Levellers Day Thoughts on Freeborn John


On the 17th May 1649 a little known event took place at an obscure little church at Burford in Oxfordshire which was to mark a major turning point in the history of English Radical Politics. The event, which in many ways was to change the course of the so called ‘Great Rebellion’ of the 1640s by Parliament against the King, involved the execution of three soldiers in Oliver Cromwell’s ‘New Model Army’: Cornet Thompson, Private Perkins and Corporal Church, in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist, Burford, on the orders of Cromwell himself.

A dedicated page on St. John the Baptist Burford’s website describes the Levellers as ‘a group of radical thinkers, whose views challenged Parliament’s control during the English Civil War. They wanted equality for all, a level society and are considered by some to be the first socialists.’ Elsewhere, in a short, but by no means insignificant, book by the journalist and writer Peta Steel, published in May 2015 by the South East Regional branch of the TUC, they are referred to as ‘the first political grouping to actually represent the ordinary people and not the vested interests of the wealthy and the aristocracy.’

The fact that history is largely taught at academic institutions, which, in recent decades, have come to represent those self same vested interests, means that in many ways the Levellers have gradually drifted into greater and greater obscurity over the years. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the one individual around whom the small cadre of thinkers and intellectuals who inspired the Leveller Movement were to gravitate, John Lilburne, is almost forgotten within the borders of his own home county; the former Prince Bishopric of Durham.

Although the Leveller Movement has been the subject of a by no means unimportant doctorate thesis penned by one former student of Durham University, the man who is generally accepted as the Movement’s founder, John Lilburne, is neither widely discussed within local schools or communities within County Durham, nor is there a commemorative statue dedicated to him anywhere in the Bishopric. This in itself seems at odds with County Durham’s reputation as a hotbed of political radicalism and left leaning ideas. Indeed, when the Newcastle based publication ‘The Chronicle‘ posted a list of ‘North East streets named after socialist leaders, radicals and reformers’ on its website, there wasn’t a single reference to John Lilburne anywhere to be found.

Born in Sunderland and educated at Newcastle and Bishop Auckland, John Lilburne represents the lost legacy of true County Durham Radicalism more than any other figure before or since. Whilst contemporary Durham Radicals draw their inspiration from Marx, Lenin and a whole host of other, mainly Socialist, thinkers, Lilburne’s influence is almost entirely overlooked.

Following the election of Jeremy Corbyn to office as Leader of the Opposition in September 2015, however, and the new Labour leader’s statement in an interview that the historical figure he most admired was none other than John Lilburne, the initiation of a £7,200 Heritage Lottery Fund project in the North East saw the Canny Craic Theatre Company, Sunderland Museum and Bede’s World joining forces in a landmark collaboration using Lilburne’s story as its main focus. With Corbyn’s fortunes considerably more improved since his initial election to the Leadership in 2015, and his links with such local organizations as the Durham Miners’ Association as strong as ever, perhaps we shall see a well deserved revival of interest in the man and his ideas in the coming months and years.

Picture Credit: John Lilburne: Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Licence


TGI Strikedays: class struggle and events round-up for early May

‘TGI Strikedays: class struggle and events round-up for early May’ Latest update on the ‘Cautiously Pessimistic’ blog.

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Updates on courts, borders, workplace and welfare disputes for mid-April

Latest ‘Updates on courts, borders, workplace and welfare disputes for mid-April’ from the Cautiously Pessimistic Blog including details of Unite Fujitsu Fundraiser event!

Cautiously pessimistic

A few quick additions and updates to my previous round-up of ongoing events and disputes for April:

On a legal note, Trans Survival Trans Defence are asking anyone who can make it to get down to Hendon Magistrates Court on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th April in support of a young trans woman facing charges from an incident at a counterprotest against transphobia last year. I’m aware that this incident was controversial and there’s a range of opinions about it, but I think that opposition to any involvement of the police and CPS in political disputes has to be a basic starting point, and inviting the involvement of state violence in these kinds of disputes can only worsen them.

Meanwhile, the Stansted 15 trial of people facing terrorism charges for blocking a deportation charter flight has been adjourned, apparently until October. Keep up with End Deportations

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Refuse workers refuse work: early April round-up of workplace and social struggles

Latest low down on how ‘Refuse workers refuse work’ along with ‘early April round-up of workplace and social struggles’ from the nothingiseverlost ‘Cautiously Pessimistic’ blog.

Cautiously pessimistic

A quick overview of ongoing workplace disputes, social struggles, and other relevant events:

The cleaners’ and porters’ dispute at the Royal Opera House is still ongoing, with the nightly protests set to continue from Tuesday 3rd April onwards. People can also help keep up the pressure on the Royal Opera House and Kier by emailing them at alex.beard@roh.org.uk and haydn.mursell@kier.co.uk respectively to urge them to reinstate the sacked workers.

The wildcat strike at the Orion recycling plant in London is also set to resume after the Easter break, and a strike fund has been set up and is now taking donations.

The recycling/waste collection sector seems to be seeing a bit of a mini-wave of militancy at the moment, as up in Hull, Wilmington waste recycling staff employed by FCC Environment have gone out on a two-week strike in a dispute over hazardous conditions and the…

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We are all the wrong kind of Jews: solidarity with Jewdas against the fascist collaborators and hypocrites

Interesting take on the latest major controversy within the UK Labour Party.

Cautiously pessimistic

I think humanity is finally rejecting what has always been an impossible project, the project of representation. The present proliferation of major and minor pharaohs around the world is the final and ludicrous stage of that impossible project. My life can’t be lived as a representation; my representative can’t realize my aspirations, take my steps or engage in my actions. The pharaohs are the final and definitive proof of the impossibility of representation. I think we’ve all finally learned what took me so long to learn, namely that I’m robbed of my enjoyment if my representative enjoys himself for me, that my hunger remains when he eats for me, that I don’t express myself when he speaks for me, that my mind and my imagination stagnate when he thinks for me and decides for me, that I lose my life when he lives for me. – Fredy Perlman, Letters of…

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And The Struggles Continue…..

It’s been more than six months since the last update to this page, as the membership has been preoccupied with a number of key activities aimed at providing help and support for those still living under the shadow of Tory austerity. These include Durham Unite Community’s highly successful campaign to provide support to local people subsisting below the poverty line through the County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank; as well as its on going Welfare Support at appeals and tribunals with those currently contesting benefit decisions made by the DWP.

In addition to this, some of the membership have been conducting their own independent research into the full impact of the sanctions regime locally. According to a recent report published on the Welfare Weekly website previous proposals from the DWP that were agreed last October, in which it was envisaged that a ‘less aggressive approach to sanctions’ was scheduled for preliminary trials, now appear to have been sidelined by Ministers. The proposals, which are said to have included the issuing of warnings in place of the immediate implementation of a benefit sanction, when ‘a claimant breaches the conditions imposed on them for the first time’, now appear to have been ‘quietly’ dropped ‘in response to sustained criticism that sanctions are often applied unfairly’, according to Welfare Weekly.

Although the reasons why the new proposals appear to have been systematically sidelined are still unclear, some sources appear to be pointing the finger at Esther McVey, who took over from David Gauke at the DWP earlier in the year. Research into the impact of sanctions at local level between May 2010 and September 2016 suggests that in the Sunderland area alone there were 39,150 referrals for benefit sanctions. Nationally, a report published earlier in February on the Guardian website suggests that in excess of a million sanctions appear to have been applied to disabled people alone since the Tories came to power. The publication of this report comes directly after a damning assessment from the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which found that Iain Duncan Smith’s much championed ‘welfare reforms’ ‘systematically violate’ the rights of the sick and disabled.


‘New’ (Recycled) DWP Minister Esther McVey. No champion for the Disabled!

Other issues that the membership have been looking into include matters relating to social housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, with particular reference to possible breaches of government guidelines and tenants rights outside the Greater London area; where the subject of what has been referred to by tenants as ‘social cleansing’ has been widely discussed by activists. According to a number of recent postings on the Community Voice Carlisle website, some of the issues raised since the Grenfell Tragedy about the general treatment of tenants by senior management within the social housing sector appear to be common place over the Pennines in the North West. In the light of these revelations CSC activists have been carrying out detailed research within County Durham as a means of assessing as to whether or not tenants here in the North Eaast have similar grounds for complaint. More in detail about that in a future post.

With the continued roll out of Universal Credit taking place at more jobcentres throughout County Durham, and yet more suffering being engendered as a result, we hope to be able to bring you continual updates about how this is impacting the most vulnerable in our society as Tory Austerity continues to reap its harvest of death and destruction across our region. We also plan to be focusing on some of the issues that have been raised locally in relation to the influence of private sector involvement in public sector contracts in the light of the collapse of Carillion. In the Unite Community North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional sector Leeds has been particularly badly hit, and we shall be endeavouring to assess the overall effect of this on the local economy and services over the coming months. So, bookmark this page and we’ll keep you posted!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



A triumph for the politics of the working class movement

Unite Community locally and nationally were among the first to support Jeremy Corbyn and become part of the new Corbynista movement. which aimed to take control and change the Labour party and then the country.

There remains lots of work to be done on both counts of course, but already our work has paid off handsomely. Our members and our communities have suffered terribly under austerity and if there is one thing we have won it is this – THE TORIES HAVE SAID AUSTERITY IS OVER – but we will believe that when we see it. Things are definitely changing for the better and in our direction too, but we continue the campaigns until policy changes and our communities are seeing real improvements everywhere. Foodbanks and clothing banks need to become things of the past.

What led to the Corbyn surge

Most of his MPs expected him to lead Labour to a shattering defeat; in the event, he has inspired an astonishing revival. Theresa May called an early general election in the expectation of achieving the first Conservative landslide majority since 1987. An inept campaign left her humiliated, and her tenuous hold on power dependent on the support of the unpleasant and reactionary Democratic Unionist Party; she looks like a dead woman walking. The Tories were deservedly punished by the electorate for their failures in office and for their joyless, arrogant MAYBOT campaign (May as robot = Maybot).

After seven years of austerity economics, they could not explain how they would improve public services or return hope to the British people. During the election, she abandoned the language of compassionate conservatism and used robotic clichés. Rather than seeking to earn voters’ trust, she assumed that the promise of a “hard” Brexit and antipathy towards Jeremy Corbyn and slurring him as an IRA supporter would suffice. Were it not for 12 Conservative gains in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party recklessly promised a second independence referendum, Labour might well be in power. As it is there were many tight marginals, & 2500 votes in key constituencies would have given Labour power.

Yet though they lost 13 seats, the Tories achieved their highest vote share since 1983 (42.4 per cent). It was not a Conservative collapse but a Labour surge that cost Mrs May her majority.

The Conservatives will be wary of calling an early election because they now fear that Labour could defeat them. Much credit for this unlikely turnaround resides with the much maligned Mr Corbyn. The Labour leader delivered on his original promise to revive the party by attracting young voters, non-voters and former SNP, Ukip and Green supporters. He ran an optimistic and even joyful campaign, defined by policy initiatives rather than slogans.

Labour unexpectedly won 32 seats and increased its vote share from 30.4 per cent to 40 per cent – the largest rise since Clement Attlee’s landslide victory in 1945. No one would dare underestimate Corbyn again, certainly not as a campaigner, even if he has a different style as a Commons performer and day-to-day operator –this honesty is part of his appeal however.

Labour’s manifesto proposed popular measures, such as the abolition of student tuition fees, universal free school meals and the renationalisation of the railways. It eschewed the politics of generational warfare in favour of a social-democratic offer to young and old. Respect to the Greens and others who put aside party advantage to ensure that Tories lost ground, Labour should be respectful in future partnerships with Greens where possible. Arrogance is the most unpleasant of character traits.

Mr Corbyn was also pragmatic. By promising to renew Trident and increase police numbers by 10,000, he blunted Tory attacks over national security. Mr Corbyn recognised the positive role of immigration and the importance of public investment to the economy. And Labour’s position on Brexit was sufficiently ambiguous to attract both Remainers and Leavers.

The Summer of Corbyn Love

Under attack from much of the media and his own MPs because of his past associations, and doubted by the New Statesman, Mr Corbyn showed considerable resilience. He enjoys campaigning and it shows. Rather than condemning his party to a decade of opposition, he has improbably created the conditions for victory next time, as Neil Kinnock did by losing narrowly in 1992. In spite of his many shortcomings, Mr Corbyn has earned the right to lead the party into the next election, whenever it falls. He has won the Labour civil war.

Now, it is time for the party to unite behind him. Backbench critics should be prepared to serve in the shadow cabinet or as shadow ministers. For Labour, as its election campaign demonstrated, unity is strength.

The party must also recognise that, while it advanced, it did not win. For the third successive election, Labour finished comfortably behind the Conservatives when it should have won. Labour must do more to convince the many voters who retain doubts about its economic credibility, although these are based on lies spread by the Tory media.

Yet, after seven years of austerity, there is a real desire for transformative change of the kind that only Labour can deliver. We are all weary of the effects of neoliberalism, ultra-globalisation and the underfunding of public services.

On the eve of the Brexit negotiation, Britain faces yet more political instability. Yet, if there is any consolation, the election has demonstrated that there is no Commons majority for a hard Brexit. Nor is there one in the country. A reinvigorated Labour and MPs of all parties should compel the government to prioritise the economy, rather than immigration control, in the negotiations.

Finally, Labour need to win 32 Tory seats for power next time in Labours’ own right. Corbyn is right to say that the Tory administration is weak and wobbly and can collapse at any time. The next election could be as early as the autumn and so Corbyn has put Labour on permanent campaign footing, with visits to many Tory marginals to come. Respect to all our volunteers who helped with leafletting, canvassing and phone canvassing. Durham Unite Community are going to play our part in this future movement, so let’s redouble our efforts and see Corbyn as Prime Minister next time.