Friday, July 23, 2021
Thursday, July 08, 2021
Tuesday, July 06, 2021
In 1981 a wave of riots swept across England, starting off in Brixton in South London and spreading to many other towns and cities. The Brixton uprisings are recognised as of historic importance, prompting the landmark Scarman report into policing and race relations. The riot in Toxteth, Liverpool, is also sometimes recalled for its impact on urban regeneration policy - in the immediate aftermath Michael Heseltine, then Environment Secretary, spent 3 weeks in
The riot in Luton, Bedfordshire, in July 1981 was immediately dismissed in these terms at the time. Vivian Dunnington, the Conservative leader of Luton Council, claimed: 'It was a copycat riot - the kids had seen the riots on TV and thought it a lot of fun. The town was neurotic with rumour. It went crazy' (Luton News, 23/7/1981).
In his reflections on 'Race, riots and and policing' in this period, Michael Keith warns against explaining different riots by a single cause: 'Generalizations, by definition, exclude the significance of the historically and geographically specific; by suppressing memory, they become the vehicles through which time is lost and place is forgotten' (Race, riots and and policing - lore and disorder in a multi-racist society, 1993).
The following account is an attempt to recover what was specific to events in Luton in 1981, as well as what they shared with experiences elsewhere. The Luton riot – like each of the others - did not come out of nowhere. While undoubtedly inspired by events elsewhere, those taking part had their own reasons for doing so, with the riot as a key event in a longer period of racism and resistance in the town.
I have covered some of the history leading up to July 1981 in previous posts here. The far right National Front had been active in the town since the mid-1970s, and there had been ongoing opposition to them, including to their meetings in Luton Library (see: A School Kid Against the Nazis in Luton 1979/80). An attack on the mosque by racist Chelsea fans in December 1980 had led to further community organising against racist attacks. In early 1981 the Luton Youth Movement, inspired by Asian Youth Movements around the country, had been set up to oppose racism and organise self-defence. An LYM march through Luton in May 1981 had been attacked by racist skinheads (see: Blinded by the Light - memories of 1980s Luton racism). Which brings us to July...
‘In the summer of ’81, Britain seemed to be two entirely different countries, slapped on top of each other, like two films being shown on the same screen at the same time’ (Mark Steel, Reasons to be cheerful: from punk to new Labour through the eyes of a dedicated troublemaker, 2001).
|Temporary Hoarding, Rock Against Racism zine, August 1981 - |
the cover depicts the Royal Wedding coach against backdrop of a burning city
The big news story in
July 1981 was supposed to be the preparations for the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. But in
the weeks immediately before this ill-fated union, the youth of
The first of the summer
riots occurred in an area with similarities to Luton - Southall in
On the same evening,
four nights of rioting erupted in Toxteth,
By the end of the week, many people were just waiting for the wave to hit Luton. The talk was of little else at a Luton Youth Movement meeting on July 9th. In the previous week there had been two major incidents in Luton. On Saturday 4th July a group of 30 racist skinheads charged a group of Asian youths in St George's Square, where a crowd was watching a Punch and Judy Show organised by Luton Children's Library. Then in the early hours of the following Monday morning two petrol bombs were thrown at the Sikh temple in Portland Road, Luton. Volunteers from amongst Luton 1000-strong Sikh community mounted a round the clock vigil to prevent further attacks (Luton News, 9/7/1981). Notorious local racist Robert Relf told a local paper that it had 'probably' been the work of a right wing group (Herald, 9/7/1981).
On Friday 10th July many town
centre shops had taken the precaution of boarding up their windows as rumours
spread of impending violence; by Saturday morning others must have wished that
they'd done the same. By 8.30 pm on Friday night 'two hundred mainly Asian and West Indian
youth had organised to defend their community and had gathered outside the
In effect there were
two riots in
The Plume of Feathers
The following day 12 of the 21 people who had been arrested on Friday night were brought before a special court, a mixture of racists and their opponents.
|'Day the Town Went Crazy' (Herald, 16 July 1981)|
'The scene could have been Belfast, or even Brixton or Liverpool'
On Saturday afternoon the town was buzzing with rumours. There was a mixture of anger, determination, curiosity and excitement. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, with lots of people hanging around in the town centre. Here's my memories written down not long after:
'The signal was
the police and security guards locking the doors of the Arndale shopping
centre, apparently panicked by the crowd forming inside. The group of people I
was with at the St George's Square end ran down to the side entrance of
C&As and through the store. When we got to the front, the grill had been
lowered so we couldn't get into the main bit of the shopping centre, but faced
with having a section of the crowd loose in the store the management opened the
doors briefly to let us join the rest. There was now a surreal situation with
the shopping centre malls deserted except for a couple of hundred African-Caribbean, Asian and white youths, while thousands of shoppers watched
on from behind the locked doors of the shops. There was a real feeling of power
as the crowd moved through the Arndale. A line of police moved on ahead making
no attempt to stop us as we moved without incident out into the high street and
back along in the direction of the Town Hall. The rumour going around was that
a community festival in
On Saturday night, some
racists were still on the streets of
The situation was
moving rapidly from self-defence towards a full-scale riot, and a number of
fires were started. At 8.20 pm, there was an arson attack on Jack's curtain
shop in West Side Centre. At 10.05 pm, a fire bomb was thrown into Maurice
Davis hat makers in
The police's priority
seemed to be move the focus of the riot away from the town centre, and the main
shopping area, towards the predominantly Asian area of
The most serious fighting occurred as the crowd
A line of police
advanced banging their riot shields - 'Soon the banging came from hundreds of
bricks pounding into the shields' (Herald, 16/7/1981). People ‘broke pieces from garden
walls and used them against the police’ A police van had its windscreen
smashed. The fighting spread into
At 2.30 am, groups of young people were still defiantly on the streets but 'youths refusing to shift paid the penalty and we saw and heard the truncheons crack' (Herald, 16/7/81).
A total of 107 people were arrested; '64 of them white, 30 of West Indian extraction, and 13 of Asian extraction' (the white category included both racists and those fighting alongside black youth against racists and the police). Special court sessions were held on the Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with 67 people appearing before the magistrates, 51 of whom were bailed with strict conditions including being restricted to their homes between 8 pm and 7 am . Almost all of those arrested were under 25 years old, with over half of them teenagers ((LN, 16.7.81).
|Herald, 16 July 1981|
Reactions to the riot
On the weekend of the
As the riots started to spread across
Other local Tories took a slightly more sophisticated approach than the local MP: 'A top Luton Tory has told the Government to spend more on jobs, council housing and sport - to help prevent further street riots… Cllr Vivian Dunnington, leader of
Adult employment had more than doubled in Luton between June 1980 and June 1981, with 7,840 people officially registered as unemployed (10.5% of the labour force). The Trades Council estimated that that the real figure was closer to 12,000 (Luton News, 2.7.81). Most of the major employers were making redundancies. The week before the riot, 330 workers at the Electrolux fridge and cleaner factories in Luton received redundancy notices (Luton News 9.7.81). In March 1981, Whitbread brewery made 300 workers redundant, followed by 200 at Kent engineering in June 1981 (Luton News, 23.7.1981). Just days after the riot the town's main employer, Vauxhall Motors, announced 2000 redundancies in addition to hundreds of jobs that had already been cut that year.
For young people leaving school there
were very few opportunities. Two weeks before the riot Jim Thakoordin,
secretary of Luton Trades Union Council and a Labour councillor, claimed that there were 'over 2,000
young people in
John Solomos (2003) has written of the ‘racialisation of the 1980-81 events' as demonstrated in press reports of ‘mobs of black youths’ in the Daily Mail and elsewhere (Race and racism in
Labour Councillor Jim Thakoordin put forward a different view, claiming that ‘police action to clear black youngsters off the streets caused some of the worst violence’ (LN 16/7/81).
As we have seen,
In the days immediately following the riots, summary justice was dealt out by the local courts. Two people were jailed, for four months and four weeks respectively, for ‘threatening behaviour’. They had been part of a group of ‘youths of all nationalities’ (the police description) which ‘threw bricks and bottles at police’. Another 17 year old was fined for the same offence, saying in a statement ‘We were just there to fight the skinheads’.
Members of the skinhead
gang also appeared in court, two of whom were jailed at a later trial. Two
skinheads, aged 18 and 19, were jailed for 3 years for 'throwing a destructive
or explosive substance with intent to cause grievous bodily harm'. One of them claimed that the police had frightened him into making an untrue statement that
he had lit a petrol bomb for his friend to throw (
In a remarkable case at St Albans Crown Court, a 21-year-old 'West Indian youth' was acquitted by a jury of 'throwing a destructive or explosive substance with intent to burn two police officers' during the Luton riots. He admitted throwing a petrol bomb but said that someone handed it to him and he had thrown it as 'a spur of the moment thing. I didn't mean to harm anyone' (LN 26/11/81). He also denied he had told police that petrol bombs were being made at the mosque.
This was one of a number of sympathetic verdicts
reached by juries in this period. In
A jury also acquitted the ‘Bradford 12’, members of the United Black Youth League, even though they admitted that they had made petrol bombs on 11 July 1981 – the same day as the main Luton riot. The jury accepted that it had been legitimate for them to do so to defend their community against the threat of racist attacks.
The Luton Community Defence Committee
At a hearing at Luton
Magistrates Court on the Monday after the riot, CDC members complained from the
public gallery that the police had not allowed parents to see their children in
custody and that those arrested had only been allowed to see duty
solicitors. Sibghat Ali, a solicitor
‘involved with the legal aspects of the Brixton and Bristol riots’ was in court
and was described as ‘A legal representative of the newly-formed Luton
Community Defence Committee’ (‘Police Kept Children From Us’ Claim,
The first public
meeting of the Community Defence Committee was held at
Despite this there was general support for continuing with the CDC with the objectives including ‘To defend all victims of racism’ and ‘to provide advice, information and assistance in terms of legal advice, financial and moral support to all victims of racism’. The following week a steering committee meeting was held with '40 representatives of most the major ethnic minority groups and youth and political organisations’(LN 20/8/81). While some other defence committees were primarily focused on those arrested in the riots, the Luton committee had a broader remit in promoting community defence against racism in all forms.
The formation of the
CDC incensed John Carlisle MP who called for the group to be prosecuted under
the Race Relations Act for being ‘racially biased’ and planning to compile a
dossier of racist attacks in the town (LN 27/8/81).
On 30 July 1981, the
Luton Youth Movement held its own post-riot public meeting at the International
Centre.in Old Bedford Road. There were a couple of speakers from the Brixton
Defence Committee, including Monica Morris who called the Brixton riot 'a
legitimate uprising against police harrassment' (LN 6.8.81). Another speaker
talked about the case of Richard Campbell, a black youth from Brixton who had died in custody in the previous year. John Gardner of Luton Labour
Party also spoke. The meeting agreed to picket
The question of whether a black-only
defence committee (as set up in Brixton) should be established in
On 3rd October 1981
The meeting heard reports of continuing racist attacks in the area. Mr Bhim Dookie, originally from
Members of Luton Youth Movement participated in the CDC and its steering committee, and in some ways its formation can be seen as a reaction to the earlier activities of the LYM and to the summer riots – events that galvanized the older activists of established community organizations to take a more militant stance. At the same time, the formation of the CDC threatened to drag militant anti-racism back into the internecine feuds of the local Labour Party and Community Relations Council which the LYM was partly a reaction to in the first place. The difference of approach was shown in the aims of the organizations – as well as offering defence and support to ‘victims of racism’, the CDC sought to ‘To liase between various ethnic groups and institutions, such as the police, young people, local authorities, the community relations council and Government agencies’ (LN 20/8/81). Some of its leadership saw it as having a role in mediating with the authorities rather than confronting them.
The LYM on the other hand had a generally more militant approach. As Fahim Qureshi of Luton Youth Movement has recalled, ‘young people had enough of seeing their parents cowed down and they said enough was enough… We used to go and sit with families.... We had self defence vigils in family homes’ and would go outside and confront racists who were harrassing people in their homes. The LYM was part of a network of similar movements across the country and 'We worked closely together especially after the riots’ (Fahim Qureshi interview with Taj Ali, youtube, 2020 - see below). Coaches bringing Asian youth movement activists from Southall and East London would stop off in Luton and pick up people on their way to picket courts in support of the Bradford 12, and Luton activists travelled down to Brick Lane to support their East London counterparts opposing racists there - the area was notorious for its National Front paper sales and associated violence.
|The Luton Youth Movement are listed in this list of supporters of the Bradford 12 - a who's who of radical movements from that period|
The Luton Youth Movement continued into 1982, when it was involved in protests after a pig’s head was left at the local mosque, but it seems to have faded away soon afterwards. Youth Movements tend to be short lived by their very nature, as members grow up, move away or move on to other things. LYM never reached the size or maturity of some of the other youth movements of this period, some of which for instance published their own magazines, but it was a significant chapter in an important national movement (see Black Star: Britain's Asian Youth Movements by Anandi Ramamurthy, 2013, for more on this).
The British Movement
In the weeks after the riot, the far right British Movement stepped up its activities in
I remember going to Bedford on 1 August to oppose a rumoured BM plan to put a wreath on the war memorial as an alternative to their banned demonstration. Our van was stopped at a police road block outside
Two weeks later, the British Movement announced a plan to march in
Many of the BM claims were undoubtedly hot air, but their supporters were still a real threat. On 1 August, youths with British Movement sympathies threw a petrol bomb into an Asian family home in
It is doubtful whether the British Movement actually had the capacity to organise significant demonstrations in
'Under heavy manners': Crisis culture
While it is possible to reconstruct events from memories and newspaper clippings, it can be more difficult to recapture how people were thinking. One feature of the ‘structure of feeling’ of this period was a generalized sense of crisis. Aspects of this crisis culture were evident in everything from political discourse to popular music. The economic crisis was real enough, as shown by the rise in unemployment discussed above, and this was reflected in a range of responses across the political spectrum.
On the right, politicians had invoked the spectre of crisis throughout the 1970s, to articulate a sense of the British way of life being threatened by an enemy within of strikers, Irish republicans, migrants, radical students and other malcontents . This sense of unraveling of the social fabric informed some responses to the riots themselves – Luton Tory Council leader Vivian Dunnington blamed the violence on the ‘general deterioration of society’ (Luton News, 16 July 1981).
On the left, there was a sense that new forms of authoritarian policing and racism were paving the way for some kind of quasi-fascist ‘crisis state’. For instance, Stuart Hall and the other authors of ‘The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain’ (1982) argued that ‘the construction of an authoritarian state in Britain is fundamentally intertwined with the elaboration of popular racism’ in the context of ‘the organic crisis of British capitalism and race’. The sense that the racism of the far right National Front was now being taken up by the Conservative Party had been heightened by Margaret Thatcher's remarks in 1979 about Britain being 'swamped by people with a different culture.'
Another ingredient of this culture of dread was the overarching threat of nuclear destruction, prompted by a heightening of Cold War tensions and giving rise to the rebirth of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Luton branch of this was very active and coachloads from the town went to London in October 1980 for the huge ‘Protest and Survive’ demonstration.
Imagery of social contradiction and collapse was at the heart of punk (Luton’s main punk band were called UK Decay), with an apocalyptic language borrowed from reggae and rastafarianism. In 1979 The Clash covered Willie Williams ‘Armagideon Time’, and The Ruts sang of ‘Babylon’s burning’. The phrase that summed up this sense of crisis more than any other was ‘under heavy manners’, coined in Jamaica during the violent political conflicts of the 1970s and popularized in Britain by The Clash and subsequently Rock Against Racism. The peak period of RAR was passing by 1981, but some people from Luton attended the big RAR carnival in Leeds on 4 July, just a week before the riot, where the Au Pairs, The Specials and Misty in Roots played. I saw the latter play at Luton Recreation Centre on a snowy night in January 1981 - the UK reggae band had been involved in the anti-National Front demonstration in Southall in 1979 where anti-fascist Blair Peach had been killed. Music was a key means by which anti-racist struggles circulated and a sense of a national and indeed international movement was created and sustained.
Famously, the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ was the number one record in July 1981, providing a suitable soundtrack for the riots with its depiction of urban dereliction and its cry of ‘people getting angry’. For Paul Gilroy, writing immediately after the riots, the Two Tone movement of which the Specials were part prefigured the movement of July with its ‘self-conscious anti-racist politics’ and its impact of African Caribbean culture on white youth; it also encapsulated ‘youth’s own perceptions of economic crisis and the consequent crisis of social relations’ ('you can't fool the youths ... race and class formation in the 1980s', Race & Class, Autumn 1981).
In the aftermath of the riots, Socialist Worker reproduced a photo of a banner from 1908 stating flatly ‘work or riot, one or the other’ with the caption ’73 years on – the same fight’ (SW 18.7.1981). Earlier in May 1981, the TUC organized People's March for Jobs from Liverpool to London passed through Luton, met by 2000 local people in the pouring rain, an attempt to resurrect the spirt of the 1920s/30s hunger marches.
The movement of riots can certainly be seen as a kind of reaction to mass unemployment, not in the narrow sense of demanding jobs, but as an angry response by young people to their situation as a 'no future' generation condemned to the dole queues or low-paid work. In his reflections on the riots, A. Sivanadan argued that: ‘Nowhere have the youth, black and white, identified their problems with unemployment alone… There is a different hunger – a hunger to retain the freedom, the life-style, the dignity which they have carved out from the stone of their lives’ (A different hunger: writings on black resistance, 1982). Another response was summed up in the title of an anarchist pamphlet published after the Brixton riot: ‘we want to riot not to work’.
Whatever the underlying causes, the spark for the Luton riots was undoubtedly the presence of far right skinheads and mobilising to oppose this, in a similar pattern to the Southall riots. This differed from the situation in some areas such as Brixton where the rioting was more of a direct response to policing. In both scenarios it was racism that was key, whether coming from the National Front, the British Movement, or the police.
|Luton features on this riot map on cover of ‘Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys’, a situationist-influenced account of the 1981 events that declared that ‘the UK is tripping down the primrose path to social revolution’.|
|Report of the Luton riot - Socialist Worker, 18 July 1981|
Tuesday, May 04, 2021
The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike started in the H Blocks of the Maze prison (also known as Long Kesh) in March and finished seven months later following the deaths of 10 Irish Republican prisoners. The mass support for the hunger strikers was to prove a turning point in Irish politics, but it resonated across the world.
I grew up 300 miles away in Luton, an English town albeit one with a large Irish community. The events had a profound impact on me as a teenager just getting involved in radical politics, it was heartbreaking following the news day by day of prisoners getting sick and dying in the face of the chilling, cold-hearted indifference of Margaret Thatcher and her Government. All the more so in that the five demands of the prisoners were quietly conceded shortly afterwards:
- The right not to wear a prison uniform;
- the right not to do prison work;
- the right of free association with other prisoners;
- the right to organize their own educational and recreational facilities;
- the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.
Luton had a significant role in the Irish republican movement in the 1970s and early 1980s, and was the scene of one of the last Hunger Strike demonstrations.
Frank Stagg and The Luton Three
An earlier hunger strike had been mounted by Irish prisoners in English jails in 1976, demanding a transfer to prison in Ireland. In the course of this protest Frank Stagg died in Wakefield Prison and Michael Gaughan died in Parkhurst. Frank Stagg had first joined Sinn Fein in Luton in 1972.
In November 1973, three members of Luton Sinn Fein - Sean Campbell, Phil Sheridan and Gerry Mealey - known as the Luton Three, were convicted of ‘conspiring to rob persons unknown'. No robbery had taken place and it was claimed that 'They were the victims of a trap laid by police agent Kenneth Lennon at the instigation of Special Branch. At the trial Lennon’s name and his role in the affair was concealed by the prosecution denying the defence any opportunity of contesting the basis of the police case. All three were sentenced to ten years' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 12, September 1981). In another twist Lennon (who lived in Francis Street, Luton) then encouraged an 18 year old Luton man, Patrick O'Brien, to take part in a plot to help the Luton prisoners escape from Winson Green prison in Birmingham. This seems to have been another Special Branch sting. Lennon later confessed his role as an agent provocateur to the National Council for Civil Liberties, shortly before he was found shot dead in the Surrey countryside.
The Luton Three all had a tough time in prison. Mealey spent seven weeks on hunger strike in 1976 as part of the same protest in which Frank Stagg died. While in Albany jail on the Isle of Wight, Campbell was badly beaten up by prison officers during a prisoners protest in 1976, sustaining a broken leg, jaw and ribs. Shortly after his release in 1982 he was admitted to hospital after suffering a severe stroke, but he went on to become a Sinn Fein councillor in Cookstown, County Tyrone until his death in 2002.
|'They were taken to Luton Police Station where they were again assaulted and beaten and interrogated'. Republican News, 25 August 1973|
The Luton 2: Jim Reilly and Gerry MacLochlainn
The case of the 'Luton 3' was followed in 1980 by that of the 'Luton 2', which I remember personally. Jim Reilly was a familiar figure on the Luton Left, and had been a union shop steward at Vauxhall as well as the Home Counties organiser for Sinn Fein. He lived in Highfield Road in Luton's Bury Park area. As reported in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (no.4, May/June 1980):
'On Sunday and Monday 30 and 31 March two leading members of Provisional Sinn Féin (Britain) – Gerry MacLochlainn South Wales Organiser and Jim Reilly Home Counties Organiser – were arrested under the racist anti-Irish Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Sinn Fein and Hands off Ireland staged pickets of Luton police station, on one of which - on Easter Sunday - police piled in. 10-15 police rushed from the station and kicked and punched the demonstrators back from the entrance. This was followed by the arrest of five Hands Off Ireland supporters – four of whom were subsequently charged with ‘breach of the peace’.
That morning Jim and Gerry appeared in court and were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. The conditions under which Jim and Gerry are being held also violate their rights as remand prisoners. Both men are forced to wear prison uniform and are being held on 23 hour lock-up in solitary confinement and denied association or recreation. Since being moved to Leicester prison, they have been held in the punishment block'.
On 28 June 1980 there was a demonstration from People's Park in Luton calling for the dropping off charges against 'The Luton 2', as well as those arrested in the police station protest. Around 150 people took part in the demonstration which was addressed by Jim Reilly (by then out on bail) when it paused by Luton police station. The march had been arranged by Hands Off Ireland, the Revolutionary Communist Group's Irish campaign.
(The RCG did not have a branch in Luton, but there were a few in nearby Hemel Hempstead including one of my teachers from Luton Sixth Form I believe. I recall them turning up at a Luton CND meeting around this time at the Communist Party HQ at 8 Crawley Green Road and trying unsuccessfully to get them to adopt a Troops Out of Ireland position. They spent a great deal of time denouncing other left factions for not having the 'correct' line on Ireland, but to give them their dues they did priortise solidarity when for much of the Left the fact that British troops were on the streets just across the sea was treated as background noise, just another issue on the menu of causes)
|Report of the Luton demo in June 1980, from FRFI, July/August 1980|
I remember going to a public meeting at the International Centre in Old Bedford Road called by the Defence Committee Against the Prevention of Terrorism Act at which both Jim and Gerry spoke- the latter also having just been released on bail. I believe this was the meeting on June 19th 1980 mentioned in the following article, it also included a showing of a film 'Prisoner of War' about the prisoners' struggle.
The death of Jim Reilly
Sadly, Jim Reilly was to die shortly afterwards at the age of 54. A long time asthma sufferer, he was admitted to hospital with a chest complaint and died at St Mary's Hospital in Luton.
Born in the New Lodge area of Belfast in 1927, Jim Reilly was first interned in Crumlin Road prison as a young republican in 1942. After emigrating to England, he founded the Luton branch of Provisional Sinn Fein in 1971 and was arrested at least four times in the 1970s. For instance in 1975 Reilly and three other people from Luton were arrested in Liverpool as they left the Belfast boat on their way back from a Sinn Fein conference (Belfast Telegraph 31/10/75). One of those arrested with him, Luton electrician John Higgins, was later jailed for ten years for possession of walkie talkies and supposedly attempting to obtain weapons (BT 7/4/77).
Reilly's treatment in prison was widely held to have contributed to his ill health, not to mention his earlier experiences of being on hunger strike as a teenage prisoner in the 1940s: 'Jim Reilly, Luton Sinn Fein and Home Counties Organiser, died in hospital on Friday 26 September 1980. Jim Reilly was a lifelong revolutionary Republican fighter working right up to the moment of his death. His death was a direct result of the frame-up organised against him and his close comrade Gerry MacLochlainn (now serving a six year sentence). Having hounded Jim Reilly throughout his life, British imperialism succeeded in hounding him to death in September 1980. Jim Reilly’s death was a great loss both to the Republican movement and the British working class. He will always be remembered as a courageous dedicated Republican and convinced socialist' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 12, September 1981).
As a final indignity, British Airways refused to fly his body back to Belfast, resulting in his funeral at St Peter's on the Falls Road being delayed. He was buried in Milltown Cemetery.
|Jim Reilly Obituary, from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism, Nov/Dec 1980|
|Class struggle (Revolutionary Communist League), 2 October 1980|
|Troops Out, December 1982|
|Troops Out, October 1981|
At the time of the Luton riot in July 1981, the local Herald newspaper said: 'The scene could have been Belfast, or even Brixton or Liverpool' (16 July 1981). I think it's important to remember that the Hunger Strike was going at the same time as the 1981 uprisings in English town and cities. I have no doubt that the young people rioting in Brixton and Toxteth on the one hand, and Belfast and Derry on the other took inspiration from each other - the TV news was dominated throughout the year by such scenes. Many black and Irish activists definitely saw each other as both being in the front line against British imperialism - to take but one example, radical black magazine Race Today published a text by Bobby Sands. And of course the British state was also not slow in making such connections - in July 1981, the army demonstrated its water cannon to police chiefs and senior police officers from England visited their counterparts in the Royal Ulster Constabulary to learn about their methods of riot control.
(1) Belfast Telegraph, 24 September 1981
(2) 'Troops Out demand by Sinn Fein’, Luton News 1 October 1981
(3) Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons, Vol. 2: 1978-1985 by Ruán O’Donnel
(4) Luton News, 24 September 1981.
Leaflets from my own colllection, The Splits and Fusions RCG archive was a useful resource
A couple more leaflets on the Jim Reilly/Gerry Gerard MacLochlainn campaign. This from the Defence Committee Against the Prevention of the Prevention of Terrorism Act:
|Back of leaflet advertising events in Luton|
'Luton Magistrate Obstructs Bail' - Hands Off Ireland press release: