, six coach loads of people had left here for London, to go to the biggest march black people here have ever organised, the New Cross Massacre Black People’s Day of Action, on 2 March 1981, following the murder of those 13 young people in that Deptford fire.
That massacre did not take place in Moss Side, but it could well have. That became a metaphor for the experiences that we were having at the hands of the racists and fascists across the country, and the way the police dealt with those things. So the events in July in Moss Side could have happened at any point that year.

Gus, what was the reaction among the press and political elites to the Moss Side riots? The MEN’s recent coverage refers to it as ‘an orgy of violence’ and a ‘spontaneous eruption of hatred’. Is there a sense in which there was, and still is, an attempt to depoliticise what happened?

Yes. And it is for that reason that I do not refer to those disturbances as riots, because that is to devalue and detract from the righteous political component of the whole thing. It was a violent eruption of protest, on the part of principally black people, but lots of white people as well, because they too had experienced for generations lots of vicious, disrespectful oppressive forms of policing.
The coverage in the media of Manchester, Toxteth, Brixton and St Paul’s, was just totally racist. The tabloids have a lot to answer for. They were echoing what senior police officers were saying. They were always eager to claim that it was pure criminality – that it came from nowhere. As if these criminals suddenly drank something and decided to go and create mayhem.
I say about that, as I say about the gangs and knife crime now, I cannot believe, I refuse to believe that black people have some kind of congenital propensity to evil. If you don’t believe that, you have to ask some searching questions about what predisposes people to do this, but that’s too sophisticated for these hacks. They display their prejudices, and in a sense mirroring the bigotry of the people in leadership positions in the country generally.
How did you attempt to get your message out about what was happening when the mainstream press was like this?
There is an invention called the Gestetner. Do you remember it? No? That places us in different age bands! The Gestetner was a domestic printing machine. You typed onto a stencil, and attached it to the machine, turned a lever to make sure ink covered the drum, and then you start rolling off your hundreds of sheets of paper. Political activists of my age were friends of the Gestetner. You always knew which people were very active, because they were always covered in ink!
So, we had meetings, for the Moss Side Defence Committee, we produced masses of leaflets and handed them out door to door, outside cinemas, and indeed outside the magistrate’s court. Picketing and handing them out. And we physically hand-delivered our statements to the news media. Some of them ignored it, some of them printed stuff. On a good day, the MEN wrote respectable articles, on other days, they had some very stupid headlines. There were some good journalists at the MEN though – Paul Horrocks was a good staff reporter, more reflective than the others who just wanted to print rubbish and get a story in the paper.
So that’s what we did: loads of community meetings that were very well attended and we handed these leaflets around. And that was our political practice. We organised and campaigned around education issues, we had anti-deportation campaigns. The man in this community, Anthony Brown, who now is one of the organisers of the Manchester Carnival – he was facing deportation in the 1970s, and we launched a campaign and succeeded in having him stay here.
What kinds of people were getting involved in these protests?
Lets differentiate a bit. The anti-fascist demos drew just about everybody: old and young, black and white, as well as people from the Asian sub continent. There were large groups of women, large groups of young people, the core of whom were political activists who were running organisations or members of organisations, who came together to work in solidarity with us to work towards particular ends.
That was a regular pattern. When we established the Moss Side Defence Committee in 1981, we decided there would be a subcommittee called the ‘Labour Movement and Trade Union Committee’. We tried to visit their meetings to get individual unions to pass resolutions and donate funds to the particular campaign.
For some causes, we had university students unions supporting – materially, and with cash. Some union offices allowed us to run off leaflets, some organised coaches to demonstrations. It became a loose coalition of progressive forces, including the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. Particularly in the aftermath of the disturbances, when the police were just dragging people indiscriminately off the streets, we, the Moss Side Defence Committee, met the Haldane Society, and got pretty horrific reports about the how the courts were getting the probations service to write quick reports on individuals – used by the judge before he passed sentence. This was being done in a sausage machine mode, and the people were not getting the personal treatment they needed. It was all aimed at demonstrating to the public that the situation was in hand, and in the firm grasp of the state. As a result of protests, they discontinued this practice.
As far as the disturbances themselves were concerned, there was clearly not a conscious political decision made that this would be a form of resistance that we were going to engage in on this particular night. In any event, people would not do that, because they would be too scared of a Guy Fawkes movement: someone squealing to the police. So it was spontaneous, but attracted people who felt that they had been hard done by for a long time, and that they would take on the police.

On reflection, how successful was Moss Side Defence Committee?

We were moderately successful. Many of the people who were arrested trusted us implicitly to go and assist them in putting their case together, and in getting legal representation. We introduced a way of working with defendants where we ensured that the defendant remained in charge of the case. We took statements from people, saying we don’t care what you have told the police, you can make a statement here not under duress but it has to be truthful, and we will use that statement to organise your defence.
It sent a powerful message to the magistrates, and that was that we as a community are watching the decisions you make. We want to see evidence that you are taking as seriously the submissions of people from Moss Side as you are taking submissions from the police, and we will expose whatever endorsement you as a court give of police malpractices.
We organised ourselves and went to the court. Some of us went and sat in, some were outside giving out leaflets, and that worked pretty well. The only other thing I would say is this. We worked with individuals that had been arrested, and I believe the whole programme would have accelerated quicker if we had worked with other organisations to build a wider body of mass support. There ought to have been many more people on demonstrations outside the court.
It was a politically volatile period, but politically rich in a whole number of ways. I really had hoped that given the careful work we had put into challenging the Hytner Enquiry, boycotting the enquiry and writing a critique of his findings, having all these meetings around the place, picketing the courts every time somebody was on trial, I was rather hoping we might have built a mass movement around all of that, in pursuit of justice and against police brutality and harassment.
But I think people were happy to come together from their organisations as an alliance, which was effectively what the Moss Side Defence Committee was, rather than seeing themselves as integrally part of one collective group, seeking to build a movement of working class people around these issues. And I suppose people got tired: it had been an exhausting few months.
It has always been a regret to me that I personally and others didn’t return to our critique of the Hytner Enquiry and look at it more analytically, making the links to all that stuff I have been sharing with you, to make a more complete story that others today could look at. Young people particularly, should not be encouraged to see the so-called riots in isolation from everything else.

What changed after the disturbances?

Many, if not most young people developed – however temporarily – developed a greater sense of their own power. Many had the feeling that even if the state didn’t sit up and take account of the message they were giving on the street through these disturbances, they had made their presence felt. Not least to James Anderton and his Greater Manchester Police.
The fact that William Whitelaw, Heseltine and Thatcher introduced a range of projects around the place trying to consolidate the black voluntary sector and links with business, with the support of the banks, they gave start up grants for small entrepreneurs.
And then there was a large amount of refurbishment … and the regeneration of the centre radiated outwards towards Hulme and Moss Side, but while there has been a lot of physical regeneration, not as much has been spent on rehabilitating people.
And the demography of the community has changed: large numbers of Somalis coming in, Lebanese as well, even before the Polish started to arrive. There has been a process of constant adaptation to that.
I get a sense though that there is much less community cohesion now than there used to be. I just don’t get a feeling that communities are working together, with a sense of common purpose and a vision of the future. It is not that people are defeated as such – though Thatcherism had a toll on us all God knows – it’s that the climate is not necessarily conducive to civil action or protest, or change coming about through people becoming adamant that the status quo must change.
Maybe people don’t have a sense of their own strength?
Exactly. I tell that to young people all the time, I say, “You have got the capacity to be as organised as the teaching unions are, and within your schools you have got to sit down talk about issues, and find ways to hold the school to account. You don’t have to do it in a belligerent or antagonistic way, but simply to assert your right to comment on and influence the way the community of which you are a part functions.”
Headteachers run a mile when they hear that kind of thing. But I do feel that if all those young black people who are knifing and shooting one another on the streets had had their energies directed into serious political activism, where they consciously attempting to get their voices heard and influence policies on whatever issue it is, there would be such a sense of empowerment of the capacity to get things done and of achievements to be celebrated, people would have neither the time or the stomach for the kind of violence within our communities.

What can reflections on the disturbances tell us in the present? For people who are looking at problems of racism and police violence

Let me preface my answer by saying, I believe the greatest disservice the state does to its population is through the crappy schooling system we have. When you consider that there is such an emphasis on high level exam results, as if that’s the only mark of schools’ effectiveness, the debate about schooling is always about providing labour for the market, Britain’s economic competitiveness, and the extent to which schools and universities are churning people out.
It has nothing to do with giving people the tools to take control of their own lives, equipping people to act collectively to bring about change, and it is certainly nothing to do with understanding the evolution of British social history, such that we can as a society learn from our advances and defeats. That kind of discourse is seen as a throwback to the days of ‘red-led’ protests of the past for lefties. The assumption is that it is not necessary to think in terms of class or the individual up against the state, and that we should be counting our blessings. Meanwhile, stratification within society becomes more entrenched. Those who are poor are not just disenfranchised by lacking wages through which they can live dignified lives; they are also denied the tools by which they can organise in defence of their lives.
People fall prey to an opaque sameness, an assumed consensus in terms of the values we commonly share. Which allows clowns like Cameron to talk about the ‘Big Society’.
It is very important that we understand what led to 1981, and what gives rise to the peaks and troughs as far as the emergence of neo-fascist organisations are concerned. I would not be surprised if in the coming period as European economies begin falling in on themselves you have another upsurge of pan-European fascism.
We need to see ourselves as being in a continuity of struggle, and the struggle is never won until we are living in the kind of social democracies that do not place on a pedestal the market, with all the neo-liberal values that come with it; the rampant individualism, the greed, the abandonment of hope, the abandonment of idealism, the sense that the state has no role in regulating forces within society so those who want to prey on the weak in society have full vent to do that.
It has been taken to extreme lengths in terms of the way schooling is going now: the privatisation of everything that moves. Academies, trusts, and Michael Gove’s assertion that you can open schools all over the place, with no concern about cohesion, no concern about social inclusion.
And in due course all of that must implode upon itself, because it is not just in dictatorships that you find people being oppressed, it happens within so-called democracies as well, and we ignore that at our peril.
I’d like to think in reflecting on 30 years ago we can reflect on what happened since: why did the labour movement that had all these giants, why did it all suddenly get eclipsed? What happened to trade union basic education projects and the workers education movement? What are young people in Moss Side today grounding their sense of identity and purpose? What connection do they have with these lessons of the past? How are they being primed and equipped to make their mark in this present age as each generation has a duty to do?
If anyone tells me that those who are educated will find a way to do that because they have the social capital to do that, I would say that is complete nonsense. Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”. The fact is, schooling is dumbing down people’s sense of history, if not their aspirations as human beings working together to shape a future. I believe the country lost a trick when there was a concentration on building a citizenship curriculum, without concentrating on the need to teach British social history: we need to understand the society, how we have come to be as we are, that rich tradition of fighting for rights. Expanding rights in the society, and with that the responsibilities people have in the present, to build a better future for those coming after them.
I don’t get a sense right now, that there is that level of awareness or political literacy.
I don’t know why people don’t ask the question more regularly, if the centralist tendency within the government is leading to the collapse of local government in safeguarding the rights of citizens, then if what matters to me is how my life in Manchester is regulated by those at the Town Hall, then why should I be concerned about what happens in Whitehall? And yet people in Whitehall feel they have the right to cut off local government and leave people to all kinds of forces without understanding that not everyone has the capacity to engage with the market in that way.
I find it a not very hopeful scenario, and that is why I spend a lot of time trying to connect people with that long sweep of historical struggle, and giving them some tools of analysis so they can better understand what is going on around them.

Article by Andrew Bowman

This article was originally published in The Mule online newspaper in August 2011, and is reproduced by permission of the author.

The arrests of Dick Stocker and Jack Forshaw during the 1926 General Strike

Michael Walker of Hayes People’s History contributed the posts below as comments on the October 2009 article by Michael Herbert, The General Strike in Manchester, May 1926. The original comments are available to view there, but they were substantial enough that we felt that they were worth reproducing in their own right. The two short articles give further detail about the events surrounding the events of two Communist organisers arrested in Manchester during the General Strike for distributing material which the state claimed would cause disaffection.

The arrest of Dick Stocker

William Richard “Dick” Stocker was born 1886 in Pemberton, Wigan. He started his working life as a drapers’ assistant and it is believed that both his mother and father were drapers. He was a political co-worker with Jim Cannon, father of Les Cannon, later of the Electricians’ Union. Stocker joined the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in 1906 and for a period was its national organiser. Later he joined the British Socialist Party (BSP) and became its national Chair at its 1915 annual conference, although he made a point of working closely with the more well-known SLP leaders, Bell and MacManus.

In the 1920s, Stocker was Manchester Communist Party District Treasurer. Unusually for a Communist, he had managed to secure a post of warehouse manager for Messrs Lester Ltd and owned a car and later even a farm outside Manchester. As Stocker was one of the few Communists in the North West to own a car, he was dispatched to London during the General Strike of 1926 to pick up copies of the Communist Party’s emergency strike bulletin, “The Workers Daily,” for distribution in the North West and Scotland.

When unloading copies of the paper at the Communist Party headquarters in Manchester on Tuesday 4th May 1926, Stoker was approached by the police and who arrested him, and only the foresight of YCL members in smuggling away copies stopped the whole run been seized by police. Stoker was charged by the police with “(h)aving attempted to do an act calculated to cause dissatisfaction among his majesty’s forces or civilian population” and was sentenced to two months in jail. It was later claimed that he was the first Communist Party member to be arrested during the General Strike.

The death of Jack Forshaw

[After being arrested on Friday 14th May] Jack Forshaw was defended in court by Mr Davy, who contended that the document [a Communist party leaflet called 'The Great Betrayal'] would not cause disaffection and that the Search Warrant, not having been issued by a Magistrate, was not a legal instrument. In spite of his efforts, Mr PW Atkin, the Stipendiary Magistrate, found Forshaw guilty. He was remanded in custody until the following Monday. Of the others, Hughie Graham was discharged, Dunn and Hicks were allowed Bail until the Monday and Dodd, Davies and Lieberman were remanded with Forshaw in custody.

Over the weekend, Jack Forshaw became seriously ill. He was a diabetic, then a very serious condition indeed. It had only begun to be widely treatable by insulin in Canada three years before and was highly expensive and still not widely available in Britain, which of course had an entirely private medical system. It is extremely unlikely that Forshaw was able to afford the drug. Consequently, he must have relied entirely upon diet to control his hypoglycemic levels and needed special food, a fact which was communicated to the authorities. Even so, he was put in a cold cell and refused the services of a doctor, although he was obviously already in poor health. Harold Hicks was in the same cell as Forshaw and wrote a statement in which he described what actually happened on Friday night, 14th May, in Salford Town Hall Cells:

“After we were examined in the Charge Room, we were removed to the cells, and John Forshaw told the Officer that he wanted to see a doctor as he was a diabetic case. No doctor was sent, although he reminded the warden. At night, he asked the warden for the loan of blankets and the warden said he would see about them. About eleven o’clock on Friday night, John Forshaw complained of the cold and again requested blankets. The warden made reply that he was not allowed to give blankets to us.

Later on we asked the warden to close two little windows set right at the top, but he said he was not allowed to do so, but he said he would put some more steam on.

I had to put my jacket on Forshaw to try and keep him warm, but he was shivering with cold all night. John Forshaw, whilst talking to me next morning told me that if he took bad in a few days, that night was responsible for it as he could hardly rest because of the intense draft of cold air in the cell”.

When Forshaw returned to Court on Monday, he was fined exactly the £100 which had been found on him when he was arrested and he was also sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. The other defendants were bound over on their own sureties. Workers’ International Relief then went into action and obtained bail for Jack Forshaw and he was released pending an appeal against the sentence at the Quarter Sessions. However, he had contracted pneumonia whilst in prison and within a few days he was dead. Even back then such an outcome was understood to be an almost certain conclusion of untreated diabetes mellitus.

At the Quarter Sessions the Recorder, Mr AM Langdon, was accompanied by the Mayor, Alderman Delves. Mr PM Oliver contended that the death of the appellant was no bar to the hearing. This view was contested by Mr EM Fleming who submitted that the appeal could not proceed. The Recorder agreed and then struck out the appeal saying that he had no jurisdiction to proceed.

At his funeral at Manchester crematorium six members of the local Communist Party carried the coffin draped with a red flag through the cemetery, followed by a large procession, while the organ played the Red Funeral march followed by the Red Flag. J (Charlie?) Rutter spoke for Salford Communist Party and Morris Ferguson for Manchester District Communist Party

As with many other events in working class history Jack Forshaw’s deeds and death at the hands of the establishment have largely gone unrecorded but, even as a footnote to working class history, we should not forget the injustice done to him in those heady days of May 1926.

Manchester Irish in Britain Representation Group, part 2

This is the second section of a two-part history of the Manchester branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. For the first part, see here.

The axing of the “Irish Line” radio programme

“Irish Line” was a weekly programme started in 1983 and broadcast by BBC Radio Manchester in collaboration with IBRG. All the work done by IBRG presenters was unpaid. It was a mix of music, sport and “What’s On” which also covered some political issues. “Irish Line” was abruptly axed by the BBC in the summer of 1985 without consultation or discussion

Four of the presenters wrote to the Irish Post newspaper, outlining changes which had been imposed after the arrest of a number of IBRG members under the Prevention of Terrorism Act early in 1985. Those detained included Dr Maire O’Shea, a consultant psychiatrist who was acquitted of all charges at her trial in Manchester in 1986. The presenters said that a poster advertising “Irish Line as presented by BBC and IBRG” was scrapped before it was issued and replaced by one deleting all reference to IBRG. It had been usual to introduce each programme as “being presented by the IBRG from the Irish community in Greater Manchester” but the BBC cut out all mention of IBRG. They had recorded an interview with a member of Bolton IBRG who had been on the International Women’s Day delegation to Armagh prison in March 1985, but this had been excised by the BBC from the broadcast programme. The letter ended by stating that “Irish Line” had been given a “summer break” by the BBC and that none of them had been contacted by the BBC as to the future, and concluded with: “We do hope that Irish Line does not become yet another casualty of the British media’s reluctance to deal in any depth with any Irish issue.” This was an accurate prophecy. The BBC brought the programme back in the autumn, renaming it “Come Into The Parlour” and with new presenters. All political issues were dropped.

Relations with Manchester City Council

In October 1984 Manchester IBRG submitted a detailed report to Manchester City Council on the needs of the Irish, entitled “A New Deal for the Irish Community in Manchester”. They wrote that hoped that it would be the start of a “cordial and productive dialogue between the Irish community in Manchester and the City Council”. The report examined the causes and effects of anti-Irish racism, the lack of recognition of the Irish in the school system, the lack of Irish culture in libraries and other cultural spaces, discrimination in housing and welfare, the lack of recognition given to the experiences of Irish women and finally the effects of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It made a series of recommendations aimed at raising the profile of the Irish and recognising some of the welfare, social and legal problems affecting the community.

In September 1990 IBRG wrote to Terry Day, head of the Equal Opportunities Unit, expressing their dismay at the lack of action by the council on the 1984 report or indeed any other issue concerning the Irish in Manchester. In her response, Ms Day pointed out that the numbers of Irish people employed by the City Council had risen from 3.1% to 3.8% and stated that “the fact that this increase has occurred proves, I think, that discrimination against Irish people had been occurring in the past, and that the measures we have adopted to eliminate discrimination have been at least partially successful in stopping discrimination against Irish people applying for Council jobs.”

Manchester Irish Week 1988

As part of its policy on Ireland, Manchester City Council had pledged itself to organise an Irish week in Manchester. Even from the start there were problems of democracy, accountability, and inclusion in the planning process, which prompted IBRG and other groups to contact the City Council asking that all Irish groups should be included. Eventually these issues resolved themselves (or so it was thought at the time) and meetings to plan a programme of events took place regularly at the Irish Centre in Cheetham with two delegates from each Irish organisation in Manchester (including IBRG).

The committee set up working parties to plan particular events such as history, games, community care and women’s events. The Irish Women’s Group decided on a programme of events including discussion of the issue of strip-searching in Northern Ireland using a video, employment, a play and a women-only social. When this programme was put before the main planning meeting it was treated with what the women involved considered was derision and condescension and voted down, at which point the IBRG delegates withdrew in protest. IBRG protested in the strongest possible terms to the Chair of the Race Sub Committee, Councillor Graham Balance, whilst women members of IBRG and a number of other Irish women attended a meeting with him to express their anger. The Council agreed that all events, no matter which Irish group had organised them, would be included in the official programme.

Tom McAndrew, a leading member of the Council of Irish Associations, then attacked IBRG in the Manchester Evening News, accusing the organisation of “tainting” the festival by including an event on the Birmingham 6. IBRG responded vigorously, arguing that in a week when the Birmigham Six case was being highlighted in St Patrick parades throughout the world, “we see no reason why it should not be raised during the Manchester Festival week, nor do we believe it would ‘taint’ the festival. The majority of Manchester Irish people support the campaign to have these innocent men released.”

IBRG worked in cooperation with the history group, the Irish Women’s group (Mna na hEireann) and other organisations to put together an imaginative programme, putting out their own independent leaflet for the Irish Week in March 1988.

On Saturday 12th March Mna na hEireann held a Irish Women’s Day at English Martyrs Parish Centre, Alexandra Road South in Whalley Range, which was advertised as “A day for Irish women to get together and discuss the issues that affect their lives eg emigration, class and education”. There were workshops on creative writing and discussion on issues of education and identity. The speakers were Moy McCrory, Oonagh ni Cleirig, Maude Casey and May Byrne.

On Tuesday 15th March the meeting on “The British Media and the Birmingham 6 Case” took place at the Green Room, organised by the North West Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and co-ordinated by Granville Williams. The speakers were Charles Tremayne ( a researcher on the World in Action Birmingham 6 programmes) and Bob Woofinden (author of Miscarriage of Justice). The speakers explored the role of the media in both convicting innocent people and uncovering miscarriages of justice. There were also the events at the Green Room with Sean O’Neill & Company and The Jacket Potatoes.

The notion of an Irish Week was revived by the City Council in 1996 (although the 1988 events were accidentally or deliberately forgotten and the event was billed incorrectly as the first such week in Manchester). As their contribution to the Irish Festival in March 1996, Manchester IBRG organised the Irish Heartbeats conference. Thereafter IBRG decided to play no further part in the subsequent Irish Festivals, having concluded that the event was designed to annexe the Irish into the burgeoning heritage, leisure and entertainment industry in Manchester.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

Among the cases taken up by IBRG was that of Kate Magee, a young Irish woman charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act with withholding information. In November 1993 IBRG leafleted a Christy Moore concert at the Manchester Opera House with a leaflet on Kate’s case and subsequently provided support and publicity for her during the long legal process leading up to her trial. IBRG Members attended her trial every day and were relieved when the jury found her Not Guilty.

On 25th October 1990 the branch organised a Repeal the PTA Meeting at St Brendan’s Centre in Old Trafford, one of three meetings held in the North West to support the campaign against the PTA. The speakers at the Manchester meeting were Father Bobby Gilmore from the Irish Chaplaincy in London and Kevin Hayes from the West Midlands PTA Research Association.

Prisoners

In September 1987 the branch wrote to Tony Lloyd MP raising the issue of the repatriation of Irish prisoners to the north and south of Ireland. In his reply he enclosed a response from the Earl of Caithness at the Home Office, adding that he had always supported the case of repatriation as a general principle “and tried to pursue this matter without any great success when the Home Affairs Select Committee looked at prisons in England and Wales.” He outlined some of the current problems on the issue and promised to “continue to support attempts to achieve a more acceptable solution in the circumstances both for the prisoners themselves and for their families”.

In May 1994 IBRG organised a meeting for Hugh Callaghan, one of the Birmingham Six, to talk about his book Cruel Fate at Frontline Books. Sally Mulready, who had been active in the London Campaign for the Six, accompanied Hugh and spoke about the effects of the imprisonment on the men’s wives and families and how very bravely they had taken the first steps in campaigning to get them out.

The War in Ireland

The continuing war in Ireland throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s formed the backdrop against which Manchester IBRG operated and was something they consistently drew attention to in many of their activities. This distinguished them from other Irish community groups who were ready to promote culture, history and Irish Studies but extremely wary of any activities relating to the conflict. IBRG’s view was that it was impossible to talk about Irish history, Irish culture and Irish identity without at the same time talking about what was happening in the North of Ireland.

In October 1988 Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd introduced a broadcasting ban on Republican and Loyalist representatives being heard on TV and radio. The justification was that this denied “apologists for terrorism” a platform to propagate their views. In reality it was another in a long line of propaganda moves by British governments (Tory and Labour) to close down discussion on events in Northern Ireland and win acceptance for their analysis ie that it was all the fault of “the terrorists”. The government did not ban Republicans completely from the airwaves, just their voices, resulting in the surreal situation where their actual voices could not be broadcast but what they had said some hours earlier was voiced over instead by an actor. In time, and with practice by the actors, it become almost impossible to distinguish the “false” from the “real”.

On 25th January 1989 Bernadette Hyland from IBRG spoke at a meeting at which a video of a Channel 4 programme, Mother Ireland, was shown to a packed audience of over 150 at the Manchester Mechanics Institute. The film interlaced music, images and historical film with interviews with a number of women including Pat Murphy, Nell McCafferty, Bernadette McAliskey and Republican Mairead Farrell, who was shot dead by the SAS shortly afterwards in Gibraltar.

Mother Ireland was the first programme to fall foul of the Broadcasting Ban. In response the North West Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom organised a public meeting to allow an audience to make their own mind up. The meeting was chaired by the North West organiser of CPBF, Granville Williams. In her speech Bernadette outlined IBRG’s opposition to the ban: “It denies British people the right to the facts behind the conflict in the Six Counties, it denies Irish people the right to learn their own history”. IBRG joined a picket outside the BBC on Oxford Road on the 5th anniversary of the ban.

Throughout the course of the war in Ireland IBRG always defended the right of Sinn Fein elected representatives to visit Britain and put their case. In the autumn of 1986, during an official visit by two Sinn Fein local councilors to Manchester City Council, IBRG organized a meeting for Irish people to meet the councillors and listen to what they had to say.

In January 1995 the annual Bloody Sunday March was held in Manchester, the first time that the march had been held in the city . Local IBRG members joined the march, whilst IBRG National Chair Pat Reynolds addressed the rally in Albert Square alongside Martin McGuinness from Sinn Fein. The Daily Express attacked Manchester City Council for allowing the rally to take place in Albert Square. IBRG responded in the local Irish newspaper Irish Echo, defending the right to march.

Conclusion

Looking back, Bernadette Hyland, secretary of Manchester IBRG and also IBRG national chairperson for a number of years, reflected that “IBRG really was a community organisation. At its heart were people who had a strong sense of their own identity, a love of their own history and its people and a strong will to ensure that the inequality and marginalization of the community would not continue. For me personally, IBRG meant in the broadest terms a movement reflective of a socialist ideology, encompassing a better world not just for Irish people on these two islands but a better world for all people.”

Article by Michael Herbert

Free Trade Hall Meeting 13 October 1905: the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women

The Women’s Social and Political Union was formed by women members of the Independent Labour Party on 10 October 1903 to campaign for women’s suffrage. Two years later the organisation hit the headlines when two of its leading members, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, were arrested after disrupting a meeting in the Free Trade Hall. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women.

The Pankhurst name was already known in Manchester before the militant campaign for Votes for Women, started in October 1905, made Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst household names.

Richard Pankhurst (1834-1898) was a barrister in Manchester and active member of the Liberal Party, who worked tirelessly in support of many progressive causes such as parliamentary reform, republicanism, Home Rule for Ireland, secular education and women’s suffrage. In 1879 he married Emmeline Goulden, twenty years his junior, and they had five children. In 1883 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament in a by-election in Manchester. Recalling her father, his daughter Sylvia wrote

“Without, he breasted the storm and stress of political turmoil: at home he poured forth for us a wealth of enthusiastic affection, in the precious hours torn for us from the fabric of his vast activity, revealing to us in a fascinating and never-ending variety of the brilliant facets of his thought and knowledge. His struggle was the background of our lives, and his influence, enduring long after his death was their strongest determining factor.”

Living for a time in London in Russell Square, their house was a meeting point for radicals of all persuasions: Socialist, Fabians, Freethinkers, Anarchists, Communards. There were endless meetings and musical evenings. In 1889 the Pankhursts, along with other prominent campaigners, formed the Women’s Franchise League which campaigned not just on suffrage but on the rights of women in areas such as custody of children and divorce. The secretary was Ursula Bright.

Returning to Manchester, where they lived in Victoria Park, the family often attended the meetings of the Ancoats Brotherhood organised by Charles Rowley on music, art and science. Dr Pankhurst himself gave a series of lectures on citizenship. Disillusioned with the Liberal party both Richard and Emmeline joined the Independent Labour Party, formed in 1893. Its leading figures, such as Carolyn Martyn, Enid Stacey, Pete Curran, Tom Mann, Bruce Glasier, Katherine St John Conway and Keir Hardie, were frequent visitors to the Victoria Park house when lecturing in Manchester.

In December 1894 Emmeline took her first step onto the political stage when she was elected to the Chorlton Board of Guardians for the Openshaw district. During that winter there was high unemployment in Manchester. A Relief Committee was established with Dr Pankhurst as Secretary and another local socialist, Dr Martin, as Treasurer, whilst Emmeline went every day to collect food from the markets for the daily distribution of food from the offices on Deansgate. They were soon feeding 2,000 people each day.

In 1895 Richard stood for the ILP in the Gorton constituency in the general election but he was unsuccessful, despite working very hard on the campaign. The following year both Richard and Emmeline took part in a battle for the rights of Socialists to speak in the open air on Sundays at Boggart Hole Clough. From 1892 the North Manchester Fabian Society, and on its formation the ILP, had been holding outdoor meetings without hindrance as the Clough was private property. Things changed, however, after Manchester City Council purchased the estate. In May and June 1896 the Council issued summonses against ILP speakers such as Leonard Hall, John Harker and Fred Brocklehurst, who were fined and imprisoned when they refused to pay. This attracted a good deal of public interest and on 14 June 10,000 people attended the outdoor meeting. On 20th June Emmeline spoke to a crowd of 20,000, whilst her daughters Sylvia and Christabel collected donations. Mrs Pankhurst was also summonsed but her case was repeatedly adjourned and never came to court. On 29 June a protest was held on New Cross against the Council’s actions. and on 3 July Keir Hardie spoke at a meeting in Stevenson Square, attended by over a thousand people.

Keir Hardie was also summonsed and when he appeared before the bench on 14 July he announced that he intended to call 421 witnesses. The case was adjourned by the magistrates after the twentieth had appeared! In August the Council passed a new by-law prohibiting meetings in parks but the Home Secretary, no doubt mindful of the controversy created so far, refused to sanction it. Eventually a new by-law was passed, drafted by the Home Secretary, which promised not to refuse any reasonable request for the use of parks. Outstanding summonses were dropped. The ILP had been victorious.

Dr Pankhurst died suddenly on 5 July 1898 from gastric ulcers. He left no will and many debts. Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald acted as fundraisers to raise money to build a hall in his memory which eventually opened in November 1900 as the Pankhurst Memorial Hall on St James Road, Hightown, Salford. Keir Hardie gave the first memorial lecture there on 25 November 1900.

Devastated by their loss, the grieving family sold many of their goods and moved from Victoria Park to 62 Nelson Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock. With family finances in a parlous state, Emmeline took a job as a Registrar of Births & Deaths, acting as such from 8 November 1898 to 25 February 1907. Her daughter Christabel acted as her deputy from 4 November 1903 to 5 September 1906. The registrations took place at the family home, the public attending at advertised hours.

The family kept up their political activity, opposing the Boer War and thereby attracting much public hostility and some violence. In November 1900 Mrs Pankhurst was elected as a Socialist candidate on the Manchester School Board.

But by 1903 Emmeline and Christabell had become increasingly disillusioned by the lack of interest shown by the ILP whose leaders were, with the exception of Keir Hardie, either lukewarm on the issue of votes for women or in the case of Philip Snowden actively hostile. Thus on 10th October 1903 Emmeline called a meeting of like-minded ILP women at her house and they formed a new organisation – the Women’s Social & Political Union.

Initially the WSPU’s efforts were directed solely toward getting motions passed at ILP branches urging the leadership to take action. Keir Hardie gave his support, while Emmeline toured the branches and was elected onto the ILP Executive at its conference at Easter 1904. At the Easter conference in Manchester in 1905 the Pankhursts held a reception for delegates in their home.

After much lobbying they managed to get a Private Members Bill before the Commons, sponsored by the Liberal MP John Bamford Slack. On 12 May 1905 women packed the lobby of the Commons in support of the bill but it was talked out, being at the bottom of the order paper.

In the summer of 1905 Annie Kenney (1879-1953) a mill worker living in Lees, Oldham, who was a member of the local ILP and its choir, heard Emmeline and Christabel speak on women’s suffrage and immediately offered her services. She was soon fully involved as a public speaker. At her urging the Pankhursts set up stalls at wakes fairs in Stalybridge, Mossley and other Lancashire towns. Another recruit to the cause was Theresa Billington, a Socialist who had been brought up Catholic but become an agnostic. She was a teacher in Manchester who was a founder of the Manchester Teachers Equal Pay League. She became a paid organiser for the WSPU in June 1905.

With a general election in the offing (which many expected the Liberals to win), on 13 October 1905 Sir Edward Grey, a leading member of the Liberal Party (he was to become Foreign Secretary) came to speak in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall. The WSPU wrote to him, asking him to receive a deputation, but he did not reply. Christabel and Annie Kenny joined the audience, intending to heckle and with luck be arrested and imprisoned. This is Sylvia’s account from her book, The Suffragette Movement.

“Sir Edward Grey was making his appeal for the return of a Liberal government when a little white “Votes for Women” banner shot up. “Labour Representation” was the cry of the hour. Christabel thrust Annie Kenney forward, as one of the organized textile workers, and a member of a trade union committee, to ask. “Will the Liberal Government give women the vote?” Other questions were answered; that question was ignored. When it was persisted in, Annie Kenney was dragged down by the men sitting near her, and one of the stewards put a hat over her face. Christabel repeated the question. The hall was filled with conflicting cries; “Be quiet” “Let the lady speak” In the midst of the hubbub the Chief Constable of Manchester, William Peacock, came to the women and told them that if they would put the question in writing, he would take it himself to Sir Edward grey; but it went the round of chairman and speakers, and non of the vouchsafed a reply. When Sir Edward Grey rose to acknowledge a vote of thanks, Annie stood on a chair to ask again, whilst Christabel strove to prevent her removal; but Liberal stewards and policemen in plain clothes soon dragged them both from the hall. Determined to secure imprisonment, Christabel fought against ejection. When detectives thrust her into an ante-room she cried to her captors: ”I shall assault you!”; she retorted, when they pinioned her; “I shall spit at you!”. Her threat was not carried out in a very realistic manner, but she made as though to accomplish it, and she also managed to get a blow at the inspector as she and Annie Kenney were flung out of the building. Yet still she was not arrested. Outside in South Street she declared that they must hold a meeting , and when they attempted to address the crowd now flocking out of the hall, her desire was attained; they were now arrested and taken to the town hall.”

The women appeared in court the following day. Annie Kenney, speaking in her own defence, said that a large crowd had assembled, and, she admitted, blocked the street; but so long as they were to receive such treatment she, as representing thousands of factory women who had no votes, would be compelled to make the same kind of protest. They were fined but refused to pay and hence Christabel was sentenced to seven days imprisonment and Annie to three days. They were placed in the Third Division, wearing prison dress and eating prison food. According to Sylvia, Winston Churchill (then a prospective Liberal candidate for a Manchester seat) went to Strangeways prison to pay the fines but the governor refused to accept the money. Keir Hardie telegraphed his support. “The thing is a dastardly outrage, but do not worry, it will do immense good to the cause. Can I do anything?”

On their release a great crowd greeted them and Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper presented them with flowers. On 20th October both women addressed a crowded meeting in the very hall from which they had been ejected a week earlier. Keir Hardie also spoke. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women which over the next nine years would involve thousands of women and shake British society to the core.

Article by Michael Herbert

Okasional Cafes

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, anarchists and environmental activists in Manchester organised a series of squatted cafe-social centres around the city, under the name Okasional Cafe. This article is based on interviews with two people – both of whom wished to remain anonymous – who were involved in organising several of the cafes and running events in them.

The first Okasional Cafe, in 1998, was supposed to be in a former kebab takeaway on Peter Street, near the junction with Deansgate, on the site now occupied by Bar 38.

“There was a big row of Victorian shop buildings and a takeaway called, I think, the Topkapi Palace, which had already closed down in preparation for being demolished as part of the redevelopment plans for the huge warehouses behind and Great Northern Square,” recalls one of the people involved in looking at this initial site. “Four of us went in to recce it, which involved a small person having to go through a hole in the brickwork where there had been a heating vent, and letting the others in. It was perfect – the big industrial-scale catering cookers were still there, which would have been great for events. But it stank from the barrels of kebab fat too…”

In the event, the organising group decided that this site wasn’t suitable because the demolition date for the buildings was imminent and, although the organisers were anticipating having to fight eviction orders, they didn’t want this to be the focus of their activity, or for scared developers to take aggressive action to evict them. The second choice of venue was the former Temperance Movement building on Oxford Road in South Manchester, immediately opposite the Manchester University Students’ Union, now Kro Bar.

At this point, the Riotous Assembly open radical activist meetings had not yet started, so the recce teams for both sites had been recruited at the Earth First! meetings which at that time still took place in the Friends Meeting House in Manchester city centre.

“I remember meeting the people who were going to turn it into the pub,” says one participant. “The head of what is now the Kro empire, I remember him saying, well the weekend you moved in we were planning on moving in as well, but we thought well, we can take a bit more time. His brother, who was on the dole, was helping him with the building work, and they had a month’s less rent to pay so they weren’t bothered.”

As one interviewee recalls, the cafes were meant to be “a point where social and political activity could go on reasonably freely and workshops and film showings could happen, but also secondly that it was supposed to be an access point for new people who might not come to a meeting but would be comfortable coming and having a cup of tea and a piece of cake and picking up some leaflets and then might come back again for something else a few days later and actually speak to somebody about getting involved.”

Another interviewee emphasised that “about people having an access point for ‘our’ ways of working – ie anarchist – and forms of actual direct action. I remember it definitely as being for both those purposes, and also that there were actions actually happening at the same time, so people could go to the cafe, hear about an action, go to a meeting about it and get comfortable with the idea and then actually go along on an action and get involved, as well as providing a space for people who were already involved to meet together and have that contact. It’s also in my head as a post-Manchester Airport protest camp thing – lots of people had moved to Manchester, had been active and the EF! Meetings were too big and unwieldy and some people had the idea that everything in the meetings had to be agreed by everyone and others thought they were a forum, a place to go to where you could say, we’re doing this anyone want to get involved?”

“For me,” he continued, “the reason Okasional Cafe came round was that it was a physical point of contact, because people had had the experience of living on protest camps at the Airport together, and that was really important, and there was nowhere for people to meet and spend time together. I was completely sold on the model of squatting a place, holding it for a month, saying ‘we’re going to be here for a month’, not trying to do it for longer or make it a permanent place, not trying to say we’ll keep it for longer but put that burst of energy into it for that month and then do other things the rest of the time, rather than having a permanent centre…”

The first Okasional Cafes were not simply spaces where people could come and talk, but had well-organised schedules of events, including political meetings, exhibitions, film showings and fundraising parties. A distinctive logo was designed, probably by a resident of the ‘Redbricks’ estate in Hulme, and in the weeks preceding the squatting of a new cafe several waves of publicity would take place, starting with the logo being fly-posted around town, followed by posters bearing the words ‘it’s coming’ and then after the building have been occupied posters and bookmark-format leaflets with the address and workshop timetable would be distributed in cafes, pubs, bookstores and ‘alternative’ shops like those in Afflecks Palace.

“I’m not sure I can imagine such organised publicity happening now,” commented one participant. “people rely too much on the internet, they think that when they’ve put something on Facebook they’ve publicised, whereas actually they’ve just told a load of people they’re already in touch with, and they think they can advertise something the day before, instead of having to put in some work to really get word out.”

Okasional Cafes around Manchester

After the success of the initial Okasional Cafe on Oxford Road, a number of other squat cafes took place across South and Central Manchester over the next four years. Sites for these included an old canal keeper’s cottage on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter, a second one at Kro, one on Birch Grove in Rusholme and two at the Hacienda, one of which was a fundraiser for the massive J18 anti-capitalist protests which took place in London in June 1999.

There was also an abortive attempt to hold an Okasional Cafe in St Peter’s House, opposite the Peace Gardens and Central Library. “It was in November one year,” says a participant, “and people hadn’t really thought about the issues around that but it was just before the 11th and the police really cracked down on it because they thought it was an anti-war protest in time for the Armistice Day commemorations, which it wasn’t. So they just smashed their way in through the plate glass windows, using the fact that there was a back staircase which was shared with another building as a legal pretext for evicting the squat.

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe

Another site used was a former auction house on Charles Street, just off Oxford Road next to the BBC. One memorable event held there was a showing of the film Injustice, about the struggles for justice by families of people – mainly black men like Shiji Lapite and Roger Sylvester, but also including Harry Stanley and women like Joy Gardner and Sarah Thomas – who had died in police custody.

The Police Federation had tried to take legal action to prevent the film, which called for the prosecution of several serving police officers, from being screened. Venues were harassed and threatened with having their licenses revoked, and cinemas were told by police lawyers that they might face expensive libel suits. So when the Cornerhouse Cinema on Oxford Road was intimidated into cancelling a showing, people involved with the Charles St cafe, just round the corner, stepped in to offer an alternative.

“But we managed to prime one of the directors, Tariq Mehmood, who lives in Rusholme, so that when they reached the end of their talk and had to tell the audience that they couldn’t show the film there, they announced that the people who had just stood up could lead them to a venue where they could see it.”

The Cornerhouse cinema, according to one of the people involved in the Okasional Cafe screening, event loaned chairs to allow enough audience members to go to the alternative screening, and some of the box office staff had made significant efforts to deliver the coded message to people buying tickets for the event that although the event had been formally cancelled, something else might be afoot…

The Charles Street Okasional Cafe was also the scene for exhibitions giving ongoing information about the mass protests – and police brutality – which took place at the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001. But, despite some of the good events which went on at Charles St, it was also an example of some of the things that could go wrong with such an enterprise.

“My take on what happened.” says one participant, who had been involved in many of the other cafes, “was that a lot of people were involved who nowadays would be curating slightly alternative art galleries or working for the World Development Movement or the Big Issue, but then, because it was the exciting ‘in’ thing they were there. But for the first part of the Charles St cafe, the people putting most time in were people who had less long-term experience or hadn’t made the same connections so the way it was organised was messier and events weren’t publicised. There were also problems because the site was near an all-night Spar and a big homeless hostel, and some people turned up from a protest came and stayed and behaved like arseholes, so there were social problems being dealt with by people with very little experience.”

The solution was to close the squat down for a week, regroup the organising committee and remodel the space. The main room was painted white to give it a completely different feel from the previous dark space, and the cafe was re-opened for several more weeks before it was finally evicted. “The eviction was,” says one of the people involved, “one of those classic developer things where they come to court and say they want to use the building for such-and-such and work will start straight away and the judge says ok, kick them out, and now eight years later it’s still empty, and there is still as Okasional Cafe sign over the door…”

Decentralised organising

As one interviewee who was involved in organising several of the Okasional cafes recalls, the networks and personal connections which had grown up during the protest camps at Manchester Airport were still in place during this era. “Although people were campaigning on different issues it tended to feel more like they were part of the same thing than it seems to now,” he says. “Animal rights people or whoever might be doing their thing, but a lot of the allocating work and responsibilities happened because various different people with different skills were involved. In terms of anarchist forms of organising there were weekly meetings at the cafe which set up the events for the week after and sometimes there were more regular meetings if there were other issues that came up.”

The tension between weekly and more regular meetings was, he says, “interesting, in that the people with most time and the people who were living there to hold the squat sometimes acquired more power than others. So some people were arguing that it’s more democratic to have weekly meetings because more people can actually come to them.”

Tactically, different methods were used to actually initiate the occupation of the squatted buildings. For the Hacienda events, many of the first groups of people to enter the building were asked to meet at a fairly public site in Hulme and then led away in small groups, under cover of darkness and sometimes through the gardens of squat sympathisers on a nearby estate. As a result, the police failed to notice that the crowd they were monitoring was actually slowly dispersing.

At most of the other Okasional Cafes, a small group would crack the squat in advance in order to take legal control, and then other members of the organising group would collect a larger selection of people who’d gathered at a publicly advertised meeting point and bring them to help with preparing the venue – cleaning, decorating and if necessary connecting water and electricity. “It was a balance of recognising that you have to keep some things secret for them to work, while making the process as open and participatory as possible,” commented one person who was involved in a number of the cafes. “And because we had the networks from the Airport protests and other direct action and free party scenes we knew who to get in touch with if we needed the water and gas and electrics to be turned back on. A lot of that was the result of lessons from 1990s direct action and Reclaim the Street.”

Decision-making processes about how the cafes would be run were also decentralised, bringing in a range of experiences, ages and backgrounds. “I remember in the first OK Cafe there was a No Smoking room,” recalls one participant. “When that was first brought up some people were like, Noooo! But for me that was an example of the difference between two simplified versions of anarchism – the more individualistic, which I think is called Sternerite, and the more collectivist or community-based – ‘I can do what I like’ vs ‘I can do what I like but understand its impacts on other people.’ So there were lots of debates, and in the end there were No Smoking times and room in Okasional Cafes.”

Over the course of the various cafes, many lessons were also learned about the kind of events, activities and messages participants wanted to use the sites for. “The first one was around the time of an election, and it was also near a church,” recalled one person. “Someone put a big cross up outside with a politician hanging from it and labelled it ‘use your cross wisely, crucify a politician.’ And there were things like free stalls and also what became People’s Kitchen, ie experimenting with cheap meals and food by donation. That was quite hard, because especially being in a student area you felt you were putting in lots of effort to feed lazy students who’d got enough money anyway. So it shifted, became really nice set meals with candlelight or poetry performances but also with a suggested donation. Soft drinks would be free or donations but alcohol was a set price because there was a sense that if people wanted to spend money on alcohol it should be a fundraiser. There were also party night which were fundraisers too, and usually they were donations on the door and some people would just ask casually and people would put a few coppers in, but some more savvy ones would say ‘three quid, three quid’ as people came in and a well-run night at the Kro site could easily raise a thousand pounds. People lost that ability with some of the later cafes, especially the Kickstart ones that were done by a different group of people later on, people involved in residential squatting in Whalley Range, because they just weren’t as organised and people would nick the money and they didn’t really have a sense of how to replicate some of the really creative stuff we were doing at OK Cafes.”

To evict or not to evict?

In almost all cases the OK Cafe squats were time-limited, held for just a month and then handed back to their owners. They were also largely in commercial or public buildings rather than residential ones. One exception was the sixth squat, on Birch Grove in Rusholme in 2000, which – with the approval of the house’s owner – became a residential squat for at least six months after the Okasional Cafe there closed down.

Even though it had become a residential squat, the Birch Grove site did remain a hub for some direct action activity, serving as the meeting point for groups of Manchester activists who went to the Close Campsfield noise demonstration and actions against the asylum seeker detention centre in Oxfordshire.

In some other cases the landlords of squatted properties were less co-operative, although the reputation of the protesters occupying the buildings sometimes meant that evictions weren’t carried out. “With the first Okasional Cafe,” a participant remembers, “people remembered us from the Airport, where people felt they had to power to say to a landlord, ‘yes you can take us to court and get an order and evict us, but we’re going to resist, you’ll need bailiffs. Ask the Under-Sheriff of Lancashire, Andy Wilson, he’ll tell you that we’re going to be really expensive.’ It’s in your interest and our interest to negotiate – give us a month. And landlords would go, OK. At the Kro Bar site, Andy Wilson came along and people pretended to have been in tunnels and had dirt on their faces and head torches and he just backed off and from then on we had the reputation with other landlords that – take them to court, but negotiate with them.”

The one exception to this rule was the Hacienda squat. The police had succeeded in having the superclub closed down and, as one participant thinks, saw its re-opening as a challenge. They evicted it quickly and at times brutally, and were therefore furious when it was then re-squatted a second time – giving rise to graffiti in one of the rooms reading The People 1: Police 0 which was them amended to The People 2: Police 0. A number of people arrested in the first eviction successfully sued Greater Manchester Police for wrongful arrest. “The second time,” recalls one interviewee, “only once we we had negotiated our way outside did we see that there were lines of riot cops with battering rams all lined up by the walls, where we couldn’t see them from the inside. There was also a moment where, while they were using quite a lot of violence to clear the area, we saw one riot cop who was well known for being very big and violent whack someone across the back with the truncheon, and the person he’d hit getting out his badge and saying ‘I’m undercover!’ And that was great to watch…”

Article by Sarah Irving

Manchester and the Death of Terence MacSwiney

The hunger strike and death of the Lord Mayor of Cork,Terence MacSwiney, in 1920 had a profound affect on Irish people, not just in Ireland but in many cities in Britain, including Manchester.

Terence MacSwiney was arrested on 12th August 1920 and sentenced at a British army court-martial to two years in prison. He joined the hunger strike in progress at Cork Gaol, whereupon the government moved him to Brixton prison where he continued his fast. By the end of the second week he seemed to be sinking rapidly and his death was expected at almost any hour.

When he was inaugurated as Lord Mayor of Cork after the murder of Tomas MacCurtain by British forces, MacSwiney had prophesied that “This contest on our side is not one of rivalry or vengeance, but of endurance. It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer…” He later sent out a message from Brixton prison via Archbishop Mannix. “We must be prepared for casualties in the last battle for Irish independence. Let every man offer his life.” In the end he gave up his own life after 74 days.

A great deal of pressure had been put on Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and the cabinet to make concessions in order to get MacSwiney to call off his fast. The British government very quickly decided, however, that this was a political battle it had to win and dug in its heels. The British ruling class understood that Empire was as much a matter of psychology as it was of soldiers and guns. If MacSwiney were to call off his hunger strike it would be a severe a blow to Irish morale. If he died it would be a lesson to the Irish of how ruthless the government was prepared to be, a view reinforced by Lloyd George himself in a controversial speech at Caernavon in early October in which he spoke of the “very strong measures” that needed to be taken in order to defeat “the real murder gang”. The Daily Herald condemned his speech as “coarse, cowardly and cruel”.

A number of organisations and leading citizens in Manchester tried to put pressure on the government to give way. On 26th August a joint meeting of the Manchester & Salford Labour Party and Manchester & Salford Trades Council passed a resolution stating that they were appalled at the callous attitude of the government and requesting that “in the interests of humanity and peace” the Lord Mayor be released forthwith. A number of local women sent a telegram also requesting MacSwiney’s release. Their number included Dr Cathleen Chisholm, Dr Florence Robinson, Annot Robinson and Mabel Hewitt.

On 27th August a meeting of Manchester citizens at Merchants Restaurant in Market Street sent a telegram to the King, asking him to exercise royal prerogative. It was signed by, amongst others, Canon Peter Green, Joe Toole, Councillor William Mellor (secretary of Manchester & Salford Trades Council), Alderman Jackson, Catherine Chisholm of the Women’s International League, Mrs Neal of the Women’s Freedom League, Annot Robinson, Councillor Hugh Lee, Agatha Watts and George Clancy of the Irish Self Determination League.

The government remained unmoved by these and many other protests from Britain and abroad. Instead they skilfully and subtly created the conditions to put maximum pressure on MacSwiney to give up his protest. Thus his friends and relatives were able to visit at any time, nurses and doctors were in attendance and there was always food by the bedside. Journalists from around the world called into Art O’Brien’s office in London where MacSwiney’s sister Mary spoke to them, giving them the latest information. Mary tried every avenue to put pressure on the government. In early September she went to Brighton where the TUC was meeting, hoping to address the assembled delegates. The TUC President J H Thomas refused to let her speak to the Congress, however, claiming that it would be too much of an emotional strain on her, and instead made a token gesture by sending another telegram to Lloyd George.

In New York a spectacular strike broke out on the docks at the end of August when a group of Irish women calling themselves American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims brought out the West Side waterfront for nearly a month. They were protesting both at the arrest of MacSwiney in Ireland and the arrest at sea of Archbishop Daniel Mannix from Melbourne, a fierce critic of British government policy in Ireland, who had sailed for Ireland from New York on the White Star liner Baltic. En route two British destroyers stopped the Baltic and arrested Mannix, landing him in Penzance, where he was handed orders forbidding him from travelling to Ireland, Liverpool, Glasgow or Manchester. In New York the women pickets brought out British stokers, Irish and black longshoremen in a strike which spread rapidly, disrupted some sailings and lasted until 21st September

On 17th October Michael Fitzgerald died on hunger strike in Cork gaol after 67 days, while MacSwiney himself died on the morning of 25th October. The two friends with him in his last hour could never bring themselves to speak of it. The Manchester Guardian commented acidly that his death was “part of a policy, the policy of ruthlessness. Ireland is to be terrorised, opposition is to be crushed.” The Manchester District committee of the ISDL, representing 36 local branches, sent a telegram to MacSwiney’s widow saying that “The Irishmen and Irishwomen of Manchester send their heartfelt sympathy with you in this your great hour of sorrow. However, you will be consoled in your grief, knowing that the Lord Mayor died that the Irish nation might live.”

Fellow Republican political prisoners carried MacSwiney’s body to the prison doors after which it was taken to the Catholic cathedral in Southwark where several hundred attended the brief service, many of them working class Irish women from South London. His body lay in its coffin before the High Altar with many coming to pay their respects. A few days later thousands attended Mass in the cathedral after which the coffin was driven slowly across London to Euston station accompanied by a huge procession, with representatives present from across Ireland and every Irish community in Britain. The train that carried his body also carried several hundred policemen.

On arriving in Holyhead those accompanying MacSwiney’s body were informed that the government had forbidden its passage to Dublin, where the whole city was waiting, and had instead provided a steamer to take the coffin directly to Cork. There was a bitter and emotional argument between Art O’Brien, Mary MacSwiney and government officials but they had no choice but to agree. In Cork nobody would receive the body from the British vessel and eventually it was landed by British soldiers. MacSwiney was finally laid to rest in his home town accompanied by a massive funeral procession. The next day eighteen year old Kevin Barry was hanged in Dublin.

In Manchester on Sunday 31st October there was a huge procession in honour of MacSwiney, perhaps the largest march ever organised by the Irish in the city. Thousands assembled in Stevenson Square and walked slowly four a breast to Moston cemetery by way of Oldham Street, Oldham Road, Livesey Street and Rochdale Road with spectators lining the whole route. Sixty taxi-cabs and carriages led the procession followed by a hearse carrying a mock coffin covered with the tricolour and flags.

Despite the cold weather there were many elderly people on the procession as well as many local Catholic priests. A squad of girls and women accompanied the hearse, some in semi-uniform, while an industrial school band played Saul’s Dead March and Chopin’s Funeral March. There were also Irish pipers playing in the march. As many as forty branches of the Irish Self Determination League were present, carrying tricolours, and many marchers wore armbands in the same colour. So great were the numbers on the procession that the tail was still in Stevenson Square by the time that the front of the procession had reached the cemetery and the last mile was unable get in to the graveyard at all. Those that managed recited prayers as wreaths were laid at the Manchester Martyrs memorial.

Article by Michael Herbert

The March 1920 Stockport By-Election

In March 1920 Irish Republicans used a by-election in Stockport to highlight the plight of Republican prisoners on hunger-strike in a British prison.

In March 1920 William O’Brien, secretary of the Irish Labour Party and a leading member of the Irish trade union movement, was arrested and taken to Wormwood Scrubs where seventy other Republican political prisoners were already being held. When they began a hunger-strike he joined in. O’Brien had helped found the Irish Transport & General Workers union and had been close colleague of James Connolly.

O’Brien’s arrest coincided with growing dissatisfaction amongst many in the Irish community in Britain at the attitude of the British Labour Party to events in Ireland and, in particular, its refusal to wholeheartedly support self-determination for the Irish people. At a meeting in the Free Trade Hall on 1st March 1920, for instance, Sean MacEntee (TD – a member of the Irish Parliament – for South Monaghan) and A Connor (TD for South Kildare) attacked the Labour party’s views on Ireland. MacEntee said that it was useless to talk to them of Dominion status. They were not a colony, but a nation with a record as proud and cleaner than England’s and nothing less than complete independence would satisfy them.

Connor ridiculed the report of the Labour party delegation to Ireland, saying that it had concluded that the Irish were rather too naughty to be entrusted as yet with the conduct of their own affairs. At the end of the speeches the packed audience passed a resolution stating that “this meeting of Irish citizens of Manchester and district hereby pledges its allegiance to the Republic of Ireland established in Easter 1916 and confirmed by the vast majority of the people of Ireland in the election of 1918.”

A parliamentary by-election was due in Stockport, following the death of Spencer Leigh Hughes and resignation of George Wardle, the two Members of Parliament. Local Irish people sent a delegation to the Labour Party NEC protesting at its attitude on self-determination and alleged inaction on the arrest of William O’Brien. In particular they wanted to know whether the Labour party was prepared to grant immediate recognition of the right of the Irish people to self-determination, even if a majority decided for an Irish Republic, whether they would release all Irish political prisoners if returned to power, and finally, whether they would specify a time for the withdrawal of the army of occupation.

The Labour Party said that these were hypothetical questions and instead handed them a long statement justifying the party’s views and actions. This evidently did not satisfy the delegation, for on 16th March a meeting of over a thousand Stockport Irish electors invited William O’Brien to contest the Stockport seat “as a protest against the apostasy of the Labour party on the question of Irish self-determination and against the inactivity in the face of military tyranny in Ireland”. The United Irish League urged support for the Labour party but by now their views carried very little weight in the Irish community which had thrown its weight behind the Republican movement.

The defection of the Irish seems to have had an effect for in his manifesto Sir Leo Money, one of the two Labour candidates, wrote that he regarded with shame the fact that “at the conclusion of a war waged for human liberty Ireland is governed by a military despotism”.

No doubt hoping that the Irish electorate would in time return to the fold, the Labour Party also allowed the Irish campaign to use its meeting rooms at Central Hall for an opening election rally. J Clancy from the ISDL presided, stating that they refused absolutely to take the gloved hand offered by the English Labour Party any more than the mailed fist of the Coalition. The Labour Party had failed dismally on the question of self-determination for Ireland and their object in fighting the election was to make Labour realise that its attitude was not consistent with the democratic principles which they professed. Thus the decision of the Irish to support O’Brien was nicely timed to expose the gap between Labour’s past rhetoric and Labour’s present position and push the party into outright support for complete self-determination.

In his election address issued from jail William O’Brien (standing as Workers Republican) said that his aim “was to raise the clear issue of the right of the Irish people to determine their own destiny. The issue is whether the people of Ireland are to have their own free choice, without the interference of any power, people or parliament, in deciding the form of government under which they will live.” He went on to argue that the Labour Party had recanted from the position it had adopted in April 1919 at an international conference in Amsterdam when it had supported the immediate application of the right of self-determination to Ireland. Now it seemed to favour some form of Home Rule which would still leave foreign affairs and defence in the hands of the British Empire. “Labour, like the British government, has one definition of freedom and self -determination when applied abroad and another interpretation of it at home.”

During the campaign Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, whose husband Francis Sheehy-Skeffington had been murdered by the British during the Easter Rising, came to speak in support of O’Brien, as did Captain MacNaghten, an Ulster Protestant who had fought in the war but afterwards joined the Republican movement. When the results were announced on 11th April O’Brien had received 2,336 votes, which the Manchester Guardian estimated was substantially the whole Irish vote in the constituency. The two seats were won by the Coalition candidates.

O’Brien continued his hunger strike until the government did a deal to move him into a nursing home (where he was visited by the veteran Fenian Dr Mark Ryan) and finally release him in early May. O’Brien was later elected to the Dail for many years and died in 1968.

Article by Michael Herbert

Benny Rothman and the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass

Kinder Scout 75 years after

The young man, just turned twenty-one and up on charges of riotous assembly, assault and incitement at Derby Assizes, had prepared notes of what he was going to say to the jury. He wanted to make a case, he said, for the right to go walking in the countryside.

“We ramblers after a hard week’s work, and life in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling on weekends for relaxation, for a breath of fresh air, and for a little sunshine. And we find when we go out that the finest rambling country is closed to us,” he said. “Because certain individuals wish to shoot for about ten days per annum, we are forced to walk on muddy crowded paths, and denied the pleasure of enjoying to the utmost the countryside.

“Our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable,”
he went on.

The speaker was Benny Rothman and the trial, held in the summer of 1932, was the aftermath of what has now become an iconic event in the story of the British outdoor movement. The ‘mass trespass’ of Kinder Scout, held on Sunday April 24th that year, saw some hundreds of walkers – perhaps three hundred, perhaps four hundred – stage what amounted to a political demonstration on the flank of Kinder Scout, in the Derbyshire Peak District. They’d been summonsed by hastily duplicated flyers distributed around the Manchester area. “If you’ve not been rambling before, start now, you don’t know what you’ve missed. Come with us for the best day out that you have ever had,” said one, given out in Eccles.

In the short-term, the trespass seemed to succeed only in attracting the wrath of the British state. Benny Rothman’s uncompromising speech from the dock in Derby failed to convince the jury, who – it turned out later – comprised almost a complete cross-section of the Derbyshire county establishment. He was jailed for four months. Four other young people in the dock with him were also imprisoned, on terms from two to six months.

But the story of the Kinder trespass refused to disappear from sight. There were rallies on Kinder Scout to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary in 1982, the sixtieth in 1992 and the seventieth in 2002, and it was the memory of the trespass which helped to inspire a new generation of walkers to campaign successfully for the legislation which, finally in 2000, achieved Benny Rothman’s “not unreasonable” demand for open access to the hills and moors. And though the right to roam is now won, there will be a rally in April this year as well, to make the 75th birthday celebration of the trespass.

The problem with an event which has been retold many times and has entered legend is that it’s difficult sometimes to get a real sense of what actually happened then. It’s worth remembering that the trespassers were, like Benny himself, overwhelmingly young, and that (we know from later accounts) they were determined that they were going to have a good time. The atmosphere, like so often on demonstrations, was good-humoured, and there was plenty of singing as the walkers headed off from the village of Hayfield towards Kinder Scout. What did they sing? They probably sang the Red Flag (this is what one unsympathetic press report claimed, anyway) but they gave Tipperary several renditions too, according to Benny Rothman. And there was another song produced for the occasion, a parody of Harry Lauder’s famous The Road to the Isles:

For by Kinder, and by Bleaklow, and all through the Goyt we’ll go

We’ll ramble over mountain, moor and fen

And we’ll fight against the trespass laws for every rambler’s rights

And trespass over Kinder Scout again…

Benny Rothman was the main organiser. He’d grown up in the north Manchester inner-city area of Cheetham, like many in this part of the city the child of Jewish immigrants. It was a difficult time to be young and working class: the country was going through the great depression and unemployment was high. Walter Greenwood’s novel Love on the Dole, published in 1933, offers a lightly fictionalised account of Salford and Manchester at the time, describing among other things the major unemployed demonstration held in 1931 which had ended with police violence against the marchers.

Benny Rothman was fortunate in that he had work, his first job being an errand boy in the motor trade. In his spare time, he was discovering the countryside, like many others joining the Clarion Cycling Club. “I was a seasoned camper and cyclist at the ripe old age of 16, or so I thought when I paid my first visit to the Lake District . I was a townie on a heavy ‘sit up and beg’ bike, home made tent and Woolworths map,” he later recalled. He was also becoming politically active and when he was about sixteen began to be drawn in to the activities of the Young Communist League. Politics and outdoor interests naturally came together. In his late teens, he helped establish a Lancashire branch of the British Workers Sports Federation, a communist-inspired organisation which had already led one successful campaign, for sports facilities in working-class Tottenham.

It was what happened at the Federation’s 1932 Easter camp which provided the spark for the Kinder event a few weeks later. The camp was being held a few miles west of Kinder Scout, and the programme included an organised ramble on to Bleaklow. Or at least that was the plan. Benny later recounted what happened: “The small band was stopped at Yellow Slacks by a group of gamekeepers. They were abused, threatened and turned back. To add to the humiliation of the Manchester ramblers, a number of those present were from the London BWSF on a visit to the Peak District, and they were astounded by the incident. There were not enough ramblers to force their way through, so, crestfallen, they had to return to camp.”

Back at camp, retaliation was planned. What was needed, the young people decided, was a body of ramblers so numerous that the keepers would have to give way. Someone came up with a name: the mass trespass.

Benny Rothman later wrote his own account of the Kinder trespass, published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary in 1982. The original plan, to begin with a rally in Hayfield, was altered at the last minute to outwit the police, and instead everyone gathered in an old quarry a short distance away in the direction of the open moors. Benny Rothman clambered up to address the crowd: “There were hundreds of young men and women, lads and girls, in their picturesque rambling gear: shorts of every length and colour, flannels and breeches, even overalls, vivid colours and drab khaki (khaki shorts and shirts were fashionable at the time), multi-coloured sweaters and pullovers, army packs and rucksacks of every size and shape,” he recalled.

The idea hatched by Benny Rothman and one of his friends was to head northwards close to Kinder reservoir, taking the established right of way up William Clough (then it was generally known as Williams Clough), before breaking off to scramble up the steep hillside towards the Kinder plateau. Another of the trespassers later described what happened: “When we reached William Clough a whistle sounded and we all stopped, then turned right facing up Kinder, as a second whistle sounded. It was then that I saw against the skyline a line of keepers, some of them wielding sticks. A third blast of the whistle and we started scrambling up the steep incline. The keepers offered little or no resistance and we just walked past them…. Having got past the keepers we lined up and marched about 400 yards on to the moors where we met a group of ramblers from Sheffield.”

The plateau of Kinder had been reached, albeit some distance north-west of Kinder Downfall. It was good enough. As Benny Rothman put it, “We were on the holy of holies, the forbidden territory of Kinder.”

Later it transpired that one of the keepers had been slightly injured, and when the ramblers returned to Hayfield the police were ready to pounce. But ironically the prosecutions and prison sentences, widely regarded at the time as vindictive, helped publicise the event and the cause of countryside access. For the establishment, it was something of an own goal.

It’s necessary to add that the Kinder trespass was by no means the only attempt to put access on the political agenda. Year after year, from the mid-1920s to the outbreak of war, the ramblers’ federations held sizeable rallies in Winnats Pass near Castleton. Attempts to shepherd an Access to Mountains bill through Westminster had been regularly made since 1884, and equally regularly had failed. The more respectable ramblers’ bodies were, in fact, deeply angry that Rothman and his comrades had barged into the argument and, as they saw it, compromised their lobbying work. For his part, Rothman retaliated in kind, criticising at the time their tactics as futile (later he accepted that he had been unwise to antagonise potential allies).

Access to Kinder Scout was finally achieved through voluntary agreements in 1952 and in 1958 (though other parts of the Peak District remained forbidden land until 2004). The peat groughs at the back of the Kinder Downfall where once there were only gamekeepers are there to be walked and enjoyed by all. Benny Rothman, who died in 2002, must be there in spirit.

This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was published in TGO magazine, 2007

The arrest of William O’Brien MP in Hulme Town hall, January 1889

William O’Brien, a leading Irish nationalist MP, escaped from a court in Ireland in January 1889 and was re-arrested in Hulme Town Hall after a dramatic public meeting. After being held for a night in Manchester Town Hall, he was sent back to Ireland.

O’Brien was born in 1852 in Mallow, County Cork and took up the trade of journalism as young man. Like many of his contemporaries he was attracted to the revolutionary Fenian movement and, after its defeat by the British government, became involved in the campaign for land reform and Home Rule. In 1881 Charles Stuart Parnell appointed him as editor of the United Irishmen. Within months O’Brien was imprisoned, along with Parnell and other Irish Nationalist leaders, in Kilmainham jail until a deal was done with the British government the following year. In 1883 O’Brien was elected as an MP to Westminster and was frequently arrested for his activities over land rights.

The story of this dramatic episode in Manchester begins in Ireland where O’Brien had been summoned to appear at Carrick-on-Suir courthouse on 24th January 1889. When he and his entourage arrived they found the town occupied by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who had fixed their bayonets and were preventing the townspeople from getting anywhere near the courthouse. O’Brien argued vociferously with the police, while his fellow MP and counsel Tim Healy was nearly stabbed by a police bayonet. When they eventually got to the courthouse the two men found that it too was full of police. After some fierce arguments with the magistrates O’Brien announced his intention to leave. A policeman tried to stop him but was set upon by O’Brien’s supporters and, much to his surprise, the MP found himself outside. The enraged police now set upon the crowd with batons and bayonets, beating them mercilessly whilst O’Brien fled amidst the disorder, disappearing into the darkness.

According to the Manchester Guardian he was taken to the bakery of a Miss O’Neill, who dressed him as a farmer and then escorted him through the streets. O’Brien apparently pretended to be drunk when challenged by the police and made good his escape, a local priest driving him to Wexford (in his account in the pages of United Irishman, O’Brien, perhaps mindful of the strong temperance movement in Ireland later denied that he had been disguised as a farmer or pretended to be drunk).

Attention now switched to Manchester, where O’Brien had an engagement to address a Liberal Party meeting, the annual address of local MP Jacob Bright (a Pro-Home Rule Liberal). The speech was to take place at Hulme Town Hall on Stretford Road – a site now occupied by the Zion Arts Centre and the Zion Health & Resource Centre. O’Brien had particularly wanted to go to Manchester, he had said, because he wanted to address Mr Balfour’s constituents (Balfour was the Chief Secretary for Ireland and an MP for East Manchester). There was great expectation amongst the public because O’Brien was famous for not missing engagements, although few believed that he would be able to evade the authorities when the meeting was so publicly advertised in advance.

On the evening of Monday 29th January the hall was packed to the rafters, while a very large crowd had gathered outside as had hundreds of police – personally commanded by the Chief Constable of Manchester Malcolm Wood – who guarded all entrances to the building. Inside the platform was packed with local Liberal politicians, including a number of MPs and their wives. Dr Woodcock took the chair and began some introductory remarks amidst high tension. A few minutes into his speech O’Brien himself appeared and mounted the platform, the signal for the hall to erupt into what the Manchester Guardian reporter described as “a hurricane of rapturous cheers such as a Manchester audience has hardly ever accorded to even the most famous and best beloved of Englishmen.” It was subsequently revealed that the organisers of the meeting had used a decoy dressed as O’Brien. He had drawn up in a cab at the front of the hall and attracted the attention of the crowd and the police, thereby enabling the real O’Brien to slip into the meeting by the rear entrance.

When the crowd had finally quietened Jacob Bright made a short speech before handing over to William O’Brien, who began by stating that “…as soon as this meeting is over I am at the disposal of Mr Balfour’s policemen but meanwhile I stand here in spite of him”. He then went on to speak for an hour, despite his obvious tiredness, noting that if he were a Russian or French refugee England would fight to the last man before she would surrender him but as an Irishman he could be dragged away and sent back. He attacked the conduct of the Irish police and the British government. The man from the Manchester Guardian concluded his report of the meeting by lamenting “that England as now governed can do nothing with such a man as Mr O’Brien but make a felon of him, and all honour to Mr O’Brien that has not made of him an enemy.”

Jerome Caminada, Chief Detective Inspector of the Manchester police, gave the police view of the evening’s events in his engaging memoirs Twenty Five Years of Detective Life, published some years later in Manchester. Interestingly he gets some of the facts wrong, alleging, for instance, that O’Brien had escaped from custody in late December, when in fact it had been but a few days earlier, and that the meeting was an “indignation” meeting when it was in fact a Liberal party constituency meeting. Caminada would not, of course, be the first policeman (or indeed the last) to misremember some key facts when it came to the arrest of an Irishman. Here is his account:

“I beckoned from the platform to the Chief Constable, who at once joined me, accompanied by a number of detectives. He was immediately struck on the chest and knocked backwards off the platform, carrying in his fall four of the detective officers who were following him up. I immediately struck the man who had committed the assault a violent blow on the side of the head, which sent him after the officers. The platform stands about four feet above the level of the floor, and it was not a gentle fall. Fortunately the attack upon the Chief Constable was not seen by the main body of the police; but it was difficult to restrain those who did witness it. A little space was cleared, and the Chief Constable again ascended the platform”.

After further rough and tumble (including an assault on some of the meeting organisers) the police secured the hall and O’Brien surrendered into their custody without further resistance when he was presented with the warrant. The police were wary of putting their prisoner into a cab which might easily be overturned in the course of a rescue attempt and decided instead to surround him with a square of police and walk him to Manchester Town Hall, where the Lord Mayor William Batty had agreed that he might stay in a guest room in the mayoral apartments, rather than being kept overnight in a cell.

O’Brien was cheered every inch of the way to town by large crowds who lined the route. In Lower Mosley Street a small drum and fife band struck up. The police procession and their solitary captive finally arrived in Albert Square a few minutes before eleven, where a tremendous crowd had gathered after turning out from the local theatres and places of amusement. Finally O’Brien was able to get some rest after an exhausting evening.

The following day the police arranged for the express train from Manchester to Holyhead to stop at Ordsall Lane Station where O’Brien was put on board, accompanied by Manchester detectives – including Caminada – and members of the RIC. Despite the secrecy word had got out and O’Brien was greeted by crowds at both Chester and Holyhead where the party took the steamer Ulster to Ireland. In Dublin thousands turned out to welcome the errant MP and he was joined by his counsel Tim Healy, before being taken by train back to the court-house from which he had originally escaped. O’Brien was then imprisoned for several months. Back in Manchester a packed “indignation” meeting was held in the Free Trade Hall on 4th February at which the speakers included Jacob Bright, CE Schwann MP and Robert Leake MP. The meeting received many letters of support, including one from CP Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, noting “the provocations and humiliations to which the Irish people are now exposed, I believe that it is by the sympathy of the great masses of Englishmen that they can best be supported and restrained.”

O’Brien’s ordeal did not end when he was sent to Clonmel jail, for the authorities demanded that he put on prison clothing. When he refused he was forcibly stripped, twice put in a prison uniform and shaved. When the prison warders finally let go of him, he immediately took off all the prison clothing except a shirt. News of his treatment quickly spread with the Manchester Guardian commenting “To carry out this rule against a prisoner of Mr O’Briens’s type and character is either a piece of administrative stupidity of the first water or a down right malignity”. The Freeman’s Journal accused Balfour of adopting “the tactics of the thug” and “the strategy of the garrotter”. There were protest demonstrations in Ireland and Britain. O’Brien got his clothes back and was allowed proper food and books, although in parliament Balfour maintained those convicted under the Crimes Act were not political prisoners, and even if they were, did not deserve special treatment. In practice the government compromised to defuse the issue and in the future Irish political prisoners were allowed their own clothes and other facilities with O’Brien even being able to write several novels whilst in prison.

O’Brien continued his agitation on the issue of land rights until it was finally settled in the early 1900s with Bills which granted land and housing to Irish tenants. He died suddenly in 1928.

Article by Michael Herbert

Paul Rose and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster

Paul Rose, MP for Manchester Blackley, helped to set up the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster in 1965. The campaign attempted to raise the question of discrimination and civil rights abuses in northern Ireland, largely unsuccessfully.

Paul Rose was born in 1935 in Manchester and educated at Bury Grammar School and the University of Manchester. He was chair of the Manchester Federation of Young Socialists. He trained as a lawyer and in 1958 was called to the bar. Rose had no personal Irish connections, but apparently became interested in 1962 after addressing a meeting in Manchester on civil liberties and being been told about the situation in Northern Ireland. In the general election of October 1964 he was elected to the House of Commons for Blackley, Manchester. The Labour Party defeated the Tory party after 13 years with a majority of just 4 seats.

The Campaign for Democracy in Ulster was established in early 1965 at a meeting in a public house in Streatham by a group of Irish trade unionists and Labour Party members. The Vice-President was Paddy Byrne, who had been active thirty years before in Ireland in the Republican Congress. The first secretary of the organisation was Bill O’Shaughnessy. When O’Shaughnessy moved to Manchester in the late 1960s Byrne took over the post. The CDU’s aims were to achieve a reform of election laws in Northern Ireland; to secure a Royal Commission into running of the Stormont government and investigate allegations of discrimination; and to have the Race Relations Bill amended to include religion and then extended to Northern Ireland.

The CDU was publicly launched in June 1965 at a meeting in the House of Commons at which Patricia McCluskey was one of the guest speakers. They attracted interest from a number of MPs. Paul Rose agreed to become President of the CDU. As an organisation the CDU was in practice confined to London with only Manchester forming a branch for a while. In the Commons it attracted support from 60 to 80 MPs, principally Labour with a few Liberals

It soon became obvious that the Wilson government intended to follow exactly the line taken by its predecessors for nearly fifty years and claim that it was unable to interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. CDU members made a number of attempts to raise issues in the Commons but were rebuffed each time. Eventually Harold Wilson himself stated in May 1966 that he was “not aware of any issue on which an inquiry is needed”. Attempts to amend the Race Relations bill to include religious discrimination failed, as did an attempt to have the remit of the Ombudsman extended to Northern Ireland. Some new impetus was given to the CDU in parliament by the election of Gerry Fitt as Republican Labour for West Belfast in March 1966 , who then worked closely with the campaign in their efforts to get Wilson to act on Northern Ireland.

Events in the summer of 1966 momentarily thrust the six counties into the headlines and provoked some British newspapers into taking a hard look at what was happening there. On 7th May an elderly Protestant woman, Mrs Gould, was killed in a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic pub next door to her home. Three weeks later a Catholic man named John Scullion was shot in Clonard Street off the Falls Road and later died of his wounds (the intended victim had been well known Republican Leo Martin). On 26th June Loyalist gunmen shot three Catholic barman from the International Hotel as they left a public house in Malvern Street, killing a young man named Peter Ward. The three killings had been carried out by a group formed by Gusty Spence (a former soldier and shipyard worker) which had taken the historic name of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Nearly thirty years later on 13th October 1994 Spence announced the Loyalist ceasefire in response to the IRA ceasefire announced several months earlier.

On 3rd July, to coincide with a royal visit to Northern Ireland, the Sunday Times published a hard-hitting article compiled by its Insight team of investigative journalists, entitled John Bull’s Political Slum. “When the flags and bunting are hauled down after the Royal visit,” it began, “Mr Wilson’s government will still be confronted with a sharp alternative; whether to use reserve powers to bring elementary social justice to Ulster or simply allow Britain’s most isolated province to work out its own bizarre destiny. During the 45 years since partition the latter has often been negligently adopted with what looks like disastrous results.” The article went on to document political gerrymandering and high levels of Catholic unemployment and emigration and noted that the new Ulster town of Craigavon was going to be built in a Protestant area between Portadown and Lurgan, while the new University was going to the Protestant town of Coleraine and not Derry, the second city and natural choice.

In October Spence and another two other man were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders. Press interest in Northern Ireland, momentarily aroused, swiftly waned.

As papers released from Stormont under the thirty years rule now reveal that behind the scenes Wilson and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins were putting some pressure on Terence O’Neill to introduce one person one vote and to abolish the business vote. At a meeting at Downing Street in January 1967 with O’Neill, Craig and Faulkner, Wilson referred to the increasing unwillingness of Labour backbenchers to accept the convention that matters transferred to Stormont could not be raised or discussed in the House of Commons, while Roy Jenkins emphasised that gerrymandering in places like Derry and the local government vote would soon come under fire from Labour MPs. They also referred to the deputations on Northern Ireland that Jenkins had received. It seems that as a result of the CDU campaign the Labour government was becoming exercised about matters in the Six Counties but was not prepared to publicly pressurise the Unionists to reform.

By June 1968 the central committee of the CDU were forced to conclude that the campaign had run out of steam. Only four members of the central committee attended meetings regularly and only three constituency Labour parties remained affiliated. They had not succeeded in getting a resolution on Northern Ireland to the party conference whilst a public meeting in Kilburn in April had only attracted 20 people, despite a large amount of flyposting. Paddy Byrne presented a bleak assessment of how things stood. “In short no mass movement has developed and there is no indication that one will”, for in his view the British left were “far too concerned to save socialism from extinction than to bother about Ulster, about which the mass of British people know little, care less.

Paul Rose, who acted as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Castle between 1966 and 1968, later claimed that after his visit to the six counties in 1967, she asked why a young man like him was concerned about Northern Ireland, “’What about Vietnam? What about Rhodesia?’ I just looked at her with incomprehension and said ‘You’ll see when they start shooting one another’. She was totally oblivious to this. I think their priorities were focused on other things to the extent that they were totally blinded as to what was going on in their own backyard”. Perhaps it was not so surprising that two years later, on 14th August 1969, Barbara Castle wrote in her diary that she “was astonished to learn from the news that British troops have moved into Derry”.

Speaking in a debate on Northern Ireland in the House of commons on 22 April 1969 (just before Bernadette Devlin made her maiden speech) Paul Rose said:

“The events in Northern Ireland this weekend are a classic illustration of unheeded warnings from my hon. Friends on this side of the House. An almost uncontrollable situation has developed because too little has been done too late.
“In the debate on Northern Ireland on 22nd February, 1965, before this situation had developed, I then advocated the setting up of a Royal Commission to investigate the grievances in Northern Ireland.
“Alas, the time for Royal Commissions is past. And the fault lies largely with hon. Gentlemen opposite from Northern Ireland, who on that occasion flatly refused to acknowledge that there was any cause for concern or anxiety at all about civil rights and discrimination in Northern Ireland. They were rightly concerned with the potato subsidy. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) informed the House that 36% of the nation’s pigs come from Northern Ireland. But not a word about discrimination or civil rights. We also faced the convention of non-interference, a convention which in that debate prompted my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr Delargy) to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what, apart from Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff, we could mention in a debate on Northern Ireland.
That convention is dead. It was killed when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr Fitt) was seen by millions of television viewers, his head streaming with blood after a vicious batoning while surrounded by a group of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.”

In 1970 Rose wrote a book called The Manchester Martyrs: a Fenian Tragedy, which was published by Lawrence & Wishart. He acknowledged the help given to him by Tom Redmond and Jimmy McGill (both members of the Connolly Association in Manchester). It was well written and readable account of the episode aimed at a general audience. Interestingly there was no mention of his involvement in Irish affairs in the introduction.

Rose left the Commons in 1979 and returned to the law, eventually becoming a Coroner and Deputy Circuit Judge.

Article by Michael Herbert