Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Radical History Network of NE London (RaHN): Early Years

" It was a very exciting and productive meeting in which people shared their experiences and thoughts on an important slice of history that should not be forgotten. The aim of the new group is to enable people to celebrate and learn from past campaigns and achievements." - said Alan Woodward, RaHN Convenor...
A lively discussion followed, in which people emphasised the importance of workers' solidarity and picket lines, internationalism, and people taking action for themselves rather than following national leaders. The meeting attracted nearly twenty people.  [Extracts from press release].

In a Press Statement dated 19 February 2006 Alan Woodward announced: ‘NEW LOCAL HISTORY STUDY GROUP SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED’. The first meeting, four days previously, was on the subject of local support for the Liverpool dockers’ strike in the 1990s; the next was to be about claimants and unemployed issues in the 1970s and 80s, based on experience from Tottenham Claimants Union. 
This set a pattern for the following six years or so: monthly meetings (except in August), issues with local relevance and wider significance, events and campaigns in the past that have resonances in the present. (A popular example: Defeating the Poll Tax In Haringey and Beyond, 1988 to 1993). Alan diligently sought notes from speakers, circulated them in advance by email list, printed copies for future distribution, and sent a press release to the local paper. The latter were usually ignored although at least one was published – oddly enough, about The Story of Solidarity (“for workers’ power”) in October 2006. In addition one of the earliest talks, Dave Black on Chartism, was published as a short pamphlet.
[Picture: Alan Woodward, 20th March 2005]

To facilitate fund-raising (opening an account) for further publishing and other projects a basic constitution was drawn up in the summer of 2006, but the group’s organisation remained informal and open. The 64-page booklet on the NHS produced to mark its 60th anniversary was our most substantial publication, drawing together a variety of articles on different aspects from local health services and struggles to long-term medical history. It was planned in a series of inter-meeting sessions at the Tollgate (also the venue for the annual Burns Night celebration) , and ‘launched’ at Housmans bookshop; most of the 500 copies printed went quite fast. There has been a regular RaHN literature stall at Haringey Local History Fair, and from 2007 a RaHN presence, stall and/or meeting, at the London Anarchist Bookfair. Another point of wider contact was through films: “Union Maids” shown at the Wood Green Film Festival and “ Z” in association with Haringey Independent Cinema (2007).

The programme of regular talks was decided, a few months ahead if possible, by suggestions from and discussion among as many as wanted to be involved. Anniversaries of an appropriately radical kind were pounced on as a useful focus for discussion, providing some of the most successful choices of subject. Examples were May 1968/2008, brought to life by Alan’s impressive collection of posters, and Spain 1936/2011 with Brian Bamford as the invited speaker (from outside London, for once). The Spanish Revolution and Civil War  also supplied the theme of the innovative online pamphlet on this blog, to which many supporters contributed, and which has continued to attract many page-views.

A pdf of the booklet "The NHS is 60" can be downloaded here.
Front cover of the original (and so far only) printed edition. 
Postscript: Terry Burton, who has sadly died recently, aged 74, was a frequent attender at RaHN meetings from the start of the group, as long his worsening health permitted. Those who were at the memorial for Alan Woodward will remember his moving tribute; their friendship dated from their days of National Service in the RAF. An obituary of Terry by Keith Flett, another old friend and comrade, was published in the Guardian, 8 September 2013.

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