When I first discovered left-wing politics or more precisely Trotskyism in the early 1970s there was growing criticism that Marxism in practice prioritised class struggle above all else. The typical class militant was seen as telling women, black people, gays and lesbians that they must wait upon their demands till after the revolution. I was fortunate to join the Marxist Worker Group [MWG], a tiny organisation based in the North-West of England. Therein the question of women’s liberation was central. Within the group, we read and discussed passionately the works of Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zeitkin and Alexandra Kollontai, along with contemporary figures such as Sheila Rowbotham, whose groundbreaking book, ‘Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World’ was published in 1974. Over the decades I moved slowly and contrarily away from Marxism’s certitude towards Anarchism’s uncertainty. However, I will remain forever grateful to the members of MWG, such as the formidable Eileen Murphy for an argumentative, challenging beginning to my political life in which class, gender, race and sexuality were inextricably intertwined.
Thus, over the decades, I have sought to argue for this crucial intertwining in both practice and theory. In the Community and Youth Workers Union, along with Roy Ratcliffe himself a leading figure in MWG. we gained majority support in 1981 for a constitution, which placed the right to caucus at the very heart of the union’s democracy, emphasising the interrelatedness of class, gender, race and sexuality.
Ironically, given my opening remarks, as the years passed by, I found myself lamenting the disappearance of a class struggle analysis from both the professional and political spheres. For example, I wrote a piece for Youth & Policy’s History series, ‘Youth Work and Class: The Struggle that dare not Speak Its Name’, which argued at one point:
In focusing on a notion of the Class Struggle and its absence from Youth Work discourse I risk being seen as a geriatric Leftie, trying stubbornly to resurrect the discredited idea that class is primary, relegating the significance of other social relations. This is not at all my desire. My point is no more and no less than that the political struggle for equality, freedom and justice must have a rounded and interrelated sense of the relations of class, gender, race, sexuality and disability. None of them makes proper sense without reference to each other. If this inextricable knot is recognised, the silence about class within most Youth Work is deeply disturbing.
As best I can see and my glasses may need more than a cursory clean the outlook of the contemporary Left and its base in the professional classes is dominated by a version of ‘identity politics’, within which the inextricable knot is utterly undone. Identities compete rather than cooperate. Over forty years ago Heidi Hartmann worried about the unhappy marriage of Marxism and Feminism. She argued for a more progressive union. Today we witness a clash between trans and feminist politics that seems to defy any idea of reconciliation. In this context to ponder a relationship between trans and class politics seems to be off with the fairies. Whilst I am aware that trans activists have influenced the policies of trade unions, to what extent have they captured the hearts and minds of the memberships? On the ground the going might well be tough I remember the rows between women and men at one of the first 1984 national miners’ demonstrations in Mansfield. The miners were taken to task for chanting, ‘get yer tits out for the lads’. The women, the feminists didn’t write off the blokes. They argued their corner and, to use a trite phrase, good things happened. Perhaps I’m out of touch but as much as ever we need to renew a questioning yet forgiving dialogue across the identities. Such a culture of openness requires time, patience and guts. If we take courage, the rich need take care. For now, the ruling class remains delighted by our divisions, both feeding and feeding off our estrangement from one another. Certainly though, we can all, whoever we are, draw strength from the inspiring intervention in 1984/85 of the group, ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’. I can vouch for the impact of its courageous intervention upon the consciousness of both the men and women of the mining communities in Leicestershire and Derbyshire, where I was a committed activist.
Grateful thanks to Working Class History for reminding us of the following.
Yesterday, 11 February 1987, Mark Ashton, Irish communist and co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, died aged just 26. LGSM raised huge amounts of money for Welsh miners during the great strike of 1984-5, and both brought the ideas of the workers’ movement to the gay community and brought the idea of gay and sexual liberation to the workers’ movement.
Ashton died of complications related to AIDS, at a time when the UK government had failed to take action to combat HIV.
His friend, LGSM co-founder Mike Jackson, stated at a memorial event: “To this day, Mark’s loss remains deeply felt by so many family members and friends… Driven, principled and charismatic, Mark would have achieved so much more if he had not died so young.”
The group, and Mark, were immortalised in the fantastic 2014 film, Pride.
The armaments industry can’t believe its good fortune as its deathly goods pour into the Ukraine. To question any of this is to be derided as a Putin apologist. At the very least it’s worth reflecting on this article by Seamus Milne, which appeared in Comment is Free, well over eight years ago.
The threat of war in Ukraine is growing. As the unelected government in Kiev declares itself unable to control the rebellion in the country’s east, John Kerry brands Russia a rogue state. The US and the European Union step up sanctions against the Kremlin, accusing it of destabilising Ukraine. The White House is reported to be set on a new cold war policy with the aim of turning Russia into a “pariah state”
The US and EU have already overplayed their hand in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor the western powers may want to intervene directly, and the Ukrainian prime minister’s conjuring up of a third world war presumably isn’t authorised by his Washington sponsors. But a century after 1914, the risk of unintended consequences should be obvious enough – as the threat of a return of big-power conflict grows. Pressure for a negotiated end to the crisis is essential.
In 2023 it is neither fanciful nor neurotic to fear an escalation into a nuclear conflict.
Today Milne’s analysis would not be offered the time of the day – least of all in the war-mongering Guardian.
In an era within which the powerful fall over themselves to claim that they are the victims of misinformation and disinformation it is revealing to read Phil Scraton’s eloquent and painstaking dissection of the cover-up, following the tragic 1958 Munich air crash, an event deeply embedded in sporting history. It confirms the necessity to be ever wary of the official narrative, to preserve an intuitive mistrust of the State. In addition, see the post, Perverting the course of justice: “cover-up of the cover-up of the cover-up” which contains Phil’s chapter ‘Sanitising Hillsborough’ from his acclaimed book, ‘Hillsborough: the Truth’.
Munich 6 February 1958
The remarkable sequence of events that led to the crash-landing of a highly sophisticated British Airways’ Boeing 777 at London Heathrow on 17 January 2008 was greeted with astonishment by aviation specialists. Some two miles out from its destination, 500 feet above the ground, Flight BA03Munich lost the power necessary to land normally. It happened without warning and the alarm system also failed. The pilot manually glided the plane down, dipping its nose to maximise length and lifting at the last minute to hurdle the 3 metre perimeter fence. All energy lost to the final manoeuvre, the plane literally belly-flopped from 10 feet onto grass, severing the undercarriage and ploughing a 400 foot furrow to the edge of the runway. It was highly skilled flying demanding the calmest concentration. Without doubt, both pilots and the 14 person crew saved the lives of 136 passengers. In the immediate aftermath ‘experts’ theorised the most likely cause to be a freak, localised weather glitch or pilot error. Unanimously they agreed that a system failure within the plane was highly unlikely. They were wrong.
Over the last decade we have become so accustomed to flying, reassured by statistics proclaiming an impressive safety record well ahead of road or rail travel. Planes are technologically so advanced, runways kept in excellent condition, pilots highly trained and the aviation revolution has opened access beyond all expectations. While the cost to the environment and to communities is hotly debated the advances in safety are uncontested. Fifty years ago, however, things were massively different with much of the technology experimental, knowledge limited and conditions arbitrary.
Few people flew. As a young child I remember waving off my sister from Speke Airport, now a Marriott Hotel, as she left for Lourdes. She was the sole member of our extended family to have boarded a plane. Most of the men had been to sea, docking in ports throughout the world, but none had flown. I have flown more air miles in the last eight months than in the first 35 years of my life. Living in Belfast I fly far more than I use any other form of transport. Flying has become habitual and within advanced industrial societies it embraces all classes.
Back then, football was my passion and Billy Liddell my hero. Liverpool were in the Second Division and not doing so well. Most of my mates were Blues although those kids whose families were less committed supported Wolves or Spurs or whoever else was winning.
When Dad took me to Anfield he’d buy a seat in the main stand and lift me over the turnstile. I’d sit on his knee for the game. From the Main Stand, the Kop was unbelievable to watch. In the top right corner the ‘Boys Pen’ – girls not welcome – looked frightening but exciting. Wee scallies flicked lit matches down onto cloth-capped heads below safe in the knowledge that they were untouchable in the pen.
One day both would be my graduation although I’d sometimes slip into the Paddock, close to the halfway line. If Billy and our yellow jerseyed goalie, Tommy Younger, were special, I looked to United’s Duncan Edwards as an inspiration. If he could play for England so young, so could I! We didn’t have a telly but I read the reports and out the back of our house I imagined I had all the moves – I still do. How I wished Duncan had played for us …
It was a cold evening in February 1958 when the radio broke the news that a plane carrying Manchester United’s team had crashed at Munich airport. The manager, the likeable Matt Busby, and his renowned ‘Busby Babes’, were among the dead and injured. It was devastating news especially as playing in Europe was a recent development. We were stunned and I remember going to bed that night, looking at the pictures of the team in my Football Diary and praying that the great Duncan would be alright. Soon we knew. Seven players, three United staff, seven journalists and three others had died. Duncan Edwards and Matt Busby were critically ill. Among the journalists the legendary Frank Swift, former Manchester City goalie, was gone. I’d heard stories about his incredible agility and massive hand span. Duncan passed away 15 days later, and a co- pilot also died in hospital. Nine players, including the young Bobby Charlton, survived – as did the Captain, James Thain, and eleven others. While I was oblivious to what was happening in Manchester – despite it being just ‘up’ the East Lancs I’d never been there – the tragedy left an indelible impression on my childhood.
The European Cup had been introduced only three years earlier and in the 1956-7 season United were the first English team involved. They made it to the semis and lost to the brilliant Real Madrid who went on to win the trophy. The following year, having won the First Division, the Busby Babes were favourites. They beat Dukla Prague, the Czech champions, 3-1 on aggregate and in the quarter finals returned to the Balkans to play Yugoslavia’s Crvena Zvezda, known to us as Red Star Belgrade. On 14 January United beat Red Star 2-1 at Old Trafford.
The midwinter return was in Belgrade on 5 February. The club chartered a British European Airways’ 47 seater plane for players, staff and journalists and flew via Munich for refuelling. Both pilots were experienced captains and knew each other well. They landed the plane in Belgrade in challenging weather conditions. So serious was the situation that airport control was unaware of the plane’s arrival until it appeared from the gloom taxiing across the tarmac. The match was played and despite being 3-0 up at half-time United were held 3-3, winning the tie 5-4 on aggregate. Several others joined the return flight to Manchester bringing the passenger list to 38.
Landing at Munich the runway was laden with slush. It continued to snow. Before leaving for Manchester the crew checked the wings, ensuring no ice had formed. The pilots agreed de-icing was unnecessary. As Captain Thain had flown the outbound flight his friend Captain Rayment was at the controls and they had changed seats. As the plane accelerated along the runway the pilots realised there were problems with the engines and the pressure gauges on the instrument panel. They abandoned take-off and braked heavily, skidding to a halt through the slush. Apparently the cause was ‘boost-surging’ within the engines, a problem previously experienced with this type of airplane.
Clearance was given for a second take off attempt but again, as the plane picked up speed, the pilots aborted. This time the plane returned to the parking bay for checks. Photographs show clearly that there had been a fresh fall of snow on the tarmac adding to the slush. All passengers disembarked. The pilots and the station engineer decided against retuning the engines. A third take-off attempt was agreed. The wings were considered to be ice free but the runway was holding more snow together with an uneven distribution of slush. A quick inspection by airport staff, however, gave the go-ahead.
Reluctantly the team and other passengers returned to the aircraft. To overcome the engine problem the pilot opened the throttles slowly as the plane sped down the runway. It picked up speed towards take off and the pilots successfully dealt with some engine surging. Hitting the undisturbed slush, the plane lost speed, and running out of tarmac it ploughed across snow-laden grass, smashed the perimeter fence then hitting a house, a tree and a garage. The plane caught fire in small pockets but the main fuel tank remained secure.
What followed were moments of great heroism as uninjured staff and players climbed back into the plane to rescue those trapped and injured, including Matt Busby. Already 20 people were dead. Once the rescue services arrived the fires were doused and Captain Rayment was cut free. He died later.
That evening the German accident investigators arrived. Without proper lighting, they examined the wreck concluding that the wings were iced up, covered by the subsequent fall of snow. This early determination was established as the sole cause of the disaster. BEA sent an investigation team to Munich. It found no engine deficiencies. All indications, including the opinion of the station engineer, was that slush on the runway had caused the plane’s deceleration. Captain Thain agreed.
Yet the West German Traffic and Transport Ministry announced that ‘the aircraft did not leave the ground’ probably ‘as the result of ice on the wings’. Captain Thain was criticised for not providing a satisfactory explanation as to why he did not ‘discontinue the final attempt to take off’. Thus the blame was laid entirely at the door of the pilots. A finding of snow accumulation and slush on the runway, alongside inadequate inspection would have placed responsibility on the authorities.
In April 1958, behind closed doors, a full German Inquiry was held. The German senior investigator selected witnesses and, remarkably, the airport controllers were not called to give evidence. After much controversy and contradiction by ‘experts’ regarding ice on the plane’s wings it became clear that the Inquiry judge favoured icing as the disaster’s principal cause. ‘Other circumstances’ might have contributed, but it was now too late to determine their relevance. A year and a month after the disaster the Inquiry report was released. Ice on the wings was the ‘decisive cause’ and the pilots, Rayment (dead) and Thain (alive), were held responsible.
The BEA Safety Committee, however, refuted the report’s conclusions although it accepted that icing on the wings might have been a contributory factor. Slush on the runway, however, was judged crucial. Captain Thain was criticised for not occupying the seat in the cockpit appropriate for the senior captain. A devastated Thain, under suspension and his career in ruins, was determined to clear his name. Yet a further hearing in 1960 criticised his failure to ensure that the wings were free of ice and he was sacked. He had breached regulations by occupying the wrong seat. Manchester United’s negligence case against BEA was settled out of court.
As scientific knowledge developed further, investigative trials were held. In November 1965 a second inquiry was convened in Germany to consider the new evidence. Some consideration of slush on the runway was accepted but ice on the wings ‘was still to be regarded as the essential cause’. The following April the British Ministry of Aviation retorted that the ‘strong likelihood’ was ‘there was no significant icing during take off’ and ‘the principal cause of the crash was the effect of slush on the runway’. A decade beyond the disaster a British inquiry was convened. A key witness, previously not called – an aeronautical engineer first on the scene, stated categorically that the wings were not iced. Not only had the German authorities failed to call him to their inquiries but his written statement had been altered to omit a crucial element of his testimony.
Photographic evidence, it seemed, also had been altered. In 1969 the British inquiry report concluded that slush had impeded the nose wheel of the aircraft and the subsequent drag on all wheels was the ‘prime cause’ of its failure to lift off. Once deceleration had happened there was insufficient runway to pick up speed and ‘blame for the accident is NOT to be imputed to Captain Thain’. The German authorities rejected the findings. Captain Thain died of a heart attack at the young age of 54.
Mike Kemble, whose research has been extensive, states: ‘there is no doubt … that a cover-up was engineered by the West German authorities, possibly even as high as the Federal Government in Bonn. There was never going to be any doubt about the outcome from the first inspection of the crash site to the publication of the report’. He raises ten important unanswered questions regarding the disaster and its aftermath. His detailed research has drawn on many other sources including Captain Rayment’s son, Steve.
Reading Mike’s work and a range of other material for this overview has answered many of the questions and concerns that troubled me in the late 1960s. I have always been uneasy that Munich was considered an ‘accident’ due mainly to pilot error. My analyses of disasters over the last 20 years have shown a clear and unambiguous reluctance of authorities to accept responsibility for their culpable acts or omissions, for their institutionalised negligent custom and practice. It suits those in power, whether public bodies or private corporations, to lay blame with individuals at the coal face rather than look to their institutionalised failings.
What is clear from the above is the depth of injustice endured by the bereaved and survivors of Munich, not least Captains Thain and Rayment and their families who fought for so long to clear their names. The parallels with Hillsborough are clear, right down to the failure to call witnesses and the review and alteration of statements. It is my view, and one I hope that is shared by all who read this, that our commitment to Justice for the 96 should bring compassion for all who died and suffered in the cold of Munich 1958. Our common purpose should unite us. Life and justice is all – and football is but our shared passion. That passion, however, should never spill over into hatred, the vilification of the dead or exacerbating the suffering of the bereaved and survivors. As I write this my tears are in sadness for those lost and injured and for those whose lives were cut short by their pain. They are tears also in anger towards those from both cities who have dared taint the memory of the dead and desecrate the experiences of the bereaved and survivors.
Justice for Munich – Justice for Hillsborough Remembering those who died
Geoff Bent Roger Byrne (Capt) Eddie Coleman Duncan Edwards Mark Jones David Pegg Tommy Taylor Liam Whelan
Tom Cable (Club Steward) Walter Crickmer (Club Secretary) Tom Curry (Club Trainer) Alf Clarke (Manchester Evening Chronicle) Don Davies (Manchester Guardian) George Follows (Daily Herald) Tom Jackson (Manchester Evening News) Archie Ledbrooke (Daily Mirror) Bela Miklos (Travel Agent) Capt Ken Rayment (Pilot) Henry Rose (Daily Express) Willie Satinoff (Fan) Eric Thompson (Daily Mail) Frank Swift( News of the World) Bert Whalley (Club Coach)
Professor Phil Scraton is Professor of Criminology at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of two acclaimed works on the Hillsborough Disaster: “No Last Rights: The Denial of Justice and the Promotion of Myth in the Aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster”and “Hillsborough: The Truth”.
I’ve copied this from the In Defence of Youth Work website, which I still maintain. It may be of interest to some.
Months ago I promised that I would begin retrieving posts from what we dubbed the IDYW archive. It is belated but hopefully, this is a start.
The challenging piece, ‘The Great Youth Work Heist’ appeared on the IDYW website in January 2010. I had come across the author Lenny Sellars on a youth work forum hosted to its credit at that time by the magazine, ‘Children and Young People Now’, a commitment to debate long past. However, I knew Lenny only by his pseudonym, ‘God’s Lonely Youth Worker’. We bumped into one another in the bar at the November 2009 Federation of Detached Youth Work conference held in a miserably wet Wigan. My recollection is that we were a mite uncertain about one another, our opening exchanges somewhat stilted. We did discover though a common bond from outside youth work, namely the pits, appropriate seeing we were sat at the centre of the once vital Lancashire coalfield. We were both from mining families. Lenny had worked down the pit and out of it during the historic NUM Strike of 1984/85. My dad was the last Taylor to go underground but I had been a committed activist in Leicestershire and Derbyshire during the dispute. Stories swapped we warmed to one another.
Lenny became very involved for some years in the IDYW Campaign. For example, he led a discussion on ‘Where Are We Up To?’ and ‘Where Are We Going?’ at a December 2012 Seminar in Manchester. I reported.
The opening contribution to the first session around the Campaign’s sense of identity and purpose was led by the self-styled ‘raggedy-arsed’ Lenny Sellars from Grimethorpe, home of arguably the greatest colliery brass band formed in the revolutionary year of 1917. His forthright challenge might be summed up as follows:
Has our commitment to defending democratic youth work been compromised by our involvement in the wider campaign to defend jobs and services in their increasing plurality?
Are the omens for the development of IDYW good or bad?
With the demise of New Labour, our initial foe, who or what is today’s nemesis?
Is IDYW failing to widen its support because it is viewed as too political and/or too intellectual?
Lenny kept true to this line of questioning and in the end felt that IDYW had lost its way. We parted company on the best of terms. We were poorer for his absence from our ranks.
The following has lost none of its necessary provocations.
So… I attended the Federation for Detached Youth Work Conference at Wigan in November last year and I must declare that I became increasingly charged throughout the weekend with a delightful positivity and felt an unusual level of intense inspiration from the radiant enthusiasm and passion of the guest speakers and other attendees. And then Tom Wylie spoke. He charged youth work purists with being hopeless romantics and scoffed at the thought that there was any value in the convivial relationship between youth worker and young person. My positivity plummeted and my hope wilted with every word that fell from his lips. There seemed to be a cruel irony in that a conference with the theme “Positive About The Street” should end with such a negative tone. Nonetheless, I took a lot from the conference and have managed to recoup some positivity by exorcising all those nagging despondencies by writing them down on a sheet of paper (or three) and sharing them with some poor recipient who probably doesn’t deserve the burden. It’s a lengthy diatribe and the first page of overcast reflection was written about 6 months ago so I’m actually recycling despair.
There’s an enthusiastic buzz in the conference rooms about a new youth initiative. It sits well on the handouts and the power-point presentation is dynamic. The power suits love it. They are impressed. Eagerly they display their new buzz-words and acronyms like kids display the labels on their designer clothes. I look forward to the meeting in 2 months’ time when we hear the feedback that despite the fact that they displayed the posters, posted the leaflets, spent £200 on a buffet, £80 on renting a room and £100 on hiring a scratch DJ… no one turned up. I could tell them now but that would seem arrogant, negative and curmudgeonly.
So I’m looking up at the mountain. The lofty peaks of middle-class strategy; the precarious ridges of output driven work; the sheer-face obstacles of tedious bureaucracy; the harsh climate of prescribed funding…. and I think, why can’t someone just give me the money and the resources to continue delivering the effective, front-line, needs-led work that I’ve been practising for the last 17 years?
Does it sound treacherous to declare my contempt for the Every Child Matters agenda and everything it stands for? I have to be careful about this. I feel as though I’m offending the deeply religious principle of some deeply religious disciples.
Something’s got to give. I’ve been at odds with the system for the past 15 years. In fact, we now seem to be walking in opposite directions. I’ve tried to push against it but it’s too big. I’ve even tried to ignore it but it owns the tools that I need to do my work. The system also seems to have become much more aggressive over the years. It wears an imperious sneer as it keeps wasting vast amounts of money on initiatives that defy logic and this is where I am defeated because I have one of those heads that refuses to engage with the illogical. So it isn’t that I won’t play it’s more that I can’t play.
It’s a pretty simple diagram. The more you get involved with the strategic levels the further away you move from the reality of your purpose. The closer to front-line delivery you work, the more ridiculous the strategic aims look.
What is the way forward? Well, having travelled this path of disenchantment for about 10 years I have something of a vague bearing.
And so, to the notion of creating a parallel youth service which engages with real young people with real issues leaving the more functional kids to the existing youth service. They can wallow in accreditations and create school councils for every day of the week. I wish.
I know in my heart that the proposed services will fail to have a sufficient impact on the young people who need the most support. But this is irrelevant to the bureaucrat. As long as services can feed the bureaucratic machinery with the right buzzwords and numbers that “add up” then the machinery will run smoothly. The machinery is concerned with breadth and not depth and it has no empathy with the disaffected and no sympathy with the front-line worker.