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Archive for July, 2016

On Saturday 17th September, between 9:30am and 4pm, The Working Class Movement Library in Salford will be hosting a conference on the subject of  Radical Women 1880 – 1914.

As their newsletter puts it:

This one-day conference will celebrate the battles and achievements of working-class women in the drive to achieve a fairer and more balanced society. The decades spanning the turn of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in female activism as women began to organise themselves into trade unions, take part in the socialist debates on social and economic change, and demand the vote.

Radical women not only battled against the gender-conservative males within their family or community but also those who claimed to be fighting for equality.

Speakers include Professor Sheila Rowbotham, University of Manchester and Professor Karen Hunt, Keele University.

Whereas:

Papers include the Cabin Restaurant waitresses strike of 1908; the life of Crewe tailoress, campaigner, activitist and author Ada Neild Chew; the forgotten history of domestic servants in women’s suffrage; radical women and the bicycle; suffragette Constance Lytton and the cause of prison reform; plus many more.

Full programme details can be found on the WCML webpages

Tickets are £20 (£7.50 unwaged) and include lunch and refreshments.

Book in advance from trustees@wcml.org.uk

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UoM%20scanned%20documentJust over a week ago I had the unexpected pleasure of visiting Everyday Austerity: An Exhibition of Everyday Life in Austerity, a collaboration between Dr Sarah Marie Hall of the University of Manchester and Stef Bradley the zine maker, which was drawn from research compiled by Dr Hall on the subject of family life and austerity.

This was a beautifully executed, simple but effective, exhibition that was both smart and thought provoking, but never, ever miserable.

People think of austerity in simplistic shades of sepia and grey, and in doing so, they miss the complex, technicolour reality of it: It was how the six families were represented that was the really refreshing thing.

Each section of the exhibition made use of written introductions to the families, their own particular situations, and how austerity had affected them. These were set alongside a carefully arranged display box of visual representations – photographs, carrots from an allotment, a recipe for a bulk batch of veggie chilli, a book on how to cope financially in times of austerity, which was due to be flogged on eBay along with old children’s toys to raise funds… There were lists of worries, lists of things to buy that could be afforded that week… and these visual items were equally as powerful, as thoughtfully placed, as evocative, as the notes, and sections of the interviews, which could be listened to on iPod mini’s.

The interviews themselves were frank, honest, candid and refreshing in their neutrality. There was no steering of interviewees towards a particular narrative, no aggressive questioning, because this is research, not journalistic vox pops, and it was part of the patchwork of field work, a long story, not a short, knee jerk story impulsively yanked from the unsuspecting.

We were asked to answer questions regarding our own views of austerity before, during and after viewing the exhibition, the idea being to measure if people’s views changed, and if so, how.  While my own views hadn’t shifted too much, what the exhibition brought home to me was the amount of creativity and ingenuity being brought to bear on the unyielding sanctions and limitations of austerity by those most affected by them. Oh, not in a Blitz Spirit ‘Let’s all pull together’ kind of way, more in a ‘Batten down the hatches, lets work through this bastard’ kind of way.

What this work does is provide a multi faceted, complex picture of austerity in the UK. It is not Benefits Street, but nor is it Das Kapital, it is – in many ways – refreshingly neutral. Which, as a position, is needed.

There are plans to create a zine from the exhibition, using the research, which might seem an odd concept but, in the context of the seismic shifts of perspective zine making has undergone these past ten years or so, with writers and creators increasingly focusing on areas such as psycho-geography, on cities and the writers relationship with the city in which they live, it perhaps isn’t so surprising to find a zine concerned with austerity.

Daniel Defoe’s A Journal Of The Plague Year, George Orwell’s Down And Out In Paris And London… Why not a documentation of the realities of austerity? State of the nation, or kitchen sink, dramas are no longer written. There will be no Love on the dole, or The Manchester Man, nor even no Ruined City, but Everyday Austerity: The Zine will fulfill a similar role. It won’t be done for entertainment, nor will it be done for titillation, or voyeurism, but for knowledge, for education, for remembering, for empathy and understanding.

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Following the outcome of the EU Referendum, I had a conversation with my mum that inspired me to make my first Freedom of Information request. Given the precarious nature of FOI legislation, it was very much a case of “Quick, before whoever the next Prime Minister is scraps it…” because FOI allows both journalists and members of the public to ask awkward questions, and when they get the answers (if they get the answers…), to tell other people about them, who then tell other people, who often then get very very cross… Some stories/campaigns that would have been impossible without FOI would include the expenses scandal and Private Eye’s map of offshore owned property in the UK.

Anyway, my mum spoiled her ballot paper in the referendum by writing “You are all lying” on it, and we wondered how many other people had spoiled the ballot paper. Or, to put it another way, how many people had looked at the paper and decided, for various reasons, not to answer the question.

As it turned out, I needn’t have submitted a FOI request to the Electoral Commission because they were planning to publish the the information anyway on their website.

It makes interesting reading, and has made me realise just how complex the issue is. In the spreadsheet, reasons for rejecting a ballot paper are listed under four different columns, headed respectively:

  • No official mark
  • Voting for both answers
  • Writing or mark
  • Unmarked or void

I’ve tried to add up the total result of rejected ballot’s but lost count a few times. That said, I can definitely say that the answer is either 25,240 or 25,359 as one wards figure of 119 may have been counted once or twice.

So, that’s just over 25,000 people who voted, but didn’t vote Remain or Leave.

Of the four reasons listed above, my mums spoiled ballot paper would fall into number 3. But it was number 2 that intrigued me the most: Voting for both answers.

There was a social media campaign a few days before the vote, urging people who weren’t sure which way to vote to vote Remain. But, that said, voting both ways is another way of saying you weren’t sure.

There were a total of 9,084 people who voted for both answers.

Of those who voted for both answers, the highest number of people voting this way were in Birmingham (311), Brent (157) and Leicester (154), there were also over 100 votes cast this way in each of the following areas:

  • Leeds
  • Bradford
  • Northern Ireland
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Lambeth
  • Ealing

I can’t help but think that these nine thousand and eighty four people have so far been excluded from the often vitriolic debates around voting motivations, post Brexit. No doubt a lot of them are quite pleased about that, but it does mean that there’s a whole dimension to the debate that hasn’t been discussed yet. One that I personally find more interesting than facile smug commentary by London journalists on the population of Blackpool, as heard on Radio 4 recently. That said, the piece on Boston and Brexit in the Economist was a much more intelligent piece.

 

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