Friday, December 30, 2022

Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics

So much to see and think about in the Carolee Schneemann retrospective 'Body Politics' at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. Dance, performance, visual art and more centred around the body, feminism, anti-militarism and a critique of established art practice. A few highlights for me:

Noise Bodies (1965)

 Schneemann and collaborator James Tenney created a 'body sound system' attaching metallic objects and other materials to their bodies that were activated as they moved around. 

Dialectics of Liberation (1967)

Schneemann lived in London for a while (in Belsize Park) and staged a 'happening' at the Dialectics of Liberation event at the Roundhouse in 1967 - famously attended by among others Allen Ginsberg; Stokely Carmichael, R D Laing and Herbert Marcuse. The exhibition includes some interesting documentation with Schneemann clearly unhappy about some of the disorganised arrangements and her marginalisation as a woman artist.

Mortal Coils (1995)

This later work mourns the passing of friends and like minded spirits including Derek Jarman, recalling a final meeting with him in a Covent Garden cafe- 'We blew somber kisses. I walked away knowing we couldn't meet again'.

The exhibition continues until 8 January 2023

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Northern Carnival Against Racism in Leeds 1981: Specials and more

The Northern Carnival Against Racism in Leeds was I think the last of the great Rock Against Racism festivals, taking place in July 1981 as riots spread across the country. The following report is from Rock Against Racism's Temporary Hoarding zine, August 1981:

'We had a great day. Anyone who came along to the Great Northern Carnival against Racism as it snaked through the city centre or as it rocked Chapeltown got the message. Love music, hate racism, have fun and fight for a future with the Carnival. It's a pity only the people of Leeds heard. The march through town was amazing, the Law didn't know what was happening. Their estimates were 7,000 on Woodhouse Moor swelling to 20,000 for the park. Anyway that's all guess the weight of the cake stuff and any way you look at it it was the biggest demo Leeds has ever seen.

It was big, it was loud, it was multi racial, it was a militant and happy. There were only 40 cops on the march but we stewarded it with black and white skins.

When the March reached the park, the sound system has already filling the park with militant rhythm. We spent all afternoon sitting in the sunshine, buying anti-racist balloons and anti-nuclear hotdogs and rocking to the sounds of Barry Ford, the Au Pairs, Misty in Roots and the Specials. The message is clear from the stage: I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm, there are 22 women political prisoners in Armagh jail and the sound from another ghetto about to explode.

But why did we have the carnival in Leeds? We wanted it here and we made it happen here. It's not just the NF [National Front] dogs at Elland Road football ground and it's not just the Nationality Bill those other animals are putting through parliament at the moment. The fascists have knifed people in our town, last September Anthony Clarke died and the local BM [British Movement] organiser went to jail for it. Blacks don't walk alone in town at night anymore. Jewish cemeteries are daubed with swastikas and the nazis come up to Chapeltown in cars at night'.

A report of the Carnival by Joanna Rollo was included in Socialist Worker, 4 July 1981:

.'The day began with a march to the city centre. Around 4000 left the assembly point. There were ANL [Anti Nazi League] banners from all over the north and some from the Midlands as well. There were floats some with bands on board, themes ranging from "stop the deportation of Asians" to "Punks against the Cruise". The Rebel float had his own band – No Swastikas from York. The two hour long march was brilliantly stewarded by black and white skinhead gangs from Leeds and Sheffield. And they had quite a job on their hands because by the time it reached Chapeltown where the Carnival was held the numbers had swelled to 20,000 and the march was spreading right across the streets. But there wasn't a single arrest and rumours that the Nazis were planning an attack the match came to nothing (a miserable 300 NF and BM members staged a half-hearted crawl through the city centre later that afternoon and ended up fighting each other).

The Carnival was remarkable. and not just for the numbers. It was the youngest, most working-class carnival yet, and there were more black youth than ever before – 50%. Looking out over the vast crowds The Specials singer Neville said "it's like a zebra crossing, black-and-white, black-and-white as far as you can see". And it put paid to the idea that all skins are Nazis because skins came in  their hundreds to hear the best the best anti ban-racist bands around – The Specials, Barry Forde, Misty and the Au Pairs – and dance and cheer alongside their black friends. It was a great day and a real slap in the face for Nazis everywhere'

Interview with Terry Hall

The Specials were riding high at this point and were no doubt the biggest draw on the day. Terry Hall was interviewed about the Leeds carnival for Temporary Hoarding by Leigh Bayley of 2 Tone

Why did you agree to play the Leeds carnival?

Because in Leeds there were a lot of racial problems so we thought it was the ideal place to play

Did you enjoy the day?

Yes. It was good. We played with Rico in Bristol the night before. I got up at 7:30 and travelled to Coventry, had a bath and drove to Leeds. We arrived only half an hour before  we went on stage.  I would have liked to have gone on the march, but we didn't have time. It was a good turnout.

There was no mention of the carnival in the National press. this is a sad reflection on the media, what are your comments?

The media is not interested in peacefulness. It is only interested in violence and what will shock people. They are not interested in a good time and peace because that does not make news. All good news is bad news. All the bad things that are happening go straight into the paper. They do not want to know about people having a good time.

Why do you think the riots have started? Do you see it as a movement against repression, unemployment, high prices, racism?

I think it is a hell of a lot of things, like unemployment. People have absolutely nothing to do. Take Coventry – you can't go to see a group. You can't go down the pub. I think a lot boils down to the price of cheeseburgers. Rioting is the only way  people can communicate. If they sent letters in an orderly fashion to Margaret Thatcher, she would not take any notice. It is the only way people can protest.

I am interested in the things that are happening with the kids, I am very interested in the youth. I am 22 now but two years ago I was a youth. I do understand what it is like because I used to be in gang fights all the time. When I used to fight it was only because I wasn't involved in anything else. I was unemployed, I was 16 but the leaders don't take any notice. I was watching a programme ‘Body Talk’ about Coventry and it was like they had to make use of a scapegoat for all the problems.

The problem is there are bad people whether they are black, white, whatever. The colour has nothing to do with it. There are nasty people who do bad things. Whether it is a black person doing bad things or a white person doing bad things it doesn't make any difference. Racism is just an excuse. It's just a word.

Do you think Mrs Thatcher can take all the blame? Has the government really left the youth on the shelf?

She is responsible. It is her government who are making the decisions so they must take the blame for what is happening. She chose to be prime minister and by making that choice she must take the blame. I blame the people who voted for her. They are so shortsighted. People say ‘let's give he woman a chance’. Well sex is just not important. If you are a fool it does not matter if you are male or female.

Do you think Labour could have avoided the trouble?

I never say what could be. Because you could say if there was a nuclear war tomorrow the rioting would end. Just what is happening today is important and what happened yesterday has happened. It is today that you have got to think about. As for Mrs Thatcher I think she should be put on the dole.

Are you disappointed that people haven't taken more notice of 2 Tone’s message of racial harmony?

Yes. Really it is just because people still think that the colour of the skin is important. I'm white but I'm not proud of it. I would paint myself green if it would make any difference. But 2 Tone is a very small thing. We are going to carry on and that is all we can do.

Terry Hall interview in Temporary Hoarding

Another report from TH: '20,000 people marched through Leeds to tell all racists everywhere just where to go. Fascist allsorts only managed 200 through the town centre in the afternoon, 30,000 popped along to the Barry Ford Band, the Au Pairs, Misty and The Specials in Potternewton Park'

Leeds Rudies

In the lead up to the Carnival, SW (4 July 1981) included an interview with Neville Staple and Lynval Golding from the Specials and an interesting feature on Leeds Rudies, a gang of young black and white ska fans involved with the Carnival: ''Rudies do what we please, how we please, when we please. We're black and white together, we look good and we show we're having fun - always dancing' (click to enlarge)

Centrespread montage from Temporary Hoarding, August 1981 with images from the summer riots

A more sceptical take from The Leveller magazine -'The Specials - the best anti-racist band you've ever heard' but rising racist attacks in Leeds, with some resistance: 'a mixed gang from the Two Tone Cafe smashed up the Scarborough Arms the local fascist meeting place'. Interesting critique - 'neo colonialist calls for "Black and White Unite and Fight" are embarrassingly abstract coming from white lefties'. I guess in the sense that the slogan could be read as undermining the reality of  black people organising themselves to fight racism, albeit with some white support.


[updated February 2023 with Leveller article]

See also:


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Ambulance dispute 1989/90 - 'Now the police won't just put you in hospital, they'll drive you there too'

The 1989-90 ambulance workers' fight for a decent pay rise started out with an overtime ban in September 1989 and was escalated to refusing to answer non-emergency calls. Workers who refused non-emergency duties were suspended without pay, though many continued to come into work and run an emergency service themselves from the ambulance stations, dealing directly with calls from the public and in effect cutting out management altogether. 

There was considerable support for the dispute. On a day of action on December 6th 1989 council workers (in Hackney and Hammersmith), construction workers (including 300 steel erectors on the Canary Wharf site) and hospital workers (at the Elizabeth Garret Anderson in Soho) were among those in London who took unofficial strike action for the day in support of the ambulance crews. Another day of action on 30 January 1990 saw London bus drivers staging a short strike. The dispute finished in February 1990 having achieved a 16.9% pay rise. Not quite the 25.8% initially demanded but a big improvement on the original offer of 7.5%.

Report from Evening Standard on 30 January day of action in support of ambulance crews

Flyer for TUC 'Public Assembly in Support of Ambulance Workers' in Trafalgar Square, 13 January 1990

During the dispute the Government brought in the police and the army to drive ambulances. I was involved in producing a couple of posters in response to this. One read 'Now the police won't just put you in hospital, they'll drive you there too', the other was an image of a soldier in Belfast with a woman asking 'are you sure he's an ambulance driver' and her dog answering 'well he's about to put somebody in hospital'. 

The posters were widely distributed and copied across the country, we heard of them being flyposted in various places and they were reproduced in a number of publications (the 'Support the Ambulance Crews - Troops Out' one was unsurprizingly featured in Troops Out magazine). I remember getting rid of a big pile of them at a Chumbawamba gig at Stratford Polytechnic in November.

(A3 original)

North Middlesex Hospital

The posters were printed by a friend working at Union Place Resource Centre, a community print co-op in Camberwell. It was also at Union Place that we made a banner 'North Middlesex Supports the Ambulance Crews'. I was working at the North Middlesex Hospital at the time and was a NUPE union rep. I helped set up a North Middlesex Ambulance Support Group, we collected funds and linked with the nearby Edmonton Ambulance Station. I also went to a couple of meetings of the London Health Workers Co-ordinating Committee at University College Hospital (UCH), an unofficial network of militants from London hospitals. 

'This crew are not being paid'

Support for ambulance crews at North Middlesex Hospital (think this may have been on the 6th December national day of action)

The biggest event we organised was for the national protest on January 30th 1990. Around 100 hospital workers joined the protest outside the North Middlesex Hospital on the north circular road.

Sheffield rally, 18 November 1989

I went to an Ambulance workers rally in Sheffield, here's a few pictures:

'our pay has stopped, but we have not'

I think this is union leader Roger Poole speaking in Sheffield

See also:

Monday, December 19, 2022

Socialism through Oi? - music and politics 1982

From Socialist Worker (9 January 1982), Chris Moore looks ahead to a year in music (Moore was in the Socialist Workers Party and wrote for NME as X Moore).

'While Adam played Prince Charming and while white funksters swapped favourite shirts, Toxteth danced to the sound of breaking glass... 1981 was the year compliant complacency set in and fightback was drowned out. 1982 will be harder... 

It's depressing but honest to admit that there is in reality no working class mass movement called Oi, no revolutionary punk/skinhead force threatening to smash capitalism... (or whatever it is Gal Bushell
wants to smash now that he's replaced the revolutionary party with Oi! the Party)...

1982 will fight back not with angst-ridden Sturm and Drang aggro singles but with ideas. The strength of musical muscle behind CND and the strength of three and a half million on the dole will force the music press this year to give the movements the level of coverage RAR [Rock Against Racism] used to get when Webster was fouling the TV screens and Lewisham was throwing bricks and bottles tiswas style(e)

The bands you will see that fuel and fire the arguments, pulling the music press away from the bar and beyond will be varied. Scritti Politti will talk a lot and win people to their ideas and music, in spite of coming it with the intellectual verbals. Grace Jones and Pigbag will keep you dancing through the
year, the Higsons and the Stunt Kites will surprize you, and Black Flag and Death in
June will crack it... Listen to the poets, dance to the rhythm, clash and rock against Thatcher!'

Some interesting choices there - Death in June may have had their roots in radical left punk band Crisis but they were soon being denounced as fascist sympathisers. 

Moore's dismissal of Oi brough an angry response from a left wing skinhead which was printed under the heading 'Socialism thru' Oi': 'Oi bands and their followers have short hair cuts and Air Wair boots. We just can't afford all the trendy gear the high street posers wear'.

Moore was not averse to the skinhead look himself. Later that year he founded The Redskins.

[found this browsing through old copies of SW scanned by the excellent Splits and Fusions]


Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Poll Tax Archive (8): The Poll Tax Amnesty Demonstration, October 1991

The Poll Tax Amnesty demonstration took place in London on 19th October 1991 and was I believe the last of the national poll tax demonstrations. On 31st March 1990, hundreds of thousands had marched through central London, ending in the 'Battle of Trafalgar Square' riot. In October 1990 a smaller demonstration made its way to Brixton Prison.

A year later the movement was winding down as it had been successful - the Government had announced the poll tax was to be scrapped. But people were still being prosecuted for non-payment (and could be jailed for up to 90 days) and for taking part in earlier poll tax protests around the country. Hence the call for a 'poll tax amnesty' to write off poll tax debts and release poll tax prisoners. The initiative for the demonstration came from the Prisoners Support Group of the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign with the support of some local anti poll tax groups.

The call for the demo in 'Poll Tax Prisoners News' (Prisoners Support Group TSDC), September 1991:

'This amnesty demonstration has been called in order to offer solidarity with poll tax prisoners, and to make the following demands:

- An amnesty for all those people who have been imprisoned as a result of defending anti poll tax demonstrations against police attacks.
- An amnesty for all non-payers who have been imprisoned;
- An unconditional debt amnesty for all non-payers with debts to be written off;
- An immediate halt to jailings of poll tax non-payers, and the continuing police harassment of anti-poll tax activists;

[...]The poll tax will not be really defeated until no one has to pay and no one remains imprisoned because of it'.

Report from 'London Fight the Poll Tax' (December 1991):

2000 March for Amnesty

'On October 19 around 2,000 Anti-Poll Tax protesters marched through London in support of the movement's demand of an amnesty for all non-payers and Poll Tax prisoners. The day's events  started with a 20 strong women's picket of Holloway prison to show solidarity with women jailed for resisting the Poll Tax and with women jailed for resisting domestic violence. The calling of a separate women's picket was not without controversy within the movement [...]

The march started at 2pm from the Clock Tower in Caledonian Park and marched past Pentonville prison, where we left the authorities in no doubt about our determination to see our prisoners released. The march in defiant mood with much musical accompaniment marched onward to central London and Trafalgar Square.

On the way Class War showed a new gimmick of stopping for the cameras and then running to catch up. The first time this was amusing, but the continual stopping and starting imposed on the demo soon became annoying. There were no arrests. No doubt the large number of Legal Volunteers (the pink bibs) prevented the police from their usual excessive behaviour.

However, at least one police motorcycle drove through the demo a few times all the way from Caledonian Road to central London. The police unnecessarily drove their vans, sirens wailing, at high speed down the side of the demo in Charing Cross Road just so they could get to Trafalgar Square before the march.

When it got to the Square, the organisers found that the electricity needed to power the public address system had been cut off. It appears possible that the DoE was in breach of their hiring agreement, if this is the case then suing the DoE is a possibility. As a result the speakers were limited to speaking though a couple of loud hailers. This, unfortunately, meant many could not hear the speeches. But the presence of former Poll Tax prisoners was still applauded loudly.

Norman Laws and Soroosh Ayandeh (both jailed for non-payment) gave arousing speeches which were greatly appreciated by those who could hear them. A letter of support for the march, from Chris Howes of Barking APTF then in Pentonville for non-payment, was read out. The demonstrators, from as far away as Edinburgh, mainly came from non-politically aligned local APTUs as well as members of the community at large.

It was unfortunate that Militant did not see fit to mobilise their supporters and members for this march, especially as some of their supporters have been picked on by councils to be jailed for their stance against the Poll Tax. The SWP also has to be criticised for its apparent failure to mobilise heavily for the march, however some of their members were present. Oe group that did publicise and mobilise for the march was the band RDF who promoted the march on stage and handed out posters during their
national tour in October'.

Report from 'Poll Tax Prisoners News' (Prisoners Support Group TSDC), January-February 1992:

Poll Tax Amnesty Demonstration

'Despite the cold, the rain, the poverty and, in some cases, the disillusionment of anti-poll tax activists, over 2000 people attended the Poll Tax Amnesty demonstration in London on October 19th. The march
was noisy, cheerful, colourful and playful as groups continually charged through central London to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Before the demonstration there was a women's picket of Holloway prison in solidarity with all women jailed for resisting the poll tax, domestic violence and police violence. 

We had our usual problems with the authorities, such as the gates to Caledonian Park being locked, thereby excluding the van with the P.A. from the park. This was despite previous arrangements being made. The Department of Environment turned off the power supply in Trafalgar Square only minutes before the march arrived in the Square. It seems that they waited until the sound checks were completed in order to avoid us beingable to find an alternative power source in time for the rally. The speakers, many of whom were recently released from prison, had to make do with megaphones.

Speakers included Non-Payer and Trafalgar Square ex-Prisoners Norman Laws, Steve Murray, and Soroosh Ayandeh and Anti Poll Tax activists from Birmingham, Bristol, Scotland with guest speakers including speakers from Anti-Fascist Action and the Free Dessie Ellis Campaign*
amongst others.  

The TSDC-PSG thanks everyone who put in so much time and bloody hard work to organise the demo, especially the London APT activists and Prisoner Support Groups without whom the work of supporting prisoners struggles and fighting criminalisation could not take place. Especially, a big
thanks to all the Legal and Communications Volunteers who turned up on the day.

International Solidarity

Canada: When Prince Charles and Lady Di visited Kingston, Ontario, recently local anarchists organised a demo. 80 people split into 2 groups and one group held a demo in solidarity with APT prisoners/APT movement in Britain. A banner and placards saying AMNESTY FOR POLL TAX PRISONERS got a good response. Despite 800 (!) police the demo was peaceful, apart from
the two Police cars crashing into each other near the march!!!

France: On October 19th 100 people demonstrated outside the British embassy in Paris, calling for the release of all poll tax prisoners and the cancelling of poll tax debts. Riot police forced the demonstration back from the Emhassy building but a delegation went in to hand in 
a letter of protest. The demonstration was supported by a number of socialist and anarchist groups.  There was a lot of chanting (in particular, there was a lot of support from socialists chanting 'Free Matt Lee!!).

In Sweden, a concert in Goteberg in support of the Poll Tax Amnesty Campaign in Goteborg raised £89. An anarchist newsletter in Freiburg, Germany, regularly reports the anti-poll tax campaign. It has translated articles by Tim Donaghy and Beccy Palmer.

[*Dessie Ellis was an Irish republican on trial having been the first person extradited from Ireland to Britain. The speaker said that he might have been the first Irish speaker in Trafalgar Square since 1972, as Bloody Sunday demonstrations had repeatedly been refused permission to march to the square]

Leaflets in English and Turkish advertising the 'Women's picket of Holloway Prison' which took place just before the Poll Tax Amnesty march.

I was involved with the Prisoners Support Group, indeed I recognise my Word Perfect layout 'skills' in the leaflets and PSG Newsletters (using the resources of the anti poll tax hotspot of the Barnet AIDS Education Unit at Colindale Hospital!) . I remember lots of disagreements in the lead up to the demo. The Militant-dominated Anti Poll Tax Federation refused to support it, which was no great surprize, but even some people in the TSDC were lukewarm about it. Personally I doubted that our small group had the resources for a march on this scale, but on the other hand even a couple of thousand people on a march explicitly supporting prisoners would be worthwhile. As I wrote to a prisoner at the time:

'The poll tax amnesty march went reasonably well on Saturday. There were about 2000 people on it, and it was fairly lively... At one point I thought the police were going to attack the march in Charing Cross Road when they drove down the road at high speed with their sirens blaring. One missed me by about six inches. I think they were just trying to wind people up.

It's difficult to evaluate how successful a march is. Marching to Trafalgar Square inevitably invited comparison with March 31st and in a way demonstrated how weak the poll tax movement is (on the streets at least, in terms on non-payment we are probably stronger than every, although its a very individualised 'movement'). On the other hand it was important to 'reclaim the square' and show that we weren't going to be stopped from marching in Central London'.


Friday, December 02, 2022

'The fight is for life!' - protests against Italian anti-rave law

The far right Italian government is planning to bring in a new law against raves. The law was announced following the recent closing down of a three day Halloween party attended by some 3000 people in Modena.

The  proposed law includes provision to convict 'anyone who organizes and promotes the arbitrary invasion of other people's land or buildings, public or private, in order to organize a musical gathering or gathering for other entertainment purposes', punishable by up to 6 years in prison.

Opposition to the law is growing. The pictures here are of a demonstration against it by hundreds of people in Treviso on 11th November 2022. The march was organised by the Treviso social centre CSO Django and featured a sound system, flares and a large 'No to repression' banner.

CSO Django say that the law is part of a pattern of measures that 'aims to suppress everything that is somehow considered uncomfortable, unpleasant or that expresses radical criticism, in words and in facts, to the model of society we live in.

On Saturday we reiterated clearly that the repression of movements, struggles and social phenomena is one of the forms in which those who exercise power try to leave the model of society we live in unaltered.

Saturday's street parade brought different subjects into communication, who together built a demonstration that went through the city in a colorful and noisy manner, proving that it is possible to work together, within our differences, to build, from the bottom up, different moments of sociality free from market logic, delivering anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-fascist messages...

Against the ideology of profit, the practice of creating resilient and caring communities. We claim the right to be anomaly, to be a grain of sand in the gear of a world in which market logics aim to make everything a consumer product.We claim the right to practice dissent and conflict, as the only engine capable of changing the balance of power and modifying the existing one.
Against the advancing nothingness, the fight is for life!'

The Italian government is led by Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, with its roots in the fascist movement.