I’m shocked I have to write this piece now. Bob Crow, probably the most effective trade union leader of this generation has been cruelly snatched away from our movement. Our thoughts have to be with those who feel his passing most keenly – his family, his friends, his close comrades.
Now is not the time for a critical appraisal of his industrial and political career. That can wait. But we can appreciate what Bob represented to our movement. In the first place, enemies and fair-weather friends in their effusive (some might say fulsome) obituaries all agree that Bob won significant gains for RMT members on the London Underground. They flatter him in death as they fought him tooth and nail in life. But behind the flattery is the recognition Bob represented something assumed long gone: a hardy trade unionism resting on working class solidarity. As Ken Livingstone observed, tube workers are the only group of working class people in the country who have successfully protected their pay, their pensions and their working conditions since the stock markets crumpled. No mean feat. Continue reading
Jim Mortimer, who has died at the age of 92, was the general secretary of the Labour Party during the turbulent early eighties – perhaps the most difficult time to take on that role since the party was founded.
I was distantly related to Jim. An uncle of his, who gloried in the name of Fountain Mortimer, was married to my great-aunt. Also, Jim’s father, Willie Mortimer, was a close friend of my grandfather. It seems that they were both members of the Socialist Labour Party in the years before the first world war. That conflict seems to have destroyed the small, hard-left party, many of whose members joined Labour. Willie Mortimer, unlike my grandfather, was unable to serve in the war due to a disability. Continue reading
Stop all the clocks, sell off the telephone,
Feed the starving with a juicy bone,
Silence the unions and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the Tories come.
Let Pinochet circle moaning overhead
With Reagan he scribbles the news: She Is Dead.
Put crepe nooses round the white necks of the ailing,
As her private health dreams left an NHS failing.
She cut my pay, my jobs, my milk and she maxed,
My working week and my local poll tax.
We walked we marched we campaigned with song;
She thought her power would last for ever: she was wrong.
The fights are still wanted now: we call every one;
To pack up the Mail and dismantle the Sun;
Pour away the rich takers and lift up the poor,
On our hope and our future she’ll not close the door.
The New York Times epithet machine used to describe Margaret Thatcher for American readers as “the prime minister who privatized the loss-making state industries.” Of course she did no such thing. The enterprises she sold off made huge profits for the Treasury. BP was, after all, the state-owned creation of Winston Churchill and kept a constant flow of petropounds going into the Treasury. Selling it off to her friends in the City of London benefited its executives and shareholders but hardly the British public, let alone the US citizenry around the Gulf of Mexico. Continue reading
Thatcher was a deeply divisive figure, which is why she will be lionised in much of the South of the country and reviled in most of the North. In hard and difficult times the British people will rally to a unifier, whether Churchill in wartime or Attlee in constructing a peace that would not return to the 1930s. But Mrs. Thatcher was different: a class warrior who took the fight to her opponents and pursued a scorched earth policy to destroy them, and in the course of it destroyed much of the economic, industrial and social fabric of the country, leaving a legacy from which the country still suffers. Continue reading