Category Archives: My Militant Life

Red Wedge – Questions to a former Young Socialist


Please explain your role in Red Wedge. I was chair of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) 1984-1986 and Editor of Socialist Youth (LP Monthly Youth Paper) The LPYS was led by the Militant and had over 600 branches and was an overwhelmingly working class organisation. During the Miner’s strike we were doing mass work in support of the strike. Young people brought their musical tastes into the LPYS and we promoted bands at locals and national level. For example we worked with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. Both participated in and played at a lobby of Parliament we held against compulsory Youth Training Schemes (YTS) We were also involving a wider layer of artists and groups in our campaigns such as the Housemartins and the Communards. Neil Kinnock, the leader of the LP at the time was engaged in a political witch-hunt against the Militant who were leading mass struggles against Thatcher in Liverpool. Kinnock and the LP right wing wanted to move against the LPYS but it was difficult because of our support in the wider movement because of our campaigning work on behalf of young people.

In 1985 Peter Mandelson was appointed Director of Communications at the LP and with Labour Students, who supported Kinnock, started to work on strategies to undermine the LPYS. One of those strategies was Red Wedge. If Mandelson did not exactly come up with the idea of Red Wedge he certainly used it to attempt to sideline the LPYS. At the first Red Wedge meetings LP officials and Billy Bragg took the lead. As the official youth wing of the LP we attended meetings and argued we should be allowed to speak at meetings and have stalls where we could distribute political materials and recruit young people to the LPYS. In general the artists were genuinely sympathetic to us and Paul Weller supported our right to be involved as he knew us and what we stood for. At a particular meeting one of the LP officials said that there should not be ‘political’ speakers at the Red Wedge gigs as ‘young people were not party political.’ They were playing on the fact that traditional pro-capitalist and pro-system politicians would come across badly. This was also an attempt to stop the LPYS from having any influence and a platform to get across our socialist ideas to a wide mass audience. Craig Charles (Red Dwarf), the Liverpool poet, suggested that Derek Hatton, the Militant leader of Liverpool City Council should speak at the gigs as ‘he was dead popular’ in Liverpool.’ This was met by nervous shuffling of feet by the LP officials and staring at the floor! In the end, although the LPYS were officially excluded from speaking at the gigs, through our contacts and relationships with their artists we managed to distribute our materials at the gigs and we recruited many young people to the LPYS and the Militant.

YTS Lobby 1985

What were your personal reasons for involving yourself? It was part of my political work at the time.

Why do you think that Red Wedge emerged at the time that it did? It was a time of great movements. Thatcherism had declared war on the working class. I had been a Punk in the 1970s and had attended Rock Against Racism / ANL gigs. When I joined the Militant and LPYS in 1979 I naturally took my music into the movement as did my contemporaries. There was a red radical line from Punk to Red Wedge. Young people suffered greatly under Thatcher and became radical, even revolutionary in the case of the youth around the LPYS and Militant. The artists involved in Red Wedge were young people too and could not fail to be affected by the prevailing mood amongst their fans.
What do you feel the aims of Red Wedge were? For the LPYS, Red Wedge was a continuation of our solidarity work with the miners and our campaigns against compulsory YTS. In a way I saw it as our revolutionary soundtrack. The songs mostly coincided with the way young people were feeling. However, Mandelson and Kinnock and the LP bureaucracy had a much more limited view of Red Wedge. They saw it as an electoral tool to get Kinnock into Nº10. They limited the radical message of the youth and turned it into a bland electioneering exercise.

Many of those in the Labour party at the time feel that Red Wedge was a failure as they didn’t win the 1987 election. To what extent do you feel it had a wider impact on involving young people in politics and why? Nothing is wasted in nature. Red Wedge ‘failed’ in one way because it was expropriated by the bureaucratic LP machine which had limited electoral and ‘moderate’ aims. They blunted the radical feelings of young people and their aspirations. However, the ‘failure’ of Red Wedge was part of the wider political process. Kinnock had sold out the miner’s strike and the Liverpool Council battle and refused to back the LPYS School Student’s strikes in 1985/86 against compulsory YTS. Kinnock had alienated himself from the revolutionary youth and sections of the working class. He went on the expel many Militant activists and eventually closed down the LPYS. Red Wedge ‘failed’ because it was highjacked by the LP right wing.

The real failure, from the point of view of the Labour and trade union movement and the  youth, who desperately needed radical change was Kinnock. He used his quasi-left credentials to make the LP entirely safe for capitalism by expelling socialists, closing down the magnificent LPYS which was connecting with masses of young people. As a young man I considered Kinnock to be a vain clown who was too stupid to realise he was being played by the ruling class. He lost TWO general elections when the Tories were absolutely hated in working class communities. A complete failure for the movement but on a personal level he was rewarded by the ruling class with cushy well paid jobs in the EU and a seat in the House of Lords. I have not changed my opinion about Kinnock.


As the youth vote is incredibly low at the moment, do you feel something like Red Wedge could possibly enthral young people in this day and age and why? I am in favour of the youth today using their music and culture to further their political aims but THEY NEED TO BE IN CONTROL. The main lesson of the Red Wedge experience is for young people to hold onto their political and cultural independence. Young people are becoming radicalised again around the world and their music is playing a part. Look at Grime. We will have revolutionary music again which will inspire the movement and act as its soundtrack. My advice to the new generation is that the youth need to be autonomous and not allow ‘official’ political parties and careerist politicians and artists to expropriate their music and culture for reformist political aims.

Please feel free to share any other reflections you have on Red Wedge:
I consider Billy Bragg has the same relationship to genuine socialism as Bono and Geldof have to fighting world poverty. They have generated a lot of self publicity and promoted themselves and little else. The real fight to end poverty and in favour of socialism goes on…..

A couple of Facebook messages on Billy Bragg’s page:
“As I’ve mentioned previously Billy Bragg did the dirty on us over Red Wedge. The LPYS had promoted him during the miner’s strike and he did the YTURC lobby of parliament with Paul Weller.
Mandelson was appointed Director of Communications in 1985 and was a lot cleverer than Kinnock. They came up with the idea of RED WEDGE to sideline the LPYS but we fought it all the way.
I remember at a meeting with loads of celebs they pushed the idea that there should be no speeches at the gigs as young people ‘weren’t political.’ They also said the LPYS couldn’t be too prominent at the gigs.

Craig Charles (Red Dwarf) piped up: “Why don’t we get that Derek Hatton to speak? He’s dead popular in Liverpool.’ Shuffling of feet and looking at the floor…..
Paul Heaton of the Housemartins said he would participate in Red Wedge but only if they put ‘nationalisation of the music industry’ in the programme.
Bragg backed Kinnock on the issue and the rest was sell-out history……
Did you think at that time of youthful revolt you would soon be calling salt of the earth working class Socialists ‘extremists’ and suck up to Neil Kinnock and end up asking people to vote for the Lib Dems……? Asking for a friend Billy.”

Red Wedge: bringing Labour party politics to young music fans

Bragg: “Newcastle was heaven and hell. The best gig but the worst day. Right through the tour we had constant problems with the extremists, like our friends in the Young Socialists.”

General Election 2010: Billy Bragg pledges to support Liberal Democrats

Billy Bragg, the singer, has pledged to back the Liberal Democrats as they have the ”best manifesto”.


El Militante & CWI – Retying the Red Knot of our Common History

A political highlight for me of 2016 was the re-encounter and developing cooperation between Izquierda Revolucionaria (Formerly El Militante) and the Committee for a Workers International (CWI)

Original report published in Spanish in La Brecha here


Representatives of Socialismo Revolucionario, Socialist Party and the CWI attended the XVIII Congress of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE) in Madrid. Delegates from schools and universities from all over Spain reported on the massive mobilisation in the General Strike of students on October 24th in the face of pressure from education authorities and the right wing Popular Party.

The SE is growing everywhere because young people want to struggle against brutal education cuts and for a future. The SE consider the changes made to the Education Law, LOMCE are purely cosmetic and so have called another strike in education on November 24th.* But SE is not just a union but an important political instrument which gives young people a platform to discuss and fight for socialist ideas.


The SE was set up 30 years ago by El Militante which at the time was part of the CWI. In 1980s the SE led a mass movement with millions on the streets when they struggled for the right of university education for the children of the working class.

The Congress included a rally in which ex-leaders of the SE spoke on the lessons of 30 years of struggle of the youth movement for today, along with founders of El Militante, historic union leaders, workers in struggle today and comrades who had been imprisoned during the Franco dictatorship and during the Transition.

It was mentioned that the leaders of the the SE negotiated directly with the PSOE government of Felipe Gonzales at the time. The government actually tried to buy off the SE leaders during the negotiations by offering them money for offices if the SE became a tame union of course!

30 years later some of those same SE leaders are now leading Izquierda Revolucionaria. A former general secretary of the SE Bárbara Areal said that young people in Spain and workers have wanted to fight during the crisis but they have been met by the alliance union leaders and the old political parties repeating “NO SE PUEDE” – (No you can’t). That is why the SE strike of October was so important. IR and SE have shown we can struggle and win.

Bárbara reminded comrades that the SE had kept fighting during the difficult and hard 1990s when the ideas of socialism and struggle seemed to be in retreat. Now the bourgeois hate the youth. They insult the youth by calling them lazy and pretend they do not want to do anything to improve their lives. “They hate what they fear” ended Bárbara to thunderous applause and chants of “Si se puede.”

Coca Cola workers who are striking paid tribute to the support of SE and IR in their struggle and called for a boycott of Coca Cola products. A comrade who had been imprisoned by Franco over 40 years ago called on the youth to continue the task of regaining the historic memory of the working class.

There was a revolutionary situation in Spain in the 1970s after the death of Franco but capitalism managed to stay in power only with the help of the leaders of PSOE and the CP.

Today young people are told it was the Monarchy and the ‘responsibility’ of the leaders of the working class who managed to bring about the peaceful ‘transition’ from fascism to democracy. The comrade reminded everyone that thousands were jailed and during the transition workers were shot by the police. ”There was no transition, it was a transfer of power.” His advice to the youth was: “Always tell the truth to the working class and always take the struggle forward.

Xaquín García Sinde, trade unionist at Navantia Shipyards and spokesperson of GanemosCCOO, the rank and file union organisation set up to by IR which campaigns for fighting, combative unions commented that during the crisis union leaders are nowhere to be seen. “They are not lost in combat but rather in the offices of the Government & PP.” This has to change!

There was an electric mood at the rally. Numerous speakers were interrupted with chants and they may have been a world record for standing ovations!

Juan Ignacio Ramos, the General Secretary of Izquierda Revolucionaria / El Militante was the GS of SE in the 1980s when they led hundreds of thousands in strikes and demonstrations.


He recounted an episode when the SE led a march of 100,000 to the education Minister’s office in 1986. They were invited up to negotiate with a Minister, Rubalcaba, who would later become PSOE leader. He asked the young people facing him, “Who the hell are you people? How have you organised this demo?” Juan Ignacio and the other SE leaders opened their folders which were covered in ‘I SUPPORT LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL STICKERS’ and answered, “We’re from the Militant!” Rubalcaba replied incredulously: “I thought we’d expelled you lot!”

Young members from various sections of the CWI came to the platform and a representative from Ireland also addressed the conference. Watch YouTube video here.


Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party (England & Wales) was introduced as one of the founders of Militant, ‘the most successful Marxist organisation in the UK.’ Peter assured everyone that he had nothing to do with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) or Felipe Gonzales – “they want to prop up capitalism, we want to destroy it!”


Peter gave a brief history of Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party. He underlined that the victories of Militant in Liverpool and in the Poll Tax battle were not achieved by reformist measures but through revolutionary struggle.

An important lesson for today is that only through determined revolutionary struggle will we even get reforms. “Say what needs to be done and do it!” Peter summed up with a warning to Donald Trump “the working class is coming” He ended by saying: “This generation has learned the lessons of the 20th century. This time we’re going to struggle. This time we’re going to win.”

Peter Taaffe’s speech here.

The weekend was inspiring as veterans of the struggle and new, young working class leaders of the SE saluted and learnt from past struggles, analysed the present tasks and dedicated themselves to future battles. A timely reminder of the common militant past of SE / Izquierda Revolucionaria and the CWI and the retying of the historical red knot of our common history.

*Students’ union beats PP government
Just days after the last general strike that was called by the Sindicato de Estudiantes against the “Revalidas Fanquistas” (introduction of matriculation), we have been proved correct in what we always said – struggle works.
Following a meeting between the Ministry of Education and the representatives of the Autonomous regions, the revalidas – proposed by Wert, the former education minister – have been abandoned. These reactionary matriculation exams were weighted to exclude working class students progressing to university.

Mike Elliott – The Miner’s Friend

Mike Elliott

It was sad to hear of the passing of Mike Elliott on December 23rd, 2014. The obituaries mourned the loss of a radio presenter, actor and funny man. Mike also claimed to have got the word ‘makem‘ into the dictionary.

Mike appeared as George Watson the boxing trainer in Billy Elliot, one of the few films to give a sympathetic portrayal of the 1984-85 Great Miner’s strike.

As a Young Socialist and Militant I remember Mike’s strong support for the miners and his appearances at support events and concerts.

Mike sang the song The Miner’s Friend on the album “Which Side are you on? Music for the Miners, from the North East.” The track gives a contemporary flavour of what we thought about the police during the strike to say the least!

I was witness to Mike’s commitment to the Miners and the working class cause at the 1985 LP conference. The Miners had been forced back to work and had suffered the full force of the law and state oppression. Unfortunately most of the trade union leaders had played a despicable role during the strike and refused to make official the massive rank and file support there was for the miners thus grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ramsay McKinnock made two disgraceful speeches at the 1985 conference. Firstly he stuck the knife into the Liverpool City Council and Militant who had dared to stand up to Thatcher by building housing, creating jobs and opposing the cuts.

Secondly, he refused to support an amnesty for the hundreds of sacked and arrested miners. He made a petty personal attack on Arthur Scargill at conference.

Mike was at the conference collecting for the sacked miners. After Kinnock’s speech I was standing with Mike as he was shaking his bucket. He was having a right go at Kinnock and the right wing for not backing the miners as some be-suited union leaders walked by. One of them,  who later became a leader of the GMB (the one who looked like Blakey from the On the Buses! Older readers will know who) chucked a few pence into the bucket.

Mike took the money and went after him. He told him straight ‘we don’t want your Judas money!’ as he threw it back at him. Donating a few pence could not make up for the betrayal of the right wing trade union leaders.

Mike Elliott – The Miner’s Friend – Rest in Power!

Gateshead Council Cuts – ‘Labour’ as much use as a chocolate fire-guard


Gateshead ‘Labour’ Council leader Mick Henry has announced £45m worth of cuts and around 394 job losses.

Since 2010 the ‘Labour’ Party has made cuts of £75m and there are 1,275 less working for the council. Presumedly young people are meant to find jobs in Poundland and charity shops?

The cuts will include library closures,  reducing care for the elderly and ending services such as school lollipop wardens.

Mick Henry said,

“There are difficult choices to be made, which could mean stopping or reducing some services; or asking people to pay more; or doing things differently including working with partners and communities in new ways to support local services.


“These choices may be tough, but we’re committed to providing services for the most vulnerable in our communities and helping Gateshead’s economy grow, to create jobs and make sure that Gateshead is in a strong position in future years.”


For such inspiring and fighting leadership Councillor Henry receives a ‘special responsibility allowance’ (SRA) of £30,369 a year in addition to a basic allowance of £10,000.


‘Labour’ leaders like Henry blame the ConDem government for the cuts but wash their hands of any responsibility for fighting back. They have become nothing more than managers of central government policy and resources.


As leader he will preside over the destruction of around 1500 jobs yet drops glib soundbites about ‘helping Gateshead’s economy grow” and ‘creating jobs!’


The weak, including pensioners will suffer and kids will be put in danger on the roads outside schools. Council committee chairs receive up to £15,185 via SRAs for implementing government spending cuts in Gateshead.


All councillors receive a basic allowance of £10,120 for rubber stamping this attack on the living standards of the working class of Gateshead.


In former times the LP in Gateshead stood up for the working class. I am from an estate in the Felling built in the 1920s on the initiative of pioneering Socialist Labour councillors. These estates took families out of slum housing into decent living conditions including front and back gardens. The LP back then strived “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” In other words they stood for defending the interests of the working class and for SOCIALISM.



Today’s ‘Labour’ Party is a shadow of a shadow of its former self. Instead of fighting to drag our class out of poverty as the founders of the movement did they actually cut services, put workers on the dole and in so doing INCREASE poverty.


In 21st century Gateshead 9,655 or 24.3% of children are living in poverty. Some of the worst pockets of poverty are in the Felling and still the modern ‘Labour’ Party makes cuts which will throw even more kids into poverty.



25% of households in Gateshead have an income of less than £10,000. Councillors, who remember receive a basic allowance which is actually more than that miserable total income of 25% of the people they are supposed to represent are standing idly by as more poverty is piled on already existing poverty. What is more Gateshead Council itself employs 1,285 people on the notorious zero hour contracts.



Back in the 1980s and 1990s Labour Councillors in towns like Gateshead were in the main working class people who wanted to fight for their class. Today with a few honourable exceptions they are the central government’s agents and managers of planned poverty aka ‘austerity.’



In their smart suits and on their generous SRA’s and allowances they fool themselves ‘it will only get better’ when the LP gets back into government conveniently forgetting that New ‘Labour’ paved the way for many of the Coalition policies being implemented today.


Gateshead is an area of high unemployment, child poverty, low wages and debt, yet the ‘representatives’ of the working class are on salaries far removed from the reality lived by the majority in the borough.


The Council leader trousers £40,000 + a year while the local MP ‘earns‘ around £64,000. Is it any wonder that  local ‘Labour‘ leaders convince themselves they can do nothing to stop the cuts as that would mean fighting for principles and mounting a campaign by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Trade Unions against the ConDems. Such a course of action would put their careers and salaries at risk. How many ‘Labour’ councillors and MPs would be prepared to do that today?


Truth is the ‘Labour’ Party isn’t Labour any more. They do not represent the interests of the working class today. In the fight against the cuts and poverty they are as much use as a chocolate fire-guard.


Time to step up the campaign against the cuts in Gateshead which includes the fight for a new party of the working class.


More of that later…..

John Andrew Hird

Save Gateshead’s youth service petition – Please sign

The Other 9/11 which Ed Miliband forgot

Today I saw a tweet from Ed Miliband: “A day to remember the victims of 9/11 – including the 67 British people – who lost their lives in New York 12 years ago.”

Yes, we remember the victims of September 11 2001 but there is another September 11 which should be remembered as well by everyone in the Labour and Trade Union movement.

The ‘Other 9/11’ was the CIA backed coup in 1973 against the democratically elected Socialist Government of Salvador Allende.

Ed Miliband’s selective historical memory says a lot about the LP today.

As a Young Socialist in 1979 I met political refugees from Chile at Gateshead Tech. They told me of their lives and struggles and how their loved ones had been tortured and killed by the military.


They related that the working class had been on the verge of taking power. They could have won. It was not inevitable that the CIA organised and financed coup would succeed.

We discussed the lessons of Chile endlessly in the canteen. Our local LPYS and LP showed working class solidarity to these political refugees as did the whole Labour and Trade Union movement throughout the UK. Later I became involved in the Chile Socialist Defence Campaign  set up by Militant and the LPYS and Chilean comrades. Through the dark days of the dictatorship the campaign gave practical solidarity and importantly kept passing on the lessons of Chile to the Labour movement and young people.

I remember the first time I saw ‘The Battle for Chile’ at a LPYS / Chile Socialist Defence Campaign event. The documentary graphically shows that the workers had the possibility to take power and transform society. The workers knew a coup was being prepared and instinctively started to defend themselves. They marched past the presidential palace and demanded arms but none were given by the Allende government.

Brave and idealistic as Allende was he lacked the correct policy and tactics to prevent the coup. These are the lessons which the working class movement must learn today.


The LP in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s was a place where such events could be and were discussed. Today the ‘leader’ of the ‘Labour’ Party cannot even remember there was a coup!

He cannot remember that the working class Liverpool MP Eric Heffer got up in Parliament and condemned the government for continuing with the arms contracts and for supplying Pinochet with tanks and aeroplanes before and after the coup.

As Dick Gaughan sang in the song ‘Victor Jara of Chile’ by Arlo Guthrie and Adrian Mitchell:

“Now the generals they rule Chile
And the British have their thanks
For they rule with Hawker Hunters
And they rule with Chieftain tanks
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong.”

Fast forward to the first Blair government. Pinochet was arrested in London on a Spanish warrant for his crimes against humanity. At last we thought, Pinochet will have to answer for his crimes against the working class!

But no….. after relaxing in the UK for over a year and taking tea with his good friend and supporter Thatcher he went back to Chile. Jack Straw, a LABOUR Home Secretary set the old mass murderer free to die in peace without prosecution in Chile.

Lest we forget. The memories of thousands of trade unionists, socialists and activists who were tortured and murdered in Chile and the fight for justice by their families was ignored by Blair and Jack Straw. ‘New’ Labour forgot the proud Internationalist traditions of working class representatives like Eric Heffer and the Labour movement and looked the other way and allowed a brutal dictator to walk free.

What a contrast between a working class leader like Eric Heffer, a joiner by trade and livelong socialist by conviction and  Jack Straw, ex-student leader and careerist without a single working class principle in his bones. Today the public representatives in Parliament and leadership of the LP are in the main from or take the point of view of the Upper and Middle class. Their policies are 100% pro capitalist.  How many joiners, health workers and unemployed are Labour MPs today?

The LP of Eric Heffer was the old LP which has gone forever and this reflection has not meant just to be a trip down memory lane. Rather an illustration that Ed Miliband’s lack of historical working class memory shows that the party is over. The LP today is neither Socialist, working class or Internationalist any more. Time for the working class and trade unions to start again and form their own party.



“Hillsborough” Militant April 1989

“I took someone to their first football match on Saturday 15 April. What a day to choose!
We were herded in and treated like animals. We even miss the kick-off, but we still have to pay four pounds.

Loads of people have radios, listening to the semi-finals. I ask a bloke near me what the scores are: 1 – 0 to Everton, but something has happened at Hillsborough. What? Seven dead he says. Never!

Near the end of the match, Newcastle fans start chanting: “Liverpool, Liverpool!” Were they just taunting Arsenal or what?

In the pub afterwards everyone is talking about Hillsborough. I’m sad and angry. On the tube people stare at the early editions of the Sundays. A man give me his copy and I see the pictures for the first time.

On Sunday I watched all the news reports with tears in my eyes. Then I got really mad when the politicians and ‘experts’ reel out the usual pious platitudes. David Evans MP says that this proves ID cards have to be introduced – idiot!

It’s the same old story. When a ship rolls over, blame the crew for not being in their places at once. When a train crashes blame the overworked electrician or better still the driver if he’s dead. A football disaster – blame the fans. Blame anyone except those who are really responsible.

As usual Thatcher the vulture hovers around the scene, expressing her grief. In the background, behind the click of the cameras, you can almost hear the Tories mixing buckets of whitewash.

Where should all my sadness and anger be directed? We can step up West Ham against the ID cards and expand it into a safety campaign. We’ve got to stop the cards and get the fans to have some control over their sport.

Most of all I want revenge. I might not ever see Newcastle United win anything, but I’ll definitely live to see Thatcher, the Tories and all the money-grabbing short-sighted parasites who own and run football pay for their crimes.



The above was written in the first days after Hillsborough. Despite a massive propaganda campaign led by Thatcher and Murdoch and echoed in the BBC & ITN, all of whom slandered working class Liverpool Football Club fans, the Militant newspaper stood firm and laid the blame firmly on the shoulders of the police and capitalist system. Today the families of the Hillsborough victims and all those who stood with them have been vindicated.


‘Mc’ Trotsky

Leon Trotsky

Painted for me by a Castlemilk comrade when I was working in Tommy Sheridan’s General Election campaign in 1992 IN Glasgow.