Monday, September 18, 2017

Mike Hicks



In Memoriam
Mike Hicks: 1937–2017


Mick Hicks, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPGB) who was jailed for his role in the Wapping print-workers dispute, died on Thursday 7th September at the age of 80. Appropriately enough he collapsed whilst giving a speech just after being made Honorary President at the AGM of the Bournemouth Labour Party, thus ending a political career that began with him joining the Young Communist League (YCL) 64 years ago in 1953.
Born Michael Joseph Hicks in August 1937, Mike’s father was a leader of the London dockers. His elder brother Pat Hicks, who died in 2011, was of the same mould as Mick, being a leader of the London taxi drivers. Mike recalled that instead of Cowboys and Indians, he and his friends played Blackshirts and Jews in the bomb sites of his native south London and remembered being given rare wartime treats, such as bananas, that the dockers had ‘liberated’ from the London docks.
His first job was with Waterlows, printers of stamps and banknotes, but much of his working life was with John Menzies’ newspaper and magazine distribution branch. He was active in the printers’ union the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT), becoming a member of its London Central Branch and rising to becoming Imperial Father of Chapel covering six depots. In 1986 he became a full-time official of SOGAT.
 He was very active in the Wapping dispute that began in January 1986 when Rupert Murdoch's News International group moved production of its four national newspapers to Wapping in London's Docklands. Over 5,000 Fleet Street printers and clerical workers were sacked overnight when Murdoch transferred production to a modern printing plant at ‘Fortress Wapping’ in the East End of London.
Using scab labour, News International continued production with the full support of the Tory government and the strike ended in defeat for the printers in February 1987.
During the dispute pickets and rallies outside the plant were frequently charged by mounted police. In addition to hundreds being injured, in all 1,435 pickets and supporters were arrested. Mike was one of four people jailed, allegedly for pushing his megaphone into the face of a police officer. This merited a sentence of a year, with eight months suspended, a sentence that resulted in national protests. Even the national executive committee of the Labour Party voted unanimously to call for his release.
In 1991 he was instrumental in the merger of SOGAT and the National Graphical Association to become the Graphical, Print and Media Union (GPMU), now part of Unite the Union.
     Within the old CPGB Mike Hicks was a leading opponent of the ‘Eurocommunist’ trend, an ultra-revisionist faction within the CPGB associated with the monthly magazine Marxism Today. Their influence, which extended right to the top of the CPGB bureaucracy, ultimately ended with the dissolution of the CPGB in 1991.
     Mike was expelled from the CPGB in 1984 after he ignored an order from the Eurocommunist General Secretary Gordon McLennan to close down the London District Congress of which he was Chair. Following his expulsion he played an important role in the Communist Campaign Group (CCG), which was established to defend the Morning Star, the paper that had once been the flagship of the CPGB, now under threat of closure by the ‘Euros’ who wanted all the CPGB’s efforts to revolve around Marxism Today.
The CCG later became the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and Mike Hicks was elected General Secretary of the newly formed party in 1988.
He worked closely with his second wife, Mary Rosser, who died in 2010. She was Chief Executive of the {Morning Star} between 1975 and 1998, and Chair of the Marx Memorial Library from 1977 to 2010 with a short break. Even her enemies acknowledge it was she who kept the paper alive (often by taking harsh measures) when vital overseas orders were lost at the time of the Gorbachov counter revolutions. Mike’s trade union contacts were vital in securing alternative sources of funding for the paper and securing co-operation with the printers.
A tough working-class militant, his forceful character did not always go down very well with his more refined comrades. An internal split at the Morning Star over the rights of the Management Committee brought to light internal CPB disputes, which saw him deposed from the post of General Secretary by a 17–13 vote moved by the Editor of the Morning Star during a CPB Executive Committee meeting in January 1998. Hicks’ supporters on the Management Board of the Morning Star retaliated by suspending and then dismissing its Editor. This led to a prolonged strike at the paper that only ended when the Editor was reinstated.
In the wake of that split Mike Hicks became involved in the ‘Marxist Forum’ group organised by opponents of the new General Secretary Robert Griffiths.
For many years after 1998 it was Mike who ensured that the Marx Memorial Library’s Committee remained in safe hands by ensuring a good turnout of print-workers to vote at the stormy AGMs. He was an effective trade union officer for the Library, helping building links with the trade unions and helping to secure a large donation of printers’ records and memorabilia.
Retirement to Mary Rosser’s native Bournemouth saw them both join the Labour Party, on whose behalf he served as Trade Union Officer. He also unsuccessfully stood for Labour during the 2011 Bournemouth council elections.
Although he disagreed at the time with the foundation of the New Communist Party (NCP) in 1977 he was a good friend to former New Worker Editor Ann Rogers and NCP leader Andy Brooks, to say nothing of many other comrades who were inspired, informed and entertained by his countless anecdotes.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Audley End: A palace in all but name



By Carole Barclay

 Audley End in northern Essex is what people used to call a ‘stately home’ back in the 1930s when most of them were still owned by the landed gentry. Later it was taken over by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to train Polish commandos preparing to join the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. It remained in private hands until 1948, when was sold to the public. Today the house is one of the jewels in the crown of English Heritage, the charity that now runs many of our historic buildings and monuments.
Audley End shows that some sections of the ruling class could live like kings in the 17th century. Thomas Howard, the first Earl of Suffolk, built this mansion on what had been a much more modest house built on the plunder of Walden Abbey during the Reformation.
Suffolk, who was the Lord High Treasurer of England, built his pile to impress a king. But when James Stuart, the first Scottish king of England, stayed at Audley End he began to suspect that his chancellor had had his greedy hand in the royal till. In 1619 Suffolk was charged with embezzlement and sent to the Tower of London. Only a hefty fine secured his release and he died in disgrace in 1626.
Later owners modernised the building and landscaped the grounds whilst demolishing whole wings to cut the costs of running the house. What was once the largest private house in the country was reduced to a third of its size. But it still retains much of its former grandeur and the interior houses period collections, a number of works of art, and exhibitions of life in Jacobean and Victorian days.
Audley End is open throughout the year, though it is wise to check in advance because the house is sometimes closed for filming. Buses from Saffron Walden pass nearby, and Audley End railway station is about a mile and a half away. There’s free parking on the site. Tickets cost £17.50, and £15.80 for students and pensioners. Admission is free for members of English Heritage.

Friday, September 01, 2017

OLIVER CROMWELL: 1599–1658


OLIVER CROMWELL, the leader of the bourgeois English Revolution, died on 3rd September 1658. Cromwell, the MP for Huntingdon, was the leading Parliamentary commander during the English Civil War, which began in 1642 and ended in 1649 with the trial and execution of Charles Stuart and the abolition of the monarchy. The Republic of England, or Commonwealth as it was styled in English, was proclaimed soon after.
In 1653 Cromwell became head of state, the Lord Protector. By then the republic Cromwell led included England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as well as colonies in New England and the Caribbean. During its brief life the Commonwealth became a force in Europe. Culturally it inspired the great poetry of John Milton and Andrew Marvell, and other radical and pacifist religious movements such the Quakers, who are still with us today.
Oliver Cromwell was succeeded by his son Richard, who was neither a politician nor a soldier. Unable to reconcile republican generals with the demands of the rich merchants and landowners to curb the influence of the New Model Army, Richard Cromwell resigned the following year. The government collapsed. The monarchy was restored in 1660 and the New Model Army was dissolved.
Marxist academics have always recognised the historic role of Cromwell but most bourgeois historians simply dismiss Cromwell as an upstart general who made himself dictator, a “king in all but name,” through the might of his New Model Army. Some Irish nationalists call him a brutal bigoted English invader. Some Protestants, even now, regard Cromwell as a religious reformer who fought for freedom of conscience for all faiths apart from Catholicism, and many in the Jewish community still remember Cromwell as the leader who allowed Jews to live, worship and work in England for the first time since the pogroms of 1290.
But for the bourgeoisie Oliver is best forgotten, even though their ascendancy began when their ancestors took up the gun in the 1640s.
The ruling class abhor revolutionary change today because it threatens their own domination, so they naturally deny that their class ever came to power through it in the first place. For them the English republic is an aberration, a temporary blip in the steady advance of bourgeois progress, which is the myth they teach us in school. If they elevate anything at all it is the ‘glorious revolution’ of 1688, when the last of the Stuarts was deposed and replaced by a king of their own choosing. Though not as bloodless as they claimed – plenty was shed in Ireland – the establishment of a monarchy that was the gift of Parliament was achieved without the involvement of the masses, which was precisely what was intended.
These days there are few public monuments to Cromwell or the republic that he led apart from a handful of 19th century statues, the most famous standing outside Parliament in Westminster.
In Huntingdon you can visit Cromwell’s old school, which now houses the largest collection of Cromwelliana on public display in Britain. The Cromwell Museum is on Grammar School Walk and it’s open every day apart from Mondays.
Oliver Cromwell’s House in Ely, the family home of the Lord Protector, has been refurbished to show how it may have looked during Cromwell’s lifetime. It also houses a gift shop that stocks an impressive range of souvenirs, including Cromwell mugs depicting the great man and some of his most famous quotes. You can also buy bottles of East Anglian ‘Toppled Crown’ beer and ‘Cromwell Cider’.
Oliver Cromwell’s House, 29 St Mary’s Street, Ely was awarded the Hidden Gem accolade by the Visit England national tourist agency in 2016 and it is open all year round.