Tag Archives: politics

Writ On Cold Slate

Sylvia Pankhurst had a collection of poetry called Writ on Cold Slate published in 1921. The title, and this poem, come from the fact that she was not allowed pencil, pen or paper whilst in prison and could only write on a slate with chalk.

Writ on Cold Slate

Whilst many a poet to his love hath writ,
boasting that thus he gave immortal life,
my faithful lines upon inconstant slate,
destined to swift execution reach not thee.

In other ages dungeons might be strange,
with ancient mouldiness their airs infect,
but kindly warders would the tablets bring,
so captives might their precious thoughts inscribing,
the treasures of the fruitful mind preserve,
and culling thus its flowers, postpone decay.

Only this age that loudly boasts Reform,
hath set its seal of vengeance ‘gainst the mind,
decreeing thought in prison shall be writ,
save on cold slate and swiftly washed away.

Sylvia Pankhurst


The Moneymen

This poem is from Hugo Dewar’s 1981 collection Arsy-Versy World. The collection brings together work from the 40s through to 1981. This particular poem was written in the 1970s.

The Moneymen

The moneymen will tell you they cannot use their hands
while sterling on the market like a beggar stands,
that all those that are able to count from one to ten,
must know you cannot balance books if you count the cost in men.

It grieves them very greatly, it goes against the grain
to give the poor and needy so much worry, so much pain;
but surely all will understand it doesn’t make real sense
to put the fate of common folk before the pounds and pence.

Don’t think it’s saws and hammers, chisels, trowels, spades and picks;
don’t think it’s digging footings, mixing mortar, laying bricks;
don’t think it’s human brains and skills, human labour, human sweat,
to bank on these they’ll tell you, will just increase the debt.

For Moneymen don’t count with men, as unemployment mounts;
they only count with money – for only money counts.

Hugo Dewar

If Blood Should Stain The Wattle

This poem by Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922) was published in The Worker Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on 16 May, 1891. The poem is about the 1981 shearer’s strike.
The last two stanzas of the poem were read out by Frederick Brentnall MP on 15 July 1891 in the Queensland Legislative Council during a ‘Vote of Thanks’ to the armed police who broke up the Barcaldine strike camp. There were calls in the chamber for Lawson’s arrest for sedition.
The ‘rebel flag’ mentioned is the Eureka Flag, used as a radical symbol since 1854.

Freedom on the Wallaby

Australia’s a big country,
An’ Freedom’s humping bluey,
And Freedom’s on the wallaby;
Oh don’t you hear ’er cooey?
She’s just begun to boomerang.
She’ll knock the tyrants silly,
She’s going to light another fire
And boil another billy.

Our fathers toiled for bitter bread
While loafers thrived beside ’em,
But food to eat and clothes to wear,
Their native land denied ’em.
An’ so they left that native land,
In spite of their devotion,
An’ so they come, or if they stole,
Were sent across the ocean.

Then Freedom couldn’t stand the glare
Of Royalty’s regalia.
She left the loafers where they were
An’ come out to Australia.
But now across the mighty main
The chains have come ter bind her,
She little thought to see again
The wrongs she left behind her.

Our parents toiled to make a home,
Hard grubbin’ ’twas and clearin’,
They wasn’t crowded much with lords
When they was pioneerin’.
But now that we have made the land
A garden full of promise.
Old Greed must crook ’is dirty hand
An’ come ter take it from us.

So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours,
If blood should stain the wattle.

Henry Lawson
Brisbane, May, 1891

Miner’s Theatre

The 1986 Hooligan Press book A Year Of Our Lives is written by the community involved in the 84/85 miner’s strike from Hatfield main colliery near Doncaster. Kitty Holding, a miner’s wife, writes about her part in the fight including this bit about going to London to represent the strikers.

We have had a letter to go down to London again to the Young Vic as they are doing a play for Channel 4. It’s about the 1926 strike, we can raise funds in the Vic the week the show is running; me and Carol are going down Monday…
Well it was a good week at the Young Vic, we was able to get the producer to change some of his show. You would think it was just like this strike, they even had a voice just like Maggie Thatcher’s in it. At the end a miner got down and crawled back down the mine. Well we just stood and shouted “Get off your bloody knees and walk tall”, well the house was packed full with people. They just looked at us, some started to clap us, others just walked out.
Why do people like them go to see a show when they don’t agree with what it’s about? People are funny.

Heavy Manners

After years of bloody political violence Jamaica takes a step towards peace. The NME‘s top reggae writer Penny Reel writes up the event for the paper 11 March, 1978.
When reggae songs talk about tribal war they’re referring to the rivalry between the JLP and the PNP. It’s the violence that runs through Marlon James’ book A Brief History of Seven Killings.
In an unrelated article there’s an amusing picture of punks and their mums.

Labour And 80s Yoof

Red Wedge’s Annajoy David interviewed in the Spectator, 21 May, 1988.

The Reds and the Blacks
Sousa Jamba meets Labour trying to listen to youth in Walsall

ANNAJOY David is the political co-ordinator of Red Wedge, an arts group associated with the Labour Party. I met her in Walsall, where she was trying to recruit local artists for the group, as part of the `Labour Listens’ campaign.

She is the new face of the Labour Party — young, beautiful, and articulate. The days are over when the activist bought his or her clothes from the Oxfam shop. Annajoy looked as though she had strayed from one of the pages of Vogue. She told me she liked Sherlock Holmes suits and the countryside. She talked of socialism for the 21st century which would be brought about by a Labour government. She believed in a bourgeois conspiracy to control the arts. I said she was a Marxist. This angered her; her socialism, she said, was not inspired by Marx or Lenin but by William Blake. She put her hand over her heart and said she believed in the human spirit.

She said she had no political ambition, and only wanted to change the world, to which end she was followed around by Rebecca, a factotum, who wrote every- thing she said in a big, black book. Rebecca had studied philosophy at Manchester, and I asked her what she thought of Bertrand Russell.

`He was a pile of shit,’ she answered.

Of Karl Marx she said he was `on the way.’ The philosophers she admired most were the 20th-century French Marxists. I wanted to continue the conversation but she stopped me. She said there was a lot of snobbery in philosophy.

`I discuss better at 2 o’clock in the morning when I’m pissed up. Then I can bullshit a lot,’ she said.

Walsall was brown and dingy. Pensioners clutching Tesco bags went by. The wind was blowing hard. Three tramps, taking swigs from their bottles, sat on the edge of a trough of flowers. Giggly school girls smoked to appear older than they were.

I went to Darlston where Annajoy’s first meeting with the young actors, poets and playwrights was to be held. At the Young Foundry community hall a group of artists listened to her attentively. The music industry, she said, was owned by the multinationals which dictated everything. A Labour government would create structures that promoted mass culture. The multinationals, she continued, would not have it completely their way. For example, rap music from the black ghetto’s of America had developed their own networks. At this point someone interrupted. He had been to the Bronx and seen how rap music was done. There was an aspect of hip hop of which he disapproved: ‘We shouldn’t make the type of music that L L Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) does about how tough his willy is. We should talk about our oppression.’ Annajoy said a lot of rap music was anti-racist and anti- sexist.

Annajoy left and I stayed behind with members of the group. They were grubby and had `self-expressive’ hairstyles, derivations from the punk hair cut. They were intensely curious and wanted to know all about me. They asked me to write a play for them. I wondered whether the play I have long been meaning to write about a Jehovah’s Witness, a Trotskyist and a smuggler awaiting execution in an African prison would do. I was told that they had staged several plays. One was about glue-sniffing. The leading parts in this play had been played by ex-glue-sniffers. A short youth who introduced himself as a poet approached me. I asked him what his poems were about. ‘Oppression, nature, and prison,’ he answered. I asked whether he had ever been to prison. He said yes. I asked him why. He looked at me, shook his head, and left.

A lithe youth approached me and introduced himself as Harp. Harp was sceptical of what Annajoy had said. ‘We are kind of anarchists. They are politicians. I feel like grafitti on the wall. You see what I mean?’

‘None of them lists the Wigmore Club.’ I nodded. Harp brought me a film script he had written. He said it was based on his life and hoped to get some film director interested. It was about an ambitious young man who goes to Hollywood in search of fortune and fame. He fails and comes back to Walsall. He sees his best friend jump to his death. In the end, the young man gets a number of his friends to start planting the garden of Eden.

I met Annajoy again at Walsall Musicians’ Collective. A white musician had his hair worked into dreadlocks and spoke with a Jamaican accent. I wondered what the dreadlocks signified. A member of the collective said that they were not pleased with the way grants were being given by the council. An artist, he said, had been paid to pile several bricks which the council had defined as a work of art. ‘Under a Labour government,’ said Annajoy, ‘the criteria of what constituted a work of art would come under review.’

The last meeting of the day was at the Afro-Caribbean Centre, a huge complex that had previously been a secondary school. I walked about the building. In a large room, a balding, old black man sat on a chair, snoring. In front of him was a television showing a snooker game. Several young women, wearing tight-fitting dresses, were gathered in a nearby room, preparing some tables. They were going to have a party. A tall man with dreadlocks beckoned to me. He introduced himself as Bandit. He had a band that had also been called Bandit. He said he believed that he and I had the same place in history.

If Annajoy’s express wish had been to meet young people, the Afro-Caribbean Centre was a disappointment. When the meeting began two black youths had been present, but left midway, having found it boring. I was later told that ‘they are not a force to reckon with’. It was said that they belonged to a group of youths that imitated the latest craze among young black Americans. They had once called themselves ‘jazz-funkers’ but were now called ‘soul- heads’. The rest of the audience were not young: they were ‘community leaders’ in early middle age.

The black leaders said they had been given a raw deal by the Labour party. ‘Black people have been used as political fodder’, complained David Richardson, the centre’s director. I had not realised that the rift dividing the black and white politicians in the Labour Party was so wide. It was as if Annajoy was not welcome. ‘People come and tell me my issues,’ said Robert Edwards, a social worker. ‘I know my issues. I live with them. I may not articulate them in fancy middle-class language.’

Other members of the Labour Party accompanying Annajoy said that the black leaders had isolated themselves. ‘You are articulate. Please come to the Labour Party.’ David Richardson shook his head, turned to Annajoy, and said: ‘When you get to power whose children are you going to oppress?’

Annajoy was silent, thinking. ‘Since you are not answering,’ David Richardson said, ‘I will tell you. My children will be oppressed by you. No way!’ After the somewhat stormy meeting, I conversed with the blacks.

It was 20 years since Enoch Powell had made his rivers of blood speech. I asked the black leaders how true his prophecies were. They were divided. One said Enoch Powell’s speech was a blessing in disguise. By predicting a racial bloodbath he had actually prevented it. People had become aware of its possibility and had worked to avoid it. The other said Enoch Powell’s prediction had come true. ‘Look at the number of black people who have died since 1968 because they were poor, in prisons and so on.’ The argument went on.

The black leaders also disagreed about the Asians. One said they were opportunists, wanting to be considered black only when there was something to be gained. The other said there wasn’t much difference between Asians and blacks. ‘They might be rich but as long as they are called “Pakis” in the street then they are black,’ he said.

Later in the day, a white youth told me that he hated Asians. ‘They are bloody capitalists and when you work for them they pay you slave wages,’ he said. Having been brought up in Zambia, I resented Asians, too. The reason had been simple: they were wealthy and we were poor.

The black leaders expressed concern about the future of black youth. They said there was no discipline. The values that they had been brought up with had been completely eroded. ‘You can’t beat your child nowadays,’ one of them lamented. ‘If you do, the police will come and warn you.’ They said that children as young as nine were already talking about their rights. They blamed it all on the system, too. They implied that there was some conspiracy to break down the fabric that held the black community together. They said that there wasn’t any solidarity now. When they came to Britain in the Fifties, they would contribute money to help each others purchase homes. Now people had to lock their doors tight because they did not trust each other.

White people, it was said, had preached liberalism to the blacks. The swinging Sixties were blamed for the laxity in morals. They sounded like Mrs Thatcher or Mr Tebbit. They would have been at home in the Conservative Party. The social worker became restive. ‘There are very middle-class values,’ he complained. ‘I don’t care,’ insisted the director, ‘this is the truth.’ I asked the community leaders why they had not joined the Conservative Party.

Mrs Thatcher, they said, preached greed, which was incompatible with black culture. That, of course, is humbug.

Orgreave Oh Bloody Orgreave

The community around Yorkshire’s Hatfield Main colliery had a book published by Hooligan Press in 1986 about their experiences of the bitter 84/85 miner’s strike. This poem is from the book: A Year Of Our Lives.

Orgreave Oh Bloody Orgreave

Remember those lads 1984
Who marched with men from Cortonwood
And with their loyal wives
They joined the Durham miners
Who were fighting for their lives
They met the lads from Rhondda
Upon that Orgreave field
To face those dogs and truncheons
And the bloddy riot shields

I.K. Biggs