In 1979 Bookmarks, the SWP’s publishing arm put out the account of the 1978 Right To Work march by a teacher who’d been on it. Despite it being put out by the SWP it’s a good booklet and an interesting read as it’s by someone with their boots on the ground rather than lofty theorising.
The booklet is called Anger On The Road – or, How the TUC learned to hate the Right to Work march and is by Jimmy Reilly.
It tells how he travelled down from the north to Bethnal Green and then marched to Brighton for the TUC conference, calling on the trade unions to save jobs, stop cuts and fight unemployment.
The booklet quotes from Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney and Sham 69.
Included is the following insight into how music can bring people together.
This section is from when the march had stopped for the night the day before going into Brighton.
Tom Robinson had set himself up under the sprawling branches of the oak tree with an acoustic guitar and a couple of amplifiers. The setting was perfection itself.
The performance was better. I can quite honestly say that the following two hours were totally memorable.I will carry those two hours to my grave. And I am not alone.
He sang ‘I Shall be Released’: a song we were to hear later in the week. He sang ‘Glad to be Gay’ which invoked thoughts of Sad to be Straight. We were all Glad to be Gay. ‘Martin’ followed, and then he sang Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and invited John Deason up beside him to give a performance of the Pointer Sisters.
Basically what Tom Robinson accomplished was this. He took a group of some six hundred people and welded them together for the remainder of the march. Certainly there had been solidarity there before, but after the concert there were no barriers between us. It didnt matter whether you were a sixteen-year-old unemployed kid or a thirty-seven-year-old schoolteacher. The common ground was always there: what Tom Robinson did was to produce a common denominator.
This is not to say that the whole concert was a vehicle for Tom Robinson’s ego. Far from it. He surrendered the stage to one of the marchers who played a couple of his own excellent songs and then recited his poem ‘Chairman of the Bench’. Mick O’Farrell’s intervention was extremely important and for that I offer him my heartfelt thanks.