Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Mr Justice Ron and the Pickets

(October 1958)

From The Newsletter, 25 October 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Seeking to join two friends who were picketing one of the entrances to the McAlpine site on London’s South Bank, I was turned back by a constable who explained to me that there was a law limiting the number of pickets to two.

I told him that I took an interest in these matters and was surprised to hear that the law was so precisely worded. He then referred me to ‘the Chief’.

This two-pipped officer (addressed by his equals in rank as ‘Ron’) made the position clearer. The Conspiracy Act of 1875, he reminded me, ‘allows peaceful picketing’ – ‘and we interpret that as meaning, for an entrance of this size, not more than two pickets’.

Having duly joined the throng parading up and down on the other side of the road with placards, I kept thinking I noticed the police patrols on the same pavement deliberately stepping out of their way in order either to force us into the gutter or to get between us and the site.

Oddly enough, as this happened on one occasion, I did hear one policeman remark to another: ‘That’s right, close it up there.’

Any WEA class in the London area that is studying British institutions could not do better, for its field work, than come down to the South Bank and watch our democratic police force on the job, protecting Capital from Labour in strict accordance with the law.

‘A nation that oppresses others ...’

Observations along the south bank of the Thames have recently shown that there are a great many Irish plainclothes policemen. Employment of Irishmen is a tradition in the Special Branch that goes back to its foundation.

The pretext for introducing political police in this country was the need to protect Queen Victoria, at her Jubilee in 1887, from any hostile attention from Irish patriots.

Officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the militarized police force which then held Ireland down, were brought to London to organize the Special Branch.

Superintendent Quinn, who later became head of the Branch as Sir Patrick Quinn, was the first police superintendent to be knighted (1919).

The police forces of the Indian Empire were also drawn upon for Special Branch service from the earliest years. No doubt we can expect police officers with experience in Cyprus to be brought into Special Branch work in the near future.

Private faces in public places

‘It is said that King Charles I was a bad king, but in fact he was an excellent husband and father.’ This hoary example of confused thinking came to my mind in Hyde Park on Sunday during the South Bank workers’ demonstration.

A colleague of mine was being told by an acquaintance that The Newsletter had been too hard on McAlpine: he is really a kindly fellow, it seems, who gives a lot of money to a home for deaf people.

Unfortunately, just as this information was being imparted, the police were refusing permission for the workers’ spokesmen to use a microphone and loud-speaker to put their case across to the crowd who had come to hear it.

Where it is a matter of hearing the truth about how he treats his workers, philanthropist McAlpine prefers people to be deaf.

Connolly on McAlpinism

James Connolly, perhaps the greatest workers’ leader these islands have produced to date, was among many other things a brilliant popularizer of the basic ideas of socialism.

In his Labour, Nationality and Religion (1910) there is a passage which has a grim relevance to the background of a certain current industrial dispute.

The writer is explaining why slavery, which once seemed even to churchmen a perfectly natural and proper thing, has come to be regarded as wicked.

‘A Negro slave in the Southern States of America was told by his owner to go up and fasten the shingles on the top of the roof of his master’s dwelling.

‘“Boss,” said he to the slaveowner, “if I go up there and get killed you will lose that 500 dollars you paid for me; – but if you send up that Irish labourer and he falls down and breaks his neck you won’t even have to bury him, and can get another labourer tomorrow for two dollars a day.”

‘The Irish labourer was sent up.

‘Moral: Slavery is immoral because slaves cost too much.’

Last updated on 11.10.2011