Spycops in Hackney & Stoke Newington: new evidence

Some useful insights into the recent Spycops hearings from Keith Flett.

Kmflett's Blog

Spycops in Hackney. New Evidence

The existence of Spycops- undercover police officers who report on and infiltrate left-wing, radical and anti-racist organisations has been happening since at least the 1970s in north-east London. From time to time the role of particular individuals is exposed.

https://hackneyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/police-spies-in-hackney/

The latest round of hearings in the long running (& on its current timescales never ending) Spycops Inquiry in London which is covering the period of the 1970s and early 1980s has posted on it’s a website a mass of documentation.

One report relates to a meeting on 24th August 1983 between an unnamed officer and DCI David Short of the SDS (Special Demonstration Squad):

The meeting discussed a replacement for Spycop HCN108 who was to be Spycop HCN88 because of what it describes as ‘continuing problems’ in Hackney and Stoke Newington.

Interest was expressed in 50 Rectory Rd N16 the HQ of…

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Hackney Broadcasting Authority – community pirate radio (1986)

Hackney Broadcasting Authority was an illegal community radio station that hit the airwaves on Saturday 4th October 1986. Its programmes included the Battle of Cable Street, arranged marriages, women’s safety on housing estates and Latin American music and history. HBA then ran weekly shows on Saturdays from 12pm-5pm.

Unfortunately no audio recordings of the project seem to exist, but if you know of any (or can add any more info to this post) please do get in touch.

In the era of “on demand” video and podcasts, it’s difficult to visualise a time when media was so finite. But in the olden days radio was broadcast on particular frequencies and the state controlled which organisations could legally operate. Obviously the authorities had their own ideas about what sort of people and material should be on the radio, which led to campaigns from marginalised groups for acceptance – both in terms of coverage by the existing broadcasters such as the BBC and also for new radio stations.

The 4th of October date was the result of a call to action by the Community Radio Association, a pressure group who wanted more diversity on the airwaves. This press cutting from AM/FM (the London eighties London pirate radio site) gives a bit more info on the October 4th day of action and HBA:

HBA’s press release from the time made their stance clear:

“There’s no option. It’s either sit around for another three years and hope for community radio, or start to do something about it”

Quoted in Grant Goddard’s book on Kiss FM

Unfortunately HBA’s chosen frequency of 94FM was adjacent to the much more powerful Kiss FM (then still a pirate, but gained a license in 1989 after jumping through many hoops).

Hackney Broadcasting Authority’s eventual application for a legal license to broadcast seems to have been supported by Hackney Council and the anarchist pamphlet Radio Is My Bomb mentions that the station had two paid workers. It would appear that unlike Kiss FM, they were not successful in gaining legal permission to continue with their shows.

The AM/FM site quotes an amateur radio magazine from the 1980s:

After a promising start. looking as if they were going to succeed where many others have failed before, HBA have been off the air recently. This is due mainly to technical problems as none of the staff have had any previous experience of unlicensed broadcasting. It’s also been reported that there have been a few disputes between individual members of the team, which has been the downfall of many similarly minded groups.

HBA
c/o Box 7
136 Kingsland High St
London
E5 2NS

TX Magazine December 1986

Perhaps unsurprisingly HBA used Centerprise as a mailing address along with many other radical groups.

Hackney became infamous for its black music pirate radio stations in the 1990s and our previous post covers a dramatic 1993 police raid on the legendary Rush FM. A different post includes a great Youtube documentary from this era.

With thanks to Stephen Hebditch.

Sources / Further Reading

AM/FM website

Radio Is My Bomb: A DIY Manual For Pirates (Hooligan Press, 1987)

Grant Goddard – Kiss FM: From Radical Radio to Big Business – The Inside Story Of A London Pirate Radio Station’s Path To Success (Radio Books, 2011)

Alexis Wolton – Tortugan tower blocks? Pirate signals from the margins in Datacide 11, 2011

Police attack Hackney’s striking workers (1990 & 1991)

Police violence against Hackney’s afro-Caribbean community in the 1980s and 1990s is a matter of historical fact, but of course the cops’ racism and criminality didn’t end there…

Background

In 1989 over 4,500 refugees had come to Hackney fleeing the war in Kurdistan. They joined another twenty to thirty thousand Turkish-speaking workers in east London. Almost none of these workers were unionised and no major union had thought to change this. For example, none had ever appointed a Turkish speaking official. But some of these refugees had brought revolutionary traditions from the cities and villages of Turkey and Kurdistan – and they arrived in Hackney at a point where a lot of people were open to political struggle and solidarity.

The 1991 census figures showed that 10,500 people in Hackney worked in manufacturing (as opposed to 12,000 manufacturing jobs solely in the clothing industry in 1981 – and just 3,000 in manufacturing in total in 2019). Many of these jobs were in the textile sweatshops which were dotted around the borough. (See our previous post on working conditions in these for women in the early 1980s)

Call for help leaflet included in Hackney Trade Union News

1989: Protests Against Deportations

On Monday, February 27 1989, the police raided a number of factories in Hackney and arrested 38 Kurdish and Turkish workers. By the next day, seven had been deported and a further fourteen were under threat. This action came in the wake of a wave of raids across North and East London.

The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) clothing branch alongside community and political groups organised immediate protest action: a mass picket of Dalston police station on March 4th. This was followed by a 3,000 strong march the next day and an International Women’s Day march through Hackney under the slogans ‘No Worker is Illegal’, ‘Right to Settle, Right to Work’, ‘No More Deportations’ and ‘No to Police Raids’.

Hackney anti-deporation protest 4th March 1989

Hackney Union News reported at the time:

Factory bosses have used this background [of anti-immigrant sentiment and police harassment] to intensify exploitation. They have been met by increasing struggles over the right to organise in trade unions, and over wages and conditions.

These struggles have led to the formation of the North and East London TGWU textile branch no. 1/1312. The branch will require committed support from the TGWU against the attacks it will face, including trade unionists being shopped to immigration authorities by employers, and in the battles that lie ahead over recognition.

Hackney Union News May/June 1989

1/1312 branch was formed at the initiative of the political organisation, the Union of Turkish Workers, with the assistance of Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and Service Workers Advisory Project (SWAAP). One year later, it had recruited almost 600 workers locally…

Picket at Bacton Fashions

1990: Bacton Fashions strike

Bacton Fashions in Someford Grove, Dalston, was a relatively large clothing sweatshop employing up to 90 workers. It was located in an industrial unit along with other clothing sweatshops. Workers from the different firms used the same entrance to go to work.

Most of Bactons workers were Turkish or Kurdish, had been living in Britain for less than a couple of years and were waiting for a Home Office decision on their rights to remain in the UK. Within the factory there were some members of TGWU’s new 1/1312 textile workers branch.

A series of small-scale strikes had led to a union recognition agreement being signed at Dizzi Limited in nearby Well Street. There were regular leafleting sessions of factories and meetings on workers’ rights at community centres.

The workers at Bacton Fashions had many complaints about low pay, long hours, terrible health and safety conditions, no holiday or sick pay, victimisation, continuous lay-offs without pay and a management prepared to act dictatorially.

When eight workers at Bacton Fashions refused to accept being ‘laid off’ they began picketing. Appeals to other workers to respect their picket line were met sympathetically, but little else. The employer, Mustafa Dill, was sufficiently embarrassed to re-employ the workers and to agree to lay off pay during slack periods. However, he kept breaking his word and there were almost daily walkouts over the next few weeks, as agreements were reached then broken once again.

During a longer strike, it became traditional at the end of the working day for workers from all the firms in the industrial unit to join with the strikers and jeer and handclap the boss and his managerial team as they left work. There was no violence, although tensions were clearly running high and up to 400 people were involved in this daily humiliation of the boss and managers.

The TGWU itself was unhelpful.

On February 26th 1990 the evening picket of about 100 people was attacked by the paramilitary Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police. There was a fierce fight, during which the police were initially chased from the scene, before re-grouping and attacking the pickets and their supporters.

Four pickets (all Kurdish refugees) were arrested and charged with riotous behaviour and actual bodily harm. They faced possible deportation if convicted.

Around 150 people picketed Dalston police station until 5am in the morning.

Only ten people crossed the picket line the next day, forcing Bactons to close.

A campaign to defend “The Bacton 4” was launched at a demo of 400 on April 7th. The campaign helped to secure ‘not guilty’ court verdicts for all four arrestees when their case came to trial in October 1990. It emerged that Special Branch had visited Bactons and showed the security guard photographs of recent demonstrations in London against a visit of Turkish leader General Evren – these photos apparently originated at the Turkish Embassy.

One striker later received a five figure sum in damages for what had happened to him during the police assault.

Bactons was eventually forced to close permanently, only to re-open under a different name and at a different location later. Picketing and a refusal by workers to work there led to its closure again.

As Mark Metcalf of the Colin Roach Centre put it:

While the workers lost their poorly paid jobs they achieved a degree of success showing the employers that they could not do everything they wanted and needed to take the workers needs into account when making decisions. The workers established a pride in fighting back; they closed down the factory and demonstrated they had the power to not only damage the employers’ profits but get rid of it!

An issue of Hackney Trade Union News in Turkish. Photo shows TGWU 1/1312 Textile Branch banner

1991: Solidarity Strike

On January 3rd 1991 over 2,500 London textile workers took solidarity action with their fellow workers on general strike in Turkey on the same day.

As Socialist Organiser reported:

“Factories in Shacklewell Lane, Somerford Grove, Victorian Grove, Tyssen Street, Tudor Grove and Arcola Street were virtually empty as workers refused to cross picket lines.

At 1.15pm, four vans were driven at speeds of over 70mph to the Halkevi community centre on Stoke Newington High St, and officers jumped from the vehicles to race into a crowd of around 120. Five people were grabbed and when friends tried to stop their arrests, around 20 police officers drew their truncheons and batoned people to the ground, arresting them as they fell. One woman meanwhile went to St Barts hospital with a broken leg.

At 2pm a crowd of 150 went to protest outside Stoke Newington police station and when in protest 30 sat down, on the other side of the road to the station, the police paramilitaries of the Bow TSG rushed across the road and violently arrested dozens of people. Others fled, but were pursued by the police in all directions.

Many people were arrested with the police paying special attention to those with cameras, and one young Kurdish man was rugby tackled to the ground, beaten, and his camera taken away.

62 people were arrested with four being taken by the police to Homerton hospital. Access to the casualty department was denied by police at the entrance.

At 6.30pm over 300 people, mainly Turkish and Kurdish, returned to Stoke Newington police station and remained outside singing and dancing until their friends were released. 29 people have been charged with a serious public order offence.

Many were beaten whilst in police custody. The arrestees were helped by Hackney Community Defence Association, which noted several incidents of TSG violence in Hackney the Summer 1991 issue of its newsletter Community Defence. HCDA characterised the January 3rd arrests as revenge for the confrontations at Bactons – and a raid on a gig at Chats Palace as revenge for the Hackney poll tax riot in March 1990:

The facts speak for themselves. TSG officers have an image of themselves as an elite force, and they behave as if answerable to nobody but themselves. There is a certain inevitability that wherever they go, trouble is sure to follow.

Two of the arrestees, Haci Bozkurt and Baki Ates, both 34 and from Stoke Newington, received a great deal of press coverage when their cases eventually came to trial five years later. Both had been granted political asylum after fleeing Turkey to escape police violence and persecution:

“The court was told that in January 1991 the men had been part of a group outside a community centre in Stoke Newington. They had gone to the centre to get news of the general strike then taking place in Turkey. Police were dispersing the crowd when disorder broke out.

Mr Bozkurt asked why a young man was being violently arrested, the court heard. He was then kicked and punched and dragged into a police van. Mr Ates complained about Mr Bozkurt’s treatment and he was grabbed and punched in the eye by PC Michael Fitzpatrick, the jury was told. “It felt like my eye exploded,” he said. He too was put in the van, where he was assaulted again. Both were handcuffed. Mr Bozkurt was also punched by PC Fitzpatrick, tlie court heard, and his nose was fractured. He received multiple injuries, Police said that he had fallen flat on the pavement during the fracas.

Both men were taken to Stoke Newington police station and were eventually seen by doctors. They were sent to hospital, where Mr Ates was found to have suffered a lacerated eyebrow and severe bruising to his eye, which was described by the doctor as a classic boxing injury.

The two men were charged with violent disorder. At Highbury Corner magistrates court in May 1991 no evidence was offered against Mr Bozkurt. Mr Ates was acquitted.”

Guardian Weekly June 23rd 1996

The jury found that the men had suffered false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and assault. Both were awarded £55,000 exemplary damages. Mr Ates received an additional £22,000 compensation and Mr Bozkurt £18,250. A total payout of just over £150,000.

Their counsel, Ben Emmerson, remarked:

“This country should have been a safe haven, but they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and injured and then prosecuted on trumped-up charges”. Predictably, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers involved and they remain on duty.”

Guardian 14.6.96. Quoted in Statewatch

With thanks to Neil Transpontine and Mark Metcalf.

Sources / Further Reading

Simon Lynn – “Migrant Workers Organise”, Hackney Union News, May 1989

“Textile Workers Strike” Hackney Union News March/April 1990

Hackney Unions News May/June 1989

“Bacton 4 found not guilty” – Hackney Union News, November 1990

“Bacton Fashions” Hackney Trade Union Support Unit: Report 1988-1990

Mark Metcalf – “The Bacton Fashions strike, 1990”

Colin Roach Centre – A Case for Trade Union Rank and File resistance: The Hackney Story (1995)

“Historic Day Ruined by police attacks on striking Turkish and Kurdish Workers” Socialist Organiser #471 (18 January 1991) p7

[Headline missing] Independent Thursday 13 June 1996

Duncan Campbell – “Police pay £150,000 after assault on Kurds” Guardian Weekly 23 June 1996

“Kurds receive £150,000 for police assault” Statewatch bulletin Vol 6 no 3 May-June 1996

The wider pattern of police criminality and corruption at Stoke Newington Police Station in the 1990s – and the campaign against it – is covered in our pages about Hackney Community Defence Association.

Women in the Hackney “rag trade” (1980s)

A Hackney Communist Party investigation into the conditions of women working in the local clothing industry.

It includes many quotes from women about their hard work, struggles for decent wages, juggling childcare and even some interesting observations on home working that might be more relevant to many of us now. Online sources suggest a publication date of either 1981 or 1983.

Inside Out is in the tradition of the two essential Working Lives books publishd by Centerprise in the 1970s. The first of these covered work in Hackney from 1905-45, the second 1945-1977.

There has been a huge decline in the number of manufacturing jobs in Hackney since the 1980s. (An estimated 3,000 jobs in total as of 2019 vs 12,000 jobs in the clothes industry when Inside Out was published). I would highly recommend the Angry Workers of the World collective’s recent book Class Power On Zero Hours for a recent investigation into the working conditions in warehouses and factories in West London.

There is a full PDF of “Inside Out” here. Text and images below.

Women In The Rag Trade: Inside Out
By Hackney Communist Party Womens Group

Walk along Dalston Lane, up Ashwin Street, and throug to Ridley Road, heading towards Shacklewell Lane. It’s not far – it might take you 20 minutes. Signboards everywhere, Denelight, Mindy, Rimplan, Palenstar, Multimodes and dozens of others. Small factories, crammed into basements, behind shop fronts, on one floor of a half empty warehouse, in someone’s back room.

Some recently boarded up or left semi-derelict, premises for sale or to let. All are clothing factories. It could be anywhere in Hackney, for clothing is the most important manufacturing industry, employing over 12,000 people locally. And most of those workers are women.

This is the story of those women, told partly in their own words and partly through the few facts and figures available. It’s by no means a complete account. The issues are those most often commented on when discussing women’s employment – what jobs women do, wages, equal pay and job security, health, childcare, home-working and union membership. The experiences and information about Hackney gathered here will, we hope, be useful; we didn’t always find what we expected. And if it helps to ilustrate the need for basic changes in our society, so much the better.

Making Clothes

Hackney has always been an important area for clothing. Until recently, much of the work was Outerwear – tailored suits and coats for the high quality ready-to-wear market. Factories were large, employing over 1000 people, mainly men.

But most of these factories have gone, taking advantages of grants to move out to the suburbs or Development Areas, or closed altogether, victims of the changing market in menswear from bespoke tailoring to casual clothes. But that wasn’t the end of the industry; small workshops, sweatshops, sprung up to take their place, employing women and immigrant workers.

“Ours is a small factory, about 22 on the machining floor, It’s owned by two sons and their mother — she’s dead now, It used to be a family factory, some of the women are 60 and 70 years old. Now younger people, Turks, are coming into the trade”.

Almost all of these factories make women’s clothing – either high quality outerwaer (costume and mantle in th trade) or cheap dresses and light clothing.

A few Hackney factories sell direct to shops, but many operate as outworkers for major companies – Windsmoor, Marks and Spencers, Burberry’s.

“We make coats and jackets for C&A, Top Shop, Littlewoods, British Home Stores. We do mail order as well”.

It’s convenient for the major companies. They do the designing, make the patterns, undertake marketing – someone else has to cope with changes in fashion, lay-off workers, have machines idle, train new workers, keep up-to-date with new equipment. And small factories find it difficult to raise investment – an automatic basting machine with variable temperature controls for synthetic fibres costs anything from £40, 000.

To avoid these problems, manufacturers employ home-workers to do part-work, usually seaming, sleeves, linings. They cost the employer nothing in heating, lighting and National Insurance, they have no security of contract, and many work for lower rates.

It’s the outworkers and homeworkers who are suffering most in the current recession. As living standards fall, people have less money to spend on clothes. A 20% rate of inflation, plus 15% V.A.T. has made garments expensive. Also imports are cheaper, not just from Third World countries, but also from Europe, particularly West Germany and Finland where investment in automation is high. And with British companies dependent on overdrafts, high interest charges hit hard. Over 3000 recorded redundancies in London alone between November 1979 and March 1980. Thousands more are on short time.

Factories in Hackney haven’t escaped. After 62 years of making high quality suits and coats for the West End, including Harrods, Mono’s in Shoreditch shut in December 1979.

“I don’t know why we’re closing really; he says it’s because of high costs, the clothes are too expensive and they can’t sell everything we make.”

Homeworkers have also been affected.

“I know lots of people who have lost work. One day the man says ‘there’s no more’. It’s very difficult for them.”

No-one sees a bright future for the industry in the months ahead.

Jobs for the Girls

Walk into any clothing factory and you’re immediately struck by the lack of automation, the importance of the skills of cutters and machinists, the large number of people in so small a space. The work is highly specialised.

“I do lining, I sew the linings in the coats and suits, I’ve more or less always done that job.”

“Piecing up means making up the sleeves and belts.”

“I’m a special machinist — buttons, button-holes, felling, overlocking, all those.sort of things.”

“As a top machinist, it means you can do any part of the garment, you can make the complete garment out.”

“I’m a finisher, it’s the last thing done by hand. I won’t work the machines, they’re too big and dangerous, so I won’t go near them.”

Almost all the jobs are done by women. Men tend to do particular jobs like cutting and pressing, but the women we spoke to didn’t feel that these were the better jobs.

“They do the same as women, they work on the machines; but men don’t do the job I do, finishing.”

“There are three boys, the governor’s son a and another man, all the cutters are men. No women has ever asked to do cutting.”

Moving to a new section of work isn’t easy. Most factories have no formal training, either for newcomers or those wanting more skills. Evening classes stopped many years ago. The Clothing and Allied Industries Training Board have schemes around the country, but employers in London aren’t interested.

When trade is good, they can poach by offering higher wages; now, they lay off the least skilled, and drop the rate.

Because training is a problem, it’s been difficult to recruit young people; many of the women have been in the trade a long time.

“Well, I did a five-year apprenticeship —but now you come in and if you can use a machine, a few weeks tuition and if you’re in any way quick you pick it up.”

“When I went into the trade, I’m going back a few many years now, we used to work with experienced persons, we’d have the whole bundle and do it right out, but now it’s different, now you go as a section worker.”

With no set criteria for defining different grades of work, moving up a grade is often a question of luck and nerve:

“I went to Shoreditch and got more money because I had the cheek to say I was experienced, Some places give you a trial, but I was lucky. If I didn’t know how to do something I would ask – I’d say ‘you do it differently in this factory’ – then they’d show you, But you had to be quick, or they’ll throw you out. That’s how I became a top machinist.”

As factories close down, getting another job appears to raise few fears for some:

“This is my first trade; when I get fed up with it I just go off and do dif ferent things. I’ve worked in a cigarette factory, spirit factory, tea factory, it makes no dif ference really, it’s only the money that matters.”

“I haven’t looked for anything yet because you can’t start until you finish here; I’ve never had any problems. I might look for something different, but this is all I know.”

But for others, another job isn’t so easy:

“Because I’m older, there’s not much, cleaning, tea lady. There’s not many opportunities from where I live.” (Haringey)

“It’s a shame this place is closing down, It was convenient, local and the hours more or less flexi. Conditions were good compared to some places.”

Not Pin Money… but Peanuts!

Wages in the clothing industry have always been low. From the beginning of this century attempts have been made to regulate pay through the Wages Council Agreements. The minimum rate for 79/80 for working a 40 hour week was set at 105p. per hour.

Outside London, many workers are at or even below this legal minimum. In Hackney, the shortage of skilled labour has pushed up the rate, although home-workers and those working in very small sweat shops often get less. Average rates quoted were £1.60 to £2.00 per hour: pay for a full-time machinist of £55. to £60 per week. Cutters (men’s jobs) were more likely to earn £100 a week.

But comparing rates in the industry is difficult. Machinists, examiners, passers and fixers are usually on piece-rate; others are on time-rate – final examining examining, quality control, cutters. But many machinists also work time-rate.

How much you earn is a secret. In one factory no two machinists will necessarily be earning the same.

“Everyone gets what they have individually arranged between themselves and the governor, and he tells you to keep it to yourself.”

“Everyone is paid a different amount, it depends on your ability. You set your own price. I came here as a top machinist so therefore I negotiate what I think I’m worth. I know what the going rate is but if you think you deserve something better you go ahead and ask,

Often, especially in the smallest places, work is ‘off the book’. No record of payment is made by the employer who gives cash-in-hand. If you’re earning less than £55 a week, paying tax and National Insurance isn’t very attractive. But getting more money can be hazardous.

“My friend, one day I saw the boss come up and give her £5. I asked her what for and she said she’d been to see him to get more money, but she didn’t want it on her slip. So every week he gives it to her in her hand, But now he’s forgetting and she has to keep asking – she doesn’t like it.”

Many women in Hackney don’t work a full 40 hour week. Part-time hours vary, but somewhere between 26 and 35 hours is common. So few women earn more than £50 a week. And part-time rates don’t appear to be covered by the Equal Pay Act. At least that’s what the women workers at Mono’s found when they went to the Equal Pay Tribunal.

“The Tribunal, there was no-one on the bench who knew anything about this trade. They didn’t know what we were talking about, facings, piecing up and such.”

“We picked out who we thought was earning more, we had to put our names down against as many as we felt were earning more than us. Some women picked out men who were only earning a penny more. Two women went to the Tribunal and found they were earning more than the men. We looked fools. The men wouldn’t tell us beforehand. The Union should be entitled to ask.”

“One case, she was working in a set with men, whilst we were working in sets with all women. They put her with the highest paid man she was working with.”

“We lost the Appeal on part-time. He (the boss) said the women were privileged to be able to work part-time. At that time I didn’t know he had two men working upstairs part-time.”

“The Chairman, he said he had a part-time secretary and there were times when he needed her and she wasn’t there. But it’s not the same, when you’re not sitting at the machine, someone else is – you expect the same hourly rate. After all, I work 26 hours a week, and come every day. I still have the same fares as full-time workers, over £1 a day. It’s about time people got travel allowances off their tax.”

“We went up first and then he (the boss) went up afterwards so he’could say what he liked and you couldn’t say – ‘well, that’s not true’ “.

“One woman here on tailoring, if anything goes wrong with the work, a little hole, she can invisible mend which none of the men can. The boss said the man was paid more because as well as being a tailor he booked in the work. But all he had todo was to write a number on a bit of paper and hang the work up. That’s all he had to do. But the woman lost because he spoke as though that man had big books to look after. We didn’t get a chance to challenge that.”

“The Tribunal’s put there to make you feel, well, they’re trying, but they’re not really.”

So even when payment is by the hour, the Tribunal ruled that an equal hourly rate only applies if you work 40 hours a week. It’s not surprising that employers willingly take part-time workers. For many many women, this is one of the attractions of clothing

“I work 9.30 to 3.30 because you can’t leave the kids to go to school, they’d never go.”

“I leave at 8.30 from Woolwich Arsenal and get here about 9.30, they’re quite good about that.”

For full-time workers the day can be long. Half the women who work in Hackney don’t live in the Borough; clothing is no exception.

“I work 8.30 to 4.40, it takes me about one and a half hours to get here by tube and bus.”

“Some of the old women work part-time. But I work 8am to 5pm.”

Holiday entitlements are negotiated by the Union and incorporated into the Wages Council Agreements. But in many of the smaller factories, getting holidays with pay can be a problem, especially if you’re working part-time. But here again, if you’ve got skills, employers can appear generous:

“I think I can have three weeks paid, but we go go to see our family in Spain so I say how much I want and I can go. Unpaid of course. Some factories won’t let you do that, they even say when you can go.”

On the inside

…It’s lunchtime, half an hour to eat your sandwiches, have a cup of tea, and get on with a bit of your own work. You’ll have to eat at the bench, between the machines, scissors, threads, half-made garments. If you’re lucky you can make a cup of tea in the kitchen, partitioned off in the corner. Feel a bit off-colour, well sorry but there’s nowhere for you to lie down…….

Something out of the last century? No, just the average clothing factory.

“Our new factory, its got no rest room or canteen, just a little kitchen to make tea. All I know, when they built it new, an inspector came.”

There are all sorts of hidden hazards around. Open any copy of the Tailor and Garment Workers’ Journal for the compensation awarded for industrial injuries – Mrs ——— N.E. London, £313.05. She’d tripped down the stairs at work and broken her ankle, because there were no lights. A more serious accident might bring £1000.

But many health complaints just aren’t recognised ag resulting from working conditions, or else are put down to carelessness.

“I have glasses for working now — but it’s difficult to say it’s because of the work, it could be my age.”

Clothing factories are notorious fire hazards – old buildings, narrow staircases, faulty wiring, hot presses, synthetic fibres, corridors blocked with racks of clothes and cardboard boxes

“The factory where I work was burnt down a few months ago, a fault in the wiring I think. Luckily it was a night. Now it’s quite new. I don’t know if there are any safety regulations, even since the fire we haven’t had a fire practice.”

None of the women we spoke to could ever remember having instructions about accidents or fire. They’d just get out as best they could. Yet Health and Safety is the employer’s responsibility and fire drills are compulsory under the Health and Safety at Work Act. But with few inspectors, enforcement of this and other requirements is almost impossible.

What about the Children?

Paid work is only one of the jobs women do, there’s also the family to look after.

“I work part-time because even when they work, they’re still your responsibility – they still expect something to eat when they come home from work.”

The majority of women we spoke to were either without children or had grown-up children.

“I’ve two big girls, one’s working and the other’s at school, so I don’t worry about them.”

Working in clothing is difficult for those with younger children and childcare is a constant anxiety.

“I leave them with my mum, but I worry if she gets sick or something. I have to take time off. No, the boss doesn’t mind.”

One alternative to ‘mum’ is a childminder. Hackney is better off than some parts of London for registered childminders, but it’s still not enough, and can be expensive. £12 a week is the rate for looking after a child through Hackney Association of Childminders, not much for working maybe 50 hours a week. But it canstill be too much when your own pay is less than £50.

Many women don’t like leaving their children with childminders, especially if they’re not registered. Often there’s very little space or things to play with, too many children for one pair of hands. But there aren’t many places available in nurseries either.

The most recent data published (a GLC report for March 1975, although probably little has changed since then), showed that for every 1000 children under five in Hackney, there were only 23 nursery places available. It’s better to live in Camden or Islington, which have 85 places and 51 places respectively for every 1000 pre-school children. Yet despite the desparate need, three new nurseries built in Hackney are likely to remain closed.

Home Sweet Home

“I worked at home because of the children. I wanted to be there when they came back from school, not give them a key round their neck.”

“Before I had the children I worked in a shirt factory. But after, it was very expensive to have them looked after. My mother used to look after my daughter but she didn’t want to any more.”

By working in their own homes, women combine paid work and housework. But it isn’t easy when you’re at everyone’s beck and call:

“I’d like to’go back to the factory – maybe I’d get more money because here I’m always doing things, helping people and my work is always behind. My governor doesn’t send me work because of that.”

Children need attention too.

“It’s very hard with the children about. My little girl, she wasn’t used to the machine and when I started she used to go mad — she hated it. They get jealous and want to be picked up all the time.”

“I don’t da much when the children are at home, maybe when they’re on holiday I do about 6 hours work a day. When they’re at school I do more,”

Providing nursery facilities and after-school care would help many homeworkers – but not all.

“Nursery places would be a good idea, but our people wouldn’t like it.”

Looking after your own children isn’t the only pressure forcing ethnic minority women to work at home. Not speaking the language properly, being isolated in a strange factory, it’s a frightening prospect. At home friends can come and chat while you work.

“My friend, I’m teaching her to sew. If she wants she comes here and helps me finish the garments.”

But since most homeworkers arrange their work over the telephone, understanding the language is still important.

“I agree the price with the governor, You have to phone him up. I think he has a two-floor factory, but I’ve only been there once.”

Initial contact with the governor may be made through friends or relatives. After that, the work arrives at the door.

“The man brings the work in a van, He comes regularly every day, but I only take it three days, because I can’t finish it.”

Delivering and collecting the work is often sub-contracted out by the factory. So it’s even more difficult for a home-worker to make contact with her real employer.

In law, homeworkers are sometimes classed as employees and have some legal protections. But most are casual workers, treated by the factory as self-employed. So the governor avoids paying National Insurance or redundancy pay, and can stop supplying work at a moment’s notice.

By accepting this, homeworkers avoid paying tax and insurance too. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth working at all. But it means the governor can threaten to report you if you don’t accept his terms.

However,. regardless of the type of contract between the factory and the homeworker, Wages Council Minimum rates of pay should be offered. And from May 1980, the agreement includes holiday pay – for 80/81 this should be 5% of annual earnings, going up to 10% the following year.

Actual rates vary widely and are often well below the legal minimum. How much you get depends on how well you know the industry. .

“The work I’m doing is very cheap. Some skirts are alright, you get 50p and there’s plenty of work in them – in fact I get more than if they’re made in the factory —- but others are only 20p, if there’s not much to them.”

“If I do good work, maybe I get £70 a week, but but last week I got £30,”

The same skirt costs £8 or £9 down Oxford Street. And a £35 jacket may have cost just £1.50 to machine. Set against earnings are the costs of making the garment, most of which are paid by the homeworker.

“I bought the machine. They are £300 now, but I paid £165. Some people get a machine from the governor, but I like to have my own, because one day he might come and take it. We paid cash.”

“I don’t get any allowance for electricity, I think he should. And I have to pay for the machine to be serviced. But he provides all the materials, thread, stiffenings, fastenings.”

So if you take out the extra costs, the real rate per item may be as low as 15p.

Homeworkers face the same safety hazards as in the factory – with children around it can be even more dangerous. Trailing wires, overloaded plugs, scissors and pins. Unsuitable chairs and bad light add to tiredness.

“After 8 hours at the machine, my arms ache terribly. My shoulders get very stiff. I need to do some exercises.”

“I get very bad headaches with my eyes when I’ve been working for a long time.”

Under tne Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are responsible for homeworkers and should ensure that they are working in safe conditions. But checking is impossible – who wants the boss poking around their home. And in any case, if the employer found the premises unsuitable, he’d get some-one else rather than pay for improvements.

Even now, a homeworker may find herself unable to work at home because of planning regulations. If someone claims that the noise of the machine is a nuisance or that the use of the property has changed, then it may be illegal to continue working there. This can often act as a threat even if enforcement is unlikely:

“We were living in a two-room flat and I machined from 10 am to 4pm. I stoppedthen because of the noise. When we moved, I couldn’t continue because of the neighbours. They said they’d get the council. I was told it was against the law to work at home in this area.”

So many rules and regulations which no-one knows about. Working for very long hours for very low pay, disrupting your home. It’s not perhaps surprising that homeworkers are beginning to complain. Some women in Hackney are part of the London Homeworking Campaign, set up to improve life for homeworkers. They’ve drawn up a charter of demands for changes in the law and improved local facilities.

And Hackney is the first Council to appoint a Homeworking Officer – someone to make contact with homeworkers and provide them with information.

It’s a good idea. But why didn’t they realise that many women, especially from ethnic minorities, aren’t likely to welcome a male official into their homes. And in the end, improving conditions for homeworkers depends on getting better wages and conditions for all workers in the industry.

Women together

About 2000 workers in Hackney belong to the Tailor and Garment Workers union, most of them women. Organising the industry is a nightmare – so many small units opening and closing, employers openly hostile.

With a small membership on low wages, union funds are less than adequate. In such a fragmented industry, organisation is heavily dependent on full-time officials.

Only two are available to try and organise the 70,000 workers in the whole of the London region.

Much of their time is spent representing members on Tribunals, keeping in contact with organised workplaces. There’ s not much time to try and locate non-union factories, or do the research necessary to find out what’s going on. Inevitably, the smaller factories get left out.

The boss and the fear of intimidation remain one of the biggest hurdles to making new members.

“People talk very openly to the governor. A Turkish girl came to work here, and she tried to draw the attention of the other Turkish workers to conditions in Turkey — not here, but they weren’t interested. Now we’ve not much work, they’ve told her to leave, not anyone else.”

And with the industry a jungle, the Union can be seen as disturbing time-honoured practices:

“You’ll generally find in a firm like this, the rate of pay is less, the conditions are better, but the rate is less than in a non-Union place, where its free bargaining. Here the Union will get you the annual increment, but if you want more, you go and ask.”

Where women have joined the Union, its advantages are recognised:

“This is a Union shop, and you’re more or less protected, the management can’t say ‘clear off out’.”

Typical of the issues taken up include provision of first-aid rooms, proper toilet facilities, bringing in the public health inspector to measure fume levels and ventilation.

Getting even these basic rights in each factory requires a high level of Union membership. With weak organisation in the early stages, benefits of joining often appear small. It’s a vicious circle.

Time for a change

“The needle was the staple employment of women in London throughout the nineteenth century. Economic instability accentuated the seasonal nature of the work, making the skilled needlewoman’s living precarious, As slopwork (cheap goods) increased, so did the number of out or homeworkers, and the embroideresses, sempstresses, tambourers, artificial flower makers, makers of fine and expensive shirts, could no longer rely on regular employment, not even in the fasionable West End sectors of the trade.”

S. Alexander: Women’s work in 19th Century London.

A hundred years later, and what’s changed? As this pamphlet shows, women clothing workers still earn very low pay, work in bad and over-crowded conditions, find themselves out of work with little or no warning.

It makes you think!

– why is it women have lower paid jobs than men and often worse working conditions?

– why can’t workers run their own factories instead of working to put money in the governor’s pocket?

– why is it so impossible to enforce the few laws that should protect people at work?

– why aren’t there nurseries and proper play facilities for after-school hours?

– why haven’t ordinary people got enough money to buy clothes and other necessities?

Why indeed? And what can we do about it?

Changing our working lives in Hackney overnight is a bit of a tall order, but we can make a start – by demanding higher wages – greater protection for homeworkers – more Health and Safety inspectors – legal requirements that employers allow Union representatives on to their premises – nursery facilities for all children under five.

However, even these small improvements for working women aren’t at all popular with the present Conservative Government. One Minister has pronounced:

“If the Good Lord had intended us to have equal rights to go out to work, he wouldn’t have created men and women.”

They’re more interested in closing nurseries, cutting maternity rights, pushing women out of employment. And by attacking Trade Unions they want to stop us organising any protest.

Whether they succeed or not depends on us. And for many women in the clothing industry, the need for change is obvious:

“After all, it can’t always be like this. Eventually, something’s got to happen.”

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank everyone who helped in the preparation and production of this pamphlet, and particularly the women who gave up their lunch breaks to talk to us.

Previously on this site:

Communist Plan for Life in Hackney (1930s)

Bob Darke’s disaffection from the Hackney CP in the 1950s.

Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.

The 62 Group fought fascists in Hackney – now in a BBC drama

Hackney Needs Socialism  – 1978 election pamphlet

Monument plan for H Block prisoners in Hackney (1981)

A TV news item on the culture war about a statue – from November 1981. The clip reports on the scandal around a campaign for the construction of a monument to ten dead Irish Republican hunger strikers.

Five Labour councillors signed a petition supporting the camaign, but there seems to have been some confusion about whether they knew what they were doing… (insert joke here about Hackney councillors).

The petition was also signed by Ernie Roberts, MP for Stoke Newington, who subsequently withdrew his support.

The call for the monument (and the more pressing need for political recognition of Irish Republican prisoners) was organised by the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign, which according to the comrades at Powerbase was a front for the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. (The Tendency was becoming the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1981 when all this happened. It then evolved into the wildly dodgy Living Marxism/LM before mutating further into the contrarian tentacles of the network around Spiked! and other wrongness).

A mock up of the proposed monument which campaigners wished to be installed outside Hackney Town Hall

Hackney was one of several frontlines of the RCT’s battle for Republican prisoners. One year before the monument furore, the Tendency had organised a march from the Town Hall to mark the beginning of the hunger strike:

(Image courtesy of New Historical Express, whose useful post on the wider left’s support or otherwise for the hunger strikes is well worth a look.)

On 13th October of 1981 the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign ran a meeting at Stoke Newington Town Hall with “relatives of the H-Block Prisoners and prominent hunger strike activists from Ireland and Britain”.

So naturally, the RCP/T seized the opportunity to make political capital out of the monument campaign in their paper The Next Step:

(scans courtesy of the expansive Splits and Fusions archive, whose introductory post on the RCP and its publications is recommended.)

Needless to say, the monument did not get built. But who were the councillors who may or may not have supported it?

Bella Callaghan went on to be Mayor of Hackney from 1983-1984.

Ron Heisler, is a socialist and self-described “delinquent historian” with a penchant for visiting all the left wing bookshops in London (admirable pursuits, I am sure you will agree).

Patrick Kodikara was well known in the eighties as a black activist. Mr Kodikara sadly died earlier this month and his obituary at the Guardian is well worth a read. He has previously appeared on this blog in relation to defunding Hackney police and there is footage of him in the extended news clip on Hackney Schoolkids Against the Nazis.

The standard work on the H-Block hunger strikes and the conditions from which they arose is Ten Men Dead by David Beresford. I would also recommend Culture Wars: The Media and the British Left by James Curran, Ivor Gaber and Julian Petley on the general media climate of the time and its focus on “loony lefty councils”.

Previously on Radical History of Hackney:

The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting (1986)

Centerprise, An Phoblacht and a suspect package

October 2020 updates

Photo by STN

The controversry about the Museum of the Home’s racist memorial to slave trader Robert Geffrye continued this month. The Hackney Citizen reported that:

Of the 2,187 respondents to the [museum’s] consultation, 71 per cent voted to take the statue down, with 29 per cent saying to leave it up. Four per cent did not respond to the question.

Protests have been taking place regularly outside the still-closed museum and persons unknown have upped the ante with some radical redecoration to the exterior wall as can be seen in the photo above. Police are apparently investigating this as well as the impressive makeover of the statue itself:

Photo by Hackney Citizen

Having steadfastly ignored the wishes of the community, the PR geniuses at the museum raised hackles across the borough with a tweet inviting people to implicate themselves in the ongoing shitstorm:

Their claim about reflecting the communities they serve seems at variance with the position of the Museum’s former Director David Dewing who is said to have stated that he had “no interest in the culture of the labouring classes”.

Out now

In happier news, the The Rio Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s book has now been published and if you like this blog you should get it. It’s a lavish production with 254 pages filled with amazing photos and some great commentary from participants in the original Rio Tape/Slide project as well as Michael Rosen and Hackney photographer Alan Denney.

My copy arrived a few days ago and the few pages I have managed so far have already piqued my interest for some future entries here.

The book is £26 direct from Isola Press (and I think from the Rio itself and Artsword bookshop on Broadway Market) and is apparently going quick. If you can’t afford that, then check out the related free exhibition at the newly opened Hackney Museum (the museum that knows how to do things properly in Hackney).

The exhibition online launch event is online with some great presentations about Hackney in the 1980s and the background of the production of the book:

Alan Denney is also in conversation with the Hackney Society on 10th December. This free online event will cover his own incredible photos of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some great 1980s posters from the Hackney Empire were unearthed this month. The poster on the left was tweeted by Hackney Museum who had this to say:

Opposition to South African Apartheid was widespread in 1980s Hackney In 1985 workers at the British Tyre & Rubber factory (SA) went on strike over rights, pay and conditions. Within 72 hours they were dismissed.This play was put on to raise money for the strikers #bhm2020

The poster on the right was posted by Hackney ranting poet and author Tim Wells on his excellent Stand Up and Spit blog. Tim’s skinhead werewolf pulp horror shocker of a novel Moonstomp was a highlight of last year and was mainly set in late 1970s Hackney. This month he announced his second novel Shine On Me which promises “Skinhead werewolf, mod witches, dead Crass fans!”

Mick Hugo

Veteran radical Hackney historian Ken Worpole wrote a fascinating obituary for his friend Mick Hugo in the Guardian this month, covering his work as a merchant seaman and his time in Hackney the 1970s as a squatter, housing activist and Centerprise volunteer amongst many other things.

Photo by @happymantree on Twitter

Meanwhile in horticultural history, The Happy Man Tree was voted “Tree of the Year”. It’s a 150 year old grade A London Plane street tree near Woodberry Down which is (still?) slated for demolition by Berkeley Homes.

Hackney Archives is sadly still closed but Friends of Hackney Archives are going strong and have unusually published a copy of their newsletter online with an update on the archives and articles including Philip Twells MP (a slave owner who lived on Stoke Newington Church Street), the campaign to restore the Hackney stocks, Hackney in London Parish maps circa 1900 and more.

Hackney Account is an inspiring youth-led police monitoring group launched earlier this year. They just published their report Policing in Hackney: Challenges From Youth In 2020 with some excellent statistics and commentary about stop and search and other recent policing issues in the borough. I was struck by the title and its resonance with the essential book published by Karia Press in 1988 and how some things have improved since then, while some things have stayed the same.

In the September update I mentioned the public vote to choose the name of the new public square by Britannia Leisure Centre. There are four contrasting radical Hackney options to choose from and the deadline is November 11th.

Finally it was lovely to hear some praise for this site during Mayday Rooms’ online session on “Archiving Radical Spaces” at the London Anarchist Bookfair event.

August 2020 updates

The rigid conservatism of the Museum of the Home has thankfully been outpaced by East London’s Sir John Cass Redcoat School which has now been renamed Stepney All Saints CofE Secondary School. The name change recognises the role John Cass played in the slave trade.

This summer statues of John Cass were removed from St Botolph’s Church (Aldgate High Street) and the Sir John Cass Institute (Jewry St). Cass’ connections to Hackney are documented in a previous post here.

Mark Metcalf, formerly of this parish – and Hackney Community Defence Association, Colin Roach Centre and many other great initiatives – has uploaded scans of some relevant documents to his website.

These include PDFs of Hackney Union News from the late 1980s, a number of Hackney Community Defence Association pamphlets and three issues of Revolutions Per Minute – a cultural magazine produced by the Colin Roach Centre.

Sparrows Nest in Nottingham have subsequently also uploaded the October 1993 issue of Hackney Trade Union News as part of their huge online archive too.

I am conscious that personal websites can get hacked or go offline for various reasons, so have taken the liberty of arranging for these documents to be added to the archive.org site alongside dozens of other radical Hackney documents from the seventies to the noughties.

Radical History of Hackney tentacles also extend to a Soundcloud page with audio content or a Youtube channel if you prefer that.

The comrades at Libcom have uploaded an article about gentrification in Hackney at the turn of the century from the anarchist Black Flag magazine: “You Can’t Live On A Web Site” – Privatisation and Gentrification, Reaction and Resistance, in Hackney’s ‘Regeneration State’ – Libcom’s “Hackney” tag is well worth a browse through also.

When Hackney (almost) defunded the Police

Alongside the generalised anti-racism of the Black Lives Matter protests, it has been great to see specific demands emerge. Some of these have been very practical, such as the removal of colonial or racist statues or support for campaigns around deaths in custody such as the United Friends and Family Campaign. Others, such as defunding the police, would appear on the surface to be much more idealistic or longterm.

For some people, challenging the role of the police is strictly off-limits. A token reform here and there, alongside a rabid competition to give the cops as much money as possible, is what mainstream political debate looks like in the UK in the 2020s. But a growing number of people are not satisfied by that. Here is a handy four minute introduction:

Defunding the police is not a new demand and perhaps previous campaigns can inform the current debate.

In February 1983, Hackney Council’s Police Committee resolved to withold the Council’s £4 million donaton towards the cost of the Metropolitan Police – “the precept”. This was put to a full meeting of the Council on 23rd of February which adopted the following motion:

That the Council take whatever steps are open to it to withold the payment of the police precept both as an expression of anger at the state of policing in Hackney and with a view to bringing home to the Government the community demands for an independent inquiry into policing in Hackney.

Quoted in Policing in Hackney 1945-1984

Hackney People’s Press (#87 Feb 1983) quoted Councillor Patrick Kodikara:

“30 per cent of the ratepayers of Hackney are black. Why should the Council pay the police to practise repression on us?”

The motion was passed – with all of the Labour and Liberal councillors voting in favour – and all of the Conservative councillors voting against.

A recent image produced by Autonomous Design Group

The next issue of Hackney Peoples Press (#88 March 1983) was a bit more cynical:

“The Council’s statement of intent not to pay the precept of £4 million this year is just a gesture. The law does not allow them to withold the money, and, this year at least, they are not going to break the law. But by making the gesture they are indicating that they are paying up under protest, and are joining other London boroughs who have already reached the same conclusion: they pay over ratepayers money each year to the police yet London is unique in the country in not having an elected police authority”

And sure enough, the Council was told by its legal advisers in March that it could not legally withold the money and the precept was paid – I assume in time for the next financial year in April 1983.

The Policing in Hackney book mentions the Council’s decision generating a great deal of media attention, which I’ve not yet been able to track down, but imagine was suitably unsupportive and outraged.

This was all spun by Hackney Central MP Clinton Davis in Parliament:

“My own local authority may be very frustrated—sometimes with justification—by some of the actions, or the inaction, of the local police. The suggestion of the withdrawal of the police precept is, however, an empty but unacceptable gesture which increases the anxiety of many of my constituents—particularly the elderly—that the police are suddenly to be withdrawn. But of course that will not happen.

When I spoke to Councillor [Brynley] Heaven, the chairman of the police liaison committee, he readily agreed that it would not happen. It is a gesture—a vote of no confidence in the police—but I do not believe that such a gesture is justified by the circumstances. If we are to make constructive criticisms about the police, as sometimes we must and as I do today, it does not add to the authority of those who support such criticism to join in every meaningless gesture and every attack on the police.”

Two years later, Hackney Council would verge closer to breaking the law when it refused to set a “rate” (essentially the equivalent of Council Tax now) in response to the Thatcher government’s efforts to restrict local government spending.

This incident of almost defunding the police did not emerge spontaneously from a “loony left” council with nothing better to do. It was the culmination of years of terrible policing resulting in a number of community campaigns…

Background to the motion to defund the police

(This timeline covers the most significant events. Examples of the much more common day to day police corruption and harassment are covered in Chapter 8 of Policing In Hackney).

December 1978: Black teenager Michael Ferreira is stabbed during a fight with white teenagers in Stoke Newington. His friends take him to the nearby police station, where the cops seem more interested in questioning them than assisting Michael, who dies of his wounds before reaching hospital.

24th April 1979: Hackney resident Blair Peach is killed during a protest against the National Front in Southall. 14 witnesses saw him being hit on the head by a policeman. It was generally understood then, and is widely believed now, that Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia.

The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police. This is documented in the excellent Police Out of School which is available in full on elsewhere on this site.

November 1979: A conference of anti-racist groups in Hackney calls for the repeal of the “sus” laws that allow police to stop and search anyone they are suspicious of. In 1977 60% of “sus” arrests in Hackney were of black people – who made up 11% of the borough.

February 1980: Five units of the Special Patrol Group began to operate in Hackney with no consultation. When the Leader of the Council criticised the police for this, Commander Mitchell responded by saying “I don’t feel obliged to tell anyone about my policing activities”.

July 1981: Riot in Dalston. Searchlight magazine blamed Commander Mitchell’s hardline policies for the incident.

Also in 1981: Lewisham Council threatened not to pay the police precept.

December 1981: Newton Rose falsely convicted for the murder of Anthony Donnelly, a Clapton resident with National Front connections. A successful campaign results in Rose being freed in 1982 becaue of a “grave material irregularity” in the trial.

April 1982: David and Lucille White, an elderly black couple, are awarded £51,000 damages for “a catalogue of violent and inhuman treatment” by Stoke Newington police.

July 1982: First meeting of Hackney Council’s new Police Committee, set up to consider and monitor policing in the borough – and make the police more responsive to local needs. The committee replaced an informal police liaison group which met in private and alternated its chair between the police and the council. The committee’s meetings were public and chaired by its members. A Support Unit was also established which monitored crime and policing and published reports critical of police powers.

Colin Roach

12 January 1983: Death of Colin Roach by gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington police station.

Roach’s parents are treated appallingly by the police. Demonstrations organised by the Roach Family Support Commttee (RSFC) outside the police station result in numerous protestors, including Colin’s father, being arrested.

Ernie Roberts, Hackney MP, made a statement on the public’s concern about the breakdown of community/police relations as well as his support for a public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach. The Greater London Council funded the Roach campaign to the tune of £1,500 shortly afterwards. There was outrage in the press at this use of public money to fund what they saw as “cash to fight the police” and “fostering discontent among black people”.

February 18 1983: Colin Roach’s funeral.

RFSC instigates its “break links campaign” and writes to all Hackney Councillors asking them to:

  • vote to withold the police precept
  • hold a vote of no confidence in Stoke Newington police
  • agree to break all links with the police unless and until an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach was held.

Hackney social services workers put pressure on thier union – Hackney NALGO, which passes resolution calling on members to “break links” with the police.

Meanwhile, slightly east of Hackney:

“Tower Hamlets Council is to be asked on Tuesday to follow the Hackney Council example and consider witholding the Metropolitan Police rate precept. The Newham Monitoring Project is to call upon the local council to do the same unless an independent inquiry into Forest Gate police station in Newham is set up.

Mr Unmesh Desair, the project’s full time worker, yesterday described the station as a “torture chamber”.

The Times, February 24, 1983

Afer the fuss about non-payment of the precept had died down, other aspects of the campaign were still live issues.

In May 1983 Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Ronald Brown, bemoaned the continuation of the “break links” campaign in Parliament, singling out Hackney Council for Racial Equality:

Since 10 January, the new police commander has tried desperately to establish contact between the police and that organisation. Recognising the complaints about the police in London, particularly in Hackney, as well as the difficulties in Hackney as a result of the tragedy that occurred, he has endeavoured to re-establish a relationship with the community. He has approached every group in an attempt to get a dialogue going.

What kind of response did he get from the Council for Racial Equality? In a letter of 21 February it said: I am writing on behalf of Hackney Council for Racial Equality Executive”— not the council, but the executive— who have asked that you give instructions that the local home beat officers covering the HCRE Mare Street office, the HCRE Family Centre, Rectory Road, no longer call”— that phase is underlined— at either of these offices unless HCRE gives a specific call to the police. I trust this will be acted on with dispatch. That was signed by the community relations officer. That destroyed the relationship between the beat policemen and the community in the two areas. By common consent, that relationship had proved valuable. That one letter wiped out that relationship.”

The publication of Police out of School in 1985 generated a further furore and also a PR campaign from the police. The campaign and police response are covered in this great news report from the time:

Conclusion

Calls to defund the police in the 1980s need to be seen as the tip of the iceberg of wider community resistance. This made it much harder to dismiss the idea of defunding as “gesture politics”.

In Hackney, the antagonism between the police and community only intensified after this, with corruption at Stoke Newington police station expanding to include further deaths in custody and police officers getting involved with drug dealing, amongst other crimes. In the 1990s this would be met head on by Hackney Community Defence Association.

I am shit at reading budgets, so please laugh at me, but it looks to me like:

Total council tax donations to Greater London Authority for the year 2020/2021:
£1,010,907,032.68

Amount of this which goes to Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime:
£767,054,360.26

So that’s about 75% of the total.

Hackney’s donation to the GLA would seem to be £24,701,359.02

75% of that is roughly £18 million.

(A purely inflationary rise from the £4m in 1983 to now would be £11.59m, but you would also need to factor in the expanding population of Hackney in that time – according to Wikipedia it was 179,536 in 1981 and 280,900 in 2020 which is an increase of 56%.)

A question worth asking is: would spending this £18 million of our money on other things be better at reducing crime and harm?

Sources and Further Reading

Hackney Peoples Press (various issues)

Police Out of School (Hackney Teachers Associaton, 1985)

Policing In Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by the Roach Family Support Committe (Karia Press & RFSC 1989)

Policing London #2 September 1982 (GLC in the Police Committee Support Unit)

John Eden – “They Hate Us, We Hate Them”: Resisting Police Corruption and Violence in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s (Datacide #14 2014)

Paul Harrison – Inside The Inner City (Penguin , 1983)

Michael Keith – Race, Riots and Policing: Love and Disorder in a Multi-racist Society (UCL Press, 1993).

May 2020 updates

Hackney Museum have unearthed an incredible community film project from 1988:

Living On The Welfare Estate is an excellent snapshot of the lives and issues of residents on Clapton Park Estate. There is some homegrown hip hop, reggae and soul music of varying quality as well as general commentary and footage of the area.

From 6:45 onwards there is a section on police aggravation and how resident Peter Richmond was wrongly convicted purely on the basis of statements of the notoriously corrupt Hackney police in 1984.

Friends of Hackney Archives‘ twitter account Hackney History is well worth a follow. They are contributing to the wider Layers of London project and these two recent entries caught my eye:

There is a tonne of other stuff on the site of interest, with a great deal about different areas of the borough and their portrayal in fiction, various addresses profiled etc. You can see the lot here.

Hackney Archives themselves are doing a Friday Feature on Facebook which seems to be generally reprints from “Council Pravda” Hackney Today (no disprespect to the Archives – their bit was usually the only thing worth reading in there!). Appropriately enough the May Day feature was on socialist pharmacist Israel Renson who dispensed medicine from his shop on Well Street and called for the abolition of money using the pseudonym “Philoren”.

Portrait of Abashanti-I (c) Tim Schnetgoeke https://www.schnetgoeke.com/

The Life In Dub podcast is a series of interviews with reggae artists conducted by Steve Vibronics. A recent episode features Hackney soundsystem operator Abashanti-I. It includes some great anecdotes about black history and music in the borough. Seeing Jah Shaka at the Four Aces in Dalston is cited as a defining inspiraton that lead Abashanti-I to start his own soundsystem – which itself became a fixture at “blues dances” (house parties) in Stoke Newington. Prior to this Shanti had been the MC for Hackney’s Jah Tubbys soundsystem in the mid 1980s.

Rio Cinema Archive project images

In our January 2020 update, I was effusive about the Rio Cinema Archive photo project on Instagram. These awesome images are now being collected in a photo book with accompanying commentary. There is a crowdfunder on Kickstarter with preview mock ups and more informaton.

Some of the funding for the book will be put towards community projects and to the Rio Cinema itself, which is currently closed for obvious reasons.

East End Women’s Museum volunteer Charlotte Elliston has been putting her state-sanctioned hour of exercise to good use. Her Women’s History on my walk: Shoreditch and Hoxton documents interesting historical women in the area.

On one of my walks recently I discovered a plaque on Hoxton Street relating to Guy Fawkes failed attempt to burn down the Houses of Parliament:

And this, future radical history in the making, in Clissold Park:

Club des Femmes seeks 1980s Rio habitues

Pumping Iron II: The Women – from Club des Femmes tweet

WE WANT YOU!

Did you come to the women’s film and video screenings at the Rio in the 1980s? Were you a member of the Rio Women’s Cinema and the Women’s Media Resource Project? If so, we want to hear from you!

From 22 February – 30 May 2020 we will be facilitating a series of feminist re-imaginings, re-screenings, archival activations and reflections at the Rio. 

Please get in touch to take part in this vital project which aims to keep feminist moving image history present and future-looking: hello@clubdesfemmes.com

Club des Femmes are “a queer feminist collective who curate film screenings + events. Our mission is to offer a freed up space for the re-examination of ideas through art.”

Twitter.

https://www.clubdesfemmes.com/