Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eel Pie Island

The excellent Another Nickel in the Machine - a site focusing on 20th century London -has recently featured some great photos of A Rave on Eel Pie Island in August 1960. I have reproduced a few here, check out the original post for more.

This was obviously a beatnik affair, complete with barefoot dancing - the music probably trad jazz, the preferred soundtrack for Britain's first generation of self-proclaimed ravers. A contemporary article reports 'The tolerant atmosphere in places like the Eel Pie Island club, off Twickenham, is at first surprising: up to 500 people will gather in the hall of a the derelict island hotel and, despite their often outlandish appearance, will listen and jive together all evening without incident' (Traditional Jazz is Booming, The Time, 12 August 1961). The scene doesn't look unlike a squat party rave of the last 20 years - graffiti on the wall, androgynous baggy clothes etc.

Eel Pie Island is located in the River Thames at Twickenham in South West London, and is a key location in London counter-cultural history, particularly the Eel Pie Hotel and its dancehall. Before the Second World War it was popular for ballroom dancing, then in the 1950s hosted jazz raves (like the one pictured here), before becoming a launchpad for English R&B, with bands like The Rolling Stones and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers playing there.

A 1967 article describes Eel Pie Island as 'for the past 10 years a Mecca of the long-haired ban-the-bombers.. On three evenings a week, the humped footbridge linking the island with the mainland supports a bedraggled procession of young people who trek from all over the country to spend a few hours a the island's famous jazz club. The throbbing, smoky atmosphere of the big hall where they dance, and the jungle of rough grass and bushes leading to the edge of the Thames forms a wild haven for non-conformists'.

The article goes on to disclose 'The Secret of Eel Pie Island' - that the club is partially a 'beatnik experiment', an 'open therapeutic community' run by Arthur Chisnall, a sociologist 'as an experiment in reaching and helping disturbed youngsters in their search for a purpose in life...Beatniks and delinquents who have drifted to the island over the years have since found their way to colleges, universities and into the social service' (Times, 6 January 1967)

The hotel closed in 1967, but the club reopened for a while in 1969 as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden, featuring underground acts like Hawkwind and The Edgar Broughton Band. The place was then occupied for a nominal rent by the Eel Pie Commune (1969-71) - there is an interesting article by the anarchist illustrator and Commune founder Clifford Harper here describing those two years of drugs, hippiedom and political arguments: 'It had 25 bedrooms and at one point 100 people from all over the world were at Eel Pie Island. It was anarchy... It had a big lawn and some grounds and the hotel was full of people... Part of the hotel we opened as a dance hall on Friday and Saturday night. Out in the suburbs, six to seven hundred kids would turn up'.

In his memoir, Eel Pie Dharma, Chris Faiers remembers: 'The old hotel rapidly filled with dossers, hippies, runaway schoolkids, drug dealers, petty thieves, heroin addicts, artists, poets, bikers, American hippie tourists, au pair girls, and Zen philosophers from all over the world... The derelict Eel Pie ballroom was opened for business once again. It looked like a high school gym done over by hippies. There were garish psychedelic paintings all over the flaking walls. The most striking was the looming head of a red-eyed hippie king, with his Aubrey Beardsley tresses winding about the walls'.

Some great parties I am sure, but not a libertarian utopia - as usual where drugs and money are involved, some very dodgy characters were drawn to the honeypot. Another participant recalls that 'the only guns seen were those produced 18 months later by some East End gangsters, brought in to ensure the dance-hall's peaceful transition of authority from the patronage of a nearby Hells Angels chapter to that of a slightly more professional management'.

The Hotel was burned down in 1971 in the midst of a controversy about Richmond Council issuing a demolition order for the building to pave the way for a contentious redevelopment of the site.

A new book on Eel Pie Island by Dan Van der Vat & Michele Whitby is due to be published in October 2009.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dubstep, Funky and the Goddess of Love

Clean Living in Difficult Circumstances is a new blog looking at music/culture/politics through the unusual lens of a South London based voodoo practitioner/writer.

In this post, the author offers a new twist on the feminine/masculine pressure debate, looking at dubstep and grime in relation to My Lady Erzulie Freda Dahomey, the Voodoo Goddess of love, her influence considered to be largely absent (with some exceptions such as Grievous Angel's Devotional Dubz): 'Where was Erzulie Freda in this? What happened to the sweet vocals and champagne, the dancing and allure, making an effort before you leave the house, creating a space where the brutality of city living is overcome for a few hours and replaced with fleeting and ephemeral worlds of delight and fascination... All soundsystem needs The Lady. She's the beating heart of any night out. Queen of the dancehall, captivating and enchanting, turning the night into something you'll remember for the rest of your life... In her world, every moment is like the first kiss of an ideal lover, and her presence reminds us of how beautiful nature is, how amazing and filled with possibility London can be, and how much magic there is to be found in a night out'.

Naturally from this perspective, UK Funky gets the thumbs up for bringing back 'girly vocals, smart dress codes, and a female audience to a scene that has been dry of these mysteries for too long. Erzulie has re-entered the building, and wants you to buy her a bottle of champagne'.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson Flashmobs

The inevitable Michael Jackson tribute flashmob drew a big crowd to London's Liverpool Street station this evening, the idea being to do a mass Moonwalk. The police prevented it happening in the train station itself (scene of several other silent raves in the past), so it relocated to the street outside. It doesn't look like there was much space for full on Moonwalking, but clearly there was lots of milling about, singing and dancing while the traffic ground to a halt. There was also Jackson-inspired flashmob dancing in the streets in downtown Toronto and by the Ferry building in San Francisco. Any way a good example of instant mobilisation, less than 24 hours after Jackson's death was announced.

The sense of slightly aimless but enjoyable chaos reminded me of my closest encounter with Michael Jackson, on his British tour in 1988. It was shortly after the 1987 release of the Bad album, the third of his great Quincy Jones-produced trilogy (after Off the Wall and Thriller). MJ and his sister Janet ruled the dancefloor (or at least the electronic dance pop end of it) at that time, the latter with the excellent 1986 Control album (produced by Jam and Lewis). I remember the week Bad was released and hearing it for the first time in a club in South London (Dance Chase at the Alexandra on Clapham Common), everyone was talking about it.

In August 1988 Michael Jackson was playing in Roundhay Park, Leeds, and as I was staying not too far away in Sheffield we decided to go and check it out. We didn't have tickets but figured we might be able to sneak in. At the Park it was apparent that thousands of others had had the same idea. As well as the ticket holders inside the gig, surrounded by a high fence, there was a big crowd in the park. Some were content with listening to the music and seeing the part of the screen next to the stage that was visible from outside but many others were determined to find a way in, using crowd barriers as ladders to climb over fences (only to be chased out again), and generally giving the runaround to the police, out in force in the park with dogs and horses.

It was all semi-riotous and put me in mind of 'Starlust - the Secret Fantasies of Fans' by Fred and Judy Vermorel (1985). Basically their thesis was that rather than simply being integrated into the capitalist spectacle, extreme fan behaviour created a kind of surplus energy of utopian romanticism that was potentially disruptive of everyday life.

Michael Jackson may have been a fucked up kid who grew up to fuck up other kids, let alone his crimes against good music (I refer to some of his awful schmaltzy ballads), but in the intersection of his best tracks, dancefloors, and the desires of dancers many interesting moments have arisen - and no doubt will continue to do so.

New Links

A couple of (related?) new blogs with similar interests to this site:

Apples from the Underground - ' blog inspired by the underground subcultures of resistance , rave music creativity , temporary autonomous zones and radical theory'. Some interesting stuff about French free parties, including last weekend's Free Parade in Paris - trying to find out more about this (will translate some material from the French Free Parade site, does anyone have any information in English that I can use?)

Shituationist Institute - 'progressive party palaver' from Berlin, Athens and beyond. Some good party reports, I liked this account of a weekend in Berlin, including going to an anti-nationalist 'Love Techno Hate Germany' party.

On the side of the dancers, the dirt and the dust

'Order reigns in Tehran!' You stupid henchmen! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already 'raise itself with a rattle' and announce with fanfare, to your terror:I was, I am, I shall be!" (OK so in the original Rosa Luxemburg quote it's Berlin rather than Tehran, but the sentiments still apply)

The repression continues in Iran, but so too does resistance. What started out as a protest about the election results has turned into a more fundamental challenge to the Islamic Republic.

The (officially) defeated election candidate Mousavi has blood on his hands just like the (officially) victorious Ahmadinejad. He was Prime Minister in the 1980s at a time of executions of political prisoners and the butchery of the Iran-Iraq war. But the protests on the streets have drawn on a wider resentment against religious repression and economic hardship - both of which have got worse over the past couple of years, as Azadeh Moaveni observes

Late that summer [2007], authorities launched a full-scale campaign of intimidation against young people they accused of un-Islamic appearance. Within a few short weeks, police detained 150,000 people, and all the women in my life went out to buy the shapeless, long coats that we had worn back in the late 1990s. Though the campaign targeted young men as well, authorities singled out women with particular brutality... To add to Iranians' frustration, interminable queues accompanied the government's petrol-rationing scheme, unveiled that summer. In the evenings it could take several hours to fill our car, and when our local petrol station was torched by rioters furious with the new plan, we stopped using the car. Iran's streets began to remind me of postwar Baghdad. Censorship had been stepped up such that seventh editions of sociology textbooks were not receiving permits to reprint. The ominous white morality police vans that patrolled the streets kept young people in a permanent state of anxiety. One morning, while taking my baby for a stroll near the mountains, a teenage policewoman grabbed by arm and tried to lead me to a police van. "Your sleeves are too short," she barked'.

In the turmoil leading up to the election, there was some space created, at least for some: '“We were singing, dancing in the streets, boys and girls together. We had never done this before. No one wanted to go home'. Things are clearly now much more sombre, but determined:

'I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favourite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again... I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them' .

Ahmadinejad meanwhile has denounced his opponents as 'dirt and dust' and of 'officially recognising thieves, homosexuals and scumbags'.

The movement cannot be dismissed as just a few middle class students caught up in a faction fight within the Iranian state (a view I have head expressed at a meeting in London last week). Interestingly, Khodro Auto Workers staged a slow down in support of the demonstrators last week. Similarly the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company have endorsed the protests, despite their opposition to all of the state-picked candidates in the election. There have also been protests by hospital workers at the Rasul Akram hsospital in Tehran.

On the music front, a number of songs have already appeared dedicated to Neda Aghan Soltan, shot dead by state forces last week, here's just one of them:

Mohammad Reza Shajarian, one of Iran's most famous singers, has written to the state broadcaster IRIB demanding that they stop playing his songs.

Further reports/analysis: Revolutionary Road , Hands of People of Iran, Socialist Blogs, Worker Communist Party of Iran (their poster reproduced below)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Taser = torture

Weekend nights in Anytown UK, boys and girls roam the town centre between pubs and the kind of nightclubs where they only play chart music. Violence is in the air from drunken blokes (sometimes women too), bouncers and pumped up police.

This is the landscape of songs like I Predict a Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs (Leeds): 'Watching the people get lairy, It's not very pretty I tell thee, Walking through town is quite scary, It's not very sensible either, A friend of a friend he got beaten, He looked the wrong way at a policeman...'

Or Riot Van by The Arctic Monkeys (Sheffield): 'And up rolls the riot van, And these lads just wind the coppers up, They ask why they don't catch proper crooks, They get their address and their names took, But they couldn't care less, Got thrown in a riot van, and all the coppers kicked him in'.

But now there's a new, potentially deadly weapon on the streets. A Sunday night in Nottingham two weeks ago, an altercation by a nightclub, and the police turn up - nothing unusual, but then we enter sci-fi territory. Captured on mobile phone by a passer-by, a policeman fires a taser at a guy on the ground, delivering a 50,000 volt electric shock via two darts on the end of wires (then a colleague comes along and delivers a more traditional thumping).

Yes electric shock treatment in public, and don't believe the hype about tasers being 'non-lethal'. As Harpy Marx notes, a man died in Australia this month and there have also been recent deaths in the US and Canada. In fact Amnesty International have documented hundreds of taser-related deaths. No doubt many more are on the way in the UK, since last year the Home Secretary announced plans to fund the provision of 10,000 Taser guns nationally and training for up to 30,000 frontline officers to use them. Not all police forces are enthusiastic are so enthusiastic about increasing the use of them - possibly because they too predict a riot.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

J18 1999

Ten years ago today, the G8 Summit in Cologne was the occasion for the global J18 'Carnival Against Capital' with demonstrations, street parties, riots and every conceivable kind of protest in places across the world.

In London I took part in the huge carnivalesque protest initiated by Reclaim the Streets, which saw 10,000 people converge on the financial centre of the City of London. The day started for me with a protest by the Association of Autonomous Astronauts against the militarisation of space at the London HQ of the Lockheed Martin Corporation in Berkeley Square. Police prevented several people in spacesuits from entering the building (an incident broadcast live via mobile phone on BBC Radio Scotland), but a line of people stood outside with placards saying "Stop Star Wars - Military Out of Space" and handed out leaflets, the text of which is reproduced below. As well as a contribution to the J18 it marked the start of the AAA's 'Space 1999 - Ten Days that Shook the Universe' festival in London.

The we headed into the City where the main event was in full swing - in fact we'd already missed the famous storming of the London International Financial Futures and & Options Exchange. It was a blazing hot day and there was a sense of creative chaos with different stuff going off in all directions - one minute you were with thousands of people dancing in the streets, then you looked down an alleyway and there were people fighting with riot police. The latter seemed completely overwhelmed, I don't think anyone - authorities or activists - knew what to expect. At some point the crowd began to disperse, not in ones or twos, but in processions heading off in different directions. I remember a load of us slowly heading through an underpass with a huge sound system on a lorry shaking the walls with techno.

It was the peak of the Reclaim the Streets idea - in many different countries protests were accompanied by electronic beats from mobile sound systems. In London the police became wise to the tactic, and some of the activists also began to agonise about whether partying was getting in the way of politics (always a bad sign in the development of movements).

Stefan Szczelkun's film really captures the atmosphere, including some of the different musics on the day - drumming, samba, and at one point people dancing to Leftfield's Open Up (with John Lydon singing 'Burn Hollywood Burn'):

 The image below is from a Reclaim the Streets flyer given out in the lead up to J18. The central quote 'To work for delight...' comes from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life (click image to enlarge):

The full text of the leaflet read:

On June 18th the leaders of the eight most powerful nations will meet for the G8 summit in Cologne, Germany. Their agenda will be the intensification of economic growth, "free" trade and more power for corporations as the only way towards a bright future. But these 'leaders' are not in control... Our planet is actually run by the financial market - a giant video game in which people buy and sell blips on electronic screens, trading life for money in their search for ever-higher profits. Yet the consequences of this frenzied game are very real: human lives, ecosystems, jobs and even entire economies are at the mercy of this reckless global system.

As the economy becomes increasingly global and interdependent those resisting its devastating social and ecological consequences are joining forces. Around the world, the movement grows - from Mexico's Zapatistas, to France's unemployed, to India's small farmers, to those fighting road building in the UK, to anti-oil activists in Nigeria - people are taking direct action and reclaiming their lives from the insane game of the markets. Resistance will converge on June 18th as hundreds of groups simultaneously occupy and transform banking and financial centres across the globe.

If you act like there is no possibility of change for the better, you guarantee that there will be no change for the better. The choice is ours.

Carn'ival n. 1. An explosion of freedom involving laughter, mockery, dancing, masquerade and revelry. 2. Occupation of the streets in which the symbols and ideals of authority are subverted. 3. When the marginalised take over the centre and create a world turned upside down. 4. You cannot watch carnival, you take part. 5. An unexpected carnival is revolutionary.

'To work for delight and authentic festivity is barely distinguishable from preparing for a general insurrection'

Cap'italism n. 1. A system by which the few profit from the exploitation of the many. 2. A mindset addicted to profit, work and debt which values money more than life. 3. An unsustainable ideology obsessed by growth despite our finite planet. 4. The cause of the global, social and ecological crisis. 5. A social system overthrown at the end of the 20th century...

A massive carnival in the world's biggest financial centre - the city of London - will be Reclaim The Streets' part of the day. Let's replace the roar of profit and plunder with the sounds and rhythms of party, carnival and pleasure!

Friday June 18th - An international day of protest, action and carnival aimed at the heart of the global economy: the banking and financial centres.

Reclaim The Streets. Meet 12 noon, Liverpool Street Station, London EC1. Bring a radio and disguise yourself to blend into the City. Office worker or bike courier costumes work best!

Don't play their game, call in sick on Friday June the 18th

Do not underestimate the power of global resistance

Text of the AAA leaflet given out on J18:
Stop Star Wars: Military out of Space - Association of Autonomous Astronauts

While film fans wait for the new Star Wars movie the real thing is already taking shape above our heads. Space technology is a key part of the military machine being used to destroy people and buildings in Yugoslavia and Iraq. And the US and other governments are actively planning to deploy new weapons in space capable of wreaking even more destruction on planet earth. Today the Association of Autonomous Astronauts are demanding that one of the key players in the space arms race - the Lockheed Martin corporation - hands over its resources to us for the development of peaceful, galaxy-friendly community based space exploration.

From the Blitz to the Moon
Space and military technology have always gone hand in hand. In the Second World War, thousands of people were killed in London and other cities by the Nazis' V2 rocket. When the war finished, Werner Von Braun and the other scientists responsible for the V2 were given new jobs by the US government. The V2 technology was refined and served as the basis for both intercontinentaI Ballistic Missiles (nuclear weapons) and the Apollo Space programme that sent people to the moon.

Satellites of death

A high proportion of the satellites launched into space serve military purposes. The 1991 Gulf War saw the US combine data from surveillance, meteorological and communications satellites to deploy its war machine with lethal effectiveness. It's been the same story in the current war on Yugoslavia. For instance, B-1B Lancer bombers have been used "equipped with advanced cluster bomb units which use satellite navigation to detect and destroy targets (Guardian 3.4.99). Naturally this super-accurate space age technology hasn't stopped people being blown to bits in hospitals, houses, old people's homes, prisons and on bridges.

Star Wars - the sequel

Military satellites are only the start. The US Space Command (part of the US Air Force) is actively planning the deployment of weapons in space. According to General Joseph Ashy, commander in chief of the US Space Command (motto 'Master of Space'), "we will engage terrestrial targets someday from space. We will engage targets in space, from space" . In the 1980s Ronald Reagan's Star Wars programme was derided as a Cold War fantasy. Now the plan to deploy weapons in space to 'defend' the US from missile attack is back on with the Ballistic Missile Defence programme. These 'defensive' weapons could be quickly adapted to attack enemy satellites or targets on the ground.

Cassini - nukes in space

The use of lasers and similar weapons in space would only be feasible with powerful energy sources, and public opinion is already being softened up for nuclear powered weapons systems in space. In 1997 NASA launched the Cassini space probe to Saturn with 32.8 kg of radioactive plutonium on board. Fortunately this rocket did not blow up on take-off (unlike many recent launches), but Cassini is due to pass close to earth again in August 1999 with potentially catastrophic results if anything goes wrong.

Lockheed Martin

Today military and space technology are concentrated in the hands of the same big corporations. With Lockheed Martin, the two areas are even co-ordinated in the same section of the company - Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, based in Sunnyvale, California. Lockheed have reaped millions of pounds from the US space programme as a key contractor for NASA. Today, LM Missiles and Space are involved in the space shuttle programme and the development of the International Space Station. At the same time they are continuing to develop Trident missiles, nuclear weapons currently deployed by the US and UK governments in nuclear powered submarines in oceans across the world. Lockheed Martin UK is a major defence contractor for the Ministry of Defence, completing the installation of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles on Royal Navy submarines just in time for their use in Yugoslavia.


The Association of Autonomous Astronauts is opposed to the commercial and military exploitation of space. We really don't think it's worth going through all the effort of getting into space just to live by the same rules as on earth. What attracts us to space exploration is the possibility of doing things differently. We are not interested in finding out what's its like to work in space, to find new ways of killing. We want to find out what dancing or sex feels like in zero gravity, to find new ways of living.

As part of the J18 global festival against corporate exploitation we demand that Lockheed Martin decommissions its weapon-making capability and hands over its resources to the AAA. We will be outlining our programme of community-based, galaxy-friendly space exploration in our Space 1999 festival, which starts today.
There is some footage of the AAA J18 protest in this AAA video.
Other relections: Christoph Fringeli at Datacide - 10 Years J18 199; Ian Bone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Students and supporters at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London are occupying management offices there in protest against the detention and deportation of cleaners at the college last week. According to this account at No Sweat:

'Nine cleaners from the university were taken into detention after a dawn raid by immigration police on Friday. Five have already been deported, and the others could face deportation within days. One has had a suspected heart attack and was denied access to medical assistance and even water. One was over 6 months pregnant. Many have families who have no idea of their whereabouts.

The cleaners won the London Living Wage and trade union representation after a successful “Justice for Cleaners” campaign that united workers of all backgrounds and student activists. Activists believe the raid is managers’ “revenge” for the campaign. Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting’ at 6.30am on Friday (June 12). This was used as a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space from which the immigration officers were hiding to arrest them.

More than 40 officers were dressed in full riot gear and aggressively undertook interrogations and then escorted them to the detention centre. Neither legal representation nor union support were present due to the secrecy surrounding the action. Many were unable to communicate let alone fully understand what was taking place due to the denial of interpreters. SOAS management were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them. The cleaners were interviewed one by one. They were allowed no legal or trade union representation, or even a translator (many are native Spanish speakers). The cleaners are members of the Unison union at SOAS. They recently went out on strike (Thursday 28 May) to protest the sacking of cleaner and union activist Jose Stalin Bermudez.

Woody Guthrie's Deportees

The experience of the deported SOAS cleaners puts me in mind of the great Woody Guthrie song, The Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (often referred to as Deportee or sometimes Deportees). According to Raymond Crooke: 'On January 29, 1948, a plane crashed near Los Gatos Canyon in California. The fatalities consisted of four Americans and 28 illegal immigrant farm workers who were being deported back to Mexico. Woody Guthrie noticed that radio and newspaper coverage of the incident only gave the names of the American casualties, referring to the Mexican victims merely as "deportees." His response was to write a poem in which he assigned names to the dead: Juan, Rosalita, Jesús and María' .

Woody Guthrie actually wrote these lyrics as a poem and it was not set to music - by Martin Hoffman - for another ten years. It was popuarlised by Pete Seeger and then became something of a folk and country standard, recorded by many artists including The Kingston Trio (1964), Julie Felix, The Byrds (on the 1969 album Ballad of Easy Rider), Joan Baez and Dolly Parton (on the soundrack album to 9 to 5). Bruce Springsteen has covered it too.

One of my favourite versions is by Woody Guthrie's son Arlo Guthrie with Emmylou Harrris:

There's also a rousing Bob Dylan & Joan Baez rendition performed on the Rolling Thunder Revue, at Fort Collins, Colorado, 23 May 1976:

The song has become an Irish standard too, covered by The Emeralds in the 1960s and later by acts including The Dubliners and The Wolfe Tones. The most celebrated Irish version is by Christy Moore - the song is included in the Christy Moore Songbook (Dublin: Brandon, 1984), from where I learnt this song and many others. Here's Christy performing it in 1979:

The deported SOAS cleaners forced on to planes have not come to the same tragic end as the 1948 farm workers, but the song's description of the conditions of their precarious labour is not so very far removed from the present situation: 'Some of us are illegal and some are not wanted, Our work contract's out and we have to move on, 600 miles to that Mexican border, They chase us like outlaws, like thieves on the run'.

The SOAS cleaners also experience the complicity between their employers and the immigration authorities. Companies like ISS profit from employing migrant labour and also benefit from the insecurity of the workforce - using the implicit threat of calling in the Borders & Immigration Agency to keep people in line. Cleaners at SOAS go on strike and a few weeks later the company calls in the Border cops.... you do the math.

Mexican workers in the '40s had a similar experience of such complicity. Under an agreement between Mexico and the U.S. (1947) "undocumented Mexicans who were sent back across the border could return to the U.S. as temporary contract laborers; during the life of their contracts, they could not be again deported. In practice, employers often called Border Patrol stations to report their own undocumented employees, who were returned, momentarily, to border cities in Mexico, where they signed labor contracts with the same employers who had denounced them. This process became known as 'drying out wetbacks' or 'storm and drag immigration.' 'Drying out' provided a deportation-proof source of cheap seasonal labor." [Dick J. Reavis, Without Documents, New York, 1978, p. 39.]

Most of all the song reminds us of the humanity of those labelled as 'deportees' or 'illegals' - real people with real names and real lives. People like the following picked up at SOAS last week - Heidi Campos who left her husband to go to a work meeting on Friday and never came home, being deported to Colombia instead; Luzia Venancio from Brazil, 6 months pregnant and put on a plane; Laura (Alba) Posada from Colombia; Marina Silva and Manuel Zeballos Saldana from Bolivia, Rosa Aguilera (de Perez) from Nicaragua who came to England to visit her hospitalised husband...

More about the occupation at http://freesoascleaners.blogspot.com, send messages of support to freesoascleaners@googlemail.com.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Remembering Tiananmen

Twenty years after the Tiananmen Square massacre (4 June 1989) there seems to be some amnesia about what actually happened in China at that time. Obviously the Chinese State continues to downplay the extent of the repression and how many people it killed that day and in the subsequent crackdown. But even amongst those who want to remember the victims, the nature of the movement they were part of is sometimes neglected when it is presented as simply a student protest in central Beijing. The movement was wider than that, involving workers as well as students (cf. the role of the Autonomous Workers Federation), and spreading to Shanghai and other parts of the country. There was also a fair amount of international solidarity - I remember going on a huge demonstration in London just after the massacre, with a high proportion of Chinese people taking part. We all sat down for a while as it passed by China town in Soho.

The repression of that time is not past history either, witness the case of Li Wangyang still in prison today. According to Chinese Labour Bulletin: 'Li was first arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment the following year on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" for founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and leading workers' strikes during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement. He was released in June 2000, but in February 2001, he staged a 22-day hunger strike in an attempt to obtain medical compensation for injuries to his back, heart and lungs that he had sustained while in prison, and which reportedly left him unable to walk unaided. His eyesight is also seriously impaired. For staging the hunger-strike protest, Li was again arrested by the police. On 5 September 2001, he was tried in secret by the People's Intermediate Court of Shaoyang on the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a further 10 years' imprisonment'.

By way of remembrance here's a song that was something of an anthem to the protestors - Nothing to my Name. The singer. Cui Jan, is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Bruce Springsteen, and not without reason. On the evidence of this song, not only does his voice sound a bit like the New Jersery balladeer but the wrong side of the tracks sentiments (poor boy scorned by better off girl) are pure Bruce. Cui Jan joined the protestors and sang in Tiananmen Square. As a result he was effectively blacklisted for some years in China, though he now seems to have been rehabilitated.

More: Burt Green - The Meaning of Tiananmen: 'the material existence of Autonomous Beijing as both a real occupation of physical and social space and the assertion of a living alternative to the dominant organization of society overseen by the Communist Party, was already the repudiation of the Party's thirty years of rule. Shiraz Socialist 'We must not, ever, forget' .

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Miners Strike: (4) Mansfield (5) Soul Deep

On Monday 14th May 1984 some of us from our Miners Support Group at Kent University went on the Kent miners' coaches up to Mansfield for a big demonstration. I remember Jack Collins, the Kent NUM leader and sometime Communist Party militant, was on our coach. Sadly he was to die from leukemia just a couple of years after the strike, in 1987. 

Despite being in Nottinghamshire, where many of the miners did not join the strike, there was a good atmosphere on the demonstration until right at the end when we were waiting to get on the coaches home. We were standing by an ice cream van when out of nowhere a police horse came charging along the pavement scattering people in all directions. Someone got knocked over and was lying on the ground - I am not sure they'd even been on the demonstration. A line of police on foot followed up behind and a big group of miners and supporters formed up to confront them. My friend Tracy got some amazed looks as one of the few women in the thick of it as she stood at the front taunting the police.  Soon bottles and bricks were flying, and the police charged. The buses back to Kent left soon afterwards but the clashes continued. 88 people were arrested, of whom 55 were charged, some with the serious offence of riot - though they were to be acquitted after a lengthy trial when cases came to court. The police claimed that 40 of their number were injured; there were certainly plenty of casualties on our side too.

Advert for the Mansfield demonstration in The Miner, 9.5.1984

The following account of Mansfield comes from Bobby Girvan, and was published in Raphael Samuel, Barbara Bloomfield and Guy Boanas (eds.), The Enemy Within: Pit villages and the Miners Strike of 1984-5 (London: Routledge, 1986): 

'I think it was 14 May, it was a sunny day and we went down to Mansfield and it was a lovely carnival atmosphere if you like, it was brilliant. The thing that got me, the television cameras were there, there were a few drinks and that and singing and that. Arthur Scargill come on. We were told to get back to the buses pretty early, cos the one driving the bus wanted to go. But the thing about it was that the camera started setting up when half the people had gone and we went walking up the road towards the bus and the bus had gone and we were sitting on a grass verge and then I seen something and I couldn't believe it cos I'd had a few drinks and it was like watching one of these science fiction movies, like a dark cloud coming over the place. You just saw the police coming out of the streets from every... you hadn't seen a policeman all day ... on horseback, they were just getting anybody. It was pandemonium!

And they were getting nearer and nearer to us and I thought, What's going to happen? Some of us went running down the road to see what the trouble was and I went to speak to this copper to see what were happening. One of them got me against the wall, another policeman grabbed him and asked him what were happening, and he says, oh he's all right this lad is. This copper went and stood with some of the women so they wouldn't get hit because they were just going mad. I see policemen get on buses, pulling people off, knocking hell out of them with sticks. As I went down the road I kept ducking and diving out of the way. I see a young schoolgirl coming round the corner with a satchel over her shoulder and a horse went flying by and knocked her flat. I went to pick her up and got kicked on the shoulder as a policeman were running past hitting people. And as I got up near the crowd there was people chucking stones and that.

I never felt so frightened or so angry in my life when I seen what I seen. You've got horses, then policemen, then people chucking bricks and from what I could see in the middle of it, three or four, probably six policemen kicking hell out of a youth of probably 17 or 18. He managed to stagger to his feet and his face was covered in blood and that and one of them ... it was like one of these African executions, he got his stick out about a yard long and whacked him across the face with it and the ambulance men was angry and was effing and blinding to the police and they had to put that young lad in an oxygen tank for about 20 minutes before they even moved him and I've never seen a sight like it. And I never thought I would pick up a brick in anger but that day I did. I was totally disgusted with what the police were doing. I'd heard things that they'd do. I'd seen one or two incidents on the picket line but never anything like that'

Here's another account left as a comment to this post:

'The police were itching for trouble and as the march and rally had been a good humoured peaceful day they were frustrated that they were given no reason to start any. Their frustration finally got the better of them outside the Dial pub in the market place. The police just started to wade into anyone drinking there (many were nothing to do with the Rally) knocking pint pots out of their hands then telling them to drink up as their drinks fell to the floor. This in turn caused angry words to be exchanged as tempers were raised. The ones who had attended the Rally started to walk back towards Chesterfield Road to get their buses home along with a few local striking miners. Some of the police were kicking peoples heels as they were walking along and trying to goad them. Just across the road from the Evans Halshaw garage on Chesterfield Road, the bait was taken, the crowd turned on their tormenters and a few police were attacked and knocked to the floor. This gave the police there the opportunity they wanted, and they steamed into anyone there, lashing out with their truncheons and cracking heads. But some of the marchers there, were made of sterner stuff and they stood their ground. A pitched battle then ensued with casualties on both sides. The fighting, in between short lulls must have gone on for an hour or more. Some of the local striking miners were still fighting running battles with the police a long time after the buses had left. The 55 charged with riot were acquitted, not one policeman was charged with any offence after all the brutality they had dished out'.

Mark W, one of those arrested, also left a comment:

 'I was one of the Mansfield 55, over twenty of us in a small cell in Hucknall police station, charged with riot and affray, yep I was worried, I did grab a police inspector around the neck because he had me mate by his neck, however as two coppers grabbed me i went quiet and spent over 48hrs locked up, i saw a lot of abuse of power over the 12 months. power to the people'.

'Battle in the Streets - rampaging miners and police fought a pitched battle in a busy street yesterday. Mothers with young children were caught up in the violence. Stones and bottles were hurled as police horses charged into the crowd...The flare-up in Mansfield, Notts, followed the biggest demonstration yet in support of the minder strike, now in its 10th week. The demo, which attracted more than 15,000 strikers passed off peacefully. But when the pubs shut two hours later, the violence began/... One police man lay unconscious on the lawns of a Baptist church. Fifty yards up the road one miner, Jim Edwards from Lanacashire, was stretchered out, also apparently badly hurt. His friend, Tom Keen, said: 'We were walking towards our coach when we were suddenly charged by a police horse. Jim was forced into the side of a bus and collapsed' (Daily Mirror, 15 May 1984).

From Socialist Worker report of Mansfield demo (19/5/1984): 

'On Monday a massive number of trade unionists marched through Mansfield in the heart of the Nottinghamshire coalfield. Miners from every coalfield in the country including Nottinghamshire were there… the ,arch ended with a rally at which Jack Taylor, Dennis Skinner and Arthur Scargill spoke. Arthur Scargill was wildly applauded when he said ‘Thatcher was successful in the Falklands but she will lose this battle’.

Under the heading 'police riot', Socialist Worker included a couple of eye witness accounts:

‘Groups of miners were standing around with the police trying to provoke them. Scuffles broke out and the police baton charged the miners, forcing them off the car park where they were waiting for their coaches. Mounted police drove some demonstrators half a mile down a road, lashing out at anyone who got in the way'

‘I saw coppers smash a guy against a coach. He fell to the ground and was jumped on by three policemen, crushing him. More police came round to prevent the crowd rescuing him but eventually they went because he was lying unconscious with the crowd shouting “you've killed him”'

The aftermath: police torture in Rainworth

On the evening of the Mansfield demonstration a group of Yorkshire miners were violently assaulted by police in the nearby mining village of Rainworth, as documented in the book 'State of Siege: Miners' strike 1984 - politics and policing in the coal fields' by Jim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker.

'Mansfield or its environs was a dangerous place to be if you were a Yorkshire miner on that evening. Squads of officers were out looking for blood to avenge any injuries which their comrades might have received in the fight. Twenty men from Frickley colliery in Yorkshire volunteered to stay in Nottinghamshire after the rally'.

Later that evening  some of the these miners left the Rainworth Miners' Institute Club and were walking down the road in the direction of the nearby Robin Hood pub when they were set upon by police as described in these accounts:

Miner One: 'Suddenly there was running and shouting and I thought some police officers were coming for me but they went for the man who was in front of me. They started pushing him one to the other and then threw him to the floor and then began jumping on him. I stood there shocked and stunned. I could only watch because this was the worst manifestation of evil I have ever witnessed; four or five police officers bullying a man and enjoying it. I have seen violence before but this was sheer sadism [...]

The next thing I knew was that the Inspector who I had spoken to outside the club came up to me and said to his rank of uniformed thugs, "We'll have this bastard next!' and also perhaps "Give him the special treatment". I remember two or three police officers coming up to me casually, grinning. They seized me and frog marched me to the rear of the transit van. They put me on the ground in a prone position, with my arms out in front of me, my hands handcuffed tightly. From then on began the most traumatic experience of my life. A truncheon was brought horizontally from the back over my head, in front of my eyebrows and across the bridge of my nose. My head and torso were the levered up from the ground with the truncheon. Some kind of foreign body was inserted into each nostril and stuffed up my nose with what I assumed to be a ball point pen. I think that the foreign body was paper of some kind; throughout my stay in the police station I was constantly picking largish crumbs of what I thought was dried blood or matter out of my nose. The truncheon was then placed under my nose and this was used as a levering point instead of the bridge of my nose. I was lowered back to the ground and my back was jumped on several times, rhythmically so that the air in my lungs evacuated explosively every time that my back was jumped on. This created the effect that my body was being used as a bellows. I remember thinking at the time, in a detached manner, how organised it was; not a bit spontaneous and that they must do this quite often, and must be confident of getting away with it. Finally my head was turned sideways to the ground and something soft like a cloth was put under it, then someone jumped on my head. I was then thrown bodily into the back of the transit and I believe that two other men were thrown in on  top of me. I couldn't breathe and I struggled to get out from under them'.

Miner Two: 'I was standing on my own on the pavement. One police officer ran at me, he came from the back of me and put his truncheon across my throat, holding it at both ends and pulled on it. I was pushed from behind across the road to a van. I was gasping for breath. I was thrown into a van on the floor with the truncheon still around my neck. I was face down on the floor and he had one knee in the small of my back. He said something like, "put your hands behind your back bastard". I did that and I was handcuffed. After I had been handcuffed and the officer had taken the truncheon from my neck he hit me hard with it twice, once on the right hip, once on the right shoulder.
Miner Three: 'The officers ran across the road, a number of them were holding truncheons. Two officers ran towards me; they held me by my arms and hair, one of them grabbed one of my legs. I struggled because I had done nothing wrong and I was being assaulted. As I was carried to one of the vans, halfway across the road, a third officer came up and hit me violently on the back of the head with a truncheon. My scalp was split by that blow and I began to bleed. I did not struggle after that. 

Another of the miners, aged 24, had just left the Robin Hood when he saw what was happening to his mates. He was next to be attacked: 'We were standing outside the chip shop eating when we saw the rest of our lads being attacked by three vans loads of police officers [...] I was eventually pushed on to a seat still handcuffed; the two PC's sat behind me and began swearing at me then nudging me. I stood up to try and move to the front of the van away from these two. One grabbed me by the hair and pulled me forward over the seat. I was then dragged out of the van and thrown to the floor. I was circled by officers who began kicking me on the body and one kicked me in the face. My lip was cut on my teeth when this happened and my left eye began swelling. I was very frightened and I began shouting at them to leave me alone. I was then picked up and dropped onto a metal fence round the edge of the pavement; one officer was pushing down on my neck and forcing me to lift my feet off the ground. This meant that all my weight was on my stomach across the fence and I couldn't breathe. One P.C. then pulled a sticker from my cardigan ('Support the miners. NUM Stop Pit Closures) and said, "What's this fucking rubbish"; he then folded the sticker up and pushed it  my left nostril and pushed his finger up my nose to push it further up. The two officers stood talking almost conversationally to each other and began kneeing me in the face in turn. After a while an Inspector came over and said, "'Has he quietened down yet?''

Needless to day it was the miners not the police who ended up being being charged with a variety of offences from Breach of the Peace to Assaulting a Police Officer. The book's authors noted 'Torture is the same the world over... Such organisation and method though needs training and these processes must have been practiced'.

'Mansfield 55: Up against the law' badge

Also from Socialist Worker - a debate about sexist slogans being chanted by some on the Mansfield demo:

(Socialist Worker, 9/6/1984)

[post updated 16/4/2023 with SW material, sourced from Splits and Fusions archive]

More Music of the Strike: The Council Collective - Soul Deep (click for Youtube)

Soul Deep was a 1984 benefit record for Women Against Pit Closures recorded by The Council Collective - essentially The Style Council (Paul Weller and Mick Talbot) plus friends including D.C. Lee, Dizzy Hites, Junior Giscombe, Vaughn Toulouse, Leonardo Chignoli and most remarkably former Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin, whose father had been a miner in the US.

The song starts 'Getcha mining soul deep with a lesson in history, There's people fighting for their communities, Don't say their struggle does not involve you, If you're from the working class it's your struggle too. Weller criticises the TUC, bemoaning 'as for solidarity I don't see none' before concluding with a stirring chant of 'Strike Back, Fight Back, Let's Change That, No Pit Stops, No Closures, We want the truth, we want exposure NOW!'

According to John Reed's biography, Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods (2005), Paul Weller delayed the release after a taxi driver driving strike breakers in Wales was killed by a concrete block dropped on his car from a bridge. Weller donated some of the royalties to the taxi driver's family as well as to the strikers.

The B-side of the record was called A Miner's Point - an interview with two miners undertaken by Paolo Hewitt.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Klezmer, Book One: Tales of the Wild East (First Second, 2006) is a graphic novel by Joann Sear following a group of musicians in their wanderings through pre-World War II Eastern Europe. Among other things it made me want to read more about the history of Odessa, another of those early multicultural port cities like London and Marseille.

It includes an appendix with the author's reflections on klezmer:

' True to the idea that you're better off practicing useless activities than doing harm, I put my memories into klezmer songs. They're better off there than elsewhere. Those are Jewish voices, but they don't speak only to Jews. I think back about Shostakoviich, who for years carried around in his suitcase his Opus 79, 'On Jewish folk poetry'. And each time Stalin or the others would forbid him to present it. I think about Isaac Babel, whose short stories on Odessa were scattered, banned, lost. I love that mad project they had, of getting people to like the Jews.

I think human populations need friendship. When men sense that they are not liked, they invent the blues or Gypsy music or klezmer. That's how they make their condition understandable to others. Their language then reaches out to everyone and from within the most self-constrained communities rises a universal song. Extending a hand to a neighbour is a momentous thing in fact. The fact that klezmer is still played today, and with such gusto, and with so many non-Jews on stage and in the audience - which is great - says that plenty of people are willing to carry a bit of Jewish memory on behalf of the Jews. And as a result, klezmer is no longer music that is played by Jews for Jews. That gets us out of the realm of folklore; we all dance together while drinking up a storm, we have fun. From a personal standpoint I ask for nothing more'.

Not totally convinced about the blues or klezmer coming about to communicate outside of communities, I think that's probably a secondary function, but I like the idea of the notion of 'universal song' being able to extend across boundaries.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

International Times Archive

There's a fantastic archive up now for The International Times, the famous UK underground paper of the 1960s and 70s. It includes scans of every single page, and is free text searchable. I know I'm going to be trawling through this for months to come.

The cover above is from no.9, Feb-March 1967, and seems to show somebody being blown away by some cosmic force with the speech bubble saying 'When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake' (a quote from Plato beloved of Jacques Attali).

Inside this issue there's an article on some hostile reportage of the scene, including a great quote from an article by one Michael Vestey in a publication called London Look: 'London isn't swinging any more, its raving mad. At least when scenes like this can happen in the name of 'freedom of expression.' Usually these raves are harmless. But "happenings" like this — pictured last week at the Round House, the'cultural' centre in Chalk Farm — are shocking. Before children, designer Mike Lesser stripped naked and rolled sensually in coloured jelly. Overall, from the lighting effects and the awful sounds created by the groups, the atmosphere is oppressively psychedelic, creating the feeling that one is intoxicated by LSD without actually having taken it." Apparently the journalist in question had been asking questions like 'Do you have public sexual intercourse at your raves?' only to be told that 'the Round House was too cold'.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Battle of the Beanfield

There was a very interesting Time Team TV programme last night summarising the latest research on Stonehenge, specifically the Stonehenge Riverside Project and the theories of Mike Parker Pearson. Essentially Pearson argues that Stonehenge and the nearby Durrington Walls prehistoric site were part of a common complex joined by the River Avon. The huge amount of feasting debris found at Durrington suggests that it must have been a gathering place for large numbers of people - possibly even some kind of ritual/festival site.

Knowing so little about what people actually did there, let alone believed, it is fanciful (if tempting) to draw a direct connection between the neolithic and the free festival held at Stonehenge in the 1970s and early 1980s. But what we do know is that if the ancestors had attempted to gather there several thousand years later they would have faced the full might of the Wiltshire Constabulary.

In the Guardian yesterday, Andy Worthington recalled that it is exactly 24 years since The Battle of the Beanfield:

'Exactly 24 years ago, in a field beside the A303 in Wiltshire, the might of Margaret Thatcher's militarised police descended on a convoy of new age travellers, green activists, anti-nuclear protestors and free festival-goers, who were en route to Stonehenge in an attempt to establish the 12th annual Stonehenge free festival in fields across the road from Britain's most famous ancient monument. That event has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

In many ways the epitome of the free festival movement of the 1970s, the Stonehenge free festival – an annual anarchic jamboree that, in 1984, had attracted tens of thousands of visitors – had been an embarrassment to the authorities for many years, but its violent suppression, when police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence cornered the convoy of vehicles in a field and, after an uneasy stand-off, invaded the field on foot and in vehicles, subjecting men, women and children to a distressing show of physical force, was, like the Miners' strike the year before, and the suppression of the printers at Wapping the year after, a brutal display of state violence that signaled a major curtailment of civil liberties'.

(full article here; Andy has also written about it at his blog)

Footage of that day (especially in the film Operation Solstice) still makes me shudder - it's the sight of power off the leash, police arrogant enough to know that they can beat up defenceless people in front of TV cameras without having to worry because they know their political masters have given them the green light to do what they like:

(you can watch Time Team's Secrets of Stonehenge at 4oD for the rest of the month)