Hi Jimmy!

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I saw this sculpture towards the end of my walk along the Clyde and back through Anderston during my recent visit to Glasgow. Made from plasma cut sheet steel, a technique that’s used in the traditional local industry, shipbuilding, he three figures represent “local heroes” – Tom Weir (a climber, writer and broadcaster), James Watt, of steam engine fame flanking a modern figure representing former communist and shop steward Jimmy Reid.

Born in the Gorbals in 1932, Jimmy was one of the leaders of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in which took place between June 1971 and October 1973, a  response to the decision of Ted Heath’s Tory Government to shut the yards.

In a speech to the shipyard workers he said

We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity.

The campaign was successful and the Government backed down, keeping the yards open. Alas, few are left today.

Jimmy left the Communist party, joining the Labour Party. Later, disillusioned with “New Labour” he defected (sadly) to the SNP. He died in August 2010.

William and Mary

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This modest monument is the location of the original grave where William Godwin and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft were buried in the Old Saint Pancras Churchyard. Their remains were removed and reburied in St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth graveyard, where they remain today.

I visited the churchyard, now a public park a short walk from St Pancras Station in London, on Wednesday while I was down in the Big Smoke on business. I had a few hours to spare before my first meeting and decided to use the time to pay homage  to Mary and her husband.

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the earliest feminists and advocate of the rights of women. In her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman(1792), she argued that women were human beings who were not naturally inferior to men and deserved the same fundamental rights.

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Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797) – Source: Wikipedia

In 1792, while visiting friends in France, Wollstonecraft met Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber merchant and adventurer. They started a relationship and Mary gave birth to a daughter, Fanny, in May 1794. Not long after Mary and her daughter were abandoned by Imlay. Returning to England she met the radical philosopher, William Godwin. A relationship developed and Mary fell pregnant. Although Godwin had advocated the abolition of marriage, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate. They moved into two adjoining houses, known as The Polygon, so that they could both still retain their independence. A rather modern arrangement! The chid, a daughter, was born on 30 August 1797. Sadly, Mary died eleven days after giving birth.

Their daughter, named Mary after her mother, was later to eloped at the age of 16 with the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was five years senior and already married. Later to become his wife she is famous in her own right as the author of Frankenstein.

William Godwin has been described as a “utilitarian anarchist”. His views were set out in his book Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, usually shortened to Political Justice which was published in 1793. Selling over 4000 copies it was a “best seller” in it’s day. Godwin argued against private property and marriage and believed that as long as people acted rationally, they could live without laws or institutions, rebuilding society in free and equal association, self-governed by reason alone.

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After their marriage, an institution they had both opposed, Mary and William wee accused of hypocrisy by their opponents. But I take a different view. They lived within a society they opposed but could not isolate themselves from it. Marriage was a compromise for them as it was not easy to live together otherwise.

Like many early radicals, ’William and Mary aren’t as well known today as they deserve to be – although their portraits are hung in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

There’s a good brief biography of Mary on the BBC website here and while browsing on the web I came across an excellent website devoted to her.

International Brigade Monument

This monument to the British Battalion of the International Brigade that fought for the Republican Government against Franco’s Fascist uprising, stands in Jubilee Gardens on the Southbank in London, near the old City Hall and the London Eye. 4.5 metres high, it portrays four figures supporting a fifth wounded and kneeling figure. It was sculpted by Ian Walters, a Socialist who also created other memorial sculptures, including the statue of Nelson Mandela, not far away across the Thames in Parliament Square.

The International Brigades were a group of idealistic young adults who left their homes and families and risk death to fight for a cause they believed in. Some may see parallels with those travelling to Syria to join the so called “Islamic State”. But the International Brigade volunteers were going to fight to defend a legitimate government threatened by fascists, while those travelling to Syria today are supporting an organisation commiting atrocities, which has much in common with the most viscious Fascist regimes.

I have a personal connection with the International Brigade as a relative, Will Paynter, my Granmother’s cousin, an activist in the National Union of Mineworkers and the Communist Party, was involved in the recruitment of men to fight for the Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. In March 1937 he was sent to Spain to look after the interests of the British Battalion.

This is an extract from a speech he made to the TUC in 1938 seconding a resolution of support for the Republicans

It must be clear to every delegate in this Congress that the issue in Spain is one of which the outcome will not only determine the destinies of the people of Spain; it must be clear to everyone that the outcome of the conflict in Spain will involve the destinies of the people of all countries…. The conquest of Spain can well mean the commencement of further attacks upon other European democracies, and therefore I am pleading with this Congress that we should regard this matter not merely as one of solidarity, but as an issue of self-preservation for our trade unions in this country.

Bunhill Fields

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A few weeks ago we visited the revamped Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. The main exhibition featured works by Cornelia Parker. One of the exhibits was ‘Black Path (Bunhill Fields)’, a bronze cast made of the cracks in the pavements of the cemetery, where William Blake, one of my heroes, is buried. It’s an interesting work.

So, last Saturday when I had a couple of hours to spare in the afternoon, as it was a reasonably fine day, I decided to go and have a look at the cemetery, pay homage to Blake and see if I could locate the pavement Cornelia Smith had cast (yes, quite sad, I know!). The cemetery is a green oasis in amongst a heavily built up area just outside the boundaries of the City of London, and if’s close to Moorgate station which was on a direct tube line from Edgware Road, which was across the road from where I was staying. It looked particularly attractive with the spring flowers blooming and fresh green leaves appearing on the many trees.

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There is a memorial headstone to William Blake and his wife, Catherine Sophia.

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However, it’s not actually located over his grave, which was several yards away. It was relocated when a section of the cemetery was turned into a lawn. The site of the grave was rediscovered following work by the Blake Society. The location of Catherine’s grave isn’t known.

The cemetery was principally used for the burial of dissenters (William Blake being a prime example). Other well known “residents” include John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)

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Daniel Defoe, who has a memorial obelisk, next to which Blake’s memorial was relocated

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and the Reverend Thomas Bayes, whose claim to fame, Bayesian statistics, has become very much the “in thing” for analysing data in my profession. Indeed, there was a tutorial on the topic taking place prior to the conference at the very time I was visiting his grave.

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I spent a pleasant hour mooching around. As for Cornelia Parker’s cracks in the pavement, despite walking around the cemetery staring at the ground (other visitors must have doubted my sanity) I never did manage to locate the exact section.

Rosa Luxemburg Platz

Rsa Luxemburg Platz stands at the top of Rosa Luxemburg Strasse, in Mitte, Berlin, close to Alexanderplatz. The street and square are both named after the Socialist thinker and activist, born in Poland, who became a leader in the German Social Democratic Party (then a Marxist organisation) before the First World War. She was ostracised by the SPD and imprisoned when she opposed the war. Reluctanly drawn into supporting the Spartakist Uprising in 1919 during the revolutionary turmoil that followed the German defeat, she was murdered along with Karl Liebknecht by the Freikorps, a right-wing paramilitary group mainly made up of World War I veterans.

Quotations from her works are engraved into the pavement in the square and the nearby streets.

Although her political ideas were certainly not consistent with those of the Stalinists who were in charge of the German Democratic Republic, they named the street and square in her honour – an attempt to claim some legitimacy. But Rosa would have been appalled by their policies and methods.

    Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of “justice”, but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when “freedom” becomes a privilege. (Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung, Berlin 1920 S. 109; Rosa Luxemburg)

    The square itself is dominated by the Volksbühne theatre. A large, grand neo-Classical building completed in 1914. To me it had a Modernist look about it with it's relatively simple form.
    The origin of the theatre was an organization known as the “Freie Volksbühne” (“Free People's Theater”) formed in 1892 to promote naturalist plays at prices accessible to workers. It was a cultural society and membership subscriptions were used to fund theatre productions which could be attended by the members of the club at a reduced rate. The society allowed workers – organised and led by the Social Democrats – to gain access to and participate in Berlin’s cultural life. The slogan “Die Kunst dem Volke” – Art to the people – was originally engraved on the front of the building, summed up the objective of the society.

    Karl-Liebknecht-House, formerly the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD) and now the Left Party (Die Linke) also stands on the Square.

    Red Rosa has also now disappeared

    Where she lies is unknown

    Because she told the truth to the poor

    The rich have hunted her out of the world.

    (Bertolt Brecht)

     

    Sylvia Pankhurst at Tate Britain

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    While we were at Tate Britain recently we made a particular point of visiting the temporary exhibition devoted to works of art by Sylvia Pankhurst. It was a little hard to locate, tucked away in a gallery in the interior of the the first floor and not particularly well signposted. The exhibition came about because Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve, who work together as “The Emily Davis Lodge” pressurised the Tate to acknowledge someone they believed was an important, but neglected female artist.

    Sylvia was one of the three daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst,  a socialist and member of the Independent Labour Party from Manchester who was the founder and leader of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) better known as the Suffragettes. All three sisters, The older Christabel, Sylvia and the youngest, Adela, were active in the movement. But Sylvia became disenchanted with the militant tactics and political stance of the WSPU and split from the organisation in 1913 to work for the Labour Party and  founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, which campaigned to ensure that working-class women were represented in the suffrage campaign.

    Unlike her mother and older sister she believed in universal suffrage and remained a committed socialist when her mother moved to the right. She was passionate about campaigning to improve the lives of ordinary working class women, not just for votes for wealthier women who owned property (the position adopted by the WSPU).

    Sylvia Pankhurst in her studio by Olivia Plender (Image source here)

    Sylvia had trained as an artist at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art. William Morris was a family friend and she was influenced by artists associated with the “Arts and Crafts” Movement such as Morris and Walter Crane. However she gave up her studies in 1906 to work full-time for the WSPU.

    From the works we saw in the exhibition I’d say that she was a talented artist with a lot of promise, but her activism meant that her art was firmly relegated to second place. However, she used her talents for the cause.

    The exhibition includes some of Sylvia’s designs for the WSPU including a  the ‘Holloway brooch’, presented to the suffragettes who had been on hunger strike,

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    The Holloway brooch (image source here)

    and a banner and a tea set with the Suffragette’s symbol (they wouldn’t have used the word “logo” at the beginning of the 20th Century), the “Angel of Freedom”.

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    The WPSU tea set (image source here)

    Given my personal background and my work, the most interesting part of the exhibition was the selection of paintings and drawings of working women.

    In 1907 she spent several months touring industrial communities documenting the working and living conditions of women workers. Her combination of artworks with written accounts provided a vivid picture of the lives of women workers and made a powerful argument for improvement in working conditions and pay equality with men. (Tate Britain website)

    The pictures feature women at work in the potteries in Stoke on Trent, the Leicester shoe-making industry, and a Glasgow cotton mill. The style of these paintings is very much “social realism”, clearly intended to

    draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions. (MOMA website)

    I snapped a few of the paintings during our visit (they’re not great pictures – I took them at an angle to minimise the reflections in the cover glass)

    There were several featuring women  working in the potteries in Stoke on Trent. In this picture women can be seen “scouring” and stamping the maker’s name on the “biscuit” (the fired but unglazed ware). “Scouring” involved removing flint dust from the biscuit, leading to exposure to crystalline silica which, over a number of years, can lead to the debilitating lung disease, silicosis.

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    In this painting the worker is finishing off the edges of unfired plates on a “whirler”. Again she would have been exposed to dust containing respirable crystalline silica.

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    The next two pictures (charcoal sketches) show workers in the “dipping shed” where the glaze was applied. Although at this time lead based glazes were still widely used even though alternative glazes were available.

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    Workers applying the glazes could have significant lead exposures leading to industrial lead poisoning which can lead to many different symptoms such as anaemia, collic  and peripheral neuritis (where movement in the fingers hands and arms can be affected). Lead is also a teratogen – affecting the unborn child. And many pregnant workers suffered stillbirths and the mental development of surviving children would have most likely been affected.

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    According to the gallery’s caption the only reasons fro the continued use of lead based glazes was commercial – i.e. they were cheaper ten the less toxic alternatives. Profits came before the health of the workers. Regulation of lead has reduced the risk considerably in modern industry. The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 require that

    No employer shall use a glaze other than a leadless glaze or a low solubility glaze in the manufacture of pottery. (Regulation 4)

    Unfortunately there will always be ruthless employers who will disregard the health of their employees in the pursuit of profit and the Regulations have played an important role in preventing lead poisoning. That’s why it’s important to resist calls for “deregulation”.

    There were a number of paintings of women working on cotton processes. Sadly not from my home county of Lancashire, but from a mill in Glasgow

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    The caption to this picture tells us of how Sylvia was told of how the workers were made sick by the heat and the “bad air” when they first began working in the mills.

    Although there were no pictures to illustrate this in the exhibition, Sylvia visited my home town of Wigan and met with women who worked in the coal mining industry. Writing about the ‘pit-brow lassies’ :

    In spite of their great strength and the arduous labours they perform, they are, like most other women workers, very poorly paid… A bankswoman earns from 1s 10d to 2s 4d; whilst a banksman, doing exactly the same work gets from 4s 9d to 5s a day. It is this question of underpayment that is at the root of most of the hardship and suffering.

    Sylvia Pankhurst speaking in the East End of London in 1912

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    Sylvia remained a radical all her life, opposing the First World War, supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, helping Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and led the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. She was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but was expelled for opposing the leadership (she considered them too right wing). This exhibition revealed another aspect to her life and character.

    William Blake at the John Rylands Library

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    While we were over in Manchester a couple of weeks ago we called into the neo-gothic John Rylands library on Deansgate. Built in the 1890′s as a memorial to a local millionaire cotton master, today it’s part of the University of Manchester. Although it’s a serious academic resource containing many thousands of rare books, the library welcomes visitors to view the magnificent architecture and they also host  exhibitions, usually book related.

    John Rylands Library

    Currently, one of the exhibitions focuses on books containing prints of engravings by William Blake and others, such as the Pre-Raphaelites and members of the Arts and Crafts movement who were influenced by him.

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    (Picture source : Wikipedia)

    The University set a group of students, supervised by art historian Colin Todd, on detective work to find examples of books containing designs and engravings by Blake amongst the library’s collection. They succeeded in locating about 350 engraved plates designed by Blake in the collection, many of which are included in the exhibition.

    The books containing the engravings include Edward Young’s poem Night Thoughts, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories Robert Thornton’s, Virgil and Blake’s own Book of Job.

    Image from The Book of Job, William Blake, 1825

    Blake was a highly skilled engraver and the prints are incredibly detailed. He was inventive too, developing a technique known as relief etching which allowed him to print words and images from a single plate.

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    The library have had The Book of Job and Night Thoughts digitised and they can be viewed online.

     

    A copy of the leaflet accompanying the exhibition can be downloaded from here.