Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Threat to Archives and Records

The next few years will see the collapse of many charities and non-charitable community and voluntary groups working at local, regional and national level. If these organisations do not have a policy re-their archives and records and a rolling programme of deposit, their histories could be lost.

The greatest threat is to those organisations that suddenly find themselves having to go into liquidation. The liquidator's interest is simply to shut the office room/building, order the staff to leave and take financial records. As the latter are usually are computerised the hard drives are taken away. Everything else is left lock-up on the premises. This leaves the landlord with the task of having to clear everything, which usually has no saleable value, so that s/he can try and find new occupants as quickly as possible.

Organisations which do not have staff and are run by volunteers, who keep records and pass them through haphazardly from one set of officers to another, pose archive/record deposit challenges akin to those which the Society for the Study of Labour History has tried to address over the years. The usual advice is to deposit locally with the local authority archive service.

The scale of the cuts now required by the ConDem Government mean that many of these will be under threat.

A third category will be libraries and archives held in historic educational institutions which suddenly face closure, some because of public funding cuts, and others for other reasons, as is the case with Ushaw College, the Roman Catholic Seminary in County Durham.

What can the British Record Association and other bodies do to encourage organisations to take seriously the future of their archives and records?

A presentation on record and archive management systems for charities given at the British Record Association Annual Conference on 7 December was applicable to very large national organisations but not relevant to the majority of small organisations which dominate the charity/community/voluntary sector.

A strategy is needed which addresses:
  • alerting organisations of the importance of having an archival/record policy and a programme of deposit before they face a crisis
  • how organisations suddenly faced by a crisis can be given emergency assistance to ensure their archives/records are not thrown away
  • identifying facilities which could become emergency depositories for archives and records until permanent homes can be found for them

An action plan to implement such a strategy could include the following:

  • providing guidance that could be circulated through organisations such as National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, regional equivalents such as London Voluntary Action Council (LVAC), and local authority based Councils of Social Service and Voluntary Action Councils.
  • providing guidance to national organisations which have branches around the country.
  • persuading the editors of History Today and BBC History to include an article on the subject.
  • discussing with the archive repository world which organisations may have expansion facilities to be emergency repositories e.g. in London Bishopsgate Institute Archive; nationally Black Cultural Archives for Black organisations collections.
  • a national web based network to enable people to alert each other to emergency situations, and to the start by local authorities of libraries and heritage service cuts consultations

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Policing and Disorder

It is interesting to see how events move on faster than one can predict. In early November I drafted a blog in which I wrote:

'In the coming years the way demonstrations are policed, and the individual actions of police officers, which notoriously spark conflict will only stoke a wider tinder box. Policing cuts will lead to increased stress for officers and inappropriate behaviour by them, and that is likely to provide some of the sparks. Tinder boxes may well also build up in the officially recognised socially deprived areas, as these are likely to take the brunt of the ConDem cuts in benefits and increased lack of jobs.'

Having got caught up with doing other things I put the draft on one side. It now seems timely to post this up-date, in the light of ACPO President Sir Hugh Orde's statement that it is crucial that police do not appear to be "an arm of the state" who are being used to allow the government to "impose cuts".

The reason I had drfted the blog was that on Monday 25 October I was a member of a panel discussing the Uprisings of the 1980s organised by the British Library. I was on the panel because in 1981 I worked for Solon Housing Association which had properties in Brixton, and between 1984 and 1989 I worked for the Community/Police Consultative Group for Lambeth (CPCGL) in the area, during which time there were further street clashes with the police.

In 1981 Brixton was a tinder box because of the way the police treated young blacks in their bid to combat street crime. They resorted to saturation policing, operationally called Swamp 81, and the indiscriminate use of arrest on suspicion 'sus' and stop and search. The tinder box included a anger about the lack of police response to the Deptford Fire, racist marches, and the acquittals of alleged rioters in St Paul's, Bristol. The spark was provided by a misunderstanding about the police assisting a young black man who had been stabbed.

The tinder box also included the history of conflict between the Council and squatters in which the former had used the police as its para-military force. e.g. in St Agnes Place in 1977. Squatting had arisen because of the Council's large scale redevelopment programme leaving hundreds of houses empty. Solon had campaigned against this policy. It had also supported squatters to become short-life licensees and then co-operatives. Many squatters joined in the fighting against the police.

Afterwards Solon's workers decided to support the Brixton Defence Committee and boycott giving evidence to the Government set up enquiry led by Lord Scarman.

Brixton of course was just one area where the tinder box exploded. The reason why some areas which may also have been tinder boxes did not explode is probably due to the absence of a spark.

The Uprisings of the 1980s should not be seen as something alien to the British experience. They must be seen within the context of historic social unrest, going back as least as far as the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

The situation led Thatcher's Government to reform policing through the Police & Criminal Evidence Bill. Leading for the Government Douglas Hurd was open to listening. He took on board many of the ideas of the CPGGL which I had started working for in January 1984. An impasse was reached in the Commons between the Government and the Opposition over how to put safeguards in on the use of stop and search powers. After consulting the Group Labour's Alf Dubs proposed a Code of Practice. Hurd honoured his pledge to provide for one during the House of Lords stage of the Bill. Hurd was supported by sympathetic Home Office civil servants. A different Minister and set of civil servants may have led to very different and more negative outcomes.

The Consultative Group and the linked Panel of Lay Visitors to Police Stations were never going to be panaceas to the problems of policing. They became important components in seeking to influence the process and make the police more accountable.

The street fighting backlash following the shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce in 1985 during an early morning operation to try and arrest her son alleged by an out of London police force to be at her home, showed how fragile the situation was. The street fighting began later in the day outside Brixton Police Station, when some people at the back hurled petrol bombs over the heads of the demonstrators, in response to which the police rushed out in riot gear.

The senior officer in charge of the Borough that weekend failed to alert the Group that Mrs Groce had been shot. The Group therefore had no chance to try and ensure that protest remained peaceful. The officer consistently was to demonstrate his opposition to the Group and the Panel despite their being official Met Police policy to support them.

Ten years ago about 70% of the BME population lived in the then designated socially deprived areas. In 1995 commemorating the role of his fellow members in the Second World War, Rene Webb, the then President of the West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Ex-Servicewomen's Association said: 'A society that cannot look after its own poor, cannot be expected to look after its black poor.'

Since the early 1980s there have been dramatic changes in the composition of poor communities, in ethnicities, and the growth of individualism. Perhaps the Thatcher agenda of 'there is no such thing as society' and the breaking of community solidarity will mean that the location and nature of future explosions will be unpredictably different from those like 1980s Brixton.

Cuts, Big Society & Decentralisation/Localism Equals The Big Bang

Combined with the massive cuts in public spending, the ConDem Government's Big Society initiative and its linked measures in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill will be like the Big Bang: destruction and chaos with no idea of what will emerge.

There will be five main response groups:

  • Monetarist extremists who believe the Government is not doing enough, like Rupert Murdoch.
  • Ostriches burying their heads in the sand believing that the Government is right because of the economic situation.
  • Outright oppositionists whose only weapons are anti-cuts campaigning, increased protest, and civil disobedience.
  • Engagers who argue that anti-cuts campaigning will have no effect and will try and salvage and build from the chaos.
Lastly, there are those, and I count myself among them, who are arguing that a multiple strategy including opposition and engagement is needed, to focus on the contradictions in the ConDem programme. Detailed arguments about this are discussed in my History & Social Action News 30 and the first issue of my Wandsworth Back To The Future newsletter, both available on request by email.

As one of those who has been working to build the Big Society over the last forty years, I recognise that it cannot be done without state money. In the 19thC the working and middle classes built an impressively large infrastructure of organisations covering life and medical insurance, unemployment support, medical services, housing and land development, retailing and production, farming, education and learning, and culture through mutual aid fundraising, supported by the philantrophy of the better off. Despite its ups and downs and inadequacies the Co-op movement is heir to this tradition, as is Nationwide Building Society and even the National Trust.

But the activists knew that all this effort could only alleviate, not solve the social and economic problems of the time. They campaigned for state provision because it was only through legislative intervention and funding that services to each down into society like education for all, better housing, planning control, etc. The municipal socialist agenda that emerged out of Battersea in the period of the New Unionist explosion remained central within the labour movement until its dismantling under Thatcher.

So the Big Society initiative is fine in principle but without funding to support it it is a fig leaf, a deceit, a con trick, it is the Emperor's New Clothes. But in order to convince a large section of the public that what the ConDem Government is doing is fundamentally wrong, and to try and salvage something, requires us creative engagement with the agenda, and to see how the powers in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill can be reshaped to be valuable tools in the arguments in every local authority about how to minimise the destruction. The Bill opens up new arenas for lobbying and campaigning.

What the Tories need to understand is that they cannot control the consequences of their actions. While they will have expected a reaction form students, they clearly did not realise that this would re-energise the generation which cut its teeth in political action in the late 1960s/early 70s. Nor did they realise that their policy to withdraw EMA would radicalise a growing number of secondary school children. Future historians may well see that a key motivating factor in the student protest was the the background MPs expenses scandal. This helped many turn to the Lib Dems because they seemed to be more honest, but now see that they are just as prepared to betray them as they thought the other two Parties were.

When the police charged the Trafalgar free speech/right of assembly demonstrators in November 1887, who would have thought that the Police Commissioner of the day would have to resign, and that legislation would have to be passed to give the right of assembly in the Square? Who would have thought that the new emerging protest movement of that Bloody Sunday affair would have helped the Match-Girls to win their strike and spark alight the New Unionist explosion from 1889-92? And who would have thought that one of those who they imprisoned for his role at Trafalgar Square would be a major leader in that explosion and an MP from 1892.

The Liberals should ponder on their history. It was they who brought that man, John Burns, into their Cabinet. And while their Government that brought in old age pensions, national insurance, labour exchanges and town and country planning, it also ruled through a long prolonged period of civil unrest and protest: the suffragettes and the Great Unrest of the labour movement, and the Unionist threat of armed revolt in Ulster. They then made the great mistake after the First World War of allying with the Tories, leading in the turmoil of mass unemployment and protest to their collapse as a major political force.

A poem that made a big impression on me at school was Yeat's The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,


That is what the ConDem's are unleashing. The problem is that Yeat's beast slouching towards Bethlehem might not be a resurgence of Labour or a new mass Socialist Party, but a new fascism.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wednesday 10 November: Policing Demonstrations

The 50,000+ student/lecturer demonstration on Wednesday 10 November was marred publicity wise by the actions of a small group who decided to attack the Tory HQ on Millbank.

Policing demonstrations has always been difficult. There is a mixed history of when they disintegrate into violence. This can be due to police action. The 1887 Bloody Sunday battle was started by police charging demonstrators to stop them getting into Trafalgar Square. It was the actions of a police motor cyclist driving through the back of the crowd at the first anti-Vietnam War demonstration that triggered the fighting. Sometimes the violence is caused by a small group of demonstrators.

The duration of the resultant street fighting partly depends on how many of the wider group of demonstrators get caught up and the tactics used by the police.

On Wednesday the police clearly got their strategy and tactics wrong in not working out what the potential risks were and how to minimise and respond to them.

Originally the demonstration was to have ended with an event in Vauxhall Spring Gardens. NUS, the police and Lambeth Council had agreed. The Friends of Spring Gardens expressed concerns about whether the Gardens' capacity could cope with the under 10,000 then expected. Kennington Park was suggested as an alternative. Knowing the leading members I understood their concerns and advised them to get in touch with the Community/Police Consultative Group for Lambeth.

When I worked for it 1984-9 a previous NUS demonstration had erupted into problems. The Group analysed what happened and made a number of recommendations for the future policing of demonstrations, many of which were accepted. But as always with organisations Scotland Yard seems to have forgotten.
Wednesday's demonstration was in the hands of Scotland Yard not the Lambeth police. Finally the decision was taken not to end the demonstration at Spring Gardens. Why they chose instead to end it on Millbank opposite Tate Britain is a mystery which we might get to find out about in due course. But having chosen it the police should have assessed which buildings contained organisations and businesses that might have been seen as potential targets by some demonstrators.

Violence on demonstrations damages the causes through media coverage. It means people get unnecessarily hurt. It can lead to individual police officers behaving out of control which increases the likelihood of people being hurt. Many people caught up in the fighting will realise how frightening the experience actually is and be in two minds about supporting future demonstrations. And finally there are all those people who get arrested. If they are convicted they may be martyrs to some, but it costs money to pay fines, and those who get criminal records will have that held against them for years to come.

And even those arrested who were innocent can be wrongly convicted, like my friend a few years ago who was convicted of kneeing a policeman in the groin on a demonstration, when given their respective heights it was physically impossible. Not all magistrates are as enlightened as those who threw out the charge of refusing to obey police orders when another friend proved that he could not physically move given the number of police and other demonstrators around him.

Individual senior officers have enormous operational power and discretion. It can depend on their attitude whether they set the scene that could end in trouble. When I was negotiating the plan for an anti-cuts demonstration in Wandsworth in the early 1990s involving three feeder marches, the senior officer reaching agreement was not on duty on the night. His replacement tore up the agreement and kettled the 3,000 demonstrators into a side-street. It was touch and ago whether I could get him to change his mind before the first attempt to break out would begin. Fortunately he saw sense, but only just in time. The demonstration then continued without incident and the TV news coverage was very positive.

So when organisers are planning demonstrations in the future they need to take into consideration not only who might take part intent on violence, but how to ensure that the agreements reached are abided by.

Given my experience it seems that these are some of the things that need to be part of negotiated agreements.

Senior police officers who agree the route and other details must be on duty on the day - i.e. not be replaced by others who then to decide to tear up what has been agreed.

Copies of the agreement signed by the senior officers agreeing it should be given to organisers who can show them to other officers on the day in the event of problems arising.

All officers must wear their numbers and be properly briefed about their behaviour especially if taunted by some of the demonstrators.

The police must not kettle people as this only causes panic and tension.

Exit routes for the majority who want to get away from the fighting must be obvious and not blocked off.

Senior police officers and organisers must exchange mobile phone numbers so they can be in contact with each other.

In the event of trouble and arrests anywhere en route there must be agreed places of detention with organisers' volunteer observers present, and if it can be arranged members of the independent visitors scheme.

Photographers and TV camera crews must not be prevented from using their equipment.

Reporters must not be prevented from recording what they see.

Of course conspiracy theorists might argue that some senior police officers are just as angry with the ConDems over cuts as students and others. Did they want trouble to be able to say there will be more of this – you the Government cannot afford to cut us if there is going to be increasing disorder?


Why History Matters

Since my posting about Simon Schama's appointment to review the history curriculum article, he has published 'Why history still matters' in Guardian2 (9 November). It is an excellent polemic to kick start the process. He opens with a clear message to the ConDem Coalition that appointed him that while he has accepted the Review role, he does not agree with them:

'Whatever else gets cut in this time of nicks and scrapes, incisions and mutilations, the cord of our national memory had better not be among the casualties.'

At this stage what is important about the article is the polemic, not the choice of 6 key events child should know about. We can have a debate about whether the 6 should be different or should be added to. What is important is the thinking about the choices that emerge.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

British Black & Asian History in the National Curriculum

I am sure that there are many like me who, while not agreeing with the appointment of any one individual to review the NC, will welcome Simon Schama's appointment as opposed to some others. He has wide ranging historical interests, he is a lateral thinker, he is intelligent and provocative in a way that is not partisan or hectoring like Starkey.

Given the central role he gave to enslaved and freed African peoples in his book Rough Crossings, he clearly appreciates the significant contribution Black and Asian people have made to Britain’s history.


That history has been neglected in the history taught and represented in schools and Universities. It is hoped therefore that he will be sympathetic to the case that this history should be be incorporated integrally into the teaching of British history at all levels of the history curricula and teacher training.

I suggest that the following principles should be built into the curricula at all levels and into teacher training.

(a) To be inclusive, to contribute to challenging discrimination and stereotyping, and to promote pupil's self-esteem, requires the development of pupils' knowledge and understanding of different cultures and diversities, including the presence of Black peoples in Britain since Roman times.

(b) The study of the history of the development and practice of racism should be an integral part of the history curriculum.

(c) All children in all schools need to be taught about the lives and contributions of people of African and Asian origin, as well as other ethnic minorities, in Britain since the 15th century.

(d) The everyday life of people in the past, their ways of life, and past events in the history of Britain and the wider world must reflect the historical and contemporary ethnic and cultural diversities, and include the role of colonies/colonials and India/Indians in the two Word Wars.

(e) All local studies should include the historic presence of Black peoples.

(f) Those teaching the history of Britain in the early modern period should include the context of the 'wider world' - of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and European colonial and commercial interests, including African enslavement.

(g) In the teaching of 19th century Britain, due attention should be given to Britain’s role and impact impact on Ireland, India, and Africa, including the rise of racism.

(h) Teaching Britain since 1930 must include the cultural/ethic diversity of the British Empire, the effect of the Second World War on British and Empire societies, and deal with racial discrimination, campaigns against imperialism, and Black contributions to British life and culture.

(i) Teaching Britain 1066-1500 should include the impact on England of being colonised by the Normans and of subsequent English colonisation of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

(j) Teaching Britain 1500-1750 should include the effect of British expansion on peoples of the wider world, the role of the East India Company, the slave trade, the establishment of slave worked plantations in North America and the Caribbean, and the presence of Black peoples in Britain.

(k) Teaching Britain 1750-1900 should include the building/acquisition/conquest of Empire, resistance in the Empire, African slave revolts, wars of conquest and pacification, including the American, Haitian and French Revolutions, the Opium Wars, the substitution of Crown for Company rule in India, the ‘scramble’ for Africa, the South African War and its effects, emigration and immigration, the struggles of the working class for the vote, industrialisation and the growth of cities, and make due reference to black political and cultural figures.

(l) If a more 'inclusive' curriculum is to be taught, the publishers of text books have to be convinced that the Government insists on this.

(m) The promotion of respect, understanding of cultural diversity and combating racism, should be integral to the whole curriculum.

(n) Issues raised in Citizenship and PSHE [spell out] should permeate all of the National Curriculum and subject areas.

(o) Great care must be taken not to make children ashamed of their backgrounds/histories.

I hope that Schama will be able to conduct a wide ranging consultation including open public meetings to hear views from all interested parties. It would be helpful if a short consultation document setting out the issues and asking key questions could be produced.

I think as many of us as possible should take part in the review. It is the only opportunity available.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Wandsworth Black History Month Talks & Walks


WANDSWORTH BLACK HISTORY MONTH OCTOBER 2010
Activities by Sean Creighton


Sun 3. 2pm
From Slavery to Windrush walk.
Wandsworth Museum. See Note 1

Wed 6. 7pm
The Lives of Black People in Wandsworth 1620-1820
Talk about what is known about the lives of black people who lived, worked, raised families, visited and were educated in the various parishes that make up today's Borough of Wandsworth plus Clapham and Streatham. They include 'Black Mary' from the 1620s-1660s and the African children educated by the anti-slavery Clapham Sect.
Wandsworth Museum. See Note 2
Sat 9. 2-4.30pm
John Archer Talk and Walk
Talk about the life of John Archer, Battersea's Black Mayor 1913/14. Born 1863 in Liverpool, Archer was involved in Battersea municipal and in international black rights politics. First elected in 1906 he served on behalf of the Progressive Alliance until 1919 and for the Labour Party from 1919 on Battersea Council on many occasions up to his death in 1932. The talk will be followed by a walk about that part of John Archer's Battersea.
Battersea Park Library. See Note 3.
Tues 12. 7pm
Slave Rebellions
Talk about slave rebellions in the British West Indies and the United States and their impact on the movement for freedom.
Wandsworth Museum. See Note 2
Sat 23. 2pm.
John Archer Walk
This walk will take in Archer's homes and photography business, and the Latchmere Estate.
£5 charge. Meet Albert Bridge Rd/Brynmaer Rd, SW11. See Note 4.
Wed 27. 7pm
Harbens Gulati: Battersea's Asian Doctor and Politician
Talk about Dr Harbens Lal Gulati (1895–1967). Dr Gulati was an Asian doctor practicing in Northcote Rd from the 1930s. Initially a Conservative activist becoming a Councillor in 1934, because he supported the creation of the National Health Service he resigned from the Party in 1947 and joined the Labour Party. He was elected onto the Borough Council, and then the London County Council.
Northcote Rd Library. See Note 5.
Note 1. Free unless you want to go into the Museum at the end of the walk – see Note 2. Wandsworth Museum, 38 West Hill, SW18.
Note 2. Cost: Normal museum entry charge (which gives one year's free admission). Booking is advisable, please contact
bookings@wandsworthmuseum.co.uk or 020 8870 6060.
Note 3. Free – booking advisable 020 8871 7468. Battersea Park Library, 309 Battersea Park Road, SW11.
Note 4. £5.00. For further details email
sean.creighton@btinternet.com, or text to 07725045550.
Note 5. Free. Free – booking advisable 020 8871 7469. Northcote Rd Library, 155e Northcote Road, SW11.
My essay John Archer and the Politics of Labour in Battersea (1906-32) was published in Belonging to Europe, a special Issue of the journal Immigrants & Minorities. Vol 28. Issues 2/3. July/November 2010. ISSN 0261-9288.
Full Wandsworth Black History Month programme on www.wandsworth.gov.uk/events/event/459.

The Slavery Business and British Black History

On 21 September I attended the Conference about the Slave Planter Class held at Chawton House Library near Alton in Hampshire. Then it was up to Newcastle to speak at the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS) project's North East workshop on Saturday 25 September, which I had helped to promote through the North East Slavery & Abolition Network. Both Conferences have helped to build the networking on slavery business research; the sharing of information and ideas. Today, Sunday 3 October I led a walk in the area around the new Wandsworth Museum titled 'From Slavery to Windrush'. I was able to share with the people who came the latest information coming out of the LBS project about the West India merchant family the Ruckers, who owned extensive lands along West Hill. At the request of the BASA (Black & Asian Studies Association) Committee I have taken back on the editorship of its members Information Bulletin. As a publicly available supplement I have out together a diary of BHM events around the country. The following are the details of the talks and walks I am undertaking in Wandsworth's Black History Month (BHM) are on the next Blog.

Mutual & Social Action in Lambeth


ORGANISING TOGETHER
IN LAMBETH
A Historical Review of
Co-operative and Mutual
Social Action
Sean Creighton
History & Social Action Publications
ISBN No. 978-09548943-5-1. £2

On Friday evening I went to the Open Space session on Lambeth's Co-operative Council initiative. Most of the 35 people who attended were green activists, especially in Brixton. While a wide range of concerns were raised, the perspective was very different from the one I had expected given the suspicion of Lambeth Council that is usually expressed at meetings involving activists in the community and voluntary sector. I suggested that a historic understanding of the rich history of mutual and social action was needed, along with an understanding of the deep-set Council cultural problems that have existed since the Borough was created in the mid-1960s. The initiative was seen as one which provided an opportunity to potentially change the culture of the way the Lambeth bureaucratic machine operates and to encourage large numbers of people actively engage in deciding the solutions they want to the problems they face or to fulfil their aspirations. I sold copies of my pamphlet review of co-operative and mutual social action in Lambeth.


Working in Partnership in Kennington & Vauxhall


I have been supporting Riverside Community Development Trust (RCDT) in various capacities) since May 2004. Like most community organisations it has had its ups and downs. Its back on an up. It has decided to work more closely than previously with Lady Margaret Hall Settlement (LMHS) because we have found that partnership working can make the most of opportunities that arise. LMHS has been supporting Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre (VGCC) in its negotiations over the past few years to ensure it has a continued existence when Lambeth Council sold the building VGCC occupies to a major office developer in the area CLS Holdings. This has now been achieved with the future of the Centre secured. LMHS also helped it sign an agreement with Real World to run its UK On-Line Computer Centre at the building. As a lot of work has to be done to bring the building up to scratch RCDT is housing the Centre and Real World at its premises at 20 Newburn. Now I have become Secretary to both the RCDT Board and LMHS Council and the RCDT member newsletter has been relaunched with LMHS as a joint public document. To receive copies all residents and workers in Kennington and Vauxhall have to do is to email me
sean.creighton@btinternet.com

The two organisations, VGCC and Real World ran a joint set of stall at the 11 September Changing Vauxhall EXPO community event. I led two walks round the area of Spring Gardens and launched my new publication providing a historical overview to mutual and social action in Lambeth written because of Lambeth Council's Co-operative Council initiative (see separate blog posting).

The Albert Embankment and the Vauxhall area forms part of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms & Battersea Opportunity area in which massive redevelopment is proposed by Mayor Boris, and Lambeth and Wandsworth Councils. There is the proposed Covent Garden, American Embassy, Power Station and Tideway developments, the proposed extension of the Northern Line into the Power Station site. And now added into the mix is the mammoth underground sewer main project proposed by Thames Water. It is very important that the community groups on both sides of the Lambeth/Wandsworth border liaise.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Britain at Work - Building Workers Project

Substantial progress is being made with the Britain at Work 1945-95 project, which I have previously mentioned in my newsletter. The parent body is a steering group comprising all interested parties and is open to anyone who wishes to put their project under its umbrella. Dave Welsh of HISTORYtalk has updated me about its work within the wider project. It has already done some 30 interviews with people in West London and Middlesex about their working lives. These interviews are snapshots of work, industrial relations and the labour movement across the vast outer West London corridor in the post-war era, and includes people who worked at Kodak, on the tubes and buses, in education, libraries, in engineering factories, Ford's Langley near Slough and Heathrow Airport. The interviews are a key component in the construction of a new social and economic history of the whole area. It will be an important resource for future historians and researchers. Britain at Work is a nationwide programme which was launched in 2009 at the House of Commons by Labour MP John McDonnell and labour historian Nina Fishman (now sadly deceased). HISTORYtalk has funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Another strand is about to take off: Constructing Post War Britain: Building Workers' Stories 1950-70 run from the University of Westminster. It is a pity they are not starting in 1945 as my study of building workers' struggles in the immediate post-war period through the activity and experience of Alf Loughton provides an important foundation stone for understanding what was going on in the building industry, between workers and employers, within the trade unions and between the Communist Party and those who were suspicious of or hostile to the Party. Many of Alf's other papers, which I am in the process of donating to Wandsworth Museum, are an important resource for many other aspects of the building industry through to the 1960s. The Westminster project would like to hear from people in West London or those who worked in the building industry for more interviewing.
Britain at Work main contact person: Stefan Dickers (Bishopsgate Institute):
stefan.dickers@bishopsgatr.org.uk.
Britain at Work website based at TUC Library:
www.unionhistory.info/britainatwork
HISTORYtalk:
rjoebear@historytalk.org; 020 7792 2282; www.historytalk.org.

Westminster Project: Chris Wall 020 7911 5000 (ext 3322);
c.wall@westminster.ac.uk

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Great Unrest - A Proposal for a London History Workshop

Introduction

The Great Unrest of 1911-13 saw an upsurge in militant working class and labour movement action around wages and working conditions. The potential for a new wave of unrest in the light of the savage cuts by the ConDem Coalition Government makes that history of relevance. However, at the centre of the struggle 100 years ago were the armies of industrial workers particularly in the mines and transport. The modern blue collar working class has been decimated. The white collar working class of today is much less organised in trade unions, and their life styles make many of them regard themselves as middle-class. Meanwhile many of those who still regard themselves as working class consider they have been betrayed, and their history, culture and identify marginalised.

The Background

New ideas about industrial organisation and action were emerging with the labour and socialist movements: syndicalism, a rejection of parliamentary politics, the creation of industrial unions and advocating direct industrial action to win control of the economy. One the main advocates of syndicalism was Tom Mann, who had been a leading activist in the New Unionist wave 1889-92.

The Transport Workers Federation was created by the dockers and seamen. A wave of strikes swept the country involving seamen, dockers, miners and railwaymen. There was a massive strike of transport workers in 1912. The ASRS, the General Railway Workers Union and the United Signalmen and Postmen merged into the National Union of Railwaymen in 1912. In 1913 the NUR entered a Triple Alliance with the Miners and the Transport Workers Federation with a view to joint action for mutual assistance. Troops were used by the Liberal Government against striking miners in Tonypandy, with one killed and hundreds injured. This was also the time of militant action by suffragettes demanding the vote for women, and the Conservatives encouraging Protestant mutiny in Ireland against Home Rule. Out of a strike by the London Society of Compositors members merged The Daily Herald newspaper, which had the support of the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC which was represented on its Board by W Matkin, the General Secretary of the General Union of Carpenters and Joiners. From 1913 under George Lansbury's editorship it upset MacDonald and the Party's Parliamentary Committee withdrew its support and launched the short lived The Daily Citizen. The Liberals reversed the Osborne Judgement in 1913 allowing unions to have separate political funds, which revived the fortunes of the Labour Party. The militancy petered out.

Commemorating the Great Unrest

The hundredth anniversary of the Great Unrest begins next year. Its significance has been highlight in the editorial by Mike Squires in the current newsletter of the Socialist History Society. That editorial is supported by an article by Paul Burnham on the High Wycombe Strike of 1913, and a review of a new book on the South Wales Miners' Strike.

It occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to consider organising a History Workshop type event in London on the Greta Unrest, aimed at attracting people from London's vibrant networks of people engaged in community, local, family, labour movement and BME histories.

The initial ideas are:

(1)A project launch event at Bishopsgate Institute with speakers setting the scene and plenty of time for people to discuss how to set up local projects, including research sources.
(2)A workshop looking in detail at the events of the Great Unrest in each area of London: South West, West, North West, North East, East, South East London.
(3)A London History Workshop utilising the Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute will bring together all the local work and examine the lessons and questions arising, including consideration of how in new conditions campaigning can reach deep into local communities.
(4)There should be a linkage to the New Unionist agenda created in the early period of mass mobilisation 1889-1892 started by the Match-Girls Strike in 1888.

Requirements

To achieve these outcomes will take time and require the support of London members of many organisations including Socialist History Society, Society for the Study of Labour History, Labour Heritage, London Socialist Historians Group, Black & Asian Studies Association and the Friendly Societies Research Group, the support of trade unions, whose members were at the core of the Great Unrest, and the support and engagement of members of local history groups, like HistoryTalk in North Kensington. If pre-Workshop events were to be held in different parts of London good quality venues in each area will be needed. Good quality and wide-scale publicity through political, trade union, social and history networks. A website with blogging and networking features would be useful.

An early task will be identifying people already undertaking work on aspects of the Great Unrest in London, the establishment through the local networks of research groups to undertake local projects, and thought about ways in which this work can be linked into schools work on Citizenship.

London wide Workshop

Possible topics for speakers, panels and workshop sessions at the London wide event might include:

(1)Syndicalism. What was it in the period of the Great Unrest, what did it achieve, what has been its lasting been, are syndicalist ideas relevant to modern times?
(2)London's economy – what was happening?
(3)Effect of London living standards?
(4)The role of Tom Mann.
(5)Railwaymen's action across London.
(6)The response of the Liberal Government.
(7)The effect of the Liberals reversal of the Osborne Judgement in 1913 allowing unions to have separate political funds.
(8)The response of London's Municipal Reformers (Conservatives)
(9)How different was the Great Unrest in Ireland and what effect did that have on London's Irish workers?
(10)The response in different local communities
(11)The effect on the London municipal elections of 1912
(12)The response of the different local authorities and Poor Law Guardians.
(13)What led to the petering out of the Great Unrest?

Next steps

I have contacted a number of people active in the national groups mentioned earlier, and individuals involved in working class history activities in parts of London. I have asked them for their comments and to raise the idea at their Committee meetings to seek support. A planning meeting will then need to be held to agree a more detailed timetable and actions required. Once agreement on a detailed proposal has been reached then the proposal can be sent round the whole range of organisations from local history to trade unions and networks. There will also need to be preliminary exploration with potential funders.

If you are interested in becoming involved either post a comment in response to this blog or email me on sean.creighton@btinternet.com.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Battersea's Tideway Houseboat Community Under Threat

In June my Nine Elms walks went along the Tideway, where there is a thriving house boat community. This is now under threat. A petition has been launched on the GoPetition website, and by end of 1 August had already received over 1,090 signatures. It states:

'Now yet another very special London gem is under threat: Tideway Village and the Nine Elms Pier Boat Community may disappear forever, possibly as early as March 2011. Tucked away next to the Battersea Power station the 30+ houseboats with their inhabitants form a diverse vibrant community framed by old boats, water wildlife and nature, dearly loved and frequently photographed by passers by.The current plans being submitted for the construction of ‘Tideway Wharf’ by St James (Berkeley Homes) proposes a development that would replace this special corner of London with cloned, soulless structures, erected in pursuit of profit at the expense of beauty and diversity.The houseboat community calls on you for help, there is still time to prevent the loss of Tideway Village so please sign the petition today and forward the link to all your friends!We the undersigned call on Wandsworth Council and Berkeley Homes to let the residents of Tideway Village, remain in our dock and keep the houseboat community spirit alive!'

To look at the petition and sign up in support go to
www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/save-the-tideway-village.html.


Tideway Within Context

We don't actually need more apartment blocks. We need to halt and reverse the growth in the size of London and encourage a more even spread of population and economic activity around the country. We need more and more experiments in different types of living and communities particularly those which are green and sustainable; not just increasing the number of exploited tenants and leaseholders, whose blocks will have major repair and maintenance problems within 20 years.
While the effect of an individual planning application may seem small and not worth the effort making a fuss about, each one adds to an accumulation of developments which can completely change the nature of an area, often not for local benefit. The Tideway development needs to be seen within the context of the massive proposals for the development of the whole of the so called Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area.

Wandsworth Council Information Meetings

On 27 July Wandsworth Council held an information meeting about the Wandsworth part of the Opportunity Area. Senior officers of Town Planning gave the overview of the proposed development and the policies that the Council will have in place by 2012. Councillor Ravi Govindia then fielded questions and comments. As local resident and community activist Brian Barnes has pointed out to me by 2012 most of the planning applications for Battersea Power Station, the US Embassy and Ballymore’s Embassy Quarter will have all been decided. All those attending were opposed to some element of the redevelopment. The Tideway group complained that they would be losing their homes. Another group opposed the US Embassy because a Battersea resident Shaker Aamer is in prison in Guantanamo Bay and called on Govindia to get him released. A Chelsea Wharf resident wondered if his view of the Power Station will disappear with REOs new plans. The tube line was treated with scepticism and Govindia suggested a supplement of hopper buses. Brian adds: 'The Council’s strategy for the Nine Elms area has the acronym SSAD'!
The Council's second meeting on 28 July followed the same format. When an officer said that 45,000 jobs would be created, someone pointed out that the construction phase jobs would be temporary, and that the same people from large building firms might work on all the schemes. Given that a primary school would be needed, the Council was asked why it had sold off John Milton School in Sleaford Street to be replaced with flats. The second meeting was more polite with some applause for the speakers than the stony silence of the night before. The issue of Shaker Aamer was brought up again. The audience was rather hostile to idea of 16,000 new incomers to the area and congestion on roads and especially bridges, to the height of the buildings and absence of affordable homes.


Blind Faith in the Private Sector?

Brian's impression is that the Council seems to believe that the developers will provide school, health service, parks, affordable housing and tube stations. When did this ever happen?

Battersea Power Group are very anxious about the way the largest site around the Power Station will be decided on in September and the deadline for the residents to comment is 5 August. There was hardly any mention of the Power Station and the permission to demolish and rebuild the chimneys by a company whose debts are £1.6 billion in NAMA, the Irish Government’s toxic bank The group is also concerned by Council Leader Edward Lister claiming that the Nine Elms area is the last undeveloped land in central London, when it is being used intensively by a wide range of businesses. As Brian asks: where will those displaced by luxury apartments go?

What Benefit for Local Residents?

And what will become of the people of Patmore, Savona and Carey Gardens Estates all of which are in the Opportunity Zone? As I pointed out on my Nine Elms Walks in June's Wandsworth Heritage Festival they are unlikely to benefit, just as preceding generations in the Nine Elms district did not benefit, which is why the area was so poor when Charles Booth did his survey. This was shown with telling effect by Sandra Keen in her 'Poverty and East Battersea' talk which I organised in the Festival.

It should be noted that several people involved in local organisations only received notification of the first meeting and copies of the leaflet for distribution 5 days beforehand.

Community and Mutual Ownership in History and Today



'Nurturing community and mutual ownership requires a coherent and systematic approach, based on a clear set of values, if it is to realise its full potential.'

This is one of the key conclusions of Community and mutual ownership: a historical review published this month by Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Researched and written by Tom Woodin, David Crook and Vincent Carpentier at the Institute of Education, it surveys the history of ‘community and mutual ownership’ and considers the implications for policy and practice in this area.

As a member of a research team that unsuccessfully bid to undertake this review, I strongly believe that pushing the pace of municipal and state owned public services to community and mutual ownership could seriously damage both the services and the credibility of these forms of ownership. This report underlines that view and therefore I have no hesitation in arguing that the report is essential reading for those involved in Cameron's Big Society debate, including the members of the Lambeth Council Co-operative Council Commission initiative (see
www.lambeth.gov.uk).

The authors conclude that there is 'a contemporary opportunity for community and mutual ownership to help meet needs relating to the economy, welfare provision, society in general and the environment.' BUT 'new forms of democracy, membership and belonging cannot be created overnight. In the past community and mutual ownership was built up over a long time and depended on the growth of popular participation and associated feelings of ownership.'

Models of Ownership


Five non-private ownership models are identified: customary and common, community, co-operative and mutual, charitable, municipal/state forms of ownership.

They point out that 'Modern ideas and practices of ownership took a long time to develop, and were based on the enclosure of common land, the emergence of concentrated private ownership and the enlargement of state activity, both through regulation and the direct ownership of resources and services. These long-term historical transformations were not inevitable processes with a fixed income.'


Key Historical Points

Significant points in their historical analysis include:


'The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, precipitated by a punitive poll tax, was indicative of the broader ways in which peasants viewed feudal ownership as unjust and exploitative.'

From the 16th to the 18thCs individual 'freedom and liberty were increasingly connected to the ownership of private property. The onset of enclosures was bitterly contested by those, such as the Diggers and True Levellers, who argued for the value of common and communal forms of ownership.'


'The rapid increase in land enclosure fuelled the development of capitalism.'

During the 19thC 'industrial and urban development exerted great changes and stripped away older responsibilities inherent in ownership of the land.'


Responses included the formation of mutual and co-operative organisations and the growth of charitable organisations 'grew considerably in response to the harsh conditions faced by the poor.'

'However, as inequality and social problems extended into the twentieth century, municipal and state ownership became increasingly prominent.'


'Post-1945, state ownership was viewed as a means of meeting common needs through universal welfare services and controlling the economy. It was to be undermined, especially during the 1980s, when many forms of public ownership were privatised, such as housing and nationalised industries.'

Both a summary and the full report can be downloaded from
www.jrf.org.uk.


Mutuality and Radical Politics

Combining my experience of working at the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres on neighbourhood renewal and social inclusion issues, and my involvement in researching aspects of the history of mutuality in Battersea and through the Friendly Societies Research Group, and stimulated by involvement in discussion at an Independent Labour Publications weekend school, between 2002 and 2004 I argued that the Labour Government's regeneration, neighbourhood renewal and social inclusion agendas provided a wide-range of potential opportunities for mutuals respond, and for mutualism to become a key vehicle for developing radical politics.


Radical politics remains the same as it always has, expressed in the modern words: social justice, social inclusion, anti-racism, equalities, community development, community engagement, human rights, environmental protection, sustainable development, internationalism, extending participatory democracy, and social enterprise.

A New Associationism?


Mutuality or to use the alternative word 'associationism' seemed to open up opportunities for a new phase of radical politics. The scope for radical political activity around practical organisation of a new associationism, involves reviving and strengthening existing mutual and cooperative organisations and developing new ones. Back in the period 2002 to 2004 there seemed to be considerable scope for this within local communities linked to then government agendas. And while that has been the case since it has not been without considerable difficulties, and Cameron's Big Society initiative poses even greater challenges.

The neglect of the historical power and legacy of mutual association contributes to a distorted picture of the way British society developed, keeping hidden from each new generation, the major contribution of ordinary people to the development of civil society, as well as the contributions of particular groups like women or ethnic and faith minorities.


This lack of popular understanding, coupled with widespread apathy and disillusion with the political process and politicians was a fundamental stumbling block to achieving regeneration under Labour. Ordinary people reacted to the opportunities with cynicism, a belief that they are being conned, and that government and local politicians do not really mean it. And often the way local and central government treated local communities confirmed this.

So radical politics must continue to do what it has always done: to challenge the power structures that operate against the interests of the majority of ordinary people and to campaign for greater democratic control and participation.

Opportunities and cracks in the system have to be continually identified, and campaigning undertaken in order to at minimum try and ensure that the next lot of measures that government introduces do not make things worse than they are.


Choices

We continue to be faced with choices. Back in 2004 the following questions seemed to me to be important.
• Do we continue to demand renationalisation of privatised services and industries, or do we look for a wide range of forms of mutual or common ownership?
• Do we continue to defend the managerial way in which local authority and other public services are delivered or do we build new delivery mechanisms?
• Do we continue to politically campaign as if the working class was still largely skilled, semi- and unskilled blue colour workers in large scale enterprises, or do we find new ways to campaign relevant to the new style work forces?
• What are the opportunities for radical political activity, working in the cracks in the system, and utilising divisions within it?
• Can we be sure that ‘new mutualisation’ is not a form of privatisation that will end the universal features of public services?
• How can we roll back the democratic deficit in mutual organisations?
Are these questions still relevant as part of the Big Society debate?

Developing Practical Activity

I suggested that answering these questions should help develop practical activity that will stimulate further development of mutual self-help organisations. The fact that there have been problems in the past should not deter action. The most important thing is to try and devise solutions which overcome the dangers of replicating past problems, which minimise the potential set of new problems that will arise, and which will in their turn require new solutions. Keeping co-operative principles in the forefront of thinking will be helpful in this process: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member, economic participation, education, training and information, autonomy and independence, concern for community and co-operation among cooperatives.

Previous writings:
Collective action and the sustainable renewal of Britain. Democratic Socialist. Autumn 2001
Mutuality and radical politics. Democratic Socialist. Summer 2002
Mutuality and Radical Politics. History & Social Action Publications Discussion Paper. September 2002
Mutual Associations and the Sustainable Renewal of Britain. History & Social Action. October 2002
We need to grapple with reality. Democratic Socialist. Summer 2003
Co-operation, Mutuality and Radical Politics in Co-operatives and Mutuals: The New Challenge. Independent Labour Publications 2005



The Real McCoy: Developing Interest in Industrial Innovation

The economic crisis has focussed attention on the distortion nurtured under Mrs Thatcher's Governments of over-reliance on the financial services sector, and the destruction of industry and manufacturing. Blair and Brown continued with the obsession about the City. When he was London Mayor Ken Livingstone accepted and supported its role through his economic, planning and other policies.

In my walks in Nine Elms and Vauxhall I talk about the area's rich industrial and manufacturing history, including links with the creative industries. Most of that past was swept away by the developments of the 1960s and 1970s. The aspirations of Mayor Boris Johnson's Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area Framework, supported by Lambeth and Wandsworth Councils, and the large scale developments already proposed for Battersea Power Station and the US Embassy will sweep away most of those 'newer' developments. The Strategy, however does not address the needs of the large number of people who live in and around the Area.

LDA Economic Development Strategy

This failure simply continues the Mayoral tradition. When I worked for the British Association of Settlements & Social Action Centres I argued in comments on Mayor Livingstone's draft London Economic Development Strategy that:

it failed to analyse London’s economic system from the bottom up, from neighbourhood level and from the experience of different socially excluded groups.
overarching analysis either at local authority or sub-region level ignores local needs and problems will be ignored, and therefore would not address those problems.

it needed to ask questions like: what are the economic needs of the people of London; how does the current economic system operating in London meet those needs; and what needs does it not meet?

London’s essential public services needed to be adequately staffed, given the cost of housing and travel.

jobs created in regeneration schemes should benefit those people who are unemployed in adjacent neighbourhoods rather than attracting in employees who have to travel long distances from the edges and beyond of London.

London South Central Strategy

Part of the Opportunity Area covers Livingstone's former London South Central Strategy area. This was characterised by:

a lack of imagination as to the kind of jobs that might be encouraged
an acceptance that many of the jobs that might be created would be low paid service jobs
a neglect of the industrial legacy of the area.

The Strategy delivered nothing of any lasting significance. The opportunity of opening up a new way of encouraging creative industries, linking manufacturing and training young people in relevant skills was dismissed when the London Development Agency refused to financially support Lady Margaret Hall Settlement's proposed Artisan School. This had been based on a detailed study of the area and its needs, which I was involved in researching and writing. The Settlement continued to argue the case, and developed its Kennington Quarter strategy for developing the local creative industries, of which the School would be a vital component. This was launched in July 2007 at the Push the Envelope Further event which I was involved in organising for Riverside Community Development Trust, Beaconsfield art gallery and the Settlement. Turning the Artisan School idea into reality was scuppered by Lambeth Council's constant changes of approach to the future of the Beaufoy Institute in which the Settlement hoped to house the School.
The new Opportunity Area strategy also lacks the kind of broader vision that the Settlement was arguing was required. All that will be created is a range of office based employments with large numbers of commuters pouring in, supported by residents of the local estates in low paid manual jobs

Low paid – menial jobs

An important issue in socio-economic regeneration is who is going to do the manual service jobs without which social, leisure, and employment facilities cannot operate. Where will this workforce come from if not from (a) those whom the education system fails, (b) those who are new arrivals into the country, and (c) students, mothers and the elderly wanting part-time jobs. While they may be low skilled and menial there are many people who obtain immense satisfaction from doing such jobs well – like keeping things clean. Such jobs need to be recognised for the important value they provide: in making public and work environments look and feel good, and in safeguarding public health. They should be better paid. The grand strategies do not address the issue of the type of jobs, and what controls should be operated through public funding investment on wages and conditions.

Historic Legacy

The London South Central Strategy's tunnel vision on the creative industries ignored the area's industrial heritage, especially railways, engineering, small scale boat building, potteries and candle making. All these depended on innovation and design. Marc Brunel, Isambard’s father, invented a military boot that would not leak, and which was credited to have been an important contribution to Wellington’s victory at Waterloo. The boots were manufactured at Brunel’s factory on the Battersea river front. Doulton’s and more recently Lambeth Tiles demonstrated the link between design and manufacture of desirable consumer products.

The area is still covered by a major railway network, with Waterloo as a major terminus at one end and Clapham Junction further west from the other end. People are fascinated by railways, engineering and industrial design. The Tate Modern building is a symbol of that design, and attracts people partly because of its stunning cavernous space. The arguments about the appropriate regenerative uses of Battersea Power Station hinge around people’s passion for it as a well designed building. Price's Candles started at Vauxhall and went on to to light the world from its Battersea base (see my History & Social Action Publication by Jon Newman Battersea's Global Reach. The Story of Price's Candles. What is significant about Price's is the key role of inventiveness in chemistry and engineering.
This industrial legacy is not celebrated. There is no local museum devoted to it. Yet we know that with imaginative display and interactive exhibits such museums elsewhere fascinate children and young people, and can open up their minds to science, engineering and design.

The Real McCoy

And the epitome of great design is the phrase ‘The Real McCoy’. More than just the name of a range of crisps. McCoy was a black American, who designed lubrication systems that enabled the railway locomotives to be oiled while they were still moving. His methods soon came over to Britain and through British railway building to other parts of the world. What a positive image McCoy projects for black pride and enterprise. How many ‘Real McCoy’ designs by others from around the world have influenced the machines of yesterday and today. How many started off in local industrial premises?

Back in 2003 I drafted the kernel of an idea, The Real McCoy Project, that would explore in its first stages:

the industrial and design heritage of the London South Central area
the development of a ‘museum’ to showcase that history and its relevance to industrial design today
how to foster and support improved design and technology teaching and activity in schools
the contemporary design needs of the railway industry
what could be done to contribute to better design for river transport which would make it more attractive
how to improve the visual design of the main bridges that link London South Central with the north bank of the Thames
showcase exhibitions of industrial design at Tate Modern
the development of an exhibition about McCoy and other inventors, engineers and scientists

Unfortunately it was not possible to work this up for funding support. But I still think there is mileage in the idea. And there must be scope for turning a building within the Opportunity Area into a facility dedicated to the industrial, engineering and creative industries that were in the area, and that show cases the lessons from them for the future.

The Abolition of MLA: Is Part of a Wider Threat to Inclusive Heritage?

'Half baked posh kids have taken over and I don't think they know what they are doing and dangerously they think they do.' So comments a friend who works in the heritage world.

The news that the MLA is being axed as part of the cull of quangos, raises serious questions about the future of infrastructure support for museums, libraries and archives. After all the cut is not about diverting the money into other forms of funding these organisations. Apart from a whole tranche of staff flooding onto the heritage freelance market at a time when there will be less money available for projects for freelancers to work on, questions must be asked as to what the policy will be on:
(a) the preservation of the MLA archive;
(b) the resources available on the MLA website;
(c) the continued availability of MLA publications.

and what the effect will be on the Culture 24 website it partners:
www.culture24.org.uk.

I know there will be many people in archives, libraries and museums who will not mourn the MLA's passing because they regarded it as an absolute disaster, spending a load of money on expensive consultants and costly managers, mostly from outside sector for projects no one wanted.

Implications for Regional Funding

More importantly concern has been expressed to me that if it is not just the abolition of the MLA structures but the funding streams routed through MLAs, then the closure of what appears to be simply bureaucratic structures, offices and staff in fact disguises the end of state funds, unless there's a way for regional museums to obtain funds from the centre. This is because some MLA funding has been directed at 'regional hubs' that have materially assisted other museums in their areas. For the past decade these have flourished and will lose out under the proposed dispensation as alternative funding from local resources especially local authorities is not and cannot be available.

Implications for Widening Audiences

Under the Labour Government's policy programmes became more aimed at including requiring museums and archives etc to expand their audiences from social classes 3, 4 and 5 and BME communities, with funding became partly dependent on achieving this. This prompted organisations to adapt their practice with some very good initiatives and results.

In addition the major funding input for 2007 prompted many museums from large to small to plan and deliver displays, events, etc related to this and often organised by BME personnel. There was also the Insight programme which funded minority personnel into training positions in museums where they were and remain signally underrepresented. The fear is that all these policies will presumably vanish and the sector will revert to being virtually all white in terms of audiences and staffing.

Threat to HLF?

The axing of the MLA must be also seen within the wider context of what looks like a broader attack on inclusive heritage: not just changes to the history curriculum in schools, but also the reported threat to the Heritage Lottery Fund. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/one-by-one-the-quangos-are-abolished-but-at-what-cost-2036175.html.

If it is axed the money raised by the National Lottery for heritage projects will still have to be distributed. After all the Government is consulting on getting the National Lottery back to its original purpose of 20% each for sport, culture and heritage. So if this happens it will mean cuts in those programmes that Labour added to the Lottery. See
www.dcms.gov.uk/consultations/7070.aspx.

Clearly there is a need for a debate about what all this means for the future of the heritage sector as whole, but crucially for us the impact on Black & Asian, community, labour movement, radical, mutuality, public and women's heritage activity.


The Need to Campaign

While there has been a flurry of activity: e.g. see:
www.thebookseller.com/news/124564-page.html; andwww.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/886056-264/uk_to_abolish_museums_libraries.html.csp, as a friend has pointed out to me there has been no concerted protest in the way that there has been against the abolition of the UK Film Council.

We cannot afford to wait, as another friend has suggested, to see what the Government's approach to equalities and human rights and citizenship is going to be and then pitch in with something in ‘their’ language which encourages them to reinvent the best bits.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Remembering William Cuffay, Black Chartist Leader

If bugs molest me, as in bed I lie,
I'll not quit my bed for them, not I;
But rout the vermin, every bug destroy,
Now make my bed, and all the sweets enjoy

So said William Cuffay, Britain's black Chartist revolutionary leader, in a speech attacking the aristocracy illustrating his ability to inject humour into his speeches.

While this was not used in it, congratulations to Bill Morris and the producer for an excellent programme about Cuffay broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 28 July. Also to the contributions of leading Chartist historian Malcolm Chase, Jan Morris of National Portrait Gallery and Keith Flett, a leading member of the London Socialist Historians Group.

Cuffay was mentioned in the Jeremy Irons' Who Do You Think You Are? TV programme, which Malcolm took part in. Iron's ancestor Thomas and Cuffay's portraits were sketched by fellow Chartist prisoner William Dowling while they were in Newgate; the Irons one still in the family's possession, Cuffay's at the National Portrait Gallery.

Cuffay was the subject of a play by the Irish playwright Sam Dowling performed at the Space Art Centre in London ending on 31 October last year.

Bruce Aubrey's pamphlet William Cuffay: Medway’s Back Chartist, 22 pages £3, including p&p, is still available from Brian Joyce:
brianjoyce64@hotmail.co.uk.

The reprint of Peter Fryer's text about him in his book Staying Power can be seen on
www.alphabetthreat.co.uk/pasttense/page2.html.

On 31 October last year I spoke about Cuffay on behalf of Black & Asian Studies Association (BASA) at the Feargus O'Connor Memorial event at Kensal Green Cemetery. The text can be seen on the BASA website:
www.blackandasianstudies.org. I suggested that there were three things of particular contemporary significance about the Charter, O'Connor and Cuffay.

Firstly, the authorities were prepared to attack their own citizens if the Kennington Common demonstrators had attempted to cross the Thames. That is precisely what the police and the army did on Bloody Sunday in 1887. The policing of the G20 demonstration the previous April showed that the need for vigilance to protect our democratic right to demonstrate is on-going.

Secondly, sometime ago I suggested that we had entered into a period of New Corruption with some features similar to the Old Corruption of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The demands of the Charter that have been implemented have clearly not been sufficient to prevent the new corrupt abuses, of which the MPs expenses scandal was a visible manifestation. As a columnist had argued in The Guardian it is time to revive the debate about the last of the Chartist demands - annual Parliaments to ensure accountability.

Thirdly, as a figure at the centre of the fight for British democracy, Cuffay is a reminder of how wrong the BNP is.

Jane Austen, Slavery and Chawton House

A few weeks ago Ann and I had a few days break in Alton in Hampshire. We visited Jane Austen's House Museum. It is one of the nicest Museums we have been to. Run by a private trust its staff and volunteers are enthusiastic. It has benefited from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to improve the building and add an educational facility. The garden is beautiful. On display was a special exhibition of contemporary art works 'Under the Influence' inspired by the Museum and Jane Austen's life created by artists from Farnham University of Creative Arts. Polly Heatley's porcelain dinner service inspired by Wedgwood items at the Museum are stunningly original and beautiful creating dinner service items representing the paper Austen wrote her letters on with imprints of some of Austen's words on it. Powerful are the three items by Stephanie Hunter inspired by the Fanny Price quote in Mansfield Park 'There was a deathly silence'. Hunter's platters 'create a tension of formal elegance against the unpalatable imagery of social injustice, which encourages us to see Austen in a more political, and contemporary light.' A bone china dinner plate 'depicts 'slave ship swims'; a china side plate 'To be sold'.

Austen and her family lived in Chawton because her brother Eward had been adopted and inherited the estate owned by distant cousins who were childless. However, part of that wealth was in slave ownership. Nearby is the former Chawton Manor House where James lived. It now houses the Library of Early Women's Writing 1660-1830. This started off as the collection of the American philanthropist Sandy Lerner, who runs Cisco Systems with her husband. She leases the house, funded its renovation and shipped her collection including paintings to create the Library which opened in 2003. It is run by a private trust. It is becoming better known as a unique research facility.

On 21 September it will be the venue for the 'Rethinking the Fall of the Planter Class' Conference organised by Dr Christopher Petley at the University of Southampton. Speakers include Nick Draper of the Legacies of British Slavery. Topics include the rise of the planter class in Jamaica, 16601-763; the Jamaican sugar industry 1760-1830; the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants after abolition 1807-1834; planters and politics, and their cultural lives. Full details from Dr Christopher Petley:
c.petley@soton.ac.uk.
Leaving aside the issue of overnight accommodation on 20 and 21 the Conference costs £50/£35, with an optional there course dinner as an extra.

For further details of:
Jane Austen's House Museum:
http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/.
Chawton House:
http://www.chawton.org/.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Slavery Profits & Compensation, Wealth Creation and Land Ownership


Further to my blog posted on 4 July about Legacies of British Slavery in my presentation on the slavery business across South London I reviewed the evidence of the wide range of involvements in the slavery business of the wealthy in various parts of South London. One of the important pieces of analysis I was able to undertake when preparing my talk was into the lists of owners and occupiers in Dorian Gerhold's Villas and Mansions of Roehampton and Putney Heath (Wandsworth Historical Society, 1997) against known involvements in the slavery business from other sources in the decades leading up to emancipation, and the information provided to me by Nick Draper of the Legacies project team on those who were involved in compensation claims. It highlights the importance of studying in detail who the wealthy were both in terms of land and other forms of wealth, because their involvements in the slavery business were often hidden and because profits of slavery contributed to that wealth. Decades of work by W. D. Rubinstein on different aspects of the wealthy have provided useful context. His more recent work on probate records culminating in Who Were the Rich? (Vol 1. 1809-39) is derived from a database of some 12,000 of the richest people dying between 1809 and 1914 with £100,000 personalty. Rubinstein and the team are sharing their data for mutual benefit. This is a very welcome cross academic project development.
While Rubinstein has drawn on John Bateman's The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland in his work, his analysis excludes landed wealth. The team will therefore be working systematically through Bateman to trace the effects of movement of slave-wealth into English land. Bateman based his work on the Parliamentary Returns 1872-3 of Every Owner of Land in England and Wales (Parliamentary Papers 1874. c. 1492), excluding London. He corrected the figures through correspondence with owners. There may also be local and regional studies which will help like R. G. Wilson's Gentlemen Merchants: The Merchant Community in Leeds, 1700-1830 (Manchester 1971). This was cited by Rubinstein in his article New Men of Wealth and the Purchase of Land in Nineteenth Century Britain in Past and Present (No. 92. August 1981), along with The Making of a Ruling Class: Two Centuries of Capital Development on Tyneside. (Newcastle 1978) which he describes as 'impressive'. The question arises as to how many other detailed studies of the wealthy at local and regional level there are. And we must not forget that many landowners owned estates all over the country, so links between regions also have to be looked for. It is to be hoped that those with relevant knowledge will attend the workshop in the region where they are based. The studies in the long awaited publication from the English Heritage and National Trust Conference on Slavery and the English Country House should add to our knowledge. Work may have been carried out in the Victoria County Histories England's Past for All projects which may provide useful information.

There were plenty of ideas at the 3 July workshop on how the Legacies project team could be working. As someone who is bombarding the team members with nuggets of information, ideas and questions, I recognise that the scale of the work accumulating for them could overwhelm them. Pursuing some ideas could divert them from the completion of the core of the project. Others will require a lot of input but are unlikely to maximise benefits. The key is how to maximise publicity and engagement with minimal input. The County summaries of people connected with compensation being prepared for each workshop, could be posted on the project website, along with a list of all the claimants and awardees by address (both County and London if both), along with an explanation that the team would welcome any information from family, local, business, economic, etc, historians about these people. The list would need to include a reference to those who appear in the Dictionary of National Biography. Co-operation with the DNB would enable the Legacies team to check whether any of the individuals it is interested in are being worked on for future inclusion. Another area for potential co-operation is with the Victoria County Histories England Past project team in case their work has generated any material that is relevant to the Legacies project. Another useful tool on the website would be a list of slave plantations by island and parish with a request especially to archivists as to whether they have any records at any period relating to those plantations.

Despite all the work on slavery and abolition in 2007 we are only at the threshold of understanding the real impact of the slavery business on British economic, political, social and cultural development. Earlier in the year one of the Long 18thC Seminars at the Institute of Historical Research had an impromptu discussion on whether 18thC studies were in crisis. I suggested that the new work on slavery emerging from the work around the 2007 commemoration had begun to provide the basis for a re-examination of the 18thC economy, and that the work the English Country House and the Legacies Projects would contribute to a re-evaluation. Nick Draper's book The Price of Slavery of Emancipation (Cambridge University Press. 2010) gives a flavour of the potential impact.

A key element of the Legacies project is the looking forward at what recipients of compensation did with the money; funding colonial development, industrial development, colonial enterprise, building development, and cultural and philantrophic activities. It will hopefully provide a lot more information that will show how British Governments and entrepreneurs underpinned the continuing slave economies in the United States, Cuba and Brazil. Marika Sherwood threw out as a challenge the need to do such research in her polemic After Abolition (I B Tauris, 2007)

James Bogle Smith (1797-1870). who for many years lived on Battersea's Lavender Hill is an example of these people. Nick tells me that he was a partner in the West India merchant firm of Brooke Smith of 1 Sambrook Court, Basinghall Street at the time of compensation in the early 1830s; by the late 1830s he was trading under his own name at 15 Tokenhouse Yard. He appears in the compensation records with Elizabeth Brooke, Henry James Brooke and William Robertson Webb (the first two of whom Nick believes were heirs of Smith's former partner in Brooke Smith and the third a partner in the related firm Brooke Webb) as mortgagees or creditors of the Rabaca [sp?], Dumbarton and Belmont estates on St Vincent (St Vincent Nos. 452, 461, and 597), for all of which they were awarded the compensation. The same group had two other apparently unsuccessful counterclaims on St Vincent (St Vincent Nos. 447 and 573), and two counterclaims in British Guiana against Alexander Cruikshank (also the original claimant on the Belmont estate in St Vincent). In these last two claims (British Guiana 697 & 700), which were large awards (£21,073 11s 9d and £11,566 8s 3d respectively), the compensation was officially awarded to Alexander Cruikshank but there is evidence suggesting that Smith et al. came to an arrangement at least to share the compensation with Cruikshank: they had counterclaimed as holders of a mortgage for £43,006 16s 10d.
Separately, Smith was awarded the compensation for 28 enslaved in Kingstown St Vincent, apparently as a trustee of a marriage settlement for the beneficiaries of compensation. From the late 1830s until the 1860s he was a director of the Union Bank of Australia, a director of the Marine Insurance Co. (1836) and Vice President of the National Life Assurance Co. (1850). He served as Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company in 1835.

Another person who has surfaced involved in Cuban sugar is Julius Caeser Czarnikow (1838-1909) founder of C. Cazarnikow Ltd., a London sugar and colonial brokerage. He purchased Elm Lodge in Mitcham in 1869, having previously lived at Brook House, Clapham Common. Most of his business was with Cuba. Did he start there before emancipation in the island? And how did he get started financially? There are likely to thousands of such people who will surface during the continuing work.
For the maximum benefit to be derived through sharing knowledge and development co-operation, it is to be hoped that the regional workshops will be well attended.


The regional workshop programme dates are set out in the 4 July blog. For further details go to www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs or email the team on lbs@ucl.ac.uk.