Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

For the Attention of Mr Roy Nash

(November 1958)

From The Newsletter, 29 November 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

I wonder if the building trade union leaders who have penalized Brian Behan and others for associating with The Newsletter remember a weekly called The Trade Unionist (An Independent Paper) which appeared briefly in the early months of 1926?

It carried front-page articles, signed ‘Militant’, demanding preparation by the movement for the show-down which duly came in May of that year, with the General Strike.

It reported quite fully, and in a friendly spirit, the ‘special action conference’ called by the National Minority Movement.

It published a review of Trotsky’s Where Is Britain Going?, which book, it said, ‘puts to the British Labour movement certain searching questions which can perhaps all be reduced to the one most searching and most unseemly of all questions – ‘Is it in earnest, or is it playing a game of humbug and hypocrisy?’

‘Get the book,’ it urged readers, ‘and don’t worry one way or the other with the personal gibes. Get hold of the arguments. Face the question it raises, honestly and fearlessly.’

The chairman of the editorial board of this independent and unorthodox little paper was Richard Coppock, then not yet Sir Richard, but already general secretary of the National Federation of Building Trader Operatives.

Associated with him was Jack Tanner, Amalgamated Engineering Union, now of IRIS.

Chuck it, Holmes

Walter Holmes is annoyed because the national industrial rank-and-file Conference called by The Newsletter got a substantial amount of publicity in the Press.

It wasn’t like this (he implies in his Worker’s Notebook in the Daily Worker of November 20) ‘thirty years ago’, in the days of the National Minority Movement.

‘Have the Press lords changed their attitude as to reporting the activities of revolutionary Marxism?’ The inference you are supposed to draw – wait for it – is that the capitalist Press LIKES us.

Well, as it happened, I had had occasion, shortly before reading that paragraph in the Daily Worker, to look at the report of the annual conference of the National Minority Movement ‘thirty years ago’ in The Times of August 27, 1928.

It filled nineteen column-inches – as good a showing, I think, as any paper gave our Conference, and a great deal better than most!

So what?

Let’s face it – these elderly cocks of innuendo and slander won’t fight any more now. Times aren’t what they were for Stalinist techniques of discrediting political rivals. Facts must be checked, style-cramping though this may be.

Inside jobs

When a case comes to light such as the recent affair of a government department’s mailing list being supplied by one of its officials to a private organization of property-owners; for them to use in their propaganda work, one wonders how much of this sort of thing goes on that we never hear about.

After all, the higher reaches of the Civil Service are overwhelmingly filled with men of upper-class connexions.

And there have been some notorious precedents – for instance, Robert Morant and the Cockerton judgment.

In the 1890s, when there was no State provision for secondary education, the elected local School Boards which administered the State primary schools in those days began in some areas – in London, Bradford and Sheffield particularly – to set up what were called Higher Grade Schools.

In these schools secondary education with a marked technical and scientific basis was provided, free of charge in the main.

Not only did they give working-class children opportunities that were not elsewhere available to them, they even attracted quite a few pupils away from the expensive private grammar schools. The heads of the latter set up a committee to fight the Higher Grade Schools.

Holiday task

A reactionary official in the Education Department, Robert Morant, allowed an enemy of the School Boards access to the Department’s papers in order to help him prepare a case showing that the School Boards were acting beyond their legal powers by sponsoring secondary schools.

Morant let his friend into the office early one Boxing Day morning, when none of his colleagues was about, so as to minimize the danger of discovery.

With Morant’s help, a court action was successfully brought against the London School Board, and the ‘Cockerton judgment’, in 1899, destroyed the legal basis of the Higher Grade Schools.

Working-class children’s chances of getting secondary schooling were thus severely reduced, and technical education in England received a blow the effects of which are still with us.

But Morant got promotion and a knighthood, and the biography of him by Bernard Allen, published in 1934, is subtitled: A Great Public Servant.

Keep Left

A Merseyside correspondent tells me that the Birkenhead Corporation are now rehousing the families from Morpeth Buildings and are proceeding to demolish these tenements.

They have their grim place in history as the scene of the worst police brutality during the unemployment riots in Birkenhead in September 1932.

On that occasion the police were let loose to do a sort of ‘Famagusta’ against the most militant sections of the local unemployed, who had been demonstrating for better relief payments.

They raided Morpeth Buildings in the small hours, smashing the windows, breaking in the doors, dragging men from their beds and savagely beating them, just to ‘teach them a lesson’.

That Morpeth Buildings should be demolished is doubtless a good thing; but the memory of these outrages ought not to be allowed to die with them.

As it happens, the October issue of our bright contemporary, the young socialists’ paper Keep Left, carried an article about the affair and its outcome in its series on working-class history.

Last updated on 17.10.2011