Saturday, June 25, 2022

'Women Choose, Don't Argue!' - punks protest against anti-abortion bill 1979

In 1979, Conservative MP John Corrie introduced a private member's bill aiming to restrict abortion rights. In the climate of New Right ascendancy marked in Britain by the election of Margaret Thatcher in that year there were real fears that this would become law and a campaign was launched against the Corrie Bill.  The biggest event was a massive demonstration in London in October 1979 called by the Trades Union Congress and the National Abortion Campaign. In the event Corrie did not succeed in getting his bill through parliament and the 1967 Abortion Act remained intact.

Here's extracts from a couple of reports of the demo highlighting the role of (post) punk bands. 

Lucy Toothpaste:

Get up, eat my porridge, put on my feminist radical chic (or do I mean my radical feminist chic?), anyway, put on my loud yellow coat, fluorescent socks, sensible shoes etc. etc., select a thoughtful cluster of badges for the occasion and set off. Climb on the bus, discover that all the other passengers are wearing those hideous pink 'March for Abortion Rights October 28' badges too. Meet more of the same at Finsbury Park tube.

It looks like everybody in London is going on this march; it makes you feel you actually belong to a community for once. At Marble Arch they've got about twelve extra ticket collectors to cope with the throng. It's striking that despite the defensive nature of the campaign – instead of being any nearer to extending access to abortion, here we go again, trying to hold on by the skin of our teeth to the meagre provisions of the '67 Act – despite this, the atmosphere is so festive.

It's cold but the sun is streaming down, and I'm not the only one in party clothes. Demonstrations have never been the same since the anti-nazi carnivals. Old and young, gay and straight, and trade unionists and all their friends and relations have poured in on coaches from all over the country

Punks hover round the Rock Against Racism truck which is jerking along to the rhythms of the Gang of Four, Mekons and Delta Five (yelping songs like 'Can I interfere in your crisis? No mind your own business!'). Me and my friends finally leave the Park (after about a two hour wait, and we're nowhere near the end of the march) with the feminist all-stars on the Rock Against Sexism lorry. We dance all the way from Park Lane to Trafalgar Square, and all join in singing (except that my voice has mysteriously done a bunk and I can only mime) Lottie & Ada's ditty to the tune of 'I've got a brand new pair of roller skates':

'I've got a brand new Private Member's Bill
Guess what it's going to be
I'm going to make sure lots of women
Remember John Corrie'

By the time we reach Trafalgar Square it's too full to hold any more people, and as it's turned very grey and cold we're glad of an excuse to slope off to the cafe for tea...

Over 50,000 people marched against the Corrie Bill, differing as our political affiliations may be, but all agreeing that it threatens us with substantial risk of serious injury. The bill restricts the time limit and approved grounds for abortion, and decimates the abortion charities, with the aim of reducing legal abortion by two-thirds.

Some see it mainly as a class issue, because even when abortions are illegal, richer women have usually managed to get them done without too much trouble, and it's working-class women who are forced into the danger and humiliation of the backstreets.

Some see it as fundamentally a women's issue, part of the international fight for control over our fertility: If we get pregnant, it's women who have to bear the consequences, so it must be our decision whether to have an abortion or not, rather than that of doctors, priests or MPs. We are demanding not only free access to abortion, but also really safe and effective contraception, and an end to forced sterilization and experimentation on black and brown people in the name of population control.

Some see it above all as part of the fight to determine our sexuality. Thousands of lesbians and gay men were on the march, not just in solidarity, but to point out that an attack on abortion rights is an attack on everybody's right to enjoy sex for its own sake, without guilt and without fear, whether or not we intend to have children.

By the time you read this, some version of Corrie's bill will probably have passed into law . But we won't stop fighting until we get Complete Control'.

Kate Webb:

'In the new climate of this past year, one of rock's most concrete political achievements for women has been the contribution made to the Anti-Corrie Bill Campaign. Temporary Hoarding described the demo on 28 October last year as 'The most vociferous, musical and non-boring demo in the history of the world'

Hundreds of mad joggers dancing along side the Rock Against Sexism truck while hurtled down Park Lane, carrying assorted members of Delta 5, Mekons and Gang of Four blasting out assorted variations of their songs, all under the wonderful Day-Glo banner which proclaimed WOMEN CHOOSE DON'T ARGUE!

It was all too much for the inhabitants of the Playboy Club. They called in the cops to come and line up outside for fear of being attacked by this wild bunch of pogoing punks, expectant mums and mad musicians. And they might well have been, if we hadn't been too busy enjoying ourselves. It was an occasion when one of those boring old 'Against Them' demos turned into a celebration of what we are. Our Bodies and Our Culture and Our Music'.

[from The Book of the Year', edited by David Widgery (Ink Links, 1980)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Marching against megadeath - June 22 1980 in London

The announcement of the deployment of a new generation of US nuclear weapons in Europe, coupled with increasing tension between NATO and the Soviet Union, led to a mass peace movement across the West in the early 1980s. In England the first major demonstration against these cruise missiles was called by the Labour Party on June 22 1980. 

Around 25,000 people marched in the pouring rain from London's South Bank to Hyde Park.  Speakers included veteran peace campaigner Fenner Brockway,  soon to be Labour leader Michael Foot and the actor Susannah York who told the crowd,  'I refused to accept that 25,000 people here today are one fortieth of a megadeath. I am not a millionth of a megadeath. We are ourselves'.  

The image of the megadeath and mass nuclear destruction haunted the nightmares of young people like myself getting involved in this new peace movement and recurs across popular culture in this period. In its report of the demo, Socialist Challenge noted that 'One of the most striking features of the demonstration was the high proportion of young people who turned out. Groups of friends carried home-made placards calling for an end to war: "Fall in against fallout", "Education not Missiles", "Wage War on Weapons", "Germ Warfare means Nightmare".

'I won't die for Thatcher - stop cruise missiles' badge. According to Socialist Challenge (26/6/1980), 2,000 of these were sold to marchers. The badge was available from Hackney Socialist Education Group.

Socialist Challenge, 12 June 1980

Socialist Challenge front page for the demo - demanding 'Give up NATO', which was not the position of the Labour Party organisers

This is part of an ongoing series on the 1980s peace movement. See also:

[I am not a particular fan of Socialist Challenge/International Marxist Group but the online archive of this paper is a good source of news on social movements in the period. If you come across other reports of this demo let me know]

Sunday, June 19, 2022

'Being a clubber felt special' - Dom Phillips' 1990s Mixmag

Terrible to hear of the murder of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in Brazil - not just an isolated act of violence but a moment in a brutal war against those trying to protect the Amazon and those living in it, encouraged by president Bolsonaro and enabled by his global far right backers.

All a long way from the 1990s when Dom made his name as editor of Mixmag magazine, the biggest and most popular of the dance music magazines of that time with a circulation reaching up to 80,000 a month. It might not have always been the coolest, steering as it did towards the mainstream of UK clubbing, documenting and itself accelerating the growth of mega club brands and big name DJs. This was a phenomenon Phillips himself was to write about in his 2009 book 'Superstar DJs Here We Go!':  'From 1992, when acid house moved into legal venues, until 2000, this was the era of superstar DJs and superclubs. A generation gleefully lost itself in a maelstrom of disco euphoria and house music and clubbing became the defining sound and lifestyle of 1990s Britain'.

Mixmag featured interviews with DJs, musicans and producers, but Dom Phillips clearly realised that it was the clubbing experience itself that was central and the diverse clubbers who were the real stars. The mid-1990s 'were the golden years of 1990s clubbing, when you could meet anyone and be anyone, when the most unlikely networks of people were formed, criss-crossing the country. Club after club sprouted up in drab northern and Midland cities, little blooms of colour and life. Being a clubber felt special. It was about belonging. And for many clubbers, that sense of identity was a huge part of the lifestyle... Clubbing felt like a big, happy party that went on and on' (note by this time people tended to identify as clubbers, hardly anybody was calling themselves a raver).

Those buying the magazine wanted to have their amazing nights out reflected back at them and to see people like themselves dressed up, dancing and ecstatically happy.  And this is what Mixmag offered, as in these examples from one issue (September 1997). A piece 'What are you proud of? captures people at the Pride festival on Clapham Common, as well as 'Goodbye Cruel World' in Leicester, Equinox in Wilmslow, The Leadmill in Sheffield and a Reclaim the Streets party in Nottingham.

Another article was based around the premise of photographing/interviewing people boarding a flight to Ibiza and then doing the same a week later when they returned. We see 'speed garage queens' Leanne and Michelle from Bexleyheath heading off for a 'club marathon'

All of this reflected Phillips' mission for Mixmag: 'Clubland was a broad church and I wanted all these different voices, clamouring at the tops of their voices, tumbling out of the pages of the magazine'. Around this time even I had a column in the magazine (Back in the Day) for a little while where I managed to squeeze in snippets of radical history such as the Stonewall riots and the origins of Notting Hill carnival.

Mixmag, September 1997 - Goldie is the cover star, Bjork also interviewed inside

[click on images to enlarge]

Dom Phillips, 1964-2022. Rest in Power

All quotes from Dom Phillips, 'Superstar DJs Here We Go!: The Rise and Fall of the Superstar DJ' (2009) 

See also obituary in Mixmag by David Davies

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

'Low Class foreigners' and men dancing with men: Police raid Italian club in Soho (1900)

A police raid on an Italian-run club in Soho in 1900 led to fighting with police outside and the proprietors being jailed.

The Co-operative Club was at 2 Little Dean Street and was raided at one o'clock in the morning where around 100 people were drinking and 'dancing to piano music'. Previously 'dancing had been seen going on, men sometimes dancing with men, and very bad language had been heard in the place. All the men found there were low-class foreigners'. During the raid a 'disturbance took place' outside and 10 people were arrested - one for assaulting a constable (Evening Standard 31 July 1900)

Francesco Covini, the alleged club proprietor, and  Sebastian Cordori, a waiter, were charged with 'keeping a common, ill-governed and disorderly house'. They were jailed for 12 months and 6 months respectively (London Evening Standard, 10 August 1900)

Friday, June 10, 2022

Rwanda 'Stop the Plane' deportations protest

Demonstration on Wednesday 9 June 2022 at Rwandan embassy in London (Seymour Place W1H) protesting against UK government plans to start deporting asylum seekers there. The first forced flight is planned on 14th June. This does feel like a real turning point in British politics, with the Conservative Party implementing the far right slogan of the 1970s of 'sending them back to Africa', even if they never came from there in the first place. 

 Follow @Care4Calais & @followMFJ on twitter and instagram for news of planned protests  -and join in. This is not a drill. 

Friday, June 03, 2022

Anti-Jubilee Agitprop 1977

The most famous moment of opposition to the Queen's 'Silver Jubilee' in 1977 (to mark 25 years on the throne) was of course the success of The Sex Pistols' 'God Save the Queen' single which got to number 2 in the charts despite a lack of radio play and many shops refusing to sell it - and everyone knows it probably would have been number one without some rigging of the charts.

I still think this is the greatest of the first wave UK punk songs-  'God save the Queen, She ain't no human being, There is no future In England's dreaming...We're the flowers in the dustbin, We're the poison in the human machine. We're the future, we're the future'

Still there were other expressions of anti-monarchist feeling from the radical left in Britain and Ireland. Here's a few examples:

Stuff the Jubilee badge - according to Sherrl Yanowitz:
'I designed this badge with Neil McFarlane. It was my first badge design. When I ordered 4000 badges from the Universal button company in Bethnal Green, they sort of laughed at me. The same company had the order for hundreds of thousands of pro monarchy items. We advertised the badge mainly through a small advert in Private Eye and in Socialist Worker. the badge became a campaign. In the end we sold over 40,000 badges in less than three months. there were stickers too. and Stuff the Jubilee parties in a number of cities'

'Stuff the Jubilee - roll on the red republic'
(front and back cover of Socialist Worker, 4 June 1977 -from excellent Splits & Fusions Archive)

(paper of the International Marxist Group)

Anti-Jubilee Picnic organised by Y Fflam ddu/Black Flame (Swansea Anarchist Group)
Freedom (Anarchist Fortnightly), May 28 1977

Freedom (Anarchist Fortnightly), June 11 1977

'ER Queen of Death 69-77- 1800 dead' - banner on demo somewhere in Ireland 1977
(from  Ireland: The Class War and our tasks, Revolutionary Struggle. RS were a small Irish communist group influenced by the Italian radical left)

Lots more contemporary articles about the Jubilee if you follow the links to the SW, SC and Freedom full papers.

Ma'at, slave ships and refugees at Runnymede

Runnymede by the River Thames was the site of the signing of the Magna Carta*, a step towards limiting the power of monarchy (though still some way to go towards its abolition!) and enshrining the principle of trial by a jury of peers.

A recent art work there by Hew Locke, The Jurors, consists of 12 chairs decorated with images relating to struggles for justice and equality.


The front of one chair features the Egyptian goddess Ma'at on the front and the slave ship The Zong on the back.

'Ancient Egyptian scales are topped with the head of Ma’at, the goddess of truth, justice and balance. A dead person’s heart is weighed against a feather to see if the owner is worthy to enter paradise. Ma’at’s symbolism is still apparent in the western personification of Lady Justice'

'In 1781, 133 slaves were thrown overboard from this ship, The Zong. The owners made an insurance claim for the loss of their human cargo and the resulting legal case caused public outcry. On the sails, the West African symbol Epa represents captivity, law and justice'.

Another features a refugee boat:

'A boat carrying refugees inscribed with the names of boats connected to legal cases that marked changes to maritime law, the responsibilities of nations towards refugees, and maritime search-and-rescue protocols'

All sadly relevant as refugees continue to die crossing the maritime deathscapes of the Mediterranean and the Channel, and the British government schemes to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. 

* I recommend The Magna Carta Manifesto by Peter Linebaugh for a broader understanding of the significance of this historical moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

May Days in Dublin, 1994

I have taken part in many May Day celebrations large and small, but the biggest was certainly in Dublin in 1994. The occasion was a huge parade to mark the centenary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I believe it was actually held on Monday 2nd May 1994, notable as the first May Day bank holiday in Ireland.

It was more a celebratory affair than a demonstration with a spectacular street theatre pageant. It looked great, and in the evening there was a fantastic open air gig with a rare (for then) appearance of Moving Hearts, some songs from Christy Moore, and 1990s favourites The Saw Doctors. I ended up with friends and a guitar singing rebel songs in a pub. 

There's some RTE footage of the event online; here's a few photos I took on the day:

Still it was also a dangerous and tragic time in the North, with the Irish Peace Process inching forward towards an IRA ceasefire later that year while loyalist killers seemed to be stepping up sectarian attacks.  The following month saw the UVF kill six people watching a World Cup match at a bar in Loughinisland.

 In Dublin we stayed for the weekend with some Irish friends we know from their time in London and who had moved back home. They had been involved with the Troops Out Movement in London, which I was a member of. I was also active in Justice for the Casement Park Accused which campaigned around an infamous miscarriage of justice in Belfast.  

That weekend in Dublin we went to an an event in a hotel where long time Troops Out Movement member Nina Hutchinson was being honoured for her support for Irish prisoners in English jails (I will write more about Nina another time). The 'Gathering of the Clans' brought together families of prisoners.

After it finished some of us went on to an after party in the far-famed Ballymun Flats, late night drinking with ex-prisoners amongst others. The next day we went to the Widow Scallans pub in Pearse Street for a drink, followed by the May Day parade on the Monday.

Later that month, on the 21st May, the band The Irish Brigade were playing a benefit gig at Widow Scallans for prisoners in an event organised by Sinn Fein's Prisoner of War department. There were hundreds of people inside. Two UVF members approached the bar with a bomb, intending to place it inside but were blocked by one of the stewards, Martin Doherty. Doherty was shot dead but he managed to prevent them getting in and they abandoned the bomb and fled. Had the bomb exploded inside the pub, there would have been a massacre and no doubt many of the people we had met on that May Day weekend would have been killed or injured (I later heard that Doherty, who was from Ballymun, had been at that party).

Martin 'Doco' Doherty memorial fund appeal, An Phoblact, 23 June 1994

[I recently donated some photos and papers to the MayDay Rooms in London for their archive of Troops Out Movement and related materials. If you have anything you can share with them get in touch with them. This post is one in a series where I contextualise this material with my recollections]

See also:

Thursday, May 12, 2022

New Protest Laws and Two Years of London Protests

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 is now law, bringing in new police powers summarised by Liberty as including:

Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament.
Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest.
Criminalising one-person protests.
Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies.
Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway.
Powers to criminalise trespass.

 No sooner has it passed than it was announced in the Queens Speech this week that one of the Government's key forthcoming priorities is to pass yet more laws against protests. 

None of this is really about police 'needing' new powers  - they have for instance had the power to arrest people for obstructing the roads for decades. As with the inhumane plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, this is a theatre of performative cruelty which aims to appease and politically mobilise that section of the population that seethes and resents those seen as 'other' and bringers of social, demographic or political change. But the Government is clearly trying to create a hostile environment for protestors after several waves of inspiring demonstrations over the past couple of years.

Here's a selection from the movements since 2020, as seen from London.

Black Lives Matter 

The police murder of George Floyd in  Minneapolis on May 25th 2020 sparked a global wave of  Black Lives Matters protests. One of the biggest in London took place on 7 June 2020 with at least 50,000 people starting out from near the American Embassy - crowd seen here heading on to Vauxhall Bridge.

Sarah Everard Protests

The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police office in March 2021 saw the heavy handed policing of a vigil at Clapham Common (near where Sarah was kidnapped) and many local protests against rape and sexual violence, including walk outs from some schools. Picture below is of school students in Trafalgar Square in April 2021.

Kill the Bill protests

What was originally known as the Policing Bill met with a movement of opposition including riots in Bristol in April 2021 (for which 12 people are currently in prison) and protests in many other places. Pictures below are from London demo from Hyde Park, April 2021.

Kill the Bill posters (these were flyposted around Brockley, South London):

Priti Patel, useless criminal (from Brick Lane, April 2021)

Kill the Bill protest squat of former Camberwell police station, Summer 2021

Trans Rights

Small demonstration in Trafalgar Square against conversion therapy, September 2021


'Refugees Welcome' rally in October 2021  against Government's anti-refugee bill (more photos and report here).

Extinction Rebellion

Climate emergency protests from Extinction Rebellion and related groups are an explicit target of new police powers. Why can't the Government just be left in peace to do nothing about climate change?

31 August 2021 - Extinction Rebellion blocking southern approach to Tower Bridge:

Police surrounding sound system

April 2022 - Extinction Rebellion week of action including here on 16 April a march from Hyde Park up Edgware Road.

Samba band leaving Hyde Park

'Nationality and Borders Bill is Racist' - yes it is, and i'ts now law

The new laws are designed to make protests more difficult but they will not drive us off the streets!