Tag Archives: politics

Dubious Rock Against Sexism

This letter was published in Spare Rib, number 83, June, 1979.

Dubious Rock Against Sexism

Dear Spare Rib,
On Tuesday 24 April, we went to a Rock Against Sexism (RAS) gig at the Tramshed in Woolwich, featuring Belt and Braces, and Tour de Force.
250 to 300 people each paid £1 entrance to what we hoped would be an enjoyable evening but we were upset by a number of things. 1. As far as we could make out the concert was being run by a man that we know to only organise events if he is going to personally profit from them. 2. Why was a venue chose that has a management that is openly hostile to any left-wing political groups, but is not adverse to the money the bar makes at such events? 3. Belt and Braces were excellent. Tour de Force are certainly musically competent but their stage presentation was the classical provocative ‘women as sex objects’ act which we did not expect to see at such a gig, though the men in the audience seemed impressed. 4. At the end Belt and Braces sang ‘Reclaim the Night’ which everyone joined in and sang and danced to. We noticed some men enjoying themselves singing and dancing near the stage. Five minutes later these same men assaulted us while we were standing outside, forcibly kissing one of us. Had they any idea of what they had been singing about? 5. We would like to know where the money raised that night went. We are rather concerned that RAS is merely a way for some people to make a few bob for themselves.
Yours in sisterhood,
Pat Stone, Lin Sammons, Pauline Rendell,
London SE10

Punk Squat Rot

Black Sheep Co-op in the NME, 4 December, 1982.

Punk Squat Rot

“THE PUNKS’ PARADISE” screamed the indignant front page headline in London’s Evening Standard last Friday. What could possibly be the matter now? Anarchy in the UK? Sten guns in Knightsbridge? No, it was just that a ‘punk’ based housing co-op called Black Sheep – of which this writer is a member – was recognised by Islington Council, enabling it to obtain short life housing.
In the Standard piece – later echoed by the Daily Mail, LBC Radio, and the Islington Gazette – a Social Democrat MP for Islington South, Mr George Cunningham, claimed “There are thousands of ordinary people in the borough, young couples desperate for a decent home, but they don’t get a look in from the council. Labour councillors are too busy handing over property to politically motivated squatters.”
This seems fair until one looks more carefully. For instance, it is not mentioned that the houses that Black Sheep are to be given will be so run down that “ordinary people” do not want to live in them as they are not exactly the “decent homes” that the MP drools over. Also, Black Sheep’s search for houses is not politically motivated merely a wish for a more secure lifestyle. “I’m sick of moving from squat to squat. I used to be an electrician but how can you hold down a job when you’re moving all the time?” one of our members asked after hearing of the Standard‘s attack.
The Black Sheep Co-op is, in fact, a group of young people effectively organising their lives without hurting others.
Could it be that exaggerated and unfounded slurs like this have something to do with the SDP’s own ineffective housing policy when they held power briefly in Islington? Or is it their quest for newspaper glory at the expense of the Labour Council and any convenient minority group, with an imminent election in mind?

Richard North

Swells On Smack

Seething Wells reads into the heroin trade, NME, 9 November, 1985.

Heroin Thrills The Businessman
Big Deal – The Politics Of The Illicit Drugs Business
Various (Pluto £4.50)


This collection of essays varies greatly in style and presentation. A piece on women and addiction by Betsey Ettore is little more than series of dry statistics stuck together with dull lifeless prose whilst Drugs, Style And Money by Lee O’Bryan manages to make several interesting points about the changing social usage of heroin (now that is is no longer the exclusive preserve of the rich kid), despite being written in a sociological shorthand where empiricism and generalisation are clumsily combined. And fashion journalist Robert Elms is quoted as an expert on working-class youth culture.
It is in the chapters Serious Business by Roger Lewis and Love Seeds And Cash by Tim Maylon that the thick veil of humbug that surrounds Thatcher and Reagan’s ‘crusade’ against drugs is ripped away. The fact that Thatcher has sacked hundreds of customs officials is well known and the interest that the Drug Squad takes in cannabis users, presumably at the expense of investigations into heroin pushing, is part of street-lore and an accepted truth in most inner-city areas. Lewis and Maylon take a global view of the drugs industry and the level of hypocrisy attained by our wrinkled representatives is made all the more apparent.
The ‘heroin problem’ can be placed fairly and squarely on the good old British Empire which, in the shape of the British East India Company, flooded China with cheap opium in the 19th Century as part of its plan to dominate the Far East.
Today many more economies are totally reliant on the export of opium or finished heroin and many more still on the cultivation of marijuana (lumped together here simply because both substances are illegal in the West). It should be noted that marijuana is America’s second biggest cash crop whilst many Caribbean nations, notably Jamaica, would be bankrupt without the dope-hungry Yanks eager to blow all the ganga grown.
The US turns moral outrage not so much on its home-grown (sic) producers and users but uses it, quite cynically, to whip its smaller neighbours into line with its own expansionist foreign policy (where countries a thousand miles away and more are considered to be in the ‘backyard’). It should also be noted that several US backed terrorist and guerrilla movements – notably the Contras in Central America and the Afghan tribesmen – are funded by their involvement in the illicit drug trade (in the former case marijuana and in the latter heroin), and that involvement is actively encouraged by the CIA, although, ironically, US anti-drug agencies often spend millions of dollars attempting to persuade or force these very same people not to produce or handle the drugs. Consequently, very little actually gets done. It is simply not in the interest of US (and therefore British) foreign policy for these front line troops in “the war against Communism” to be deprived of such lucrative sources of income. And so, at a stroke, all Nancy Reagan’s damp-eyed posturings and all Thatcher’s blistering rhetoric about the horrors of the drug menace become just so much hot air. They don’t give a shit.
William Burroughs once described heroin as “the ideal product . . . the ideal merchandise”, and it is a point that has not gone unnoticed by that class of person who will sell anything – plutonium, rocket launchers, nerve gas – as long as they can be guaranteed a profit, those sleek entrepreneurial types that Mrs Thatcher once referred to as those special people”. Heroin is big business., megabucks, most of which are laundered through legitimate business fronts. Recent US investigations revealed that $2 million of Mafia heroin money was being laundered by respectable New York finance houses. One finance house squealed to its Family friends who were thus able to clear out before the net was tightened any further. Perhaps it would be unwise to ask how many of Reagan and Thatcher’s “entrepreneurial” friends are tainted with such money and what proportion of the filthy lucre ends up in the campaign chests of the Conservative and Republican parties?
As Charlie Marx said: “Capital eschews no profit . . . there is not a crime at which it will not a scruple, not a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring profit, it will freely encourage both.”

Steven Wells

The Black Woman

Inspired by the book by Chester Higgins, this special episode of Black Journal from 1970 features a discussion between Joan Harris, Vertamae Grosvenor, Martha Davis, Marian Watson and Amma Baraka. A separate conversation between Nikki Giovanni and Lena Horne. Poetry by Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Kali. Plus performances by Roberta Flack, Loretta Abbott and Novella Nelson. Interview with Albert Cleage, Jr. of the Black Madonna Church. Executive Produced by Tony Brown. Directed by Stan Lathan.

Pen Knife

‘Pen Knife,’ the debut novel by Jim Westover, sets itself during the miner strikes of 1984 in a small town in Essex called Brightlingsea. The book centre’s around the coming of age of Jarrod Brooks, who’s expelled from his state boarding school and returns home to find his mum has given his bedroom to a striking miner. Through association Jarrod finds himself serving time in prison and it’s here where he discovers his future possibilities.

I haven’t turned my television on for the past three years because I was finding that there was increasingly less to watch. I find middle England programming so dull and predictable. The working classes have been almost wiped from our television screens. Where are the new Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Boys From The Blackstuff going to come from? I’ll say nowhere because the days of providing shows that the working person can identify with are a thing of the past! What do I do instead? I’ve always read since I was a young child, but I’ve found myself reading more and more literature these days as a replacement for proletariat realism. In recent years I’ve enjoyed debut novels by Joe England, Graeme Armstrong, Colin Burnett, Tim Wells and now Jim Westover. Literature is the only true place for representation of wage slaves.

I find with books they either pull you in instantly that you can’t put them down, or they’re a hard read that require much perseverance until the end or they canter along at a steady pace. ‘Pen Knife’ sits in the third bracket because it pulls you in with easy prose and a hang at the end of each chapter. I didn’t find myself with much empathy towards lead character Jarrod within the first two parts, but I could identify with the sense of belonging and of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve all been there! The characters throughout the book bring back memories of players that I’ve encountered during my own personal journey. The end of the book sees Jarrod having navigated into adulthood through a series of life challenges. I wonder where Jarrod goes next?

So why don’t you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead? Maybe try reading ‘Pen Knife’ that you’ve bought direct from the author or from an independent book shop because we need to keep these supply chains open during these difficult times. ‘Pen Knife’ is a strong debut novel that saunters along at a steady pace with seductive notation that deserves support.

Roual Galloway

People, Signs & Resistance

Linton Kwesi Johnson interviewed in 2009 for People, Signs & Resistance: On the front-line project; a participatory arts & oral history project that encouraged people to explore the heritage of Brixton, inspired by unique film footage shot between the 1960’s and 1980’s by Clovis Salmon “Sam The Wheels”, a Jamaican who arrived in London in the 1950’s. http://www.samthewheels.co.uk

Welcome To The Notts Miners

from the 1985 Women Against Pit Closures anthology of children’s writing, More Valuable Than Gold.

Welcome to the Notts miners

We put a big sign up in the hall of our school and it said, ‘Welcome to the Notts Miners’. We had Punch and Judy, Doctor Smarty Pants and a big party in the hall. The miners’ children came and we played. One boy had a funny badge. It was a little clown saying, ‘If Thatcher gets up your nose, picket.’ Some of the children said they weren’t allowed to talk about the strike in their school. The newspapers said our school put little children out on the street for Arthur Scargill, which is silly. Then an inspector came to our schools, and the teachers were worried. There shouldn’t be any inspectors – all the children and all the grown-ups in the school should be the inspectors.

Anna Winter, 5, Hackney, London

Magic Mushrooms

From Manchester zine, Sense, 1980.

Magic Mushrooms

Oh have you seen the mushroom cloud,
it’s hanging in the sky,
Hurry to your shelter,
Or you’ll find you’ll die,
It’s solved your small job problem,
And starvation too,
Isn’t it amazing
What science lets us do?
There’s people with their skins burn off
And cancer – oh what fun!
Their legs are fused together
So it’s difficult to run,
And when you hear the sirens wail
Here’s what you must do,
(it’s nice to know the government
is taking care of you)
Hide underneath the table
And wrap yourself in foil,
Then you’ll see a flash of light,
And feel your body boil,
Now how do you fancy dying,
There’s such a choice for you,
Burnt to death? irradiated? and leukaemia too,
What a lot of bodies, rotting on the ground.
And at the gates of heaven, there’s millions queuing round,
Well earth was overcrowded,
So someone had to die,
It justifies the mushroom cloud
That’s hanging in the sky.

Tracey Toulouse

Revolutionary Shelley

Back in 1981 Paul Foot gave a talk at the London Marxism Conference about Shelley and his radical verse. The talk hasn’t been published but was quite influential in the early 80s with poets, and Paul Weller, who were engaging with politics and an audience of the masses.