Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riot

Russ Protest has written a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riots…

Seventy years ago this year an outside concert was scheduled just outside of the little town of Peekskill in upstate New York to raise funds for a civil rights organisation. The concert was to feature Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and others.

The concert never happened.

It was attacked by a racist mob. Welding clubs and brass knuckles and hurling rocks who smashed the venue and brutally assaulted the people there. In the hills overlooking the venue appeared a burning cross – symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. The police stood by and did nothing.

A week later the organisers held the concert again. This time they took security into their own hands. Some 3000 trade unionists formed a barrier right around the concert ground. This kept the concert safe from attack but there were snipers spotted in the surrounding hills so in an act of astonishing courage a handful of working people formed a human shield around Paul Robeson as he took to the stage.

The concert passed off peacefully but as the concert goers left to go home the cops diverted their cars and busses down back roads where they came under a hail of rocks from thousands of right wing thugs. Some pulled people out of the gridlocked cars and beat them to a pulp. People were brutalised, some were maimed.

The story of the Peekskill riots is the story of a flash point between the organised working class and the forces of reaction during a time of political instability. Ordinary people were split and disorientated by a barrage of witch-hunting, manipulation and fake news and turned against each other.

Sound familiar?

I’ve written up the story of the Peekskill riots in a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill riots.

It was something to do to drown out Lol’s chatting on a long train journey back from a Protest Family gig.

I tell the story of the riots, introduce the main characters, look at the political background of the US in the mid twentieth century and examine the parallels to the age of Trump, Charlottesville and the rise of the far right across the globe.

It’s been an interesting experience to write. I visited Peekskill and even interviewed one of the last surviving eyewitnesses. It’s not an academic book, I hope it rattles along telling a good yarn about very remarkable and brave people.

The far right are on the march all over the world and there are important lessons to be drawn from what happened at Peekskill and how the ordinary working folk responded to it. We have to hold the line!

The book is available from Bookmarks
https://bookmarksbookshop.co.uk/view/48996/Hold+The+Line+Echoes+of+Peekskill+riots

And is also available for Kindle
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07X9B4Q1L?ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_hw7ADbS6E884N&tag=kp025-21&linkCode=kpe

The book has it’s own website at https://holdthelinepeekskill.com/

Steve at the TUC

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Picture: Amanda Martin, published on Facebook.

Steve’s speech to the 2019 TUC Congress on behalf of the FBU:

President, Congress: Steve White, Fire Brigades Union.

On the 14th of June 2017 a fire occurred at Grenfell Tower in west London that killed 72 people. 72 people who had every right to believe that their homes had been built, maintained and refurbished with their safety from fire in mind. Those 72 people, and hundreds of others: bereaved, survivors, residents, deserve justice.

Last year, phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry considered the events of that night, considered 668 statements from firefighters, operational and in control, and heard oral evidence from 88 of them.

I want to thank our members, at the incident and in control rooms, who were faced with a situation that they were never trained to deal with, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to save as many lives as they could.

I want to pay tribute to every member who gave a statement to the Inquiry, re-living that night sometimes at great personal cost, and to the members that we witnessed day after day giving oral evidence to the Inquiry, honestly, and clearly to the best of their ability.

I also want to place on record our thanks for the immense work of FBU officials from around the country who ensured that every member who gave evidence to the Inquiry was supported by their trade union. Our message to our members is clear: The FBU have got your back.

Congress, I also want to pay tribute to the community who continue to respond to this tragedy with dignity and tenacity.

We are all still waiting for the Inquiry’s interim report.

It is bound to be critical of the London Fire Brigade.

It may also make criticisms of individual firefighters.

Rest assured that we will respond robustly if any of our members are attacked by the Inquiry. It is our duty to ensure that our members are not scapegoated for the failings of those above their pay grade, be they fire service bosses or government ministers.

Phase two, what happened before and after the fire, is unlikely to start until next year and may go on for years. The FBU will continue to participate in the Inquiry as long as necessary. We have made detailed submissions about the fire safety regime, deregulation and the failures of politicians over many decades.

We need to remind politicians that the people who lived in Grenfell Tower are not to blame for what happened.

We need to remind politicians that firefighters are not responsible for the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The owners and senior managers of the building, the construction firms, the contractors, those who sold and installed the cladding, the fire doors, the windows, all need to answer for their role in this tragedy; as must local councillors who made decisions to contract out the building and ignored their own residents’ concerns and, above all, Westminster politicians who watered down fire safety regulations, imposed austerity on the Fire and Rescue Service (and indeed on all of us) and who failed to respond to the advice of coroners, fire safety experts and the warnings given by this union.

Congress, I ask you to support us in our campaign, Grenfell: Never Again.

We seek to engage with the community and other campaigners to demand:

The removal and banning of all combustible cladding. (And comrades, I’m sure that you all saw pictures of the fire at Worcester Park in the early hours of yesterday morning and asked questions about its construction).

A national review of the Stay Put policy.

The strengthening of tenants’ rights.

New national structures for the Fire and Rescue Service, and

An increase in specialist fire safety officers.

Comrades, we must make sure that nothing like Grenfell Tower ever happens again.

Congress, I move.

Justice for Grenfell!

We might know a song about that (but you’ll have to ask us when you see us).

 

 

 

Homemade, Witty Placard Parade

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So you’re Boris Johnson. You’ve bided your time as Tory leader (and by default Prime Minister) in waiting, struck when Theresa May was at her weakest (and let’s face it that wasn’t hard) and now you’ve made it, you are Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Problem: You have a working majority of one vote, propped up by bribing the right wing, socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Solution: Take the UK out of the European Union, preferably with a deal but without if necessary, on 31st October, then call a general election, riding high on the headlines that you were the leader that succeeded where David Cameron and Theresa May failed, mopping up votes from the newly defunct Brexit Party, which was basically a home for Tory eurosceptics who didn’t believe that the Tories could achieve leaving the EU anyway, and return with a bigger majority from which you can claim a mandate to further your neo-liberal agenda.

Problem: Parliament (in which you have a working majority of one) is set against a no-deal Brexit and prepared to legislate against one. They also voted down Theresa May’s deal and every subsequent amendment as not good enough and, when given the option to create their own deal, failed to come up with an alternative. Worse, the EU have been kind but clear that there is no other deal on the table. Worse still the DUP, on whom you rely for a parliamentary majority, will not tolerate any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK and, despite talk of it, there is no alternative to a hard border between the UK and the EU in Ireland once tariff-free trade ends.

If Parliament legislates against leaving the EU without a deal and there is no other deal to be done the best that you can hope for is a further extension of Article 50, the worst a successful vote of no confidence moved by Jeremy Corbyn. In any event plans to call a snap election on the back of Brexit delivered on time would be in tatters.

Solution: Prevent Parliament from sitting, using what you’ve previously described as an arcane and undemocratic procedure, so that they can’t legislate to stop you leaving the EU by any means necessary on 31st October, tell some bold lies[1] in friendly media outlets and tough it out.

Problem: Shutting down democracy has brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets, on the day prorogation was announced, at the weekend and more protests are set to follow.

Gird your loins comrades, keep fighting for democracy[2] and let’s figure out what it takes to make toughing it out no longer an option for Johnson. Let’s get the Tories out.

We know so may songs about him.

Steve

[1] Our post-truth, polarised world gives new meaning to the word “lie”. Politicians, press and the people all know he’s lying, it just doesn’t seem to matter.

[2] The real stuff, not what a bunch of Old Etonians debating in a medieval building pass off as democracy.

Bury FC

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Bury FC’s crest celebrates the town’s industrial history: metalworking, wool, textiles and paper making.

Bury FC, formed in 1885, twice winners of the FA Cup, promoted last season to League One, have been expelled from the English Football League. The gutless EFL expressed their deep regret, their fit and proper person test neither fit nor proper, taking no responsibility for overseeing the sale of the club in December 2018, for a pound, to asset-stripper Steve Dale, hiding behind “the integrity of the competition”[1] and not for the first time.

Steve Dale, who sold the club’s trophies to Bury Heritage, a company that he owns, who sold a £7m debt owed by the club to RCR Holdings, a company wholly owned by his daughter’s partner. Steve Dale, who didn’t pay the bills or the players’ or staff wages. Steve Dale, who on BBC Radio 5 Live said these things:

I never went to Bury.

It’s not a place I frequented.

So for me to walk away from Bury and never go back is a very easy thing to do.

I didn’t even know there was a football team called Bury to be honest.

I’m not a football fan.

If you’re a football fan then Steve Dale is a monster, and he’s not alone, the modern game breeds them: the Oystons, Sisu Capital, Francesco Becchetti, the list goes on.

Becchetti of course, tried to destroy Leyton Orient and it was a sustained and determined fans’ campaign, led by Leyton Orient Fans Trust, that was instrumental in the club being bought, some might say rescued, by Texan investor Kent Teague under the guidance of lifelong fan and Dunkin’ Doughnuts chairman, Nigel Travis.

But owners come and go, as do managers, players, trophies, good times and bad. The only constant is the fans, often generations of them.

When we wrote Brisbane Road, it was as fans. The song celebrates all the things that Orient’s not: nobody takes out a Sky Sports subscription to watch the O’s on the television, nobody picks Orient players for their Dream Team, and all the things that it is: Doug’s multiple message board personalities, Lee Steele’s winning goal at Oxford, visiting fans taking the piss out of Chris Tate’s hair and singing “we can see you washing up” to the residents of the newly-built flats in the corners of the ground are all parts of our heritage.

Two years ago, it could’ve been us. Today it’s Bury. In the next couple of weeks it could be Bolton Wanderers too.

Football is about community, social fabric, belonging, yet is bought and sold by billionaires and taken away, re-packaged and marketed to us as a product. We have been consistently let down by those trusted with the governance of our game and it has to change. We are not customers, we are fans, we are supporters. Join your team’s supporters’ trust or if there isn’t one, start one. Demand a voice before you think you might need it. And turn off your TV.

Squires

David Squires says it best.

Solidarity with Bury fans today, let’s hope they can re-build.

Steve

  1. On 29th April 2017, already-relegated Orient’s last home game of the season was interrupted in the 85th minute by a pitch invasion, the fans protesting that Francesco Becchetti was deliberately destroying the club. An hour later, once the stadium had been cleared, the game resumed and the players of both sides idly passed the ball around to complete the final eight minutes play. This farce was at the EFL’s insistence to “protect the integrity of the competition”.

The Progress of Society is Not Linear

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The Centre for Social Injustice

It’s what Supersonic is all about.

The press report this week that Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank, The Centre For Social Justice, recommends increasing the state pension age to 70 by 2028 and 75 by 2030 because, they say, we’re living longer and we are unaffordable.

In 1948, when the state pension was introduced, a man could expect to live for 12 years in retirement and a woman 19, approximately 16% and 24% of their lives respectively[1]. The current state pension ages improve those percentages to 24% and 26%, the proposals from the Centre for Social Justice worsen them to 18% and 20%, with a man receiving his pension for just 17 years on average and a woman hers for 19 years.

But those are just numbers without considering the real hardship of people that can’t afford a workplace pension or the effects on your health and well being of being forced to work full time into old age. Those who would keep you in the workhouse, such as the Centre’s head, Andy Cook, would have you believe that work is good for you whatever your age, and stealing your state pension is a means to “help older people to remain in work”[2].

Nor do the numbers speak of inequality, the life expectancy of Blackpool man (74.7) compared to Kensington and Chelsea man (83.3), the widening of that divide with time or the socioeconomic back story.

The reality will be to make death in service the norm. This isn’t economic good sense, it’s class warfare.

Duncan Smith? We know a song about him. Hard work? We know a song about that too.

Steve

  1. Office of National Statistics
  2. Daily Mirror, 17 August 2019