What a stinking bastard day! No, that’s not quite accurate because the day was OK, it’s the evening that was a bastard but I’ll get to that later.
We had a nice lie in and breakfast before heading for Manchester Free Trade Hall where NUT teachers were discussing their pay claim. They were meeting to discuss what action to take in support of their pay claim which has been rejected by the Tories. I stood outside selling Socialist Worker with a comrade called Irene Davis as the delegates went in. Irene told me we were standing on the site of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ and although the name sounded familiar I didn’t know what it was. She enlightened me by explaining that thousands of workers had attended a meeting there in 1819 and that army troops had slaughtered dozens of innocent people with no provocation. Irene asked me if I would be prepared to address the meeting being held inside though the delegates would have to pass a motion first to allow mw to speak. I nervously agreed though the thought of addressing a big meeting was a bit scary.
I was taken into the meeting by Ann Robertson, the comrade who put John and Keith up last night and who is also a teacher. The hall was packed and there must’ve been at least a thousand people inside which made my knees wobble a bit. We made our way down to the front and sat down as the speakers on the platform began urging such ‘radical’ actions as one day strikes and going to arbitration, and these were supposed to be the ‘educated elite’! No one was calling for all out strike action which seemed to me, an ignorant miner, the obvious course of action because with us already out the Tories wouldn’t relish a fight against two powerful unions.
A motion was proposed to allow a striking miner to address the meeting, and after being seconded a vote was taken. To my disappointment, and a bit of relief, the motion didn’t get the two thirds majority needed but it was close apparently and that was encouraging. I momentarily considered storming the stage and speaking anyway but I didn’t have the confidence. When a young man took the microphone and introduced himself as a Christian teacher, then began quoting passages from the bible that proved that strikes were ‘evil’, I decided there was no point in me staying so I walked out.
Back outside I stood collecting with a bucket and was really pleased by the response I got as teachers left the hall, with some of them stopping to say they wished I had been given a chance to speak. Irene told them that a meeting was being held in a nearby pub at 12.30 and that I would be speaking there, everyone welcome. We set off for the pub with me carrying the bucket which was gratifyingly full and arm achingly heavy.
Inside the pub I met up with Gary who had also been denied the chance to speak at his meeting though he has been invited back tomorrow when he’s been assured he will be allowed to speak. There were about thirty people present and both Gary and myself spoke briefly before being asked the usual questions such as, ‘Why hasn’t there been a national ballot?’ and, ‘Why should miners be exempt from job losses?’ My response to the first question was that we had all been allowed a democratic vote in our own areas and everyone was allowed to voice their views. The result is that the majority of NUM members are out on strike, and because we are the majority the areas that are scabbing should join us because majorities should rule. As for job losses miners have always suffered from jobs being lost. In Durham alone 80,000 jobs have gone since Nationalisation in 1947 when the industry was supposedly given to the people. We got a good round of applause and received another £20, which when added to the bucket collection made a total of £74.82p. Gary is really impressed with both the organisational abilities of the SWP, and their politics, and has agreed to speak at a meeting this evening to be held in the same pub.
After the meeting Gary and me went with a comrade called Dick to a picket of Johnson’s Paints where the workers have been out on strike for 2 weeks in pursuance of a pay claim. It was interesting talking to the 5 pickets and swapping experiences but I got the impression that they weren’t too interested in what we had to say. We left after a while, mainly because it was bloody freezing but also because we had to collect our stuff from Hilary’s because her mother had arrived. Dick drove us and he was a mine of information about Manchester’s history, especially Peterloo. We thanked him for his trouble and the history lesson.
We met up with John and Keith who told us this morning’s picket at Agecroft had been boring and we had missed nothing. I asked them if they wanted to come along to an SWP meeting and at first they didn’t seem keen but when I told them the meeting was held in a pub they agreed. Keith was going to Central Branch with Gary, and John was coming with me to Salford. We would all meet up at our new lodgings later. We packed our bags for the move, and I put all coins into the bottom of my holdall which made it very heavy. Ann picked us up at 7.15 and we drove the short distance to the pub and parked outside. Hilary drove Keith and Gary to Central Branch then returned to join us in Salford because this is her branch.
The meeting was excellent with a full room to hear Roger Cox, a comrade from London, address the meeting. He was very sharp and knowlegeable, and we had an excellent debate on the strike. My contribution was well received and I tried to encourage John to speak but he was too shy. He seemed to enjoy the debate, though he was a bit put out by criticisms of Scargill. In the break I tried to explain to John that no one was above criticism, even if they are vastly superior to your average trade union leader. John remained unconvinced. The rest of the meeting went well and I was given a lot of envelopes by comrades containing money they had collected. I thanked them for their solidarity.
I felt elated about the money we had collected for the Womens Support Group but it was short lived because when we got to Ann’s car we found the back windows had been smashed and our bags were gone! I’d lost all my clothes, my bloody glasses, and all the coins we’d collected today! Fortunately the notes were safely in my pocket. John hadn’t been daft enough to leave money in his bag but he has lost all his clothes, and more importantly to him he’s lost the diary he’d been keeping for his kids when they grow up. I felt really sorry for him with one and was guiltily relieved that I always keep mine in my coat pocket. We cursed our stupidity at leaving our stuff in full view on the back seat. We should have left them in the boot, or bloody taken them with us! Still, no point crying over spilt milk. We did a quick scout around the area in the vain hope our bags would’ve been dumped with at least our clothes in them but no luck. I asked some kids if they’d seen anything but just got blank stares in response, little bastards!
Back at the car Ann was upset about the damage to her car and wondered what she should do. We went back into the pub and they had a whip round for us which raised £20. I offered John half but he refused and said he still had £30 in his pocket, which was kind of him. Anne was advised to report the theft and damage to the police, even though we knew they wouldn’t do anything. The main reason was so Ann could claim from her insurance. We drove the short distance to the local cop shop to make our report. A bored pig went through his routine and only perked up a bit when we gave our names and addresses and he asked what we were doing in Manchester. We naturally lied and said we were visiting friends but he gave us a shock by saying he was sure he’d seen us somewhere before. Bastard was just testing but Agecroft isn’t too far away and he could have seen us on the picket. We said we’d just arrived in Manchester tonight. He said it was highly unlikely they’d catch anyone. Surprise. Too bloody busy beating up miners!
Ann drove us slowly to Geoff Browns’s house in Prestwich and I apologised to her because I feel it was our fault for leaving temptation. She was very gracious and told me to forget it and put it down to experience.
We were given a warm welcome by our new hosts, Geoff and Julie Brown. They were very sympathetic when they heard about the theft and gave us tea and homemade cake. John was miserable as sin, and as soon as his mate arrived back they went to their room. Gary and me chatted about our meetings and I wasn’t too surprised when he told me that a committee man from Easington had spoken like an idiot, extolling the great virtues of Scargill and how we all had to do what he said, as if he is some kind of god, and he took all the money collected for union funds. To be fair I know a lot of lads from Easington and they are excellent so perhaps this lad was having an off night, and I know the money will be well used. Gary did manage to speak and was pleased about the reception he got. His confidence is growing, which is nice to see.
Our room is great and we both have a comfortable bed to sleep in. As usual Gary is snoring loudly and I’m about to join him. The only clothes I have left are on the floor, a pair of jeans, a shirt, a pair of socks and boots, a jacket and a coat.