Sunday, 26 February 2017

By-Election Biopsy

Labour won the by-election in Stoke Central, and lost in Copeland. What do these two elections tell us?

As I said several weeks ago, the by-election in Copeland, probably was not going to tell us very much. However much the mainstream media, needing as always to sensationalise every story to maintain their own ratings and justify their existence, tries to make the Copeland by-election into some epoch making event, it wasn't. The main strand of their argument itself indicates why. Their argument that Labour's defeat in Copeland was in some way epochal has been founded on the rather meaningless statement that it has been a Labour seat for 80 years. In that case, they ought to realise that the voters who first voted in that constituency 80 years ago, are dead and buried, in fact, so too probably are their children. In other words, the composition of the electorate in the constituency has changed during that period.

For a long time, that change in composition had been accompanied by a fall in Labour's share of the vote in the constituency, so that it was now, in any case, a marginal seat. But, also, a significant factor in the constituency has been the existence of the nuclear plant at Sellafield, which provides a large number of jobs for workers in the area, and on which an even larger number of other jobs, and revenues depend. It would be all the same if the major employer in the area were an asbestos mine, and processing plant. The principled position for Labour to adopt, in such a situation, would be to demand that the plant should only be able to operate if it could be done under conditions that guaranteed the long-term health of the workers in that industry, and of the surrounding communities. We know the damage and destruction that asbestos has done to people's lives. Yet, experience teaches us that where workers are dependent upon a large employer in an area, they are reluctant to see its existence threatened, even if the cost is the lives of themselves and their children.

Unfortunately, workers who have to sell their labour-power, in order to survive, are often put in a position where they see no alternative to this trade-off, and therefore, sacrifice the health and lives of themselves and their children, in order to obtain current income, particularly where that income might be higher than average. So, Copeland was never going to be a meaningful test of Labour's position, given that Jeremy Corbyn's position of opposition to nuclear power is well known, and was always going to be highlighted and distorted by the Tories and the media. But, as with so many other such issues where Corbyn, McDonnell and co. have held positions in the past, when the pressure was applied, they buckled and thereby looked weak, and dissembling. That happened over their principled republicanism, with their support for a United Ireland, and so on.

One of Corbyn's main character strengths has been his commitment to stand by his principles over the last thirty years, and his personal honesty and integrity. But, on issue after issue, he has begun to bend those principles rather than stand up and aggressively defend them. Trying to make him do so has clearly been a strategy of the Blair-rights and of the Tory media, and the fact that he, McDonnell and others have complied, now risks throwing away the support of the hundreds of thousands of new members that were drawn into the party, because of those original principles, and that integrity.

What Copeland, Stoke and most other constituencies around the country have in common is that for at least thirty years, Labour had no economic strategy that offered hope for the ordinary working-class people living in them. The Blair-rights, and the Tory media repeatedly hark back to Blair's three election wins, but in many ways they were an aberration, coming not just after a period of eighteen years of Tory misrule, but at the start of a period of global long wave boom. But, it is also a delusion in other ways, because Blair also benefited from illusory inflation of paper wealth that Thatcher had also encouraged and gained by, during the 1980's, as stock, bond and property markets entered a massive bubble, that also provided the collateral for a huge expansion of private debt, which in turn assisted in blowing up those bubbles even further.

Yet, the truth is that after 1997, Blair also saw a steady draining of Labour votes, and the 2008 Financial Crash was the pay back for the policies that essentially conservative regimes had conducted across much of the globe for the 20 years prior to it. Blaming Corbyn for a situation in which Labour votes had drained away, during all that prior period, and had done so as a result of the conservative policies that Labour under Kinnock, Smith, Blair and Brown had adopted is senseless. As the saying goes, you cannot fatten a pig on market day, and it will take more than just a few months, or even years, for Labour, under Corbyn, or any other left social democrat, to undo the damage that was done over those previous decades by Kinnock and his heirs.

And that ought to be the lesson that is learned. There are no quick fixes. Anyone who thinks that things could be remedied by getting rid of Corbyn, and restoring the policies of Blair and co., or some modified version, is seriously deluded. If that were possible, the Blair-rights, and their periphery would already have followed the example of their SDP predecessors, and jumped ship to ride the wave of the rapidly rising support of the Liberals. But, they know they can't. The SDP sank into the Liberals, and now the Liberals have simply just sunk without trace. They are enjoying rising support, but it is the rising support of a heartbeat on life support. 

In Stoke Central, the Liberals more than doubled their vote share from 4.2% to 9.8%, yet the fact is that, it was still only 9.8%; it was just 2,000 votes, as opposed to Labour's 37% of the vote, and 7,800 votes. The Liberals are the future of Blairism, and its is a future that is doomed.

The Stoke by-election confirmed many of the arguments I have put forward in recent weeks. UKIP were quite right to put forward Nuttall as their candidate in such a high profile by-election. They were not to know that he would go into unforced self-destruct. Nuttall had several great advantages. He was an established national figure, with a well developed media presence; he is an accomplished media performer; he had a simple message – its all the fault of foreigners; and in a by-election, he had every chance that the Tories as the third party would vote tactically in his favour. 

A look at the 2015 election figures shows that UKIP should have won in the by-election easily. If most of the Tory voters voted tactically to kick Labour, then UKIP would have won with a majority of around 3,000. But, Nuttall went into self destruct with the silly antics over the house, then with the claims about Hillsborough, which added to previous statements about his PhD., being a professional footballer and so on. As with Trump, none of that seems to have put off the core UKIP vote. Nor did the attempts to introduce silly comments about him not knowing that the Potteries is comprised of six towns. In fact, that excursus says a lot about those that pursued it, because in fact, the Potteries have always been referred to as “The Five Towns”, as reflected in Stoke's greatest author Arnold Bennett's novel, “Anna of the Five Towns”. Although the forgotten town has always been Fenton, not as in Nuttall's case, Tunstall.

But, Nuttall's self-destruction was enough to prevent Tory voters switching to him tactically, and that doomed his chances. UKIP is now politically dead for the foreseeable future, like the Liberals. But, that means that, in Stoke, if Labour cannot enthuse its own voter base, it will lose the next election to the Tories, as all those UKIP voters return to their natural home. They will either go back to the Tories, or else they will go back to their status as non-voters, ready to be picked up by the next demagogue, when the current set of centre ground policies inevitably fail.

And Labour itself has prepared the ground for that. As I wrote some time ago, the principled position for Labour to adopt, was to oppose Brexit. Brexit is against workers interests, and Labour should oppose it. Whether or not workers or Labour voters supported Brexit does not change the matter. In fact, there is an argument for saying that every Labour MP should have resigned their seat to force effectively a General Election, on which Labour could have stood on a position of opposing Brexit, and thereby have gained a mandate for that position.

The Tories will not call a General Election, because if they were to do so, it would trigger a series of reselections of sitting Blair-right and soft-left Labour MP's, who would be replaced by Corbynite candidates. Although the Tories might see that as an opportunity to increase their current majority in Parliament, they know that it would be against their longer-term interest. In place of a situation where there are half a million Corbynite LP members, but only around 15 Corbynite MP's, with around 250 Blair-right/soft-left MP's, the sitaution would be reversed with that half million Corbynite members then also having around 150 Corbynite MP's, and there being only around 25 Blair-right/soft-left MP's.

That would mean that Labour might be weakened in Parliament in the short term, in terms of numbers, but its message would be much more powerful, cohesive and clear, and would be more easily carried out into the country, in support of workers actions, community actions and so on, so as to provide a much more powerful basis for a Corbyn led government in 2020 or shortly thereafter.

But, the weakness that Corbyn has shown on other issues has also carried forward into Brexit too. In addition, as I wrote a while ago, some of the reason for that also seems to stem from the influence of those Stalinist elements around Corbyn, that hark back to national socialist ideas of “Socialism In One Country”, or more ludicrously, in this case, social-democracy in one country, and the influence also of the idiot anti-imperialists of the StWC and other such groups, whose vision extends no further than what they perceive as being bad for imperialism, rather than what is good for socialism and the working-class.

Not only was the collapse into nationalism unprincipled, but even in terms of short-term opportunist electoral politics it was misguided. I have pointed out in the past that the working-class voters of the area did not suddenly become concerned about immigration or the EU overnight ahead of the EU Referendum. Anyone who lives in the area, and my guess is this applies to every other similar area of the country, knows that around 30% of the population holds bigoted views. That is more true of the older and less educated sections of the population. (This is also why the idea of the “metropolitan elite” is bunkum, and yet another example of problems being blamed on a distant other. There are just as big a proportion of people in North Staffordshire who hold the views of the metropolitan elite as there is in London.)

Yet, the fact that a substantial number of workers in Stoke held bigoted views never stopped them voting Labour. They saw no contradiction in holding such views, whilst voting for a Party that opposed that bigotry. Remember, that Mrs Duffy too was a long standing Labour voter! In fact, I know of many Labour Party members that held bigoted views, long before the media decided to create a witchhunt against anti-semitism by some party members. In the 1960's, I remember one Labour Councillor, when the proposal was put to establish the gypsy camp at Linehouses, who said that he would lead the way in burning them out! 

Labour did not descend to that low level in Stoke Central, but with Labour nationally collapsing into pro-Brexit nationalism, it must have seemed a small step to try to wrap yourself in the flag of St. George in election leaflets. Whether Emily Thornberry took any pictures of them this time I don't know.

Yet, for all this disgraceful collapse into nationalism and jingoism it failed, as I had predicted it would, to win any of the UKIP or Tory votes for Labour. As I said long ago, the idea that UKIP's vote in somewhere like Stoke was comprised of disgruntled Labour voters was always bogus. There are a few maverick Labour Councillors, and we all know who they are in each area, and party members, that saw UKIP as just another vehicle for them to expound their ideas, and seek to gain publicity, and maybe even a Council seat. However, the majority of UKIP voters, like the vast majority of UKIP members, are disgruntled Tories. The remainder of UKIP voters in an area like Stoke, are those elements who are generally atomised and alienated from political life, and who see it simply as a means of kicking out, and expressing their generally bigoted views, developed in isolation from any rational discussion of the facts.

So, the grand result of Labour's collapse into nationalism, in search of these non-existent former Labour UKIP voters, was that Labour's share of the vote fell by 2%, whilst UKIP's share of the vote rose by 2%, as did the Tories. At the same time, the Liberals more than doubled their share of the vote from 4.2% to 9.8%. That was undoubtedly actually a result of former Labour voters who were disgusted at Labour's reactionary nationalist turn, who swapped to the Liberals who advocated a clear pro-Remain position.

And, in fact, as I'd argued several times in recent weeks, not only was Labour's position over Brexit unprincipled, it was even stupid in purely electoral terms. Labour seems to have swallowed the ridiculous notion that the fact that 65% of Labour MP's were in constituencies that voted Leave, was the same things as 65% of Labour voters in those constituencies voting Leave. It clearly wasn't, as I demonstrated.

The fact is that nationally 65% of Labour voters voted Remain. That Labour voters in constituencies that voted Leave, might have been less likely to vote Remain, may be true without that changing the fact that, even in these constituencies, a majority of Labour voters, by some margin, were likely to vote for Remain. The reason is that not all voters in those constituencies voted Labour. In Stoke Central, for example, in 2015, only 40% of the vote went to Labour, whilst nearly 60% went to UKIP and the Tories.

That has now been confirmed by Professor John Curtice, basing himself on a survey of 30,000 voters, conducted by the British Election Study . The survey shows that although support for Remain is generally lower amongst voters for each party, in the North and Midlands, amongst those who voted Labour in 2015, there were still a clear majority for Remain. In the North, the figure amongst Labour voters is 57% for Remain, in the Midlands it is 60%, comparing with 67% in the South, 74% in London, 64% in Wales and 66% in Scotland.

“According to the BES, in Labour-held seats across Britain as a whole 63% of Labour voters voted to Remain, exactly the same as the proportion across the country as a whole. As we might now expect, the figure is somewhat lower in Labour seats located in the North of England and the Midlands, but at 57% it is not significantly different from the proportion (58%) across the North of England and the Midlands as a whole.” 

In fact, as Curtice says, the proportion (around 37%) of Labour voters who voted Leave in Labour held seats, is about the same as the proportion of Tories, who voted Remain in Tory held seats. As I have set out above, and in previous posts, that minority of labour voters, in Labour seats, that voted Leave, are unlikely to drop Labour if Labour adopted a principled position of opposing Brexit, because other issues such as jobs, wages, public services, housing are more important to them. If Labour adopts radical, credible policies on these issues, that is far more important than tailing after that minority. But, Richmond showed this does not apply for the Tories in reverse. Tory voters who are committed to Remain, are far more likely to drop the Tories for their hard Brexit strategy, and to support the Liberals, or Greens, and potentially if it develops a credible strategy to Labour too.

As Curtice puts it,

“Ensuring Labour’s survival in the North of England and the Midlands is not just a question of strengthening the party’s appeal to the so-called traditional Labour voter who voted to Leave. There are simply not enough of them for that alone to be a viable strategy. Rather, it is also about retaining the support of the majority of Labour voters in the northern half of England who voted to Remain. For without them, the party really will be in trouble.”

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 46

“The whole problem was partly solved by the fact that the part of the farmer’s constant capital, which does not itself consist of labour newly added or in machinery, does not circulate at all, but is already deducted, replaces itself in his own production, and therefore also—apart from the machinery—his whole circulating product consists of wages and profit and consequently can be consumed in linen.” (p 140)

But, that is not just the case for the farmer, and this reality that it is only the new value created which enters circulation, is disguised by the fact that what is revenue in one place appears as constant capital in another. So, for example, suppose the flax grower could produce flax without any constant capital. The value of all of their output would then be equal to the new value they created. Suppose they work for ten hours, and so produce £10 of new value, comprising 100 kilos of flax. All of this value is revenue, which they can consume. They sell 100 kilos of flax to the spinner, who pays them £10, or 3.33 metres of linen.

But, for the spinner, all of this £10 of flax is constant capital. None of it constitutes revenue. When its value is incorporated in the value of the yarn, they sell to the weaver, none of that value received in exchange for the yarn can be used as revenue by them, because all of it must be once more paid to the flax grower, to replace the flax they have consumed in production. Only the new value added by the spinner, in the production of the yarn, can be used as revenue, by them, and used for their own consumption.

But, if we return to the flax grower, the reality is that they do use constant capital, in their production. Let us say that it constitutes only seeds, equal to 10 kilos of flax output, or equal to £1 or 1 hour of labour. The actual situation is then that their total output is 110 kilos of flax, and the total value of their output is £1 constant capital (seed) plus £10 new value added = £11, or 11 hours of labour. But, of this total value of output, £1 or 10 kilos is simply returned to replace the consumed seed, leaving just £10 of value (100 kilos of flax) to be thrown into circulation, all of which then constitutes revenue, and all of which can then be consumed.

This effect that what is revenue for one is constant capital for another is best illustrated where different operations are brought together. For example, suppose someone both spins and weaves. In that case the constant capital appears as the flax that comprises the raw material, plus the spinning machine and loom. For a separate weaver, however, the yarn itself comprises constant capital. To illustrate:-

A spinner buys 100 kg of flax with a value of £10. They use a spinning machine that transfers £1 of value in wear and tear, and they add £4 of new value by their labour. The value of their output is then £15, with £11 comprising constant capital and £4 labour.

They sell this yarn to a weaver, for £15. This £15 now comprises part of the constant capital of the weaver. Another £1 of value is added as a result of the wear and tear of their loom. They add another £4 of value by their labour. The value of their output is then £20, comprising £16 of constant capital and £4 labour.

But, if the weaver also spins we would have a situation where he buys £10 of flax, they have £1 of wear and tear on their spinning machine, and the same on their loom. They add £8 of new value, £4 from spinning and £4 from weaving. In that case, the total value of their output is still £20, but it comprises now only £12 of constant capital, and £8 labour.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 45

[(c) Exchange of Capital for Capital between the Producers of Means of Production. Annual Product of Labour and the Product of Labour Newly Added Annually]

Marx sets out the position as it now stands. 0.80 metres of linen, in value, has to be replaced by the machine maker, to cover the wear and tear of their own machines, used in machine production. 0.75 metres of linen, in value, has been given by the machine maker to the producers of wood and iron, in exchange for his raw material.

The 0.80 metres, which the machine maker pays to themselves, to cover the cost of the wear and tear of their machine, is equal in value to £2.50, or two and a half hours of labour. But, the machine maker cannot pay himself in linen for this amount. In other words, it cannot form a part of his revenue or consumption. That is because, if he were to take linen for this value, he would again have to exchange it to be able to obtain wood, iron, leather, so as to reproduce his machines.

But, this leads back to the problem encountered previously. If he has been paid 0.80 metres of linen to cover the value of the wear and tear of his own machines, used in the production of other machines, and transferred to the value of those other machines, to whom is he to sell this 0.80 metres, in order to obtain the value required to reproduce his capital?

Adding up the total value of machinery, we get the following:-

The weaver replaces machinery equal to 2 metres of linen = £6 = 6 hours of labour.

The spinner 1 metre = £3 = 3 hours of labour.

The flax grower 0.5 metres = £1.50 = 1.5 hours.

Iron and wood producers 0.58 metres = £1.75 = 1.75 hours.

The total is 4.08 metres = £12.25 = 12.25 hours.

For ease of calculation, and illustration, Marx rounds this to 4 metres = £12 = 12 hours of labour. Of this machinery, a third is equal to the new value created in its production, and equal to the revenue of wages and profit, whilst two-thirds is equal to the value of constant capital used in production – wood, iron, wear and tear of machine etc.

In other words, this is equal to 1.33 metres of linen = £4 = four hours of labour for the former, and 2.66 metres of linen = £8 = eight hours of labour for the latter.

Of the latter, it is divided 3:1 between raw material and wear and tear of machinery. So, of this 2.66 metres, a quarter, or 0.66 metres covers wear and tear, and 2 metres covers raw materials. The machine maker has then obtained 4 metres in total. They have consumed 1.33 metres as revenue, in the form of wages and profit; they have exchanged 2 metres with the producers of wood and iron, to obtain the raw materials they require, and this leaves them with just 0.66 metres, equal to the value of the wear and tear of their own machinery.

In other words, the total value of output of machinery is greater than the total value of machinery that is reproduced in final output. But, it is not just for the machine producer that this is and must be the case. It is the case also for the producers of wood, iron, leather, the flax grower, and so on, because all of the producers will produce a quantity of use values, which never enter into circulation, but which only ever go directly to reproducing themselves on a like for like basis, i.e. the seed of the flax grower and wood of the wood producer, the iron of the iron maker, the wear and tear of machines of the machine maker and so on.

It is impossible for the whole output of wood, iron, leather, flax, yarn and so on to be exchanged against linen, the final output, because the value of this total output is greater than the value of the output of linen. The former is equal to c + v + s, whereas the latter is equal only to v + s. The value of c is already removed, so as to replace the consumed constant capital, so it never enters into circulation, and consequently it is only the new value created by labour, including that used in the production of wood, iron, flax, yarn and machines, which enters circulation.

Back To Part 44

Forward To Part 46

Northern Soul Classics - Remember Me - The Whispers

With the same backing track as "Times A Wastin" - Fuller Brothers, a great dancer from The Whispers, reminiscent of the Top Rank, Hanley.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Friday Night Disco - Bourgie Bourgie - Gladys Knight & The Pips

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 44

Marx reviews this analysis so far.

“We said at the start that in the different spheres of production there are different proportions as between the newly-added labour (which partly replaces the variable capital laid out in wages, and partly forms the profit, the unpaid surplus-labour) and the constant capital to which this labour is added. We could however assume an average proportion, for example, a—labour added, b—constant capital; or we could assume that the proportion of the latter to the former is 2 : 1 = 2/3 : 1/3.” (p 133)

In that case, the workers and capitalists in any particular sphere, only have enough income as wages and profit to buy a third of their output. But, the capitalists of this sphere own the remaining two-thirds of the output of that sphere. If they are to continue in business, they must sell this remaining output, so as to realise its value, and so be able to reproduce the constant capital used in its production, whose equivalent value it represents.

But, the analysis so far has raised the question of to whom these other two-thirds are to be sold? If the workers and capitalists in each can only together buy a third of their own output, from their incomes, the answer clearly cannot be that this remainder can be bought from the incomes of workers and capitalists from other industries.

If the value of output from industry A is £3,000 and from B £9,000, then incomes in A will buy £1,000, and in B £3,000. If all of A is bought, because its workers and capitalists buy £1,000, and workers and capitalists from B buy £2,000 worth, A's problem is resolved only at the expense of making B's worse, because it can now sell only £1,000 of its total output, rather than £3,000.

We also saw that introducing additional industries only makes this problem worse. Here, A's output was £3,000, and the shortfall of demand was £2,000. If B's output was £6,000, giving combined income for its workers and capitalists of £2,000, this could now fill the gap. But, now there is a lack of demand, equal to £6,000 required for B's output.

Clearly, it is untenable to look for a solution that requires the amount of output to continue to expand, so as to provide additional revenues, when that very process increases the value of output even further, beyond what existing revenues can buy.

“So from this it became clear that the shifting of the difficulty from Product I to Product II, etc., in a word, merely bringing in to the problem the exchange of commodities, was of no avail.” (p 134)

The problem was then considered from the other angle, whereby the value of final production – twelve metres of linen, thirty-six hours labour, £36 – divided into £12 new value added by the weaver, plus £24 of value transferred by constant capital. But, it was equally clear here that this £24 of value of the constant capital, itself could only represent the value of new labour added by the spinner, machine maker, flax grower, wood producer, iron maker and so on, and that for each of these additional producers, we had to take account of the fact that, in addition to the new value added by their labour, they in turn used constant capital, which formed part of the value of their output.

Yet, it was obvious for some of these producers that although this value of constant capital formed a part of the value of their output, it did not form a part of their product that was exchanged, or for which they obtained an amount of value in exchange, as revenue, therefore. A portion of the flax growers output was not exchanged but used to physically reproduce their seed, as manure and so on; a portion of the machine maker's output was not sold, but was used to reproduce their own machines; a portion of the wood grower's output would similarly be used to grow replacement trees, and of the iron producer would be required to repair their own equipment, even if it passed first through the hands of the machine maker.

If the weaver buys yarn from the spinner with six metres of linen, and a loom from the machine maker with two metres of linen, this may appear as income for the spinner and machine maker. But, of course, they can only use a portion, a third, of this linen as income, because two-thirds of the value of the yarn and the machine they sold to the weaver comprised their own constant capital. They must use two-thirds of the linen they receive not as revenue, but to reproduce their own constant capital. Similarly, when they pay for the flax, the wood, iron, leather and so on that they receive as inputs, the linen thereby obtained by their own suppliers does not represent all revenue for them either, because only that portion which represents the new value added constitutes their revenue, and the remainder must be used to reproduce their own constant capital.

“Something would always be left over and a progression to infinity.” (p 138)

If we consider the position of the flax grower, or machine maker, a portion of the output used to reproduce their constant capital – seed and machines – itself constitutes new labour as well as constant capital. The flax grower must exert labour to produce that portion of their output that replaces their seed, as much as for that portion, which produces flax supplied to the spinner, and the machine maker must exert new labour to produce the machines required for their own use, as much as in the production of looms, spinning machines and agricultural equipment. This component of value, therefore, is revenue, and is used as such.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Brenda Procter - A Fighter For Her Class

I was saddened to learn yesterday of the death of my old friend and comrade Brenda Procter, who for more than thirty years had been a prominent member of the Miners' Wives Group, and a series of other mining communities related activities.  She was a real working-class fighter for her class.  I first met Bren in 1981, long before the 1984 strike.  I met Bren as a result of my contact with her next door neighbour Paul Barnett, who later joined the Stoke Socialist organiser group, for a short time.

The Stoke Socialist Organiser group arose in 1979, as a result of the creation of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory.  The SCLV was the project of Workers Action, of which I had been a member since 1974.  It also drew in supporters of Socialist Charter, and won the affiliation of a number of CLP's, branches and PPC's across the country, including one Jeremy Corbyn.  There was one Socialist Charter member in Stoke, at the time, Jim Barrow, a journalist who like me had gone to University after having worked for several years beforehand.  Both of us continued to maintain close contact with the world of work, and with the trades union movement, we had spent much of our time in over the previous years.

In the early days of the Stoke Socialist Organiser group it had rapid success starting off with around 15 members.  But, apart from myself, Jim, and Neil Dawson, all the other members were students, and as Trotsky pointed out, in relation to students, they can be more trouble than they are worth, unless they are part of a large proletarian organisation that can keep them under control.  Their essentially petit-bourgeois, dilettantist approach means that they tend to flit in and out of political activity, and sure enough within about three weeks, 90% of the students flounced out of the group.

I paint this picture, not just to give an impression of the times, but also to make the contrast between this studentist politics and the working-class politics of Bren.  Over the next year, another couple of students came into the group, whilst Jim Barrow also left, as Socialist Charter nationally engaged in work on London Labour Briefing.  The only workers left in the local group were then myself and Neil Dawson.  In the meantime, the group suffered an infiltration by a member of the Sparts, which led to Martin Thomas coming up from London to carry out his expulsion.

Again indicative of this dilletantism, it was after this event that two of the student members told me that they had known that the person concerned was a Spart, because he sold copies of their paper around the Poly, sometimes to them, after Socialist organiser meetings, and after I had left.  Yet neither of these students thought it fitting to have provided this information beforehand!  Over this period, I found myself increasingly frustrated at this kind of behaviour, which left me spending endless amounts of time driving from one end of the city to another for meetings, only to find that these students, including the former Branch organiser, never turned up.  In the end, I had to ask Martin Thomas about the situation, and we agreed to expel the former Branch Organiser.

So, by 1981, the Socialist Organiser Branch was down to just two members, myself and Neil Dawson.  Yet, things were actually turning up in many ways.  It was liberating not to be wasting so much time in pointless journeys, for one thing.  But, also by 1981, the long hard work of the last seven years, in the Labour Party and local Trades Council, had begun to pay off.  Both had turned left, and in the Labour Party branches, the moribund organisations had begun to flower once more.

In 1981, I was elected as Assistant Secretary of Stoke District Labour Party and on to its Executive Committee with a vote that was twice as large as the next highest EC member.  At the time, I was also leading a number of community actions, via the Labour Party Branch, as well as being involved in trying to set up local Rank and File Mobilising Committee Groups and so on, which kept the media full of stories, and kep John Golding busy threatening to have me expelled from the party.

After the meeting, I was approached by the late John McCready, a pottery union militant, who I also subsequently supported (unsuccessfully) for the nomination for the Stoke North PPC (won by Joan Walley).  I'd first met John, back in 1974, when I sat on an ASTMS negotiating team to hammer out a Spheres of Influence Agreement with CATU, the pottery union.  John was on their EC, as was another comrade I already knew, Geoff Bagnall, who had been a member of the IMG with Jason Hill. John had numerous questions, for me, such as "Is it true you support Troops Out of Ireland?"  It was, and in fact, the Labour Committee on Ireland, was only one of a long series of such campaigns that I was involved in at the time.

John was a member of Stoke South CLP, and with him was another Stoke South member Paul Barnett, who lived in The Broadway at Meir.  From that point on, I would visit Paul and his wife Lynn and their four kids every week to talk over the latest paper, and local political events.  I was not alone, I would often run into Steve Martin or John Pickett from the Militant, who were also trying to draw Paul into their orbit.  Paul eventually joined SO, and wrote a few articles covering his area of interest in theatre, particularly reviews of the then current "Boys From The Blackstuff".  As an added bonus for me, Paul also used to service my car.

It was in this context that I first met Bren who would come round from next door.  At the time, Bren was married to Ken.  If I remember correctly, Ken was a biker, or at least 36 years on, I have an image in my mind of him wearing a leather motorbike jacket.  Ken worked at Florence Colliery in Fenton, though his parents owned the local Procter's Coach company.

So, when the 1984 Miners' Strike broke out, I was not at all surprised to see Bren taking a leading role in it, organising the local Miners Wives group, and from the start being regularly on the picket line to turn back anyone even thinking of crossing, and standing four square against the police that tried to keep the pickets down to the then maximum six.

I can't remember if Bren came with me and a number of local miners to Merseyside to collect money after I'd organised a tour there with Lol Duffy, and other comrades in the area, but on almost every occasion when something was going on, Bren was involved in it.  At the end of 1984, I took over was Secretary of the North Staffs Miners Support Committee, set up by the North Staffs Trades Council.  Every week, in that capacity, as well as my capacity as organiser of my Branch LP Miners Levy, I met with Joe Wills, up at the NUM offices in Burslem, and shortly after taking over as Secretary of the Support Committee, I organised with the NUM, a mass picket of Wolstanton Colliery, where Joe had previously worked, and where my comrade the late John Locket was a prominent figure.

One again, Bren was there, bringing a large number of Miners Wives with her, and the picket, which drew in around 300-400 people, also brought in local MP Mark Fisher, from Stoke Central.  In the following weeks, we also organised a number of such mass pickets at the Meaford power station.

Even after the defeat of the strike, working-class morale and organisation did not dissipate quickly.  In 1985, I took over as President of the North Staffs Trades Council, and for the two years I held that position, there were still attendances each month of around 80 delegates.  And, during that time, we drew in a number of speakers from disputes that were going on around the country, notably the Silentnight dispute, where all the workers had been sacked.

We organised a leafleting outside the Co-op furniture store in Hanley, in the not unreasonable belief that the Co-op might itself be amenable to such activity.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the manager of the store was more concerned with the stores sales of Silentnight beds than he was the rights of Silentnight workers.  Bren and a group of Miners Wives turned up to take part in the activity,a nd we split ourselves between the two store entrances.  Myself, and another Trades Council activist, Andy Day, who also worked in the Hanley Peace Centre, took the front doors, and Bren and the others were on the side doors.  Shortly after we had started leafleting, a police van pulled up, and a sergeant got out to tell all of us that if we did not go, by the time he returned, we would be arrested.

After a short discussion, we agreed there was no point all of us risking getting arrested, so just me and Andy remained on the front doors.  Sure enough, when the sergeant returned we got nicked for "Behaviour likely to result in a breach of the peace."  When questioned as to exactly what that behaviour was, we were told that it was handing out leaflets that someone might take offence too, and thereby respond violently!  Not surprisingly, the charges were later dropped.

Bren later entered a relationship with Phil Pender who along with his brother Chris, was a member of my Labour party Branch in Tunstall.  Both Phil and Chris for a brief period joined the Stoke North SO group, which met in the Hole In the Wall pub in the back streets of Tunstall, off America Street, and just up from the Torch.  Both Phil and Brenda, joined Scargill's SLP.

I last saw Bren, I think back in 2011, when I had gone to a meeting of the NSTC, Chaired by Jason, to oppose the new round of austerity that the Tories were inflicting.  I commented in my speech to that meeting that it reminded me in many ways of how things were back in 1974, when I first got involved in political activity.

Brenda Procter was one of those working class heroes whose mettle was forged in the fire of that time.