Beard campaigners pay tribute to William Morris b24.3.1834

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2017 by kmflett

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has paid tribute to William Morris, the great Victorian beard wearer, who was born on 24th March 1834.

Morris has been called on twitter the ‘god father of East End hipsters’ but the BLF says Morris was more complex than this suggests.

He grew his beard in 1856 and kept it for the last 40 years of his life. It was as much a part of the man as his fiery temper, socialist politics and love of ancient buildings.

BLF organiser Keith Flett said, when he died in 1896 his doctor said he died simply of being William Morris and his beard was an integral part of that


Yeastie Boys, Brewdog & the price of beer

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2017 by kmflett

GoodBeerHunting has broken the news that Brewdog have given 4 months notice to the NZ brewers Yeastie Boys to end the arrangement whereby they brewed beer at Aberdeen for the European market. It remains to be seen if Yeastie Boys can find an alternative brewer by the summer.

Brewdog have cited their own need for more brewing capacity as the reason for the move. No doubt. There might though be a little more to it.

Wandering the giant Sainsburys in Northumberland Park (by Spurs) earlier this week I noticed stacks of cans of Brewdog Hop Fiction (APA 5.2%)at £6 for a 4 pack and cans of Elvis Juice (IPA 6.5%) at £7 for a 4 pack.

Undercutting the craft beer market it certainly is and if you are going to do that you need economies of scale. So. Farewell then Yeastie Boys from Aberdeen.



The Bristol Riot of October 1831: was E.P. Thompson wrong?

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2017 by kmflett

I’m off to Bristol for a couple of days, because even trade union officers are allowed to try and take a brief break from the dull compulsion of economic reality from time to time.

While there, staying on Welsh Back, I’ll be having another look at Queen Square which was the scene of the Bristol riot of October 1831. The riot went on for several days, caused significant damage to the property of the wealthy and caused troops to be mobilised. It was a key precursor to the passage of the 1832 Reform Act.

In the Making of the English Working Class, E.P Thompson takes a rather dim view of it. He sees the crowd as mainly reactionary in its intent, seeking to burn books and so on. He goes on to compare it unfavourably with Peterloo 12 years earlier, which he sees as a point on the development of the modern left.

Yet there is an issue here. The key speaker at Peterloo was Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt who was jailed for his speech in Manchester on that August day in 1819. Ten years before however Hunt had been based on Bristol (trying to run an ultimately unsuccessful brewery) and active in radical democratic politics in the city.

So in 1831 was it really a backward ‘mob’ that were behind the Bristol riot or was it a crowd inspired in part by the democratic ideas of Henry Hunt?

Keith Flett is the Editor of a History of Riots (CSP 2015)


Why Labour will survive, despite The Guardian

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2017 by kmflett

Why Labour will survive, despite The Guardian

The Guardian Editorial on 22nd March generously noted that the Labour Party isn’t necessarily in terminal decline. Indeed not, despite the best efforts of a number (not all) of the paper’s columnists and reporters in this general direction.

The Guardian of course, for those with long memories, has form in this area. It was a major supporter of the SDP in the early 1980s. When I first started reading it in the 1960s it backed the Liberals, which was perfectly fine because there was no chance of them becoming a Government at that point, and so why worry about it.

The Editorial notes that several European social-democratic parties, such as those in France and Holland are in electoral decline currently and it might have also mentioned Greece and Spain. All these parties have followed austerity policies and paid an electoral price. In that context one might argue that Labour in the UK having not done that has held up better than it might have done, but that is one of those unprovable points for discussion over a pint in the pub.

There are some wider points. Firstly electoral crisis for Parliamentary parties of the left is nothing new. See for example Gareth Stedman Jones piece, originally written for the then Labour Party magazine, New Socialist, ‘why is the Labour Party in a mess?’. This appeared in 1982.

Secondly there is a material basis for parties that aim or claim to reform market capitalism to make it a little bit better for those who have to endure it. Labour has an impressive record in relation to this in some respects- think for example of the NHS. Even, dare one say it, Tony Blair’s Governments managed some changes for the better. The point is, given the commanding majorities they had, why more was not done.

Even if Labour disappeared tomorrow there will still be significant support for a political vehicle that said it was going to change things for the better a bit and from time to time actually did. The problems occur when things are actually changed for the worse, and that often occurs in periods when capitalism, in the slump part of its cycle, wants retrenchment rather than expansion.

A party seeking reform in such a period needs to be considerably more politically robust than in times of boom.

An example from a recent meeting I attended in North London. A Labour Council proposes a major housing redevelopment which will involve displacing people from their homes, with, some say, a questionable right of eventual return. Not surprisingly Labour is in the firing line, even if a major underlying cause of the problem is Tory cuts to Council spending. Yet at the meeting when it was suggested that people might think about voting LibDem instead there was general uproar. There is a class vote and while the links between Labour, unions and working people are weaker than they were at some points in the last 50 years (but see the late 1960s when they were possibly temporarily weaker) they still exist and won’t disappear either overnight or in the near future.

Does this mean conversely that Labour stands some chance of forming a socialist Government that brings about structural change for a more equal society as a first step. Well, possibly. But in general I still stick with the analysis of Ralph Miliband in his book Parliamentary Socialism (1961) which underlines that Labour is far more interested in Parliament than it is in socialism. Clearly even if Jeremy Corbyn might nod to this point as an historical statement he thinks it can change. Unfortunately nothing in the last 2 years suggests that is likely to be the case.

Socialism will probably require wider change and it is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution…..


Haringey Diversity Festival: Battle of Wood Green 40 years on, 23rd April 2017

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2017 by kmflett

On Sunday 23rd April this year there will be a celebration of the diverse place Haringey today is, welcoming people whatever their background. The context is the 40th anniversary of the National Front march from Ducketts Common, Turnpike Lane on 23rd April 1977. Dubbed the ‘Battle of Wood Green’ the fascist march was broken by protesters, many shoppers out on that Saturday afternoon 40 year ago, as it entered Wood Green High Rd. Haringey has never looked back, and neither have the fascists. They never attempted a public display in the area again after that day.

Details of the history of the day and what is planned for 23rd April this year can be found via @BattleOfWoodGrn which also links to a Facebook page.

The event is organised by Haringey TUC in association with Unite the Union and the two Haringey Constituency Labour Parties


Martin McGuinness: England cricket fan

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2017 by kmflett

With the death of Martin McGuinness a number of balanced respects have been made from the likes of Ian Paisley Jr and Tony Blair, which suggest an interesting historical context in themselves, slightly different from the ‘Pitman to Parliament’ genre of working class politicians.

But in the age of social media it is much easier to be one-dimensional about things than ever before. The world however is rarely one-dimensional or even binary.

Below is a link to a Guardian interview with McGuinness in 2012  on his love for cricket.



The seasons of labour: Spring & the Victorian ‘gig-economy’

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2017 by kmflett

The seasons of labour: Spring & the Victorian ‘gig-economy’

In the days of 24/7 news coverage and social media storms it can be quite easy to forget the underlying material realities of life.

March 1st marked the start of the Spring for weather forecasters who prefer even quarters. The first day of Spring is on March 20th and the clocks change on Sunday.

It should mean (slightly) warmer days, more daylight and, before climate change speeded up the process, the arrival of blossom and spring flowers, although austerity weather can persist.

Labour wise it also marked, and still does mark a transition. Despite ever present claims that the world of work has somehow irreversibly changed there are still many seasonal and casual jobs around, just as there were in Victorian times.

Indeed the ‘gig-economy’ of unpredictable employment patterns was a key feature of the Victorian labour market though not under that name obviously.

Raph Samuel (see below) noted that ‘through the spring men were beginning to move from indoor to outdoor jobs, sometimes taking the step of exchanging a permanent occupation for a roving one’

London was the centre of winter labour, not only because there were more jobs to be had in the Capital but also because there was more shelter from the winter weather.

It remains the case that winter sees a peak in deaths, invariably weather related. Some of the rich don’t winter elsewhere in the world just because they like all year sun but also because it is healthier than the damp and cold of the UK.

The late socialist historian Raphael Samuel described these seasonal patterns in his essay Comers and Goers, about how the workforce and the nature of work changed through the year.

Samuel suggested that, ‘the ebb and flow of wayfaring life in nineteenth century England was strongly influenced by the weather’

From March to October those in search of work were often to be found on the road

Samuel observed that ‘Country labourers who wintered in the Metropolitan Night Refuges were said to fly off about March.. travelling circuses began their tented tours in March.. all through the spring men were beginning to move from indoor jobs to outdoor ones’.

The peak of the labour exodus from city to countryside came rather later in the year- August and September- when places like London themselves were quieter, only to go into sharp reverse as the weather worsened and people sought warm night shelters again.

Some industrial jobs were also resolutely seasonal. Work in maltings (associated with brewing) didn’t tend to end up until May but again Samuel suggests that ‘Gas stokers (regular winter men) were given their notices (sack) as early as February and March’ as the demand for gas fell in the better weather.  The point seems to have been that many voluntarily gave notice and they preferred to go brick making once the weather improved. Only a third of stokers were employed year round

Gas stoking was well paid but the hours were very long and the work heavy.

The drift of workers out of London was not a sudden migration, as birds might do, but a genuine ebb and flow. People might move from central London to the suburbs and then out to the countryside as the weather improved.

One of the key aims of the 1834 Poor Law which introduced the Workhouse was to make sure that labour was mobile and would travel to where workers were required.

The principle remains central to the ideology of market capitalism. In the Thatcher era Norman Tebbit famously talked about people getting on their bike to look for work.

In the current period hard-line neo-liberal Government policies are determined to make sure that people are looking for work, whether fit for it or not.

Yet the seasonal nature of some work is also a reminder about why the labour movement fought for a welfare state, a social safety net that provided a bottom line for those whose labour power capital picks up and discards as the days lengthen and then shorten