Workshop history in the making

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bryan bamford nv
Joined: 19-04-05
Jun 21 2005 05:32
Workshop history in the making

WORKSHOP: History in the making.

Saturday 25th, June 10.30 - 14.00 & 15.30 - 19.00

at the COMMON PLACE, Wharf Street downtown Leeds,

near Leeds railway station:

Struggling across the generations.

10.30: Martin Kraemar (Warsaw, Poland):

Think locally, act globally - lets find out how a revolution went around the world on shop-floors.

11.30: Dave Chappel:

How I speak to workers & why they respond.

12.30: Surprise speaker.

13.30: Working class lunch (this ios not charity)

15.30: Malcolm Chase:

Using archives to find out about Chartism (1839-2005) in your community.

16.30: Brian Bamford.:

How I started to hear Northern Voices - street corner journalism now & then.

17.30: Ultimate surprise speaker.

18.30: celebrity dinner (guaranteed 100% Cherie-free)


Malcolm Chase: has taken an active part in the History Workshop initiative during the 1970s. Today he is a widely recognised expert on the earlier British Labour movement, actively working in continued education for communities.

Martin Kraemar travellas an agricultural worker in Rumania, Germany & Poland in the 1990s. He has spent the las years in Cuba, Soviet & Czech factory archives to explore the continuing legacy of Council Communism. Takes part in Free Fresco Academy.

Dave Chapple has opposed the demolition of the Public Mail Service in Britain as a shop-steward. He is active in the movement of local Trade Union Councils. He is conducting extensive oral history research among working class activists.

Brian Bamford is a maintenance electrician by trade, arrested twice & imprisoned once for opposing British nuclear disarmament in 1962, and imprisoned again in the 197os, following an industrial dispute in which he supported some Asians. He works today as part of a publishing project called 'Northern Voices'.


Sunday, 26th, June & Monday 27th, June:

11.00 - 21.00 at Oblong Creative Resource Centre, 47, Westfield Rd., LS3 DG1.

LABORATORIES: another world:




reintroducing forgotten games - offer

modern adaptations - inspire new

creative activities by North german Toy Museum.


bryan bamford nv
Joined: 19-04-05
Jun 29 2005 20:15

INTRODUCTION to speaker Brian Bamford:

Brian Bamford is now editor of Northern Voices: a radical journal dedicated to covering local issues, the arts, theatre, poetry, films, and northern life from a radical libertarian perspective.

In 1960, after being a local leader in Manchester of the national strike of engineering apprentices, he became an anarchist and joined the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation (SWF). Later in February 1963 he went to Spain with his wife and became involved with the F.I.J.L.—Federacion Iberia de Juventudes Libertarias. While living and working in Spain in the 1960s he supplied information to the F.I..J.L. and wrote reports for their paper Nueva Senda as well as the British anarchist press.

In the early 1960s, he was a leader in the strikes of engineering apprentices in the North West of England. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s he was a shop steward and activist in textiles, engineering in the North of England and the shipyards in Gibraltar. During much of this time he was an industrial correspondent for Freedom, working with Peter Turner and later with others like Charles Crute. He still holds a Freedom press card which he used for gaining entry to Serbia at the fall of the dictator Milosovic and Albania during the political crisis there in 1997.

He is now both a trade union and trades union council secretary, and an activist on the Manchester Social Forum.



First I must dispute the portrayal of me in the publicity for this meeting as ‘probably the most black-listed electrician in NORTHERN ENGLAND.’ It would be a tall order indeed, to meet such criteria. I doubt that I could ever meet such criteria: which in Manchester must go to the former DAF electricians who worked on the Manchester Piccadilly building site.

Yet at a wedding last weekend a boss involve with ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION got drunk and said: ‘It’s not the Joint Industry Board (JIB - a body composed of the employers organanisation and the union Amicus), who are operating the black-list of electricians, it is us in the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), who are doing the black-listing.’ And he added: ‘We‘ve got all of you on our blacklist, including your known associates.

Tony Jones, a Manchester electrician, who overheard the boss’s remark commented to me: ‘I don’t know what they make of you Brian~ as a maintenance electrician.

A maintenance electrician is a rather different animal to a contracting electrician: his work in maintaining machinery is slower and less hectic. In a sense we are the cart-horses and they, the contracting electricians, are the greyhounds.

So all I am is a known associate of these Manchester contracting electricians, who are in dispute with the Electrical Contractors’ Association. But I’m a bit of a marginal extra in that drama to these lads. these street-corner activists.

Anarchists and Jews, according to Max Weber, tend to be marginal categories. Now the advantage of being marginal, that is partly, but not fully integrated into society. The advantage is that it may be easier to observe the ’seen but, unnoticed features of society.

So to hear NORTHERN VOICES better or to grasp the voices of the NORTH with greater resonance; it may necessary to leave the NORTH temporarily and to then come back to the north.

By going to Spain as a tin-pot ’teenage terrorist’ in the 1960s, it was possible to come back and see the common place - to see the everyday world, I’d known as a lad

as ANTHROPOLOGICALLY STRANGE. That’s why Wittgenstein recommends that we dig our own back-garden you won’t have to dig very deep he said, to find something of interest.

Now take Bill Bryson, the travel writer, he is an outsider, he is marginal to our English way of life, and a foreigner, and American in fact.

He writes in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’:

‘One of the great surprises to me upon moving North was discovering the extent it felt like another country. Partly it was the look and feel of the North ~ the high, open moors and big skies, the snug stone villages of the Dales and lakes.

And partly it was to do with the accents, the different words, the refreshing sometimes startling frankness of speech. But mostly, what differentiated the North from the South, was the exceptional sense of economic loss. Of greatness passed when you drove through places like Preston of Blackburn. If you draw an angled line between Bristol and The Wash, you divide the country into two halves with roughly 27 million people on each side. Between 1980 and 1985, in the southern half they lost 103,600 JOBS. In the Northern half in the same period they lost 1,032,000 jobs. Almost 10 times as many.

And still, he says in 1995, they are still shutting the factories.’


So how did I come to get mixed up with street corner journalism and hearing NORTHERN VOICES?

Well I suppose it all started around 1960: MAY 1960.

In May 1960, I was living a bit of a double-life: I was going on marches supporting CND and Ban-the Bomb and opposing apartheid in South Africa. I was politically a Young Liberal and in the local Liberal Party. In my spare time I was mixing with the local lower middle-class in Rochdale and Manchester and even briefly dating one of the Town Clerk’s daughters.

But at work, on the shop-floor, I was and apprentice electricians working in a big factory and taking my lunch breaks with working men, and sometimes going on boozy nights out with them. Then in May 1960, an engineering apprentice strike broke out in Glasgow and the lads up there set up an apprentice strike committee.

On that Committee were a few now familiar faces: Alex Ferguson, now manager of Manchester United; the comedian Billy Connelly, and Gus MacDonald, who is I think now a Labour politician and a Lord.

The strike spread South from Glasgow as a snowball strike and soon hit Manchester; where another apprentice strike committee was set-up. One day in May 1960, this snowball strike came to my suburban town of Rochdale: with its engineering factories ~ big, medium and small.

I was pulled into that strike and became one of the local leaders of that strike. So from exotic protests, such as the Ban-the Bomb; I was forced to face a new set of problems: those of my own backyard and factory.

So with Wittgenstein I was having to do street-corner anthropology; something which, for me, must inevitably lead to street-corner journalism and street-corner sociology. I still kept up my Ban-the-Bomb activities and later went to jail for that, but in a way my shopfloor activities were more dangerous.

I had been working in the Drawing Office for a few months as an apprentice electrical draftsman when the apprentice strike began. Later, after this strike, I was back on the shopfloor; perhaps this was because I was the only white-collar apprentice to strike.

The aim of this strike was for more money proportional to craftsmen. But it was also against the use of apprentices as cheap labour; it was in favour of Day School for all apprentices; it was for the right of apprentices to represent themselves as kind of apprentice shop stewards.

Remember that in those days the apprenticeship in Britain was 5 years and sometimes, because some of us left school at 15 years, 6 years. Lads then didn’t come out of their time until they were 20 years-old. And at that time many of them went into the army to do their National Service: it was possible for those doing an apprenticeship to get a deferment most unapprenticed labour went to do their National Service at 18-years.

Thought the strike was probably partly inspired by the young communists in Glasgow, during the strike the trots of the Socialist Labour League had produced daily newsletters about the strike as it progressed and snowballed South. So when we got back to work, I and some of the younger lads on the shopfloor started our own paper for apprentices called ‘Progress’. It was a duplicated sheet, produced at home on a flat-bed duplicator. And because we didn’t fill it with political tripe and ideology it took off on the shopfloor.

rising in sales to 1,000 a month and priced 2d a copy.


We had articles like: ‘ARE FOREMEN NECESSARY’ and nasty interviews with union bosses and reports of incidents of the shopfloor concerning apprentices and bosses. We were naming names of bosses and supervisors and union officials.

After about 6 months and 4 issues of ‘PROGRESS’, I was called to a meeting in Bolton with the then Communist Party bosses of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) at what was their regional head office. This committee warned me about my activities.

That was about January 1961. But I was by then an anarchist, possibly a bit big-headed, and was full of myself as sales shot up on the shopfloor. The bosses didn’t like being ridiculed, because even though a lot of the writing in PROGRESS was of a schoolboy quality they knew their workers were reading the stuff and laughing at them.

I can see now it couldn’t continued and in February 1961 I was sacked. At first I thought this might be an advantage and would give me more time to produce the ‘PROGRESS’. But of course once I was off the shopfloor, and removed from the environmental culture of the factory my source of material and stories dried up. It then became impossible to write about something which I was no longer involved in; being now in the dole queue at 20 years-old.

Only later, after I had been abroad in Franco’s Spain - working with the young Spanish libertarians of the FIJL for 2 years - and writing in English for the their publication ‘Nueva Sender’ (New Way); and reporting on the shanty towns of Barcelonetta and other parts of Barcelona, was I able to return and produce another apprentice publication.

In the Autumn of 1964, the Manchester Apprentice Wages & Conditions Committee was set-up in Manchester. This Committee was controlled by young communists in the Amalgamated Engineering Union, but there was a Socialist Labour League (later Workers’ Revolutionary Party) presence. These groups were soon at each others throats and the trot group split away before the national apprentice strike was held in November 1964.

At the same time the SLL Trot group called a rival strike of apprentices for February 1965. We, that is the Manchester anarchists/anarcho-syndicalists participated on the Manchester Wages & Conditions Committee and launched another shoopfloor apprentice publication. This time we called it ‘Industrial Youth’. This publication ran from Autumn 1964 until the end of 1966. It was sold outside Technical Colleges to night school students and reached a readership locally of a few thousands.

It failed, in my view, because it didn’t trigger the formation of any apprentice organisation or ongoing body or rank & file movement of apprentices.


‘Northern Voices’ comes out of this and other traditions:

Let me turn to what GERALD BRENNAN, the amateur anthropologist writes about Spain:

‘The newspaper has always played an immense part in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. By the end of 1918 more than 50 towns in ANDALUCIA had libertarian newspapers of their own. Many articles in local papers were sent in by uneducated men and rewritten by the editor before publication. Thus the paper was not merely an organ of propaganda but a pulpit.’


Similarly the alternative papers in this country, which came out in the 1970s were in this street-corner tradition. I was involved in the founding of one: the ‘Rochdale Alternative Paper’ (RAP), which ended up with sales of 7,500 locally.

So it is in this tradition that our journal ‘Northern Voices’ finds itself.

But the requirement of this tradition is listening to your readership - asking what’s really going on here, and not superimposing an ideological reality; but discovering everday life as it is lived and working within that reality. In about 2 years of publishing ‘Northern Voices’ and digging our own back garden, we’ve found all sorts of extraordinary things: from a murderer in Ashton-under-Lyne who sung duets with the man who ultimately hung him.

To greedy developers and dozy councillors in Greater Salford trying to seize green field sites.

To a greedy developer ‘Countryside Properties’ in Rochdale, applying for planning permission to build an urban village on the former site of what was the biggest asbestos factory in the world.

To the case of the blacklisted Manchester electricians, who sprang up at us out of the Manchester pavements and have stayed with us ever since.

And sometimes the stories come knocking at the door; as in the case last week in the Rochdale Magistrates’ Court. That was the case, which started off with a simple matter of ‘Criminal Damage’ to a motor vehicle when a Victor Meldrew character backed his car into me, while I was tethering a goat to a fence. The goat’s owner is a friend of mine. Now in the course of this collision, I happened to scratch the boot of the car with a pair of pliers that I use for purposes of tethering the goat.

Now blow me if the local police didn’t charge me with Criminal damage to the car and when they came to arrest me. They came on a Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, while I was still in my pyjamas busy emptying some tea-leaves on the front garden. They came in mob handed; 2 men and a woman - made me get dressed in front of them and then had the cheek to arrest me for indecent exposure. The case continues!!!


I suppose what I am arguing against here is an excess of romanticism and ideology on the British left. What I’m calling for is some sort of balance between exotic activities and, what some may see as the boring and the everyday.

Because despite all the newspaper headlines which will undoubtedly accompany the G8 demonstrations: some of which may stick in the memory. What will count in the long run is I believe local activities, which deliver a thousand cuts to the local body politic and culture.