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Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

16 December 2021

‘You Cannae Eat Ships’: 7 Days and industrial news.

In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days'.

In this third guest post, Graham Burchell recalls his role as industrial correspondent for '7 Days' and reflects on the industrial relations landscape of the early 1970s. (The second post in the series is here.)

 

Looking back on my experience on 7 Days, I find I am very surprised that I was ever invited to become the full time “industrial correspondent” for this New Left, revolutionary, but hopefully commercially viable, photo-news weekly. It now seems to me extraordinary.

You Cannae Eat Ships

‘You Cannae Eat Ships’, 3 November 1971. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

Apart from a brief experience of trade union activity, through involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to form a “breakaway” union of telecommunication workers, separating from the large postal workers union (UPW), I had no experience and little knowledge of the world of industry or trade unionism.  It was a brief experience-experiment:  the national postal strike of 1971 put an abrupt end to the plans of the new union, forcing its handful of members to choose either to join the UPW strike or become strike-breakers, “scabs”.  It also put an end to my trade union experience.

My involvement came about as a result of my decision to ‘boycott’ my final exams at university, abandon academic life, and philosophy, and throw in my lot – irrevocably, I imagined – with the working class and its struggle.  I became a trainee overseas telegraphist in the Post Office.  Anthony Barnett’s approach to me came after I had reconsidered this decision, left the Post Office, sat my finals, and rediscovered my interest in philosophy.

As well as my lack of experience and knowledge of industrial matters, of economic policy or trade unionism, I had no experience of journalism and the kind of investigative activity and writing it involved.  Moreover, I was temperamentally unsuited for the job:  24 years old, I was too self-conscious and too intimidated by the people I needed to interview to be able to approach them with any confidence or authority.  I was frequently in the office, not knowing what to do, and I recall Peter Fuller, in charge of Home news, and a real journalist, impatiently telling me that I should be “out there” getting stories. But I had very little idea of how to go about this. 

Indeed, the high points of my experience on the paper – a visit to Glasgow to report on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ “work-in”, to Coventry to interview engineering workers facing the prospect of unemployment and striking for the first time since the war, an eye-opening trip down a coal mine, an interview with the miners’ leader Lawrence Daly, and a journey to Kirby and Liverpool with the playwright John McGrath to report on a factory occupation – were all initiated and arranged for me by others.  On the trip to Liverpool, I was little more than John McGrath’s awestruck passenger observing how all the people we met in Liverpool – union organisers, shop stewards in the occupied plant, and everyone in the bar of the Everyman Theatre – seemed to know and greet him as a friend.

From Militant Miners

‘From Militant Miners the News ‘It’s All or F**k All’, 15 December 1971. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

The term “industrial correspondent” is not used much today.  The social, political and economic landscape in which journalists with this title once operated – a world of major national industries, large national trade unions, and the quasi-corporatist “industrial relations” and economic management set ups which had governed the relations between employers, workers and national governments since the Second World War – has disappeared.

 

The Miners Week One

The Miners: Week One, 19 January 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

7 Days was launched in what we can perhaps now see was an important moment in the early stages of this transformation.  It was an imaginative venture, an attempt to get free from old models of a militant Left journalism tied to the policies and positions of a political organisation, to create something radical and independent that would speak to the new forces and movements we felt ourselves to be part of, even possibly to represent. But, despite our aspirations, perhaps we failed to identify what was in fact new in what was happening.  In 1970, Edward Heath’s Conservatives were elected on a radical ‘free market’ manifesto.  Harold Wilson derided the Conservative programme as the work of “Selsdon Man” (after the hotel in which the manifesto had been drafted).  He depicted it as the product of a kind of paleo-conservatism.  This set the tone for what became a persistent critical theme:  that the Conservative programme came from, and would take us back to, the past.  But maybe “Selsdon Man” was not a paleo-conservative relic, but something new, albeit perhaps still inchoate, foreshadowing the neoliberalism that would come to dominate the future?

In 1971, a record number of people were involved in “industrial disputes” and more days were “lost” through strikes than in any year since 1926.  The reform of “industrial relations” was at the heart of the Conservative government’s agenda. A new Industrial Relations Act, introduced quickly and coming into force in 1971, sought to shift the balance of power between employers and trade unions in favour of the former, on the one hand, and in favour of the power of official trade union leadership over shop-floor organisation and their ‘unofficial’ actions on the other.  At the same time it gave greater powers of intervention and sanction to the State.

Forcing Unions

‘Forcing Unions to Break the Law’, 23 February 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

The first steps in the government’s attempt to dismantle the post-war tri-partite consultative arrangements inaugurated a long period of bitter and intense struggles.  When the first issue of 7 Days  appeared, the Upper Clyde work-in had been underway for a number of weeks, other kinds of factory occupations followed elsewhere, a battle between engineering workers and employers was brewing in Coventry, the first national miners’ strike since 1926 seemed likely, and the trade unions were gearing up their opposition to the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. I had a great deal to learn, and it had to be learned ‘on the job’.  7 Days gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the people engaged in these struggles – shipbuilders on the Clyde, engineering workers in Coventry, manufacturing workers in Kirby, miners in Kent – even if I may not have known how best to learn from them and remedy my ignorance.

In January 1972, under the headline “A Great Year for The Thirties”, I summed up 1971 as a “year of revivals”: “The traditions that hang like a fog around the British labour movement had their moment in a nostalgic resurrection of the Thirties”, I wrote.  While it was true that some trade union and Labour leaders, as well as many on the far Left, frequently evoked the past when describing Conservative policies – referring to a “class struggle” being “resurrected” by the Tories, for example – both headline and article failed to do justice to the reality of the struggles I reported on.  Moreover, they did not accurately represent what I myself had found and written about, which could not be reduced to this summary judgement. 

 

Great Year for The Thirties

‘A Great Year for The Thirties’, 5 January 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

In my brief experience as a journalist, in the rapid background research I had to undertake and in meetings with those directly involved, I inevitably had to get to grips with the always specific features of the different struggles I had to describe and the ways in which the past was present and active within them.  Behind the grand historical references, the images and narratives evoking a deep continuity between past and present struggles, I quickly encountered a more messy history present in the form of agreements struck in the past, court judgements, laws, constitutions and rule books, traditional forms of working practices, divisions between different groups of workers, and so on, which shaped the various struggles and which I had to try to understand.

My article alluded to the familiar Marxist trope of experiencing the present through models, characters and images borrowed from the past:  the famous quotation from the opening lines of Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.  But I was, of course, oblivious to the fact that my criticism applied equally, indeed with greater justification, to myself.  In an ‘Ideas’ piece, written a few weeks later, I summed up my strictures on the inevitable limits of the workers’ “economic struggle” by looking back to the Russian Revolution and invoking – resurrecting – the thoughts of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as my authority!

“Industry” was, of course, only a small part of 7 Days, and it was far from central to the concerns and interests of the paper’s contributors and readership. My impression is that we thought we were living in an exciting and optimistic historical moment in which it was not unrealistic to think of ourselves as protagonists of a process of revolutionary change.  It may be that in looking for signs of the possible existence of a “revolutionary situation”, we failed to detect other powers knocking on the door. 

I think it unlikely that the kind of politics 7 Days  wanted to promote and represent would have survived subsequent political-economic developments – the collapse of the Soviet empire and the inexorable rise of neoliberalism in particular – but it still seems to me a great shame that the ambitious project of a commercially viable independent, radical photo-news and ‘ideas’ weekly paper did not survive longer and have a chance to develop and change.

02 December 2021

Reflecting on activism and protest around the Disability Discrimination Act

This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us. 

This selection has been made by Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.

In November 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in Britain, after years of campaigning. Now repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, the act was the first piece of legislation to attempt to address the needs of people with disabilities in the UK since the end of the Second World War.

The focus of the act was on anti-discrimination and, for the first time, placed responsibility on service providers and employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments and disabilities.

The Act was not perfect. It was even described by Rachel Hurst, the activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action (DAA), as ‘The Train spotters Charter’ because ‘[…] you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train.’ However, the implementation of this legislation, and the campaigns around it, were a turning point in the history of disability activism and did reflect the beginning of changing attitudes in terms of where the responsibility lies for social change.

ADP Add MS 89385 1994

“Join Our Protest” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. The rest of this flyer discusses the initial bill being talked out of the House of Commons and lists MPs to write to, demanding their support of the bill. (Add MS 89385)

The act made discrimination a societal issue and not just the responsibility of people with impairments or disabilities.

But, more than anything else, one of the momentous parts of the act was the story behind it. The act was fiercely campaigned and fought for by civil rights campaigners and disability rights activists. And it was these protests and these people that made the passing of the act such a remarkable moment in disability history.

More than 100,000 thousand people took to the streets to protest for the bill and it was a highly publicised campaign.

For a lot of people it felt shocking to see people with disabilities protesting and being arrested and for many it therefore challenged false preconceptions they held about the independence and vulnerability of people living with impairments.

This is reflected in some of the popular slogans of the campaign:

“KEEP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS NOT CHARITY”

“PISS ON PITY”

(– Popular slogans from the 1994 protests.)

ADP Add MS 89385 1994 ii

“Keep fighting for rights not charity!” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. (Add MS 89385)

The story of these protests is recorded, in part, in the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals held at the British Library.

The ADP is a charitable organisation, founded in 1971, to support and advocate for disabled people in employment and education. It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability. The organisation and its members were part of the campaign and protest around the bill.

The founding of the ADP is written about in more detail in our blog by a founding member, Diana Twitchin, here.

ADP Add MS 89385 Letter

“Surely progress can be made, I simply cannot believe that in an age where men are sent to outer space it can’t be possible to let disabled youngsters make their way to better chances. So much talent is allowed to wilt.” Letter to the Association of Disabled Professionals, April 1994. (Add MS 89385)

 

Reflection from staff Disability Support Network member:

Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, and latterly the Equality Act, 2010, the disability community are still fighting for equality and equity in day to day life.  Having reasonable / workplace adjustments enshrined in law is a start, but it isn’t enough. 

Elements of society still view the disability community through the medical model of disability where it is seen that the individual is disabled by their impairment or difference, and that these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments. 

The Social Model of Disability, however, explains that there are multiple barriers including physical, intellectual, attitudinal, social, and policy which society puts in the way of people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability sees that people with impairments and differences are disabled by the world around them, not by their impairment or difference. The more of these barriers are removed, or not created in the first place, the less need there will be for adjustments to be made. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing inequalities faced by people with disabilities.  “Worldwide, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact the disability community, and this pandemic is no exception”. [2]

In response to this, this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”.  “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.” [3]

Emily

 

Further reading:

The Association of Disabled Professionals Archive: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:LSCOP_BL:IAMS032-003453637

Practical and Reasonable – A history of the Association of Disabled Professionals - Untold lives blog

[1]The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: The campaign for civil rights - YouTube 2:02 – 2:10

[2]https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext  Accessed 01/12/2021

[3]https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021

25 November 2021

Six months that launched the Seventies

In the second part of this series, Anthony Barnett's guest post recalls his time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper entitled '7 Days'. In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy.

Looking back half a century to 7 Days makes me realise the pain of its failure which is still buried within me - it was such a glorious achievement and had such promise. I’ve been asked to say something about how I became involved, what I saw as being at stake, the experience of producing it, and how it influenced me. To start to answer them I want to signal why it was so good and why something so good failed.

What 7 Days expressed in its range, radicalism, intense seriousness and dramatic layouts was the radical spirit and global intelligence of the young English left of ‘the Sixties’. It was the anti-Vietnam war movement turned into stunning photojournalism. It was the best revolutionary radicalism, shorn of its Trotskyism. It was a pioneering engagement with feminism and anti-racism. It was fresh and fearless.

Miss World Protest

The attack on Miss World. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

One person orchestrated the outcome across the pages of 7 Days, edited the layouts and presentation: Alexander Cockburn. I dislike the term ‘flair’, as I associate it with superficiality. But Alex’s flair was breath-taking in its audacity. Thanks to him, 7 Days focussed a tabloid energy on the British class system and its snobbery as well as world capitalism and its proto-fascism.

I’ll take a closer look at the first issue to show its range which was crucial to the paper’s qualities, building on Madeleine Davis’s analysis in her opening post. Page 2 reports the trial of the Mangrove 9 (recently brought back to life by Steve McQueen). The portraits of all nine were to fill a page when the historic 55 day trial ended. Rage against racism, in the UK and around the world, was a 7 Days theme from the start.

Mangrove Nine

The Mangrove Nine. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

Page 3 has reports on the European “Common Market”, the role of the City of London and a financial scandal in Italy. They initiated coverage of capitalism rather than ‘the economy (at the back, launching a weekly essay on concepts, Gareth Stedman Jones asks ‘What is Capitalism?’).

Two photo-stories give the paper its hard-hitting edge. One exposed a reunion of ex-SS Nazis in Bavaria and got the cover splash. The second is a dramatic account of how a British army unit provoked a riot in Northern Ireland. It is by the photographer, Tom Picton, who became a regular. It proved a harbinger of Bloody Sunday, which 7 Days covered like no other mainland paper.

Derry Jan 30

Bloody Sunday. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

A striking report on a ‘Day at the Dogs’ by Peter Fuller, who was the indefatigable home affairs editor, launched coverage of sport with a strong working-class angle.

7 Days pioneered discussion of mental illness as a form of control and repression. In her cool, invaluable overview in the digitised archive, Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production manager, captures the radical imperative to break the silence about this issue. A story on ‘Madness in Two Minds’ and one on ‘Inside Britain’s Psychiatric Prisons’ launched the coverage along with a provocation (by one of the editorial collective, John Hoyland under a pseudonym) about whether parents should make love in the presence of young children (answer, not if they sit on top of you).

The Labour Party features in a short article by Tom Nairn, ‘Has the Labour Party any new ideas?’ Tony Benn had published a Fabian Pamphlet that called on Labour to adopt workers control of production, referendums (there had yet to be one in the UK), direct action against the media and democratic education to replace elite rule. Nairn says it is absurd  to think Labour could just adopt such a “staggering” vision. He points out that in a subsequent Fabian Tract, Tony Crosland’s responded to Benn with a call for what Nairn saw as right wing-populism - a warning of what was to come. Nairn’s conclusion: “totally new” thinking would have to come from outside Labour. No one thought its source would be a Conservative of whom we had barely heard, Margaret Thatcher.

Turn the page and the nature of pop music and the role of musical charts is looked at by Dave Laing, while Stuart Hood (once the BBC Director of Programmes) writes on TV as an industry. Next there is Peter Wollen on the “Real, Surreal and Mundane”. In part he discusses how we mostly see paintings reproduced in a small format in books and this changes their nature. Opposite, a review of the ‘Advertisement of the Week’ is by John Mathews. Across all such coverage the new weekly focussed on the production of what is experienced and refused to take the output of capitalist society at face value.

In addition, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith contributed a superb review of Bertolucci’s The Conformist. He sets out how it resolved failures in his earlier films and shows how a bourgeois husband “is more fascist by his emptiness than anyone who is fascist by conviction”.  

If this wasn’t enough, a four-page feature follows on gambling, its nature, scale and addictiveness and the role of the state by Jon Halliday, the brother of Fred Halliday, who was in charge of 7 Days' ‘Foreign News’, and Peter Fuller.

British Army at work

The British Army at work. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

Later, Fred Halliday was to write a multi-page spread on why Nixon was going to China - one of the world-turning events that coincided with the six-month life of 7 Days. These included Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, when the paper ran the photographs others would not; the first miners’ strike that humiliated the Heath government; the trial of the Mangrove nine; the women’s liberation attack on the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall; the liberation of Bangladesh, and the huge, penultimate Vietnamese attack on the American regime in the South. It was the six months that launched the Seventies.

7 Days could have been an English language version of Libération, launched just over 18 months later in July 1973, or the Tageszeitung launched in 1978 - both  also started with egalitarian editorial collectives – and survived, even if, like them, it would have undergone the traumas of a triumphant market fundamentalism. A print publication needs in some way to be a ‘home’ for a core readership. 7 Days never had the time to build one. But the potential readership was there, later expressed by Rock against Racism and, in the early Eighties, with Ken Livingston’s inventive and effective Greater London Council (1981-86).

7 Days closed because it had no serious start-up funding. It was without capital in a capitalist world and lacked any core backers. But this itself needs explanation. I was the prime mover and fund-raiser, using a dummy we’d created as well as a business case. At the heart of it, all of us were attempting to by-pass the sectarian divisions of the English far-left by seeking to demonstrate what could be done by looking outwards. But this also meant there was no initial network of organised support in a highly sectarian situation.

Daly NUM

The Miners’ Strike. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.

Specifically, it was an effort to recover from the wounding split in the Black Dwarf . 7 Days was what the Black Dwarf should have become. This sounds like an odd thing to say, I know! Black Dwarf was a revolutionary paper conjured into existence by the theatrical agent Clive Goodwin and the poet Christopher Logue and others, edited initially (after a false start) by Tariq Ali. I joined the Dwarf later. Among its other editors and contributors who were to work full-time on 7 Days were Fred Halliday (who delighted in the Dwarf’s  memorable front page banner: “We shall fight, we shall win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin”), Peter Fuller, who wrote pseudonymously the Dwarf’s ‘City’ column and John Hoyland.

Tariq Ali became a committed Trotskyist and decided to help create the International Marxist Group (IMG), as a British branch of the Fourth International. Backed by like-minded Black Dwarfers (none of whom were writers), he urged Goodwin to make it the paper of the IMG and Goodwin refused. Ali had recruited a wealthy supporter and they split off to launch the Red Mole. I took over editing the Black Dwarf  but Goodwin had no funds and it died.

As it did so, some of us determined to start a new paper out of the ashes of the debacle, convinced that a committed non-sectarian paper of the left was needed. An example of the linkage: a key contributor to 7 Days was the great critic Peter Wollen, who wrote the Xmas cover story ‘Was Christ a Collaborator?’ I asked him why he wanted to become involved with us and not Red Mole. He said that it was when he saw one of the later Black Dwarf’s that I edited, where I’d put FOOTBALL FOOTBALL on the cover. Here is a characteristic picture from the time, with Margarita Jiménez.

Image_06

Margarita Jiménez. Copyright © 1970 Howard Naish.

7 Days became a message in a bottle. One that recorded what the left’s culture and spirit should have been like. I’m very happy that Madeleine Davis’s eagle eye spotted the bottle and has opened it up half a century later.

Looking back I realise that for me personally it was a moment of uninhibited revolutionary expression. Much later I enjoyed bringing some radical energy into constitutional reform with Charter 88 – but it was consciously preconditional: a call to democratise the state sufficiently to make socialist strategy a credible option. Twelve years after that, the aim of openDemocracy was to create a space to prevent suffocation by Blairite globalisation. But 7 Days was an uninhibited ‘weapon’ of revolutionary advocacy, advance and learning, or so we thought!

How did it influence me? I felt vindicated as well as defeated. It meant my experience of that period was different from many of those who joined organisations like the IMG, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), or even became Bennites. It was defeated but it deserved to have survived. I was greatly helped overcome the loss by gaining the friendship and mentorship of John Berger, whom we’d asked to become a ‘Trustee’ of 7 Days. He was a wonderful example of how to retain voice and principle even when times are dire.

I’d like to add one codicil. We were not helped by the state of England. In his article, Nairn quotes Tony Crosland, once the most interesting of Labour intellectuals. Now he denounced ‘participation’ and ‘liberation’. The British people, Crosland claimed, “prefer to lead a full family life and cultivate their gardens. And a good thing too … we do not want a busy bustling society in which everyone is politically active and fussing around in an interfering or responsible manner”. This still shocks. It expressed the deep conservatism of the political class and the revulsion shared by the Labour leadership of democracy itself. Unfortunately, at the time, far too many voters agreed. They had still to vomit up the loathsome elixir of fatalism, deference and belief in British superiority and this effected everyone. This helps explain why 7 Days was also like an oasis in a desert.   

Dance layout

The spirit of 7 Days in this stunning layout. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.