Thursday, September 23, 2010

The variously radical life of Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst

(Estelle) Sylvia Pankhurst
5 May 1882 to 27 September 1960

September 2010 brings the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sylvia Pankhurst. Her surname is inevitably associated first and foremost with the Suffragette movement, the militant campaign for votes for women in the early 20th century, and she was certainly active and prominent in that, repeatedly risking health and liberty in the cause. But her determination to act on her principles led her into involvement in many other areas of equal or more interest to radical historians, including syndicalism, anarchism, soviet communism, peace campaigning and anti-fascism.


Sylvia Pankhurst grew up in the early stages of the British political labour movement, in a household on close terms with some of its key elements – Fabians, Independent Labour Party (ILP) – and stood by the ideas she absorbed. Eventually she was to take them much further, and in rather different directions. She became a close friend of Keir Hardie, whom she called in an obituary (1915) the ‘greatest human being of our time’.
In 1907 she undertook a tour of parts of Britain, with the aim of making a visual record in paintings of working women; she had given up her studies in art to work for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Despite her social awareness she was not prepared for the scenes of hardship she found and heard about from the women themselves: in industry - pit-brow, textiles, potteries; on quays packing and gutting North Sea herring; doing agricultural labour in Berwickshire.

A few years later her travels extended to the USA, in the first three months of 1911and 1912, primarily for the suffrage movement but not confined to that. She noted the ‘squalid poverty’ of new immigrants in the ‘nightmare industrialisation’ of Pittsburgh, incurred hostile criticism by agreeing to speak at the Negro University of Tennessee, and Insisted on seeing prisons, as well as Nashville sawmills and a blanket factory. Such observations confirmed her misgivings about single-issue politics and elitism.
Nevertheless in 1913-14 Sylvia the Suffragette was arrested numerous times and suffered the torture of forcible feeding under the notorious ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. She continued to speak and work for the WSPU, but was against the sort of ‘stealthy act of destruction’ (arson) ordered by her sister Christabel.

Tottenham 100 years ago; R M Fox's autobiography

Wednesday   13 October   at 8 pm

Meetings venue; The Postmen's Office; at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London, N17 (The old Post Office). The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham. Wheelchair accessible. Any High Road bus is OK 

Richard Michael Fox - more commonly known as R M Fox - was brought up in Tottenham and went on to become an 'Influential Irish Historian'.  We shall be examining his autobiography 'Smokey Crusade'. R M Fox lived in Bruce Castle Road, attended the Lancastrian primary school on the Roundway, N17, and worked in several local  factories, mainly in the Tottenham Marshes area; and they were 'marshes' in those days. His life can be divided into sections
* Working in Tottenham area factories up to 1912;
* Working around  London and active in the socialist and anti-war movement pre-WW1;
* Anti-war work after 1914, street corner meetings, court martial and prison, released 1919;
* Trade union student at Ruskin College, Oxford, visits to Russia, Germany and Ireland, as a journalist, the  move to Ireland, marriage, and a career as writer and academic.

We are concerned with his first 30 years and can look at three main themes in his book:
1.    Industrial work. He slaved away  for some years in various small plants then some big, organised ones. The original JAP motor cycle engine which eventually moved to Northumberland Park Road, then a sweat-shop on the marshes  and lastly in a  massive plant just over the border into Walthamstow. He worked as a machine operator, often on shifts and subject to the cut backs and the sack. This was the age of Taylorism as described in the mis-titled 'Sabotage', (see Brown below in further reading).  Fox read as he could and later wrote a book on 'Factory Echoes'.  Outside work he was become active socialist and he was a keen union member.  Later, he also lived and worked for a period in Woolwich.

Radical History Network at the Anarchist Bookfair - 23 October

3pm to 3.50pm - Room EB2

Discovering hidden history - Radical History at the Anarchist Bookfair

Those who have seized ownership and control of the resources of society are also very keen to control what goes on in our heads, so a big part of radical history's agenda  is finding examples of resistance that the authorities have kept hidden. In the meeting we look at two examples (1) Joe Jacobs who lived in the East End of London, a political activist and organiser for 40 years, who had fought Moseley's fascists in 1936. And (2)  Walter Conway, who from humble beginnings, was the main organiser for hospital medical services for ordinary people in Tredegar, South Wales, before the advent of the National Health Service.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

MEETING - RaHN - Autumn Programme

To all our friends and supporters RaHN is holding a meeting to organise our Autumn programme. 8pm Wednesday 8 September at the Tollgate Pub, Turnpike Lane, near Turnpike Lane Tube Station. Come along with your ideas.