English racists attack George Floyd mural

The George Floyd mural in Manchester, England

From daily The Morning Star in Britain, 22 July 2020:

George Floyd mural in Manchester defaced with racist slur

Graffiti artist and the mural‘s creator Akse fixes the damage within hours

THE defacing of a George Floyd mural with racist graffiti in Manchester has underlined the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racists declared today.

The mural of Mr Floyd, the African-American killed in Minnesota when police knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, was found today morning with a racist slur spray-painted over it.

Manchester City Council condemned the defacing of the mural in Stevenson Square as an “abhorrent crime.”

Deputy leader Nigel Murphy said the council was reviewing CCTV footage to find the perpetrator.

“It is utterly sickening that this type of behaviour exists in our society,” he continued. “Manchester is a place that celebrates our diversity and we will not tolerate hate in our city.”

A police investigation has also been launched into the incident.

The mural was restored by its creator, graffiti artist Akse, within hours of the damage being discovered.

Anti-racist campaigners in Manchester said they were “disgusted” to hear of the racist attack.

Stand up to Racism Manchester co-chair Nahella Ashraf told the Morning Star: “‘This demonstrates the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing campaign needed to rid society of racism.”

The group has called for a protest in Stephenson Square tonight at 6pm to “show that we are the majority in the city.”

Sacked English Thomas Cook workers speak

Sacked Thomas Cook workers queieng at jobs fair in Manchester, England

From the World Socialist Web Site in England:

Redundant Thomas Cook workers speak out at Manchester jobs fair

By our reporters

5 October 2019

Following the collapse of UK holiday giant Thomas Cook, hundreds of workers who have lost their jobs in Britain attended a day-long jobs fair Thursday at the Runway Visitors’ Centre at Manchester’s Airport.

Britain’s largest package tour operator folded overnight in the early hours of September 23 after a failed attempt to secure funding, including government investment, to keep the firm afloat. Of the total 9,000 jobs lost in the UK, 3,000 went in Manchester—where the firm is headquartered—and the surrounding North West of England.

The airline companies in attendance at the fair included TUI, Jet2.com and British Airways. Among the many other companies that sent representatives were travel brands Hilton and Mercure Hotels. Other companies in attendance included McDonald’s, Whitbreads, United Utilities, Network Rail, The Co-op, Booking.com. Bupa, Vodafone, Metrolink and Swissport. The Citizens Advice Bureau, the Airport Academy and Jobcentre Plus also attended to offer services to former Thomas Cook and supply chain employees. According to organisers, around 5,000 jobs were on offer.

WSWS reporters spoke to the company’s former employees attending the fair and gave them copies of the article “The mounting human cost of the Thomas Cook collapse.”

Lorraine explained how she first heard the devastating news. “I was at home. I was working the next day, on a course… preparing for that course. I found out at 2 a.m. in the morning. It was all on Sky News. I worked there for 32 years. Someone takes your job away after 32 years, it’s atrocious. It was like your world was falling apart. Your whole life has gone, no job, no money, with no notice. [The bosses] got their bonuses but we didn’t receive our last monthly pay.”

Lorraine said, “We’re stressed by it, we are shocked. It’s not what we expected, it’s not what we were told. We were told all year there were investors. There was a shortfall to the banks, but something could have been saved.” Regarding the multi-million-pound salaries and massive bonuses received by top management when the company was in difficulty she found this “very upsetting”.

Jim expressed his anger and frustration at losing his job a second time round after the collapse of Monarch airline in 2017, which led to 1,800 job losses and the flights and holidays of about 860,000 people being cancelled.

“I’d been at Monarch for 17 years and they did this to me two years ago! I’ve just had heart surgery five months ago and I was on a phased return to work. I’d been at Thomas Cook for three years and now I’m f——g skint.”

Debbie, who worked for Thomas Cook for twenty-two and a half years, attended the jobs fair with her sister Lindsay, a Thomas Cook employee of 25 years.

“I’m in repatriation, [awaiting redeployment] I’m cabin crew, but I haven’t heard anything yet,” said Debbie. “The job was a way of life, part of my identification. This will take some adjusting to. It was a successful company, it was an exciting time for us, but it has been snatched away.”

Sarah, who worked for Thomas Cook for 23 years, spoke of the implications beyond the immediate job losses at Thomas Cook. “It’s soul destroying, what’s happened,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching when you think so many people are passionate about what they’ve done. And it’s the ripple effect—it’s not just us who worked directly for Thomas Cook. It’s the hoteliers, the caterers, lots of people, all the people in countries like Cuba that rely on us.

“The unions could have done a lot more, but they’re not interested in the ground staff, in the office, we were always at the bottom of the pecking order.”

“I worked for the freedom travel group, part of Thomas Cook,” said Sue, who was a Thomas Cook employee for 13 years. “I found out about the collapse at half past two in the morning, like everybody else. I kind of expected it but didn’t believe it would ever happen due to the size of the company, the heritage, the impact it would have financially across the world for business and for the people who worked for it. It was very surreal for the first week.

“I think there definitely has to be an accountability into why there wasn’t an investigation a lot sooner into the budget and how the finances were being managed. At our level everything was progressing at rate so there was no cause for concern. There was lots of investment happening across the brand, so it just side-swiped you when it came out—heart-breaking!”

Sarah, mother of two teenage boys, also found the news a terrible blow. “Just a few weeks away from Christmas, too,” she said. “I loved my job and they’ve robbed us.”

Thomas Cook cabin crew employee Sandra told a WSWS reporter, “I was working to help another group airline in Germany [when] I found out that I’d lost my job. They didn’t know how they were going to get us home.

“We’re all heart broken,” she continued. “We were a family basically … It felt like I was going to see family every day and having that ripped away from you is massive. It’s like a bereavement.

“I’m stressed as a result, because I may also be made homeless. My landlord in Manchester has said that if you are not in full-time employment then I need you out. Instead of being compassionate about it and letting me find another job, he wants me out.”

Sandra explained that the only help she received from the Unite union was to “put me in contact with the council services, who I’ve just talked to and they say that my landlord can’t kick me out with this Section 21 notice that he’s given to me, so they’re looking at that. I’m going to have to find a job and somewhere else to live.

“[Management] told us that everything was still business as normal, the takeover by [Chinese international conglomerate and investment company] Fuson [Tourism] was going ahead, and then we had the carpet pulled from underneath us. It’s devastating.”

On Wednesday, ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrated in London outside the Houses of Parliament and handed in a petition to Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, demanding answers as to why the company collapsed.

British poet Shelley and the Peterloo massacre

This 29 May 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Songs for Peterloo

News of the Peterloo Massacre, when it reached Shelley in Italy, sparked off a six month-long writing surge that saw the poet respond from a variety of angles. Four songs by John Webster with Brindaband, taking lyrics from key poems, chart his reaction to the massacre. His fiery initial poems and later works with a more measured philosophical response bear witness to his ‘tremendous commitment’ (as Paul Foot put it) to bringing positive change.

By Paul Bond in Britain:

The Peterloo massacre and Shelley

Part 1: The aftermath of the massacre and the responses

30 September 2019

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, a critical event in British history. On August 16, 1819, a crowd of 60,000 to 100,000 protestors gathered peacefully on Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field. They came to appeal for adult suffrage and the reform of parliamentary representation.

The disenfranchised working class—cotton workers, many of them women, with a large contingent of Irish workers—who made up the crowd were struggling with the increasingly dire economic conditions following the end of the Napoleonic Wars four years earlier.

Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest the speakers and sent cavalry of Yeomanry and a regular army regiment to attack the crowd. They charged with sabres drawn. Eighteen people were killed and up to 700 injured.

On August 16 of this year the WSWS published an appraisal of the massacre.

The following is the first part of a two-part article focusing on the response to the massacre by the great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The Peterloo Massacre elicited an immediate and furious response from the working class and sections of middle-class radicals.

The escalation of repression by the ruling class that followed, resulting in a greater suppression of civil liberties, was met with meetings of thousands and the widespread circulation of accounts of the massacre. There was a determination to learn from the massacre and not allow it to be forgotten or misrepresented. Poetic responses played an important part in memorialising Peterloo.

The Peterloo Massacre

Violent class conflict erupted across north western England. Yeomen and hussars continued attacks on workers across Manchester, and the ruling class launched an intensive campaign of disinformation and retribution.

At the trial of Rochdale workers charged with rioting on the night after Peterloo, Attorney General Sir Robert Gifford made clear that the ruling class would stop at nothing to crush the development of radical and revolutionary sentiment in the masses. He declared: “Men deluded themselves if they thought their condition would be bettered by such kind of Reform as Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Vote by Ballot; or that it was just that the property of the country ought to be equally divided among its inhabitants, or that such a daring innovation would ever take place.”

Samuel BamfordSamuel Bamford, a reformer and weaver who led a contingent of several thousand marchers to Manchester from the town of Middleton, said he spent the evening of the massacre “brooding over a spirit of vengeance towards the authors of our humiliation.” Bamford told the judge at his trial for sedition that he would not recommend non-violent protest again.

Workers took a more direct response, even as the military were being deployed widely against the population. Despite the military presence, and press claims that the city had been subdued, riots continued across Manchester.

Two women were shot by hussars on August 20. A fortnight after Peterloo, the most affected area, Manchester’s New Cross district, was described in the London press as a by-word for trouble and a risky area for the wealthy to pass through. Soldiers were shooting in the area to disperse rioters. On August 18, a special constable fired a loaded pistol in the New Cross streets and was attacked by an angry crowd, who beat him to death with a poker and stoned him.

There was a similar response elsewhere locally, with riots in Oldham and Rochdale and what has been described by one historian as “a pitched battle” in Macclesfield on the night of August 17.

Crowds in their thousands welcomed the coach carrying Henry Hunt and the other arrested Peterloo speakers to court in Salford, the city across the River Irwell from Manchester. Salford’s magistrates reportedly feared a “tendency to tumult”, while in Bolton the Hussars had trouble keeping the public from other prisoners. The crowd shouted, “Down with the tyrants!”

While the courts meted out sharper punishment to the arrested rioters, mass meetings and protests continued across Britain. Meetings to condemn the massacre took place in Wakefield, Glasgow, Sheffield, Huddersfield and Nottingham. In Leeds, the crowd was asked if they would support physical force to achieve radical reform. They unanimously raised their hands.

These were meetings attended by tens of thousands and they did not end despite the escalating repression. The Twitter account Peterloo 1819 News (@Live1819) is providing a useful daily update on historical responses until the end of this year.

A protest meeting at London’s Smithfield on August 25 drew crowds estimated at 15,000-40,000. At least 20,000 demonstrated in Newcastle on October 11. The mayor wrote dishonestly to the home secretary, Lord Sidmouth, of this teetotal and entirely orderly peaceful demonstration that 700 of the participants “were prepared with arms (concealed) to resist the civil power.”

The response was felt across the whole of the British Isles. In Belfast, the Irishman newspaper wrote, “The spirit of Reform rises from the blood of the Manchester Martyrs with a giant strength!”

A meeting of 10,000 was held in Dundee in November that collected funds “for obtaining justice for the Manchester sufferers.” That same month saw a meeting of 10,000 in Leicester and one of 12,000 near Burnley. In Wigan, just a few miles north of the site of Peterloo, around 20,000 assembled to discuss “parliamentary reform and the massacre at Manchester.” The yeomanry were standing ready at many of these meetings.

The state was determined to suppress criticism. Commenting on the events, it published false statements about the massacre and individual deaths. Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett was fined £2,000 and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for “seditious libel” in response to his denunciation of the Peterloo massacre. On September 2, he addressed 30,000 at a meeting in London’s Palace Yard, demanding the prosecution of the Manchester magistrates.

Richard Carlile

Radical publisher Richard Carlile, who had been at Peterloo, was arrested late in August. He was told that proceedings against him would be dropped if he stopped circulating his accounts of the massacre. He did not and was subsequently tried and convicted of seditious libel and blasphemy.

The main indictment against him was his publication of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. Like Bamford, Carlile also concluded that armed defence was now necessary: He wrote, “Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform should never go unarmed—retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.”

In Chudleigh, Devon, John Jenkins was arrested for owning a crude but accurate print of the yeomanry charging the Peterloo crowd when Henry Hunt was arrested. A local vicar, a magistrate, informed on Jenkins, whose major “crime” was that he was sharing information about Peterloo. Jenkins was showing the print to people, using a magnifying glass in a viewing box. The charge against Jenkins argued that the print was “intended to inflame the minds of His Majesty’s Subjects and to bring His Majesty’s Soldiery into hatred and contempt.”

Against this attempt to suppress the historical record there was a wide range of efforts to preserve the memory of Peterloo. Verses, poems and songs appeared widely. In October, a banner in Halifax bore the lines:

With heartfelt grief we mourn for those
Who fell a victim to our cause
While we with indignation view
The bloody field of Peterloo.

Anonymous verses were published on cheap broadsides, while others were credited to local radical workers. Many recounted the day’s events, often with a subversive undercurrent. The broadside ballad, “A New Song on the Peterloo Meeting,” for example, was written to the tune “Parker’s Widow,” a song about the widow of 1797 naval mutineer Richard Parker.

Weaver poet John Stafford, who regularly sang at radical meetings, wrote a longer, more detailed account of the day’s events in a song titled “Peterloo.”

The shoemaker poet Allen Davenport satirised in song the Reverend Charles Wicksteed Ethelston of Cheetham Hill—a magistrate who had organised spies against the radical movement and, as the leader of the Manchester magistrates who authorised the massacre, claimed to have read the Riot Act at Peterloo.

Ethelston played a vital role in the repression by the authorities after Peterloo. At a September hearing of two men who were accused of military drilling on a moor in the north of Manchester the day before Peterloo, he told one of them, James Kaye, “I believe that you are a downright blackguard reformer. Some of you reformers ought to be hanged; and some of you are sure to be hanged—the rope is already round your necks; the law has been a great deal too lenient with you.”

Ethelston was also attacked in verse by Bamford, who called him “the Plotting Parson.” Davenport’s “St. Ethelstone’s Day” portrays Peterloo as Ethelston‘s attempt at self-sanctification. Its content is pointed— “In every direction they slaughtered away, Drunken with blood on St. Ethelstone’s Day”—but Davenport sharpens the satire even further by specifying the tune “Gee Ho Dobbin,” the prince regent’s favourite. (These songs are included on the recent Road to Peterloo album by three singers and musicians from North West England—Pete Coe, Brian Peters and Laura Smyth.)

The poetic response was not confined to social reformers and radical workers. The most astonishing outpouring of work came from isolated radical bourgeois elements in exile.

Portrait of Shelley_by Alfred Clint (1829)

On September 5, news of the massacre reached the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) in Italy. He recognised its significance and responded immediately. Shelley’s reaction to Peterloo, what one biographer has called “the most intensely creative eight weeks of his whole life,” embodies and elevates what is greatest about his work. It underscores his importance to us now.

Even among the radical Romantics, Shelley is distinctive. He has long been championed by Marxists for that very reason. Franz Mehring famously noted: “Referring to Byron and Shelley, however, [Karl Marx] declared that those who loved and understood these two poets must consider it fortunate that Byron died at the age of 36, for had he lived out his full span he would undoubtedly have become a reactionary bourgeois, whilst regretting on the other hand that Shelley died at the age of 29, for Shelley was a thorough revolutionary and would have remained in the van of socialism all his life.” (Karl Marx: The Story of His Life, Harvester Press, New Jersey, 1966, p.504)

Franz Mehring around 1900

Shelley came from an affluent landowning family, his father a Whig MP. Byron’s continued pride in his title and his recognition of the distance separating himself, a peer of the realm, from his friend, a son of the landed gentry, brings home the pressures against Shelley and the fact that he was able to transcend his background.

To be continued.

Protest against British Conservatives

This 29 July 2019 video by The People’s Assembly in Britain says about itself:

Protest The Tory Party Conference [Sunday 29th September – Wednesday 2nd October] 2019

Less than 150,000 people from one political party got to decide our Prime Minister. Boris Johnson does not represent the people in this country and offers nothing for the millions who have suffered for too long with unnecessary and cruel austerity policies.

We want to make sure that when the Conservative Party come together for their national conference in Manchester later this year that the voices of those millions cannot be ignored by unelected Boris Johnson and the rest of the nasty party.

We are going to organise an enormous demonstration which will demand an end to austerity and an immediate General Election so the millions and not just the millionaires can have their say. But we want to go further than that too:

What we will do:

£1,000 – will go towards the costs of mobilising for the national demonstration

£5,000 – will allow us to take out advertisements for the national demonstration in newspapers and on social media platforms

£10,000 – will be enough to also erect a huge ‘Tories Out!’ marquee in the centre Manchester’s Picadilly Gardens for meetings, art exhibitions and cultural events for 5 days

£15,000 – will be enough to also have a large ‘Tories Out!’ billboard in Manchester City Centre

The effects of austerity on Britain have been devastating: since 2012, 600,000 children have fallen into poverty, and a record 1.6 million emergency food parcels were given out across the UK in the year to March 2019, up 73% in five years. Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, in his recent report said that austerity was, “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery”, despite Britain being, “one of the richest countries in the world”. With 14 million people living in poverty.

Monday, August 12, 2019. Young Tories accuse party of ignoring sexual harassment allegations: here.

English workers after Peterloo, theatre play

This 8 April 2019 video says about itself:

Rob Johnston on writing The Riot Act

THE RIOT ACT, Saturday 20 July, 1.30pm and 3pm, Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, Manchester M2 5PD.

On August 12th 1842, just 23 years after the Peterloo Massacre, Lancashire cotton workers again marched in protest at appalling pay and conditions. Reaching Preston’s Lune Street the protesters were confronted by the authorities and read The Riot Act. A gripping mix of tragedy and humour from Rob Johnston and Breathe Out Theatre, who won the award for BEST DRAMA at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2017. Performed as part of the Peterloo 2019 commemorations.

Video: Jo d’Orville and Jasmine Carter. Photography by Craige Barker.

By Bernadette Hyland in Britain:

Monday, July 22, 2019

Theatre Review

Riot Act, Central Library, Manchester

Excellent dramatisation of the revolutionary upsurge in the aftermath of Peterloo

1842 was a year of great hardship for workers across the north-west of England.

High bread prices, reduced wages and the dismissal of calls for universal … suffrage by Chartists led to strikes and disturbances in the summer.

In this new play, writer Rob Johnston has chosen events in Preston to tell the story of workers and mill owners as the political situation reaches boiling point, with Jake Talbot and Christopher Ward playing both the mill owners and the weavers.

Set on the night before a planned mass protest by striking workers, two weavers meet and discuss their lives and what could happen the next day.

It’s 23 years after the Peterloo Massacre and the older weaver (Ward) counsels the young man over using violence and his hopes for a better future.

But the illiterate George (Talbot) feels he has nothing to lose. He believes that the soldiers are just workers wearing uniforms and thus pose no threat.

Both actors then assume the roles of the mill owners Horrocks and Denholm. The former, the mayor of Preston, wants to use force to get the workers back at the mills and rejects Denholm’s liberal ideas.

Challenged about using the army to attack the workers, Horrocks proclaims that he has no scruples about reading the Riot Act.

The scene is set. On August 20 1842, the Riot Act is read in Preston. Four men are killed and many injured in what is the only occasion during that year that the military is used to attack workers with bullets.

Johnston’s play is thus a welcome relief from the constant imagery of passive workers that has been flogged to death around the Peterloo commemorations. Particularly striking is the referencing of women and children hitting back at the police and army with stones.

Riot Act, wordy and worthy, stands out from the Peter-lite fare that has been served up so far to mark the bicentenary of the Manchester massacre two centuries ago.

We need more plays like this that recover the revolutionary nature of the 1840s and the workers who made that leap forward in working-class history.

Parliament & Peterloo, London exhibition

‘Manchester Heroes’ The Peterloo Massacre 16 August 1819, coloured etching by George Cruikshank. © Parliamentary Art Collection

Displayed at the London exhibition is ‘Manchester Heroes’, the Peterloo Massacre 16 August 1819, a coloured etching by George Cruikshank, from the Parliamentary Art Collection. It conveys the ruthless brutality of the hussars and the fearful fleeing protesters.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Parliament & Peterloo Exhibition

19th July 2019

‘Parliament & Peterloo’

Exhibition in Westminster Hall between 4th July and 26th September 2019

THE Parliamentary Archives invites people to visit the ‘Parliament & Peterloo’ exhibition which opened on 4th July to mark next month’s 200th anniversary of the brutal state attack on unarmed workers and youth.

This free, small display explores the political and social background to the Peterloo massacre and Parliament’s reaction to it.
Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and the History of Parliament Trust contributed to the exhibition. They have discovered documents in the Parliamentary Archives relating to what happened at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819.
Visitors can explore this material on an interactive table. Some of the documents were used as reference material for ‘Peterloo’, the 2018 feature film written and directed by Mike Leigh.

How can I visit and book tickets?

‘Parliament & Peterloo’ is open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, between 4 July and 26 September 2019 (except 26 August). Last entry is 5.30pm.

All visitors coming to Parliament during this period – to take a tour, watch debates and committees, or for other reasons – can see the exhibition.

A limited number of free tickets to visit the exhibition only can be booked online, by calling +44 (0)20 7219 4114 or in person from the Ticket Office at the front of Portcullis House on Victoria Embankment.

The display consists of panels outlining the background and aftermath of the murderous event.

After Waterloo

The defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 ended a war with France that had lasted almost 22 years. Britain emerged triumphant, but with massive debts and its economy ill-prepared for peace. Around 300,000 returning soldiers, many of them disabled, began to seek work. Orders for military supplies dried up, causing major upheavals in the industrial centres of the Midlands and North. In the countryside unprofitable land used to feed Britain during naval blockades was abandoned. Unemployment began to soar.

The Tory government led by Lord Liverpool tried to help British farming by taxing imports of cheaper foreign grain. The 1815 Corn Law benefited the landowning classes, but at the cost of keeping bread prices high and depressing the market for manufactured goods. In the same year the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia created a dust cloud that caused catastrophic global crop failures. Working people in Britain began to starve.

Liberty and democracy

During the war the British state, fearing a French-style revolution, had clamped down hard on political protests. Campaigners seeking reforms were persecuted as unpatriotic French ‘Jacobins’. Meetings inciting rebellion or public protest were banned.

A satirical print is displayed ‘Consequences of a Successful French Invasion’ by James Gillray, 1798, showing French troops taking over Parliament and trashing Magna Carta and other rights documents.

As the war ended, years of pent-up frustration with low wages and appalling living conditions boiled over. Rioting and ‘Luddite’ vandalism of industrial machinery became widespread. In 1816 Arthur Thistlewood attempted an armed uprising in London. In 1817 Parliament suspended Habeas Corpus, allowing the authorities to imprison people without charge.

The 1818 General Election showed how unrepresentative the political system was. For example in England less than 320,000 could vote for MPs out of a population of 10 million. With most [men, let alone] women unable to meet property qualifications the English electorate represented 13% of adult males. In addition two-thirds of constituencies lacked opposition candidates in 1818 and did not experience a poll. Half of these were ‘rotten’ or ‘pocket’ boroughs controlled by a local aristocratic patron.

In August 1819 the radical Henry Hunt was invited to Manchester which had no MPs, to take part in a mock election. The local magistrates banned the event after consulting with the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth.

A less provocative pro-parliamentary reform rally involving Hunt was planned for St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16th August. Local workers arrived in ‘contingents’ wearing their best clothes. Around 60,000 people assembled, including many women and children. Members of the Manchester Female Reform Society, led by Mary Fildes, escorted Hunt to the platform.

The magistrate William Hulton tried to break up the crowd by [inaudibly] reading the Riot Act. He then ordered Hunt’s arrest. The inexperienced Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were summoned to help, but lost control of their horses. Fearing for their safety, Hulton ordered the 15th Hussars, a British army cavalry regiment, to charge and disperse the meeting. At least 18 were killed of whom 3 were women. About 700 were injured.

As well as a vivid centrepiece depiction of the massacre a sketch of the meeting of the Female Radical Reformers of Manchester, a satirical illustration from the Manchester Comet, 1822 (Chetham’s Library, Manchester), is displayed.

Female Radical Reformers of Manchester (from the Comet, 1822)

The aftermath

Public opinion was outraged. The press, mocking the memory of Waterloo, referred to the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. The government, however, supported the use of force and many of those involved were put on trial. Hunt was sentenced to two years in prison.

The ‘Six Acts’ passed by Parliament in 1819 banned all ‘unofficial’ large meetings. Magistrates were given extra powers to arrest people, and it became illegal to criticise the state in print.

The discovery of a plot to assassinate the Cabinet in 1820 seemed to justify the government’s actions, but a government spy had encouraged the plans. Five members of the Cato Street Conspiracy were found guilty of treason, including Arthur Thistlewood and William Davidson, a black Jamaican activist. They were executed outside Newgate Prison in front of vast crowds.

‘The Cato Street Conspirators’ is a print made by George Cruikshank. It was published by George Humphrey, in 1862. It is from the British Museum and shows the vicious nature of the British state.

Parliament received many petitions concerning the events of 16th August and the subsequent legislation. Unsuccessful calls for an inquiry continued until at least 1832.

Parliamentary reform

During the 1820s demands for change continued. Constitutional methods such as petitioning kept up the pressure on Parliament. Many of the laws discriminating against dissenters and Catholics were soon being discussed and modified. For many Tories this was too much and in 1830 the government collapsed and the Whigs came to power, headed by Lord Grey.

After a ferocious struggle, and riots in Bristol and Nottingham, the Great Reform Act of 1832 was passed. New voting qualifications increased the electorate to almost a fifth of adult males, although women were formally disenfranchised. In Lymington the first non-white MP, John Stewart, was elected.

Manchester now had its own MPs. Nearly 7,000 of its wealthier male householders and shopkeepers acquired the vote, a right not fully extended to all men in the United Kingdom until 1918. Some women over 30 were given the vote in 1918, but were only fully enfranchised in 1928.

Finally on display is An Act to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales – The Great Reform Act of 1832.

This exhibition has been organised by the Parliamentary Archives with the support of the History of Parliament, Royal Holloway, University of London and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (TECHNE Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship).

Images in the exhibition have been used with the permission of:

Chetham’s Library, Manchester
Curator’s Office, Palace of Westminster
House of Lords Library
National Portrait Gallery, London
Parliamentary Archives
The Trustees of the British Museum
University of Manchester Library

Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre has revealed that the social tensions that gave rise to that critical event of British history remain unresolved: here.

Peterloo film by Mike Leigh, review, interview

This 17 October 2018 British TV video says about itself:

Maxine Peake: Peterloo touches on themes that are still relevant today | ITV News

Actress Maxine Peake has told ITV News that she feels new movie Peterloo touches on themes that are still relevant in today’s society. The new movie is based around the Peterloo Massacre that took place at St Peter’s Field in Manchester in 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of up to 80,000 people who were protesting for parliamentary representation.

Ms Peake, who plays the part of Nellie, believes the element of those struggling in their day to day lives in the film have similar troubles to those experienced in the UK by many.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Mike Leigh’s Peterloo: A drama of the British working class

5 April 2019

Mike Leigh’s Peterloo is opening in New York City and Los Angeles on April 5, and more widely on April 12. This is an event of some importance. The film was inspired by important ideas and created with great seriousness and artistry.

The Peterloo Massacre took place on August 16, 1819, in Manchester, England when cavalry with sabers drawn charged into a crowd estimated at anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 people protesting their lack of political representation and the dire economic conditions. The official death toll was 15 men, women and children killed, with an additional 400 to 700 wounded. The actual death toll was likely much higher.

The circumstances that produced the “Peterloo” event (so named, darkly and ironically, because it occurred on St. Peter’s Field in Manchester and resembled the Waterloo battlefield of 1815 located in present-day Belgium) are complex and have lengthy historical roots.

The end of the Napoleonic wars, at Waterloo, in 1815 was followed by a severe economic slump in England, with chronic unemployment and hunger for many, particularly among textile workers in the north of the country. The Manchester area, often described as the first industrial center in the world, had 60 factories in 1815 employing some 24,000 workers. Over 90 percent of the factories were spinning mills.

The notorious and unpopular Corn Laws, which restricted the importation of foreign corn until the price of home-grown wheat reached a certain price, benefited the landowners and large farmers and produced famine that, in the words of one historian, “hung over the whole period like a carrion crow.”

The lack of representation in parliament was an accompanying issue that outraged reformers and working class radicals. Manchester, the second largest city in England, had no member of parliament at all. Rural areas of the country returned dozens of members while industrial cities went virtually unrepresented.

Wages were falling steadily, the factory owners were ruthless and the government was entirely indifferent to the suffering of the working population. The defeat of Napoleon and his forces and the restoration of various monarchies across Europe, codified by the Congress of Vienna, were supposed to have put an end to the threat represented by the French Revolution. But political subversion was raising its head in England itself and gaining strength within the nascent working class.

Leigh’s film opens on the bloody battlefield at Waterloo. A young, evidently shell-shocked British soldier (David Moorst) plays a few wretched notes on a bugle amid the horrific carnage. He makes his way home, on his own, to Manchester. He falls sobbing into the arms of his kindhearted mother, Nellie (Maxine Peake). The family of textile workers that receives him unexpectedly home again is suffering from falling wages and the lack of work.

Meanwhile, parliament bestows 750,000 pounds (the equivalent of more than 60 million pounds today) on the Duke of Wellington, the “victor” at Waterloo. But all is not well in the country.

The home secretary, Lord Sidmouth (Karl Johnson), warns of “seditious activity” in the North of England (“In Manchester and the surrounding towns of Lancashire, there is a sickness. A dangerous threat of rampant insurrection”) and accordingly puts a network of spies and provocateurs to work. Officials routinely intercept and read the correspondence of radical leaders. Sidmouth also orders General Sir John Byng (Alastair Mackenzie) to prepare himself for whatever actions may be necessary to suppress political opposition.

At public meetings in Manchester, speakers denounce the corrupt political system and appeal to the Bill of Rights of 1689, demanding “fair, proper and full representation—for all Englishmen.” The male members of Nellie’s family, her husband Joshua (Pearce Quigley) and son Robert (Tom Meredith), are in attendance. They listen quietly and sympathize. But the practical Nellie thinks it may all be a lot of words. (“Talk. Talk. Talk … Less talk, more action. … Any road, they’ll never give us t’vote.”)

The brutality of class rule finds expression in the courts. A woman is ordered to be whipped for public drunkenness, another is transported to Australia for 14 years over a purloined watch (“Our Lord God owns everything upon this earth, and when you steal, you rob from him”), a third is sentenced to be hanged for stealing a coat from his master (“I didn’t steal it. I took it. … He had two, I needed one. He’s got one. I’ve got one”). The local magistrates, many of them clergymen, respond to unrest by awing the “rabble” into “submission” and wielding the “iron hand of the law”.

The magistrate Rev. Charles Wicksted Ethelston (Vincent Franklin), a real figure who aspired to be a poet and who told two Radical Reformers who appeared before him in 1819, “Some of you reformers ought to be hanged, and some of you are sure to be hanged—the rope is already around your necks”, positively swoons at his own blood-curdling rhetoric.

A potato thrown at the carriage of the Prince Regent (Tim McInnerny)—the future George IV, officially in power since 1811 owing to the madness of his father, George III—provides the government the pretext to suspend habeas corpus in 1817.

Henry “Orator” Hunt (Rory Kinnear) speaks to a London meeting attended by two representatives of reformers in the North, Samuel Bamford (Neil Bell) and the irrepressible Dr. Joseph Healey (Ian Mercer). Their generally favorable impression of his oratorical skills and personality suffers a blow when he rudely rejects their invitation for a friendly drink.

More radical leaders in the north—some, like John Bagguley, a Manchester apprentice, as young as 19—remind their listeners at a semi-clandestine outdoor meeting (observed by government agents) of what “our French brethren” have done to their monarch and aristocracy: “We must punish our mad king and his gluttonous offspring by taking off their heads!” The watchword is “Liberty or death!” The radicals are seized by police thugs and beaten in jail.

An assembly of women takes place, presided over by middle class reformers, one of whom uses somewhat turgid language: “And in order to accelerate the emancipation of our suffering nation, we do declare that we will assist the male union formed in this town, with all the might and energy that we possess, in obtaining the object of our common solicitude.” One working woman, angry and excited, shouts out that she doesn’t “understand a word you’re saying.”

Preparations for a great protest meeting in Manchester, which Hunt will address, are set in motion. It will be held on a workday. Hunt insists that no one bear arms of any kind. Bamford warns him the Yeomanry will be armed (“A large body of men are signed up, and weapons have been widely distributed amongst them”), but Hunt is adamant.

The situation of Nellie and her family has worsened. Should they participate in the meeting? It will mean losing a day’s wage and perhaps more. On the eve of the event, in one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Nellie and Joshua are in bed, in the same room as their small daughter. “Little angel … I were just thinking, in 1900, she’ll be eighty five. … I hope it’s a better world for her.”

The day of the massacre itself occupies a significant portion of Leigh’s film. Workers and their families show up, for the most part in a holiday mood, dressed in their finery. A huge, peaceful crowd gathers. The Yeomanry and the magistrates work themselves into a paranoid frenzy (“It is our Christian duty to bring the axe down on this riotous mob!” “Well said, sir! Well said!”). The Riot Act is readied.

The pompous Hunt begins to speak, although much of the crowd can’t even hear him. The Yeomanry, followed by the military, charges into the defenseless crowd. …

Leigh’s film works at a high artistic and social level. He has been making films since the 1970s, most famously High Hopes (1988), Naked (1993), Secrets & Lies (1996), Career Girls (1997), Topsy-Turvy (1999), All or Nothing (2002), Vera Drake (2004), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Mr. Turner (2014), but this is the first time he has directly treated a historical or political event. As he told his audience after a public screening of Peterloo at the Toronto film festival in September 2018, and repeated to me in a conversation , the current state of the world pushed him in that direction.

The filmmaker works directly and thoroughly with every performer, planning and preparing each sequence. Improvisations within an initial outline help create a script. Every actor has a definite purpose and a conception of what he or she is doing. While there are obviously heightened and dramatic turning points, each distinct, individual moment is treated with considerable importance and conscientiousness. This is the opposite of sloppy or careless work, although the end result is often uneven and lively, like life.

The scenes of the public meetings and rallies are memorable, and the language and ideas are accurately and passionately reproduced, but small moments may also stand out:

–The nervous young serving maid (Byrony Miller) asked by Hunt, busy having his portrait painted, to hold down some of his “important” pages, but who is loathe to do so because “Me ‘ands are dirty.”

–In the crowd at the mass meeting, a plump, innocent brother and sister have come all the way from Wigan, a healthy walk (“You must have been up with the lark.” “Aye, set off at six”). But they’ve brought along no food (“We didn’t think to”). Nellie won’t have that and offers them bread to eat.

–Hunt grandly asks his hostess in Manchester, Mrs. Johnson (Lizzie Frain), to bring him a “light repast.” The unfortunate, harried woman whispers desperately to anyone within hearing, “What’s that?”

–The scene, noted above, in which the parents consider what the future holds for their young daughter. Leigh told an interviewer, “It was about a week away from the birth of my first grandchild… and I was thinking about…what will this world be like in 2100?”

The drama is historically and psychologically realistic. The Prince Regent and the authorities are portrayed as monstrous beings. They were monstrous beings, and this was before the hypocrisies of modern-day parliamentary “democracy”, worn incredibly thin by this point, had fully worked their way into everyday life. The ruling class brazenly and unashamedly defended repression and violence in defense of its wealth and property.

In the face of the mass murder of defenseless civilians, Lord Sidmouth, the home secretary, responded by explaining that he was “gratified equally by the deliberate, spirited manner in which the magistrates discharged their arduous and important duty on that occasion. … I do not fail to appreciate most highly the merits of the two companies of Yeomanry cavalry and other troops employed on this service.” The government introduced new repressive measures, the Six Acts, to suppress radical meetings. Working class political opponents were thrown into jail en masse .

Leigh has captured the essence of the historical moment and its enduring significance. As he said to me, and as he told other interviewers, the film, he believes, is “prescient”—i.e., this history points toward the future. Historical truth, in Trotsky’s words, “the highest truth of life”, here corresponds with artistic truth.

An interview with Mike Leigh on Peterloo is here. Another review is here.

Dangerous cuts to firefighting in England

British firefighters marching against cuts to fire safety

From daily News Line in Britain:

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Manchester fire service massacre! – 6 stations, 100 staff, 9 engines

‘THE SAFETY of firefighters and our communities is the Fire Brigade Union’s greatest concern,’ Gary Keary, FBU Brigade Secretary for Greater Manchester, said yesterday, ‘and we will oppose any attempt to reduce the minimum amount of firefighters riding an appliance from five to four.’

The full horror of the cuts to Manchester’s fire service has now come to light. A hundred support staff jobs will be axed, six fire stations closed, and the number of fire engines would be reduced by nine – from 56 to 47.

The hundred support staff are in the Unison trade union. And most controversial of all, the number of firefighters riding on all appliances across the region would reduce from five to four.

The FBU is firmly opposed to engines being crewed by just four firefighters. Keary said: ‘The Fire Brigades Union are opposed to all cuts to front line fire cover, this would include the closure of fire stations, the removal of fire appliances and the reduction of firefighters.

‘We have, for too long, seen the decimation of our fire service resulting from budget cuts and must fight against any further deterioration. The safety of firefighters and our communities are the Fire Brigade Union’s greatest concern.’

The six stations earmarked to close are Bolton Central and Bolton North; Stockport, King Street, and Stockport, Whitehill; plus Philips Park and Manchester Central. The nine engines will go from Manchester Central, Blackley, Heywood, Moss Side, Oldham, Eccles, Salford, Gorton, and Bolton.

THE Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has branded proposed further cuts to Surrey fire and rescue service as ‘incomprehensible’, just months after a government inspection voiced ‘serious concerns’ about the county’s fire and rescue service: here.

Peterloo by Mike Leigh, film review

This 1 November 2018 video from Britain says about itself:

Mike Leigh on Peterloo | BFI London Film Festival 2018

The director of Peterloo talks about the film at LFF2018. As shell-shocked soldiers return from the battle of Waterloo, they find their hometowns ravaged by a gentry upping food costs and ripping off the working classes. The French have already had their revolution and the disenfranchised men and women of Manchester are stirring with their own desire for reform. Nellie (Maxine Peake) is sceptical. Raising her family on a pittance, she is more concerned with food on the table than attending the increasingly volatile protest meetings. But many have been inspired.

A peaceful march and assembly is arranged, where the star speaker will be Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), a radical orator famous throughout the land for his stimulating rhetoric. As the day approaches the government grows nervous, while the people grow emboldened. In Peterloo, director Mike Leigh is working at the pinnacle of his powers, gloriously drawing together so many of his preoccupations: class consciousness, family dynamics, hypocrisy, humanism and the foibles of the male ego. Against the backdrop of cinematographer Dick Pope’s beautiful Manchester/Lancashire canvas, the film weaves multiple stories of everyday people into a socialist tapestry and depicts an act of police brutality with huge contemporary relevance. Warm, funny and incendiary, this is a major work of cinema.

On 1 March 2019, I went to see this impressive film.

It starts at the 1815 bloody Waterloo battlefield. Joseph, a child soldier, bugler, barely survives the cannon balls exploding and horses running all around him. He survives, but what with during World War I was called ‘shellshock‘ and is now called PTSD.

The film then switches to the London parliament, elected by rich men only. The government moves, successfully, to award the victorious general of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, 750,000 £ of taxpayers’ money (very many more £ today). Meanwhile, privates like Joseph have to walk home by themselves all the way.

Finally, he arrives at his working class family in Manchester. They are very poor. The government’s corn laws stop import of wheat from abroad, making bread expensive to benefit English landlords. In the Dutch subtitles of the film, corn is translated as ‘maize’; however, in 1815 English it was wheat. Joseph keeps his red military coat on in the whole film; as there is no money for other clothes. He is still very depressed. He can’t get a job. But gradually, he gets new hope because of the rise of the workers’ movement for universal suffrage.

As examples of injustice then, the film shows three court cases; not fictional, but exactly as they happened then. A female servant is convicted to being flogged for sipping her master’s wine. A poor man is deported to Australia for petty theft. And a poor servant gets the death penalty by hanging for stealing one of his master’s coats in a cold winter.

The infamous Prince Regent (later: King George IV) reigns, as his father, King George III, is mentally ill. As he leaves parliament, a disgruntled worker throws a potato, damaging the window of the prince’s coach. The newspapers and the conservative government exaggerate that as an attempt on the prince’s life. The 1679 Habeas Corpus Act against arbitrary imprisonment is suspended. In Manchester, supporters of universal suffrage are arrested and manhandled.

The government looks for a pretext for a bloodbath amongst universal suffrage supporters. They make General Byng, of the Waterloo battle, commander of the Manchester region. However, General Byng would not be present at the August 1819 pro-democracy rally. He thought a horse race was more important, leaving the Manchester bloodshed to a lieutenant colonel subordinate.

In 1819, workers of Lancashire decide to have a big meeting for universal suffrage in St Peter’s Field in Manchester.

The demonstration of many ten thousands of people is peaceful. With many women dressed in white for the occasion, bringing children along. Musicians playing.

Then, the film shows Manchester factory owners, demanding that authorities use violence to break up the rally. Their pretext: the demonstrators are not at their factory jobs, but on strike. So, supposedly, they break the law. The riot act is read. As there were no microphones in 1819, very few people heard it.

Then, a bloody attack started. First, by the amateur and drunk soldiers of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, ‘the armed wing of the local Conservative party’. Then, by professional hussar soldiers. One soldier indignantly calls on his colleagues to stop the killing and injuring, as the demonstrators, surrounded by the military, are unable to go away. At least fifteen people killed; maybe 700 injured.

Even the correspondent of the London Times is arrested by the soldiers. Then, it was already a Conservative daily; but not yet owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The final scene of the film is the burial of Joseph. He survived Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. But he did not survive the British army at St Peter’s Field, ‘Peterloo’.

This 11 September 2018 video from Britain says about itself:

PETERLOO Director Q&A | TIFF 2018

Veteran British filmmaker Mike Leigh (Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Turner) returns to the Festival with a sobering look at the context and consequences of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, when British government militias responded with violence to a crowd calling for political reform.

In an interview with Dutch weekly VPRO Gids, 2-8 March 2019, p. 29, Leigh says that the film is not just about 1819, but also about now. When democracy is not working really democratically. ‘In Western countries, people are in power who do not do their democratic duty‘.

In another interview, Leigh discussed the financing of the film by Amazon (owned by the richest man in the world, treating its workers horribly):

“Either you get interfered with or you don’t”, he says. “Either you get backing or you don’t. Those are the bottom lines. Now, I’ve been very fortunate that in all of the 21 films I’ve made, nobody has interfered with any of them at any stage. Amazon is no exception. It is the biggest budget we’ve had but it’s not huge.” …

Ask Leigh whether he would like to be a young independent UK filmmaker starting out today, and he gives a wary response. He realises he is speaking “from the privileged, lucky experience of someone who has umpteen films and never been interfered with”.

This 23 October 2018 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake on Peterloo

Director Mike Leigh talks about Peterloo, his film about the dark pages in the history of Great Britain, the Peterloo Massacre, that occurred at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819.

Maxine Peake joins trade unionists’ calls to free Abdullah Ocalan. The actor, who recently went on a delegation to Turkey, said meeting hunger-striking Kurdish MP Leyla Guven was ‘inspiring but harrowing’: here.

Cladding scandal corporation gets Manchester, England contract

Manchester, England town hall

By Phil Miller in Britain:

Monday, January 7, 2019

Cladding-row firm wins Manchester town hall contract worth millions

LENDLEASE won a multimillion-pound contract today to renovate Manchester Town Hall, despite being mired in a row over dangerous cladding.

Residents at two unsafe apartment blocks built by the Australian construction giant in the city are furious that the company has won more work from the authorities.

Lendlease is refusing to pay for emergency repairs to Vallea Court and Cypress Place after inspectors had found Grenfell-type flammable cladding.

Residents who bought the apartments as leaseholders now face bills of £10,000 to replace the cladding.

The row is set to deepen after Manchester City Council awarded Lendlease a £190 million contract to refurbish the iconic town hall, a Grade I listed building.

Angry residents at the apartment blocks tweeted: “We are facing financial ruin, live in a dangerous building and our original developer has landed a major contract for the council that is supposed to represent us.”

They said: “Our hard-earned money and rates going to Lendlease profits is very hard for us to deal with.

“Sadly we weren’t listened to … we are beyond disappointed.” …

Jack Simpson, of Inside Housing magazine, tweeted: “There will be a lot of residents disappointed by the award after a year of lobbying the company to cover re-cladding costs.”

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire previously said that building owners and developers “must replace dangerous ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding, and the costs must not be passed on to leaseholders.”

Mr Brokenshire’s theory sounds good for a Conservative. However, how about practice?