Brigadista Ale

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From across Europe, and indeed the world, ordinary men and women answered the call to defend the Popular Front newly-elected Spanish government, the Second Republic. From lands far away, to a country which few knew much about, came the volunteers to join what became known as the International Brigade(s). The Brigaders were poets, writers, revolutionaries, railwaymen, adventurers, idealists, builders, nurses, dockers, miners and dreamers. What happened in Spain should have served as a warning to the rest of the world; dark times were upon us.

This being the 80th anniversary of La Guerra, the International Brigade Memorial Trust and HOPE not hate have come together to commission something they hope will serve a valuable and timely reminder to the history of the men and women of the International Brigade – an ale of all things, made by Blackhill Brewery , a microbrewery in County Durham. Blackhill’s real ales are named after Durham coal mining seams. Owner Chris Graham was inspired by working as a coal miner for twelve years.

‘Life is a rollercoaster at the moment. We were asked to produce a commemorative ale for the Spanish Civil War, which we readily agreed to; lo and behold, Brigadista Ale was brewed. A tiny idea has grown huge, and we are overjoyed to be part of something so massive. We do supply locally and do swaps, but don’t often go far afield, so the orders from London and Reading made us think, then came emails from Ireland, the Channel Islands and Spain, which proved to be more of a logistical challenge. Just as we got our heads around the fact that we finally had a website, we had to learn all about blogging. With Twitter brought into the equation; Wow! so many followers in such a short time. Brigadista Ale is brewed to commemorate and educate. And to be enjoyed.’  Chris Graham

Monies raised from the sale of the Brigadista Ale and its associated products will go towards keeping alive the memory of those volunteers, facing great hardships, who went to Spain and confronted fascism.


The Lucas Plan

Flyer for the Lucas Plan Conference, which was held on 26th November 2016 in Birmingham. Design: The Coastal Invention Company


What if the workers were in control?   Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry .

The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change. Today, in 2016 — 40 years after the Plan — we’re facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weaponsclimate chaos, and the destruction of jobs by automation.



The battle of Cable Street on 4th October 1936

‘The notorious Daily Mail headline, “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, is just one chilling indication of the very real threat Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) posed in the mid-’30s. Inspired by the successful rise to power of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, Mosley sought to galvanise support via a combination of naked anti-semitism and brute force.  By 1936 he was attracting both well-heeled establishment support and thousands of ordinary people to his rallies. Any counter-protests would be dealt with violently by Oswald’s supporters, and the police scarcely intervened. On 4th October, Mosley planned the BUF’s biggest and boldest initiative yet. His uniformed Blackshirts would march through London’s East End, home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities. The intention was clear: to cause fear and stir up hatred.’ They did not pass

On the day, more than a hundred thousand East Enders, of any faith or none, turned out to protect their community.


Cable Street mural © jo marshall/wikimedia commons


Through tireless mass work, the growth of fascism in 1930’s Britain was stymied. The community actions at Cable Street in Stepney, East London were the culmination in a decisive fight against Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirt thugs. The British struggle was part of a worldwide battle against fascism and war.

After a long period of decline, Stepney was largely slum property. It had a population of 200,000, the same as Leicester or Plymouth, ‘housed’ in an area a fraction of their size. The main issues were bad housing and rampant unemployment.

Anti-semitism flourished in these conditions; it was calculated to influence backward sections in the community – folk ready to seek out scapegoats, to blame easy and wrong targets.

Under the guise of allowing ‘free speech’, the Labour Home Secretary supported the Tories and Liberals, enabling Mosley to re-establish his poisonous movement.

On a memorable Sunday in October 1936, East London was at fever pitch. A campaign of propaganda and preparation had been organised against a provocative Blackshirts march.

Steps were taken to bar the fascists from all the roads leading to Stepney. Scores of rousing meetings were held. Thousands of posters and leaflets were produced and distributed. Hundreds of gallons of whitewash were used in advertising the counter-demo. The Communist Party was the prime mover in these activities. Approaches were made to the British Legion, trade councils, trade unions, Labour Party branches, religious organisations, dock workers, residents and many others: a broad church was mobilised for participation. Motor cyclists, cyclists, bands, contacts and observers were organised. Though other sites were full of protesters ready to block the march, the aim was that Cable Street be the focus of activity against the fascists. It was a narrow street with alleys and side roads, ideal for building barricades. Timber and furniture were utilised. Trams, buses and lorries were abandoned by sympathetic drivers or commandeered to block other routes, to funnel the Blackshirts down Cable Street.

The day began as it would continue when the right of British Legion ex-servicemen to march against fascism in their own borough was challenged by the police who ripped their Union Jack to shreds. Thus began the establishment of ‘law and order’ by the authorities that day. Six thousand foot police were on duty. A police observation aeroplane flew low overhead. An immense human barricade of 50,000 anti-fascists gathered at Gardner’s Corner. The police charged, catapulting folk through shop windows. Failing to clear a path for the fascists through such a massive crowd, the police turned their attention to Cable Street, as expected. Resistance there was so strong that some policemen surrendered, to the surprise of the counter-demo organisers. Several East London homes proudly displayed batons and even a souvenir helmet on their mantelpieces that night.

There were many arrests and multiple injuries. The first-aid depots that had been organised and opened in shops and houses were kept busy. The police carried on their battle as the fascists lurked in the background, waiting for a signal to begin their march. It never came. The preferred route went uncleared, the march was forbidden by the police commander on the ground near Cable Street, and Mosley’s thugs retreated to disperse on the Embankment. Mosley was to have staged a rally in Victoria Park Square: instead a jubilant victory demonstration was held there.

Cable Street showed the world how to oppose fascist forces in a community. The recipe was unity: the ingredients made for strange bedfellows – orthodox Jews had joined with Catholic Irish dockers, for example. Comrades on the barricades went on to join the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain. The slogan issued at Cable Street had been ‘The fascists shall not pass’. This slogan was inspirational for the Madrilenos at that time as they defended their city against the rebels at the start of La Guerra.

Christy Moore – Viva la Quinta Brigada. Live at Barrowland Glasgow

Mass action on the streets isn’t so common nowadays – think CND marches, Poll Tax demos, Iraq war protests, and community-driven anti-fracking activities. State agents still react with similar tactics – remember the massacre of 200 Algerian workers by French police in Paris on October 17th 1961, the advent of kettling at the anti-Vietnam war demo in Grosvenor Square (1968), violent attacks by the police on striking miners at Orgreave and the Peace Convoy at Beanfield (1985).

In these dark days of ‘post-truth’ psychosis and ‘alternative facts (lies)’, often we are failing to confront narratives, let alone march – think immigration and racially motivated attacks, Trident and jobs, the lies revealed by Chilcot, corrupt bankers, explaining ‘neoliberalism and austerity – the alternatives’ in concise terms, detailing a Scottish currency post-independence, and exposing the folly that is Hinkley Point.


Reading: ‘Our flag stays red’, Phil Piratin’s 1948 book from which much of this article is sourced and edited.


News footage from 1936

The Men they couldn’t hang – ‘Ghosts of Cable Street’ on YouTube

‘Yesterday’s Witness’, BBC TV documentary.

Theatre: ‘Chicken soup with barley’ – Arnold Wesker play.


Related reading:

‘Received-ideas-of-racism-and-nationalism’ – Simon Hardy   ‘No credible study published shows any correlation between immigrant labour and a reduction in jobs or a reduction in wages.’ Simon is a trade union activist and a Momentum member. In this article he highlights the distinction between ‘common sense’ (widely-held, received ideas) and good sense (empirical ideas, backed by evidence).

A Spanish Civil War memoir by International Brigader Bob Cooney (1907-84)

Bob Cooney joined the International Brigades in August 1937. Bob Cooney, Spain. Article and photo in forviemedia gallery. Published for the first time, Proud Journey is Bob’s memoir of those times. It takes us from clashes with the Blackshirts on the streets of Aberdeen to the battlefields of Spain and the heroism and sacrifice of Cooney and his comrades facing the forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. Written in 1944 with the Second World War as a backdrop, this is a rousing personal account of one man’s part in the long and bloody fight against fascism that helped define this key period of history.






Grunwick – 40 years on

grunwick     John Callow blogspot

John Callow is the Director of Archives at the Marx Memorial Library. He is the author of seven books on history and politics. John’s blogpost discusses dignity at work, decency, the far-reaching impact of the Grunwick strike and how it foretold of the coming storm of right wing intervention in industrial relations.

Grunwick became the largest and one of the most well-known examples of British union action. The dispute involved thousands of trade unionists, attracting global attention. Between 1976 and 1978 there were 550 arrests at the picket line. Mostly South Asian women, Grunwick workers were protesting about inadequate wages, treatment by management and deplorable conditions at the film processing plant. Grunwick changed how trade unions thought about race, about their own core values and the best way to organise among immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

“What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips; others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager!” – Jayaben Desai.    Grunwick: The Workers’ Story. Author(s): Graham Taylor & Jack Dromey

In the beginning, Grunwick wasn’t a strike about wages – it was about something much more important than that. It was about dignity at work. For the small band of Asian women strikers, who braved sun, rain and snow month-in and month-out on the picket-lines, from August 1976 to July 1978, rights in the workplace and pride at work, were far more important than any amount of money. At the time, this book was the seminal account of the dispute, providing the workers’ own story in their own words and told by two of the leading participants in the strike. Now, forty years later, its themes still resonate, making this book vital reading for all of those who seek to organise within their own communities and workplaces.

World Nomad Games

World Nomad Games


‘Girl in traditional dress performs an impressive display’: photograph © Viktor Drachev TASS/Getty Images

2016 was a great summer for us sports enthusiasts, with a succession of successful events. After the Olympics, the inspirational Paralympics took place in Rio – with Belarus staging an under-publicised pro-Russia protest during the opening ceremony, then the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan hosted the second World Nomad Games in Cholpon-Ata City’s brand new hippodrome beside Lake Issyk Kul. Many of those attending stayed in traditional yurts in Kyrchyn Gorge where there were concerts and activities for spectators. Two thousand competitors from forty countries participated; some nations have long nomadic histories, others were mainly there to party, for the crack of the Games.

It is a time when competitors pitch up from all over the world, a place where riders on horseback wrestle and try to catch a dead goat and hurl it into a goal, a game that might be worth a slot at one of Scotland’s Highland Shows, if our polo players are willing to ditch their mallets and give it a shot. Chasing around after the decapitated carcase of a goat would doubtless amuse Royalty, worthies and visitors to the Braemar Games, for example. It would complement and make a change from tugs-of-war, kailyard kitsch, stunt and steam displays, Scottish country dancing, pipe band competitions and face-painting.

The World Nomad Games also featured such unorthodox disciplines as hunting with eagles, tossing bones and javelin throwing. The fiery highlight of the Kyrgyzstan Games was the horse-riding competition: Kok-boru (gray wolf) dates back to when wolves that preyed on livestock were hunted. Fierce competition was also evident in stick wrestling, an event in which two competitors try to gain control of a small stick.

Golden eagles, caber throwing, rewilding with wolves in the Highlands …  I understand that the games are designed to celebrate the nomadic heritage of the Central Asian nations, but already Scotland, as well as our diasporic credentials, has many ingredients in place to participate. As a nation we are well-suited and could take a turn – not just by borrowing or copying events – but at hosting the Games, or at least sending a team. I suggested to my gymnast granddaughter that she emulate the archer quine (pictured), with a view to putting on a bow-and-arrow display at her local Lonach Gathering, but she said that her ticklish toes would make the feat impossible.

I thought this article would crash my spellcheck; the only word it challenged was ‘quine’ (see footnote).

“In the modern world, people are forgetting their history, and there is a threat of extinction for traditional cultures,” said Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev at the opening ceremony in Cholpon-Ata. “Nomadic civilisation is a good example of sustainable development, which is what all of humanity is looking for today. The Games were designed to unite, not divide into nations.”

With twenty-five golds Kyrgyzstan topped the medals table.


Quine = lass, girl.

Caber = a big stick.

Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev was a visitor to Aberdeen this summer.   Lonely Planet photographs  TRT World  Davide Monteleone works on independent projects using photography, video and text

Felicia Browne



In the summer of 1936 Hitler’s Nazi Party was planning an Olympic Games in Berlin that they hoped would promote to the world the superiority of the Aryan master race, a tactic scuppered by Jesse Owens winning four gold medals.

Barcelona was supposed to be hosting a Peoples Olympics as a protest against the Berlin Games, but this was cancelled when La Guerra broke out. Barcelona’s games was to feature chess, folk-dancing, music and theatre alongside traditional Olympic sports.

In July 1936 English sculptor and political activist Felicia Mary Browne took a driving holiday to Spain with photographer Edith Bone. It became a trip both serendipitous and fateful, as it happened.

When Franco’s rebel coup started the Spanish War on July 18th, Felicia enlisted in the Catalan Karl Marx Militia, demanding to fight.

She was the first British volunteer – woman or man – to die in armed defence of the Popular Front Government and the fledgling Second Republic

Felicia Mary Browne (1904 – August 1936); English sculptor and political activist.


By the age of thirty Felicia had studied metalwork, taken a stonemasonry apprenticeship, designed TUC Tolpuddle martyr medals, fought brown-shirted thugs on the streets of Berlin, supported refugees and visited the Soviet Union. In July 1936 she undertook a driving holiday to Spain with photographer Edith Bone. It was a trip both serendipitous and fateful, as it happened. Felicia was in Barcelona when the coup began on July 18th. She enlisted in the Catalan Karl Marx Militia and demanded to fight in the battle against Franco’s military fascist forces.

In the summer of 1936 Hitler and his Nazi Party were planning an Olympic Games in Berlin that they hoped would show the world the superiority of the Aryan master race, a tactic countered by Jesse Owens winning four gold medals. Barcelona was supposed to be hosting a Peoples Olympics as a protest against the Berlin Games, but this was cancelled when the La Guerra broke out. Barcelona’s games was to feature chess, folk-dancing, music and theatre alongside traditional Olympic events.

Elected in May 1936, the Popular Front Government was a left-wing coalition of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the Republican Left, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, Republican Union Party, the Communist Party and Acció Catalana.

On August 22nd 1936 – sources contest the date; some say it was the 25th or 28th – Felicia Mary Browne was killed on her first mission, trying to dynamite and derail a rebel munitions train in Aragon. The party was itself ambushed; Browne was shot dead while assisting an injured Italian comrade. She was the first British volunteer – woman or man – to die in armed defence of the Popular Front and the fledgling Second Republic. Browne’s body had to be left there, but comrades retrieved a sketchbook filled with drawings of her fellow fighters.

These sketches made their way to Tom Wintringham, a journalist on the Daily Worker, now the Morning Star. Tom suggested that Felicia’s drawings be sold by the Artists International Association (AIA) to raise money for Spanish relief. The AIA correctly considered her to be a fine example of an artist choosing to embrace and combine art with direct political action. Archive drawings  An artists eye Press release

“You say I am escaping and evading things by not painting or making sculpture. If painting and sculpture were more valid and more urgent to me than the earthquake which is happening in the revolution, I should paint and make sculpture.” From a letter to her close friend Elizabeth Watson Letters

YouTube clip  Felicia Mary Browne – blogs Morning Star article  International Brigade Memorial Trust on Facebook

“It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” Dolores Ibárruri, known forever as La Pasionaria.

The new colonialism



As its wealth is seized by foreign interests, Africa faces a colonial invasion as devastating in scale and impact as that which the continent suffered in the nineteenth century.

The largest island in the Indian Ocean, the fourth largest in the world and one of the poorest countries, Madagascar is famous for its biodiversity. Yet, the QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM) project (80% owned by Rio Tinto, 20% by the Madagascan government) is wrecking lives and livelihoods and doing irreparable damage to the area’s rich and unique natural environment.

When a new government came to power in Mozambique last year, it raised questions about the prices that the country was paying oil trader Vitol.

Protests in Morocco; LakeMalawi drilling …

‘The continent (Africa) may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.’ Boris Johnston, writing in the Spectator in 2002.



A new report by War on Want,  ‘The new colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s mineral resources’, reveals that as many as 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – many of them British companies – have mining operations in Africa. Combined they control, for instance, 6.6 billion barrels of oil, 3.6 billion tonnes of coal, 80 million ounces of gold, platinum and diamonds, gas – a booty worth in excess of $1 trillion.

African countries are being treated as mere enclaves, subservient to a global economy that favours business and the super-rich ahead of ordinary (indigenous) peoples and our fragile planet. Trade relationships ensure that the winners are foreign, private interests, chiefly Western organisations and companies. Global losers are most of Asia, much of Latin America and all of Africa, as its wealth in natural resources is seized; there is no sign of this stopping. This is the ‘new colonialism’, and it’s time British companies and the British government were held to account.


The QIT Madagascar Minerals mine is extracting ilmenite, used in titanium and as a pigment in toothpaste, paint and sunscreen. Already thousands of people have been affected by the mine, in many ways, including being forced from their land. Farmers and fisher folk have seen their livelihoods disrupted as agricultural land has been flooded and subjected to dust pollution. Meanwhile, precious coastal forest habitat is lost to dredging. Predictably, mining companies talk about ‘safeguarding’ the local environment; at the same time as their bulldozers line up, ready to trash precious natural habitats. At Fort Dauphin the local communities already affected by the construction of the mine are now confronted with a ‘conservation zone’, denying them access to the natural resources of the forest on which they depend for food, firewood, and much else. A way of life passed down for generations is being destroyed. The local community and environmental activists are fighting back.   ‘The New Colonialism’ pdf: full report.


Mozambique is another one of the poorest countries in the world. Affordable fuel is crucial to its attempts to develop its economy. When a new government came to power last year, it raised questions about the prices that the country was paying oil trader Vitol, and shifted the supply contract to Vitol’s rival Trafigura. Mozambique is demanding Vitol refund $80 million in alleged excess charges. Vitol counters that Mozambique actually owes it money for breach of contract. If no agreement is reached, Mozambique plans to take Vitol to court.  A report this month by CIP, an anti-corruption NGO, alleged that overcharging for fuel was rife by multinational traders such as Vitol. It claimed illicit profits may have been shared in the past with officials in the country. Vitol says that it has ‘zero tolerance of corruption as a company and is upfront about contracts’.

Separately, the CIP report reckoned that Vitol had won extensions to supply contracts in the country twice between 2013 and 2014 despite being eliminated in the tender process after rivals beat them on price. The CIP claimed senior politicians had intervened. A document for the supply of unleaded petrol, jet fuel and diesel in 2013 shows Vitol quoting 32% more than Trafigura. Vitol was still chosen to supply the contract, and says that contracts are not always awarded to the lowest bidder. Invoices from Vitol’s gas and oil deliveries show it converting metric tons to barrels at a ratio of 8.2 barrels per ton rather than the 7.45 which had been agreed. Using the lower conversion rate would have saved Mozambique $2 million on one gas/oil shipment alone. Vitol deny using the higher ratio, saying that it only looks higher because of ‘various specifics’ in the contract terms agreed by Mozambique. The G.N.P. of Mozambique doesn’t come close to nearing Vitol’s annual turnover.

Vitol is run by Scot Ian Taylor, who during the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign threatened to take National Collective pro-independence media activists to court for exposing Vitol’s links to a Serbian warlord (plus other dodgy practices). Taylor had donated £250,000 to Better Together for their anti-independence campaign funds.

Vitol said to win €1bn pre-pay oil deal with Iran

Vitol – turnover 250billion a year


_   Morocco: Massive protests against neoliberalism


Drilling for oil around Lake Malawi will threaten a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Africa’s most iconic lakes as well as driving more climate change in a country that’s already bearing the brunt of it. The lake supports the livelihoods of more than 1.5 million people living on its shores – it’s also home to Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus, monkeys and African fish eagles.   Greenpeace post and petition.