Jul 16 2019

BRIAN HIGGINS – A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

 

 

Communist, Republican, Trade Union Militant,

Scottish Internationalist, Glasgow Bear

 9th February 1941 – 2nd June 2019

 

__________

BRIAN HIGGINS

A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

Brian made a big impression upon whomever he met. Nigel Jeffrey, who encountered him on the picket line during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike wrote, “Brian Higgins stands out because he was 6′ 6″ plus… He was a big lad as broad as he was tall… There must have been half a dozen police went for this Brian Higgins and snatched him… He was shoving them off left, right and centre.” [1]

Or, as Dave Smith, co-author of Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union, [2] has written,  “Anyone who has heard Brian speak will remember his booming Glaswegian voice, disdain for union bureaucracy and his liberal use of industrial language.” [3]

And when I first met Brian, it seemed that my hand was numb for hours after his handshake!

It was as a trade union militant that Brian is best known. Dave states that, “It is undeniable that Brian was one of the leading rank and file industrial militants of his generation, who had a significant impact on trade unionism in the construction industry.” [4] This came at a high personal cost to Brian and his family. Following the exposure of the employer financed organisation, the Consulting Association, [5] responsible for blacklisting, Brian was found to be the most blacklisted worker in the UK construction industry. Brian called the blacklist “an economic, social and political prison”. [6] He very much features in Blacklisted.

Brian was targeted by the employers, particularly Laings; by gangsters hired by sub-contactors; by the state, including undercover police agent provocateur, Mark Jenner; [7] and by trade union bureaucrats, especially UCATT official, Dominic Hehir, in his infamous, but failed attempt to silence Brian through a High Court injunction.[8] Brian, once a member of the International Socialists, then SWP, also exposed the revolutionary pretensions of this organisation, the CPGB, Militant and the one-time Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

Brian wasn’t the first to write about the activities of the UK state, the trade union bureaucracy, and the failings of self-proclaimed revolutionary parties. One of Brian’s favourite books was The Key to My Cell[9] written by Des Warren, jailed for three years for his part in the 1972 Building Workers Strike. Des was to die early in 2004 at the age of 67, after contracting Parkinson’s Disease, following the use of the ‘liquid cosh’, which the authorities administered, whilst he was in prison on trumped up conspiracy charges. He was attacked by the state, abandoned by the incoming Labour government in 1974, and badly let down by UCATT trade union officials, who were still backed by the CPGB.

It was in the aftermath of this strike that Brian, who had to leave  Glasgow for England to find employment in 1972, eventually moved to Northampton. He  became a hod carrier, then a bricklayer. He joined UCATT, later becoming branch secretary. He also joined the rank and file Building Worker Group (BWG) and the International Socialists, predecessor to the SWP. Brian’s classic, Rank and File or Broad Left? A Short History of the Building Worker Group, describes the many militant struggles the BWG became involved in. [10] Brian was the BWG’s secretary. Although it was in another SWP context that I first met Brian in 1978, we immediately hit it off because of our shared rank and file activities. I was convenor of the Scottish Rank and File Teachers (SR&FT) at the time.

Brian’s forte was on the picket line. I had been the SR&F-led East of Scotland Action Committee’s ‘flying picker’ organiser during the mass unofficial strike of Scottish teachers from 1974-5. Significantly, we adopted the term ‘flying picket’ from the building workers’ actions of 1972, which had made a big public impact. However, the social difference between building workers and teachers is considerable, and Brian and I used to joke over our different approaches to picketing.

The BWG resorted to picketing, confident that any picket line would be almost always automatically honoured. And that was certainly the case when Brian was involved. There was no such historical respect for picketing amongst teachers, who had rarely ever been on strike before the 1970s, and there was the added issue that teachers are understandably unwilling to walk out on their students. So the reality of our teacher ‘flying pickets’, at the school gates during the 1974-5 unofficial action, was to persuade teachers going to work in the morning to organise school meetings later that day, then to take a vote on taking action, either after lunch or the following day, so arrangements could be made for the students. Our picket lines were usually quite genteel affairs!

But, although the BWG could fall back upon decades of working class solidarity amongst building workers, they faced other obstacles completely unknown to teachers. Cowboy sub-contractors would sometimes resort to gangsters to intimidate workers .[11] Brian told me of one workplace meeting where they had to physically throw out a paid disrupter, a decision he hastened to add that was taken after he moved a democratic vote to do so! In contrast, although teachers taking action sometimes faced parent hostility, the one group we always had almost 100% support from was the students, ever eager for a day off school!

Brian and I became much closer during the SWP leadership’s attempt to close down all Rank and File groups in 1982. In the majority of these groups, they had long pushed for party members to treat these as party fronts. However, the BWG and SR&FT had been built on open democratic and united front principles. Therefore, Brian and I both took a prominent part in resisting the attempt by SWP central committee to close us down. The majority of SR&FT were not in the SWP. Its spurious ‘Downturn Theory’ failed to persuade any of these members. This theory was, in effect, merely the left face of the ‘Dented Shield’ strategy. That was Labour’s accommodating response to the on-going employers’ offensive under Thatcher. Furthermore, the wider school organisation, which SR&FT had built, was central both to defending what had already been gained and to prevent the possible victimisation of union militants.

Those in SR&FT (by now including quite a number of SWP teachers, like myself, forced to resign from the party rather than submit to central committee orders) only had to face up to our former party comrades and a full-timer, who lurked about outside the meeting. However, Tony Cliff, the SWP leader, attended the BWG meeting in person. But BWG supporters were also not very impressed by the ‘Downturn Theory’. Cliff “was told the way to respond when the going got tough was not to sound the retreat, as there is absolutely no credibility in this. Rather, political and R&F Organisations should strive all the harder to strengthen their organisation and resolve and give a positive and definite alternative lead, with policies, to that of the craven capitulation and collaboration of the official trade union and labour movement. Otherwise you become part of this dungheap.” [12] Brian didn’t mince his words! Cliff only gained one (an SWP) vote at the BWG meeting. Brian was expelled from the SWP, but the BWG continued, soon to be thrown into a whole series of disputes, culminating in the 1985-6 Laings’ Lock-Out. [13]

However, I first met Brian in a very different context. In the later 1970s, there was a debate going on inside the SWP about how to react to the political issue of Scottish Devolution, now that the Labour government was committed to a referendum on the issue. The Glasgow branch politically dominated the SWP in Scotland. This branch, with its influential industrial shop stewards, was very firmly in the ‘No’ camp. They placed an economistic emphasis on all-British working class trade union solidarity. Cliff, though, was for ‘Yes’, on the grounds of another key aspect of SWP politics – anti-Toryism. Thatcher had become the Tory leader and was opposed to Scottish devolution. Cliff knew that he had a tough sell in Glasgow, and bought in the late Harry McShane, who had worked with the legendary John Maclean, to help him at a specially convened Scottish aggregate meeting – although to no avail. The Glasgow SWP shop stewards’ ‘No’ became the official line.

I was struggling to find a different approach. I eventually found this by seeing Scottish Devolution as a democratic demand for greater national self-determination in the context of the unionist, imperialist, monarchical and bureaucratic UK state. Furthermore, a republican approach would relate to, and politically connect the struggles for national self-determination in Scotland, Wales, and particularly Ireland, the cutting edge of opposition to the UK state. These politics formed the basis of the Republican Faction (RF) in the SWP.

And it was at an RF meeting in London where I first met Brian. Whilst he was not alone on the Left in seeing the political importance of Ireland, he was almost unique for somebody from his Irish-Scots background, in linking the situation in Ireland to Scotland. Many Irish-Scots thought, at the time, that Scottish devolution would bring about a second Stormont!

As anybody with any experience of the SWP knows, the formation of a faction, officially allowable only for a short period before the annual conference, is not designed to encourage meaningful debate, but is an indication to the leadership of a threat to be removed. Upon a faction has been declared, the central committee moves quickly to ensure that its unelected full-timers work overtime to minimise any faction’s influence. Primarily this means obstructing, as far as possible, faction delegates getting to the annual conference. This involves a lot of behind-the-scenes wire-pulling and rumour mongering.

However, in the wider SWP meetings, Brian was a not only a formidable figure but also the very epitome of the type of rank and file militant the SWP leadership claimed to promote. (Indeed not a few members thought that some of the late Phil Evans’ Socialist Worker cartoons used Brian as an inspiration!) Whilst the official line easily held within the party, it was harder for the central committee and full-timers to dismiss supporters of the RF, since some members had a wider base than the party, particularly in the Rank and File groups.

When three years later in 1982, Brian found himself once more in opposition to the SWP central committee, this time over the defence of Rank and File organisations, republicanism formed the political basis of his politics, “My experience has now led me to conclude that workers will have to adopt a ‘republican’ approach [i.e. act as free citizens and not loyal subjects] to succeed in an all out struggle, including building workers if they go into this, against the very British, Loyal and Bureaucratic Popular Front.” [14] Brian saw union sovereignty residing with the workplace members, and any action they took as being independent, not ‘unofficial’. Trade union full-timers use the ‘unofficial’ label to police their members. Brian promoted independent working class action, coupled to the most thoroughgoing democracy within the unions. This industrial republicanism formed the basis of his Rank and File politics.

In his pamphlet, Brian contrasted Rank and File to Broad Left politics. The latter mirrors the politics of the UK state. It claims union sovereignty lies in the annual general meeting, just as the UK state claims sovereignty lies in parliament. In reality, in trade unions, control lies in the hands of the general secretary and the union HQ, just as control in the UK state lies in the hands of the prime minister and his/her inner cabinet. And Broad Left politics looks to replace right wing union officials with left wing officials, just as the Labour Party seeks to replace right wing MPs with left wing MPs, both without any real challenge to the locus of real control.

Brian’s pamphlet provides abundant evidence to highlight the effect of the Broad Left approach within UCATT, where leading officials were backed by the CPGB/CPB. Indeed the corruption became so acute in UCATT there was even an internal investigation, the Hand Report (which Brian characteristically dismissed as the ‘Hand Job’!). [15] Despite the investigators being carefully selected (as with the UK government’s Widgery and Chilcot enquiries), its findings were still kept secret from the members such was the appalling story of corruption that was uncovered.

Another strong feature of Brian’s politics, which he emphasised, was that serious Rank and File organisation “will also take on board some of the more difficult social and political issues and adopt a principled working class united front position on these.” [16] Brian never held to the shallower economism, which informed the IS/SWP’s earlier support for Rank and File groups.

As a powerful example of this, Brian devotes a whole chapter of his pamphlet to the UCATT National Delegate Conference in Killarney from June 5th-9th 2000. Brian’s own Northampton branch had managed to get a motion to the conference supporting a united Irish Republic completely independent from the British state. The fact the conference was being held in Ireland for the first time (UCATT was an all-islands union) made it more difficult for the motion to be binned beforehand. But massive pressure was exerted behind-the-scenes to get the branch to remit the motion. Peter Cassels, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, was also brought in to divert delegates’ support to another anodyne motion on Ireland. Helen Jackson, Labour Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was flown in just before the debate for the same purpose – a very overt piece of state interference.

The debate went ahead. BWG member, John Jones, a close comrade and friend of Brian’s, moved the republican motion. After a good discussion, which included the UCATT convenor from Belfast’s Harland and Wolff (opposing naturally!) the motion received between 20-25% of the vote. Brian was very pleased and felt the holding of such a debate was in itself a considerable political breakthrough. He stated that the BWG would continue to champion “important political issues like ‘Ireland’ and do our best to support those struggling against state oppression.” [17]

By the time the commune organised the ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ event in Edinburgh in January 2011, [18] Brian was much less mobile. He had to decline an invite to put the Rank and File argument, and I stood in, using my experience in SR&FT. However, the last part of my contribution was based, after we discussed it, upon Brian’s thinking in the BWG.  When I gave an account to Brian of this event, he was keen to know more about the social union approach advocated by Tommy McKearney, a former Irish republican hunger striker, speaking for the Independent Workers Union. Brian also supported the combined official and independent union approach, advocated by Alberto Durango, of the Latin American Workers Association, centrally involved in the Justice for Cleaners campaign in London. They had to do this when the UNITE officials, with the backing of the local Broad Left, turned on these workers, once their actions took on a more militant (and successful) tone.  Those cleaners without papers, the ‘illegals’, were threatened with deportation. [19]

Although Brian was most at home in workplaces and in his local community, political arenas far removed from these, did not at all faze him. On the strength of Brian’s campaigning against the blacklist, he was invited to the European Parliament as one of two Blacklist Support Group representatives. In this he also received the support of Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee. [20] He had contact with one of its leading members during its heyday .[21]

“The European parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the draft data protection regulation that would make blacklisting on the basis of trade union activity a breach of EU law.” Not surprisingly, though, “The Council of Ministers {the real locus of EU power} has still to address the proposal.” [22] And, in the event of this ever having been passed, Brian would have treated such a law, in the same manner as he treated the health and safety laws. Building site safety was one of Brian’s prime concerns ,[23] and he always knew that dependence on the law alone would never deter the employers. Industrial action would still have to taken to force them to comply.

Despite eventually receiving a modest financial compensation for the decades Brian and his family had faced as the consequences of the blacklist, he was still involved in the last months of his life in exposing trade union officials’ complicity in blacklisting. UCATT officials had desperately tried to prevent the issue going to court. This would expose this practice. So, unless UCATT members accepted the compensation package agreed behind-the-scenes by the union and employers, they would no longer receive any legal backing. For Brian the issue was never mainly about the money lost, but about ending blacklisting altogether. For this to happen the cancer of union officials’ collusion would need to be ended.

“Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his own blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain. Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.” [24]

In his obituary, Dave Smith wrote that, “Brian was one of the blacklisted construction workers who signed the Open Letter to Unite calling for an investigation to be set up. It is now too late for Brian, but we hope that the UNITE EC will set up the investigation into possible collusion ASAP.” [25] But McCluskey is one of those left-talking, right walking, Broad Left officials who Brian had no confidence in. He did not see McCluskey’s trade union empire building as any step towards ‘One Big Union’, more towards “one big fat pay cheque” for the already highest paid union bureaucrat in these islands.

And if there is indeed to be any enquiry, Brian highlighted the terms on which it would need to be set up. No dependence on “the dreadful performances of union legal firms,” which do exactly what is required if them by the union bureaucrat paymasters. UCATT general secretaries were past masters in this, as Brian had found out personally whilst facing a High Court injunction. Instead, “To have any credibility these will have to be done by independent legal experts and blacklisted members must also have a say in this.” [26]

Brian and I continued to work together, politically and industrially, until the end of his life. After the successful defence of the SR&FT and BWG in 1982, I was invited to speak at some of their meetings in London. These were usually followed by lively socials, on one occasion upstairs in a bar near Kings Cross, with a full Irish republican band! I was able to reciprocate in 1996, by bringing Brian to Edinburgh, following my participation in the local Liverpool Dockers Supporters’ Group. A large and packed meeting was organised in Edinburgh’s grandiose Assembly Rooms. Brian was one of the platform party, along with a Liverpool docker, Women on the Waterfront (WotW) speakers and others. Brian made a bravura contribution, especially appreciated by the WotW speakers.

The initially Broad Left backed, T&GWU general secretary, Bill Morris would have had flea the flea in his ear after Brain’s withering criticism. Morris constantly tried to undermine the Liverpool dockers. The T&GWU, with its 500 Liverpool docker members, was the only union in the International Dockers Alliance not to provide official support. [27] Despite Morris’s Jamaican background, Brian held no illusions that having a black general secretary would make much difference to union members, and that would have gone for women or gay general secretaries too. The issue wasn’t who was at the top, but who controlled the union – the officials or the members. Once New Labour had been elected in 1997 Morris stepped up his attempts to isolate the dockers.  He got his reward, being knighted in 2003 and made a lord in 2006. [28]

With Brian living in Northampton and myself in Edinburgh, there were few chances to become involved in shared actions. I did join Brian on an evening picket line at Wapping in July 1986. However this turned out to be one of the quiet nights! In 1999, on one of Brian’s visits to Glasgow he came across to Edinburgh to distribute leaflets on the new building site for the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. This job was being run by Bovis, which had backed the blacklisting Consulting Association. Brian had also come into conflict with Bovis over the lack of construction site safety in Milton Keynes in 1997. [29]

The Holyrood building site had a fenced off section with portakabins, where a largely migrant workforce, many from Eastern Europe, stayed. We were able to get into the canteen. Brian spoke to the two workers present, one whom told us there was a union, but most site members did not know they were members! The union had signed a subscription check-off deal with the employer in return for the union’s assistance in keeping the site dispute free! Brian’s leaflet made the case for site self-organisation and how to deal with health and safety concerns. He realised, though, that new leaflets would need to be produced in other languages.

Brian had some sharp words for those self-proclaimed revolutionary parties with their ‘internationals’, and well-financed unions like the T&GWU (the forerunner of UNITE) affiliated to international federations (the ITWF and IUF). They could easily have produced leaflets in several languages. But serious organising amongst migrant workers, with and without papers, would have meant defying both the anti-trade union and anti-immigration laws.

The political chasm between Brian’s approach and those of the Right and Broad Left became clear during the Lindsey Refinery dispute in Lincolnshire in 2009. Here the employers resorted to an imported labour force, entirely made up of Italian workers, who were kept in isolation. There were wildcat strikes by resident oil workers to get more jobs, but no real attempt was made to link with the migrant workers. They were increasingly seen as the ‘enemy’. Strikers, encouraged by then UNITE general secretary, Derek Simpson, resorted to the slogan, ‘British jobs for British workers’. The Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, had made this old fascist slogan ‘respectable’. [30] The disgusting term ‘social dumping’ was also used to attack the migrant workers, as if they were garbage.

Back in June 1981, prominent members of the French Communist Party had led a physical attack on a migrant worker sanctuary in Paris. This provided the initial breakthrough for the far right in the city’s Red Belt. [31] Similarly, there has been a continuous political descent, involving a section of the British Left, some of whom became involved in No2EU, and union officials, including those from UNITE, which has contributed to the growth of the right populism of UKIP, the Brexit Party and Tory Right. ‘British jobs for British workers’ remains the underlying theme for Left Brexiters. UNITE members have recently taken the shameful ‘social dumping’ slur into the Labour Party .[32]

Brian, although by now largely immobile, took great heart from the rank and file, Grassroots Left candidate, Ian Allinson standing against Len McCluskey in the UNITE general secretary election in 2018. Ian had issued a statement attacking McCluskey and the right wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, for their capitulation to anti-migrant politics. [33] When I told Brian, that amongst the founders of the First International in 1864, was bricklayer, George Howell, [34] who had joined to organise workers internationally, and to prevent cross-border scabbing, he was very pleased that his own approach solidarity action had such august beginnings!

Brian was also more sanguine than most about the role of the Labour Left, following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election victory. He thought as long as prominent trade union officials, like McCluskey, played a central role, then such bureaucrats would limit any potential. This could already be seen in their support for Trident. In return, McCluskey would police his members to enable Labour to hold on to office, in the face of any challenges from below. This was the pattern, during the 1974-9 Labour government, when two major Broad Left-backed general secretaries, Hugh Scanlon of the AEU, and Jack Jones of the T&GWU, used their influence to promote the Social Contract and to break independent working class resistance.

Today, Broad Left, Len McCluskey and the more right wing, Tim Roache (GMB general secretary) are looking for a Labour government to at last bring union officials in from the cold. They want a return, not so much to beer and sandwiches at ‘No. 10’ in the 1970s, but today more canapes and prosecco. Their current infighting is as much to see who would have the greater influence in any future Labour government, than any real Left/Right divide. And McCluskey’s current commitment to a Left Labour leadership could be dropped as easily as it was taken up, if that is what us needed to enhance his influence. Jerry Hicks, an earlier rank and file UNITE general secretary candidate, reminded us that McCluskey once backed Ed Miliband (ensuring his election) over John McDonnell for party leader. [35]

However, Brian did not confine his continued campaigning just to industrial concerns, after he had been incapacitated by the effect of injuries and botched operations. Events in Ireland and Scotland continued to inspire him. He had only once been to Ireland (to the UCATT conference in Killarney), but he been a regular returnee to Glasgow both to see his wider family, and to attend major Celtic games (having Tony Higgins, former secretary of the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association as his brother, helped!). This was before the fall-off in his visits to the city, due to an inability to travel through growing ill health.

We continued to meet up in Glasgow, and sometimes Edinburgh, until Brian could no longer travel. But I continued to visited and stay with Brian and his wife Helen at his home in Northampton. Helen’s hospitality was prodigious, and I rarely needed to have a meal on my drive back to Edinburgh after Helen’s formidable breakfasts, although I was always given a pack lunch anyway! Brian and I also regularly corresponded. He contributed to the Republican Communist Network’s  Emancipation & Liberation blog. [36]

In the early 1990s, whilst still mobile, Brian was involved with others, including myself, in the Scottish Republican Forum (SRF). The SRF was organised to take the republican case for Scottish independence to the Left, at a time when, whatever its political affiliation, it was still overwhelmingly committed to a ‘British road to socialism’. We organised meetings and published pamphlets to promote discussion. Brian wrote an article Settled in England, [37] which is the only piece of writing in which he provides any wider autobiographical information. Unfortunately, Brian never got to write his full story, unlike Dave Douglass, a leading militant in the NUM. Dave has written his own superb three volumes autobiography, a classic piece of working class writing. [38] Brian’s autobiography would have been another.

However, Brian’s involvement in the SRF also followed the major contribution he made in shifting my own politics over the ‘National Question’. In the SWP’s Republican Faction, we had both supported a Federal Republic of England, Scotland and Wales and an independent United Ireland. However, it had become clear that federalism had a long pedigree in the UK and British Empire, and that was as a last ditch option to keep the state together.

My own experience as chair of the Lothians Anti-Poll Tax Federation, between 1987-91, had shown me the success of working on ‘internationalism from below’ principles. Independent action was organised first in Scotland, and then taken to England and Wales. (The Tories were smart enough not to try to impose the poll tax in Northern Ireland, in the context of on-going resistance to British repression.)    The anti-poll tax unions defied the state, the Labour Party and trade union officials. Such an approach did not reflect the organisational nature of the top down unionist and bureaucratic British state, accepted by the Brit Left, the Labour Party and most trade unions. This new challenge form below was the beginning of the shift of the majority of the Left in Scotland, away from the British road to nowhere. Amazingly, even after  the 2016 Brexit vote, and Trump’s ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’ presidential electoral victory, most of the Brit Left continue to tail Right populism.

Back in 1989 though, Brian raised another point, which affected my thinking. He said that the Irish experience of oppression and repression, at the hands of the UK state, was not necessarily something unique, justifying socialist support only for Irish independence and national unity. The suppression of democracy, by whatever means the British ruling class and state deemed necessary, was something that people in Scotland and Wales could well face, if their demands for greater self-determination became more serious. With the Brexit vote in the subsequent gallop to the Right, and with reactionary unionism on the rise, [39] highlighted by the Tory/DUP alliance, such a prospect is daily becoming more real.

It was my anti-poll tax campaigning and Brian’s arguments that persuaded me see the greater relevance of James Connolly’s socialist republican ‘break up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy, and of John Maclean’s early appreciation of this political approach. Brian, with his Irish-Scots (like James Connolly) and Glasgow (like John Maclean) background found this a very easy political step to make. When I published  From Davitt to Connolly in 2010 to provide the historical evidence for this distinct political approach, I wrote a dedication to Brian Higgins – “A Glasgow bear, Celtic mad, Irish-Scottish migrant worker, bolshie brickie, blacklisted militant, republican, internationalist and communist, whose political activity has followed the great tradition of ‘internationalism from below’ established by Michael Davitt, James Connolly and John Maclean.” [40] Brian thanked me. I only wish he had lived to see my second planned volume, From Connolly to Maclean.

Brian took great heart from the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign from 2012-4, and was constantly asking me to update him on the activities of the Radical Independence Campaign, which I became very involved in. [41] He was particularly pleased that working class Glasgow voted for Scottish independence, and the major contribution, the Irish-Scots, once very opposed, had made to this.

Thus it was through rank and file and republican politics that I got to know Brian well and we worked together for forty years. However, when I attended his funeral in Northampton on June 21st, I realised that I had only fully appreciated these two aspects of his life, but there was considerably more to Brian.  Brian’s close family – his wife, Helen, his daughters Monica and Noelle, and his grandchildren Connor, Dylan and Iris – and his wider extended family, were very important in each others’ lives, whether they still live in Glasgow or now in England.

Those of the Higgins family born in Glasgow, even if they have now long lived in England, are still very much Glaswegians, but fully integrated into their communities.  Although their children born in England have local English accents, the reception, held in the Northampton social club, after Brian’s funeral, echoed to Scottish, Irish (and, of course, Celtic) songs, sung by all family members, wherever they were born. And those English neighbours (white and Asian) who attended, lapped up this ‘little bit of Glasgow’ in Northampton. And several of these neighbours, now in their thirties or forties, told us of Brian taking them fishing or other exploits when they were children – ‘the pied piper of Northampton’!

The music chosen for the funeral very much conveyed Brian’s Irish and Scottish roots – The Fields of Athenry by the Dubliners and Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man by the Corries; his wider internationalism – Three Little Birds by Bob Marley; and finally his world vision – Revolution by the Beatles.

Kenny Irvine, another close BWG comrade and mad Celtic supporter, made us all laugh, at the reception, when he pointed out that the funeral had been held in Wellingborough. Brian had finally defied his ban from the town, imposed by the police and courts, following the picket described by Nigel Jeffrey! [42]

Brian was somebody who linked family, community, trade unionism and his wider politics together. He was a living example of all that is best in the working class and will be sorely missed.

Allan Armstrong, 14.7.19

 

 

References

 [1]          David Bell, The Dirty Thirty – Heroes of the Miners’  Strike, pp. 78-9 (Five Leaves, 2009, Nottingham)

 [2]          Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union (New  Internationalist Publications, 2015, Oxford) and

Brian Higgins, Blacklisted         (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/04/09/blacklisted/)

 [3]       https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

 [4]       ibid.

 [5]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consulting_Association

 [6]       http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/08/19/major-gains-for-low-paid-at-heron-tower-dispute/Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Success at Brussels

  [7]       http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/03/24/undercover-but-within-sites-police-infiltration-of-trade- unions/

 [8]       https://libcom.org/library/chapter-5-high-court-writ-served-injunction-threatened

 [9]       Des Warren, The Key To My Cell (Living History Library,  2007, Liverpool)

 [10]      http://marx.libcom.org/library/rank-file-or-broad-left

 [11]        http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-constructionTony Cliff told to F*** Off!

 [12]      http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

 [13]       http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction –   Laings Lock Out Committee

 [14]      https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction Republican

 [15]      https://libcom.org/library/chapter-4-main-unions-constructionCorruption in UCATT

 [16]       https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction Capital R&F, United Front Independence

 [17]      http://libcom.org/library/chapter-7-ucatt-national-delegate-conference-killarney-june-5th-–-9th-2000

[18]        http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/

 [19]      ibid.

 [20]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/09/06/brian-higgins-anti-blacklist-campaign/Motion passed by  Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee

  [21]        http://libcom.org/library/chapter-3-broad-left-construction-popular-frontOffshore Industry Liaison Committee OILC)

[22]        Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, op. cit. p. 178

[23]      https://libcom.org/library/chapter-3-broad-left-construction-popular-frontConstruction Safety Campaign

[24]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/

 [25]        https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

[26]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/01/collusion-and-betrayal/

[27]      Pauline Bradley, A Brief History of the London Support   Groupin Another World Is Possible – How the Liverpool   Dockers Launched a Global Movement, edited by Pauline        Bradley and Chris Knight p27 (Radical Anthropology Group, 2004, London)

[28]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Morris,_Baron_Morris_of_Handsworth#

House_of_Lords

[29]      http://libcom.org/library/chapter-6-struggle-continues –  1997 UCATT PAYE campaign

[30]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2009/03/20/browns-appeal-to-british-chauvinism/

[31]      https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/frances-cgt-union-doing-the-immigration-polices-dirty-work/

[32]      https://www.theredroar.com/2018/01/unite-at-odds-with-labour-leader-over-single-market-membership/

[33]        http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/01/03/grassroots-unite-leadership-candidate-attacks-mccluskeys-and-coynes-capitulation-to-anti-migrant-politics/

[34]      https://spartacus-educational.com/TUhowell.htm

[35]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the- first-place/

[36]      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/

[37]      Brian Higgins, Settled in England in White Setters or Jockbrits – Who is to Blame? (Scottish Republican Forum, 1995, Edinburgh)

[38]      Dave Douglass, Vol. 1 – Gordies Wa Mental, Vol. 2. The Wheels Still in a Spin, Vol. 3 – Ghost Dancers(Christie Books, 2008, 2009, 2010, online)

[39]      https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/national-populism.pdf. pp. 67-75

[40]        Allan Armstrong, From Davitt to Connolly –   ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the challenge to the UK  state and British Empire from 1879 – 1895(Intfrobel       Publications, 2010, Edinburgh)

[41]      https://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-story-of-edinburgh-ric.html

[42]      see reference 1

 

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Brian’s last political statement, 8.2.19

Brian Higgins, a militant in the building industry, first in UCATT and later in UNITE, has been taken into hospital. Brian has been the most blacklisted worker in the UK. For many years before he would have retired, he was unable to get work. This put immense pressure both on Brian and his family, particularly his ever-supportive wife, Helen. Following the public exposure of the blacklist in the building industry, Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain.

Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.

Brian thanks all those who have supported his cause, and the cause of other blacklisted workers. This support has come from many including the Building Worker Group, activists in Grassroots Unite, the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers {successor to SR&FT} and the Emancipation & Liberation blog. Until our trade unions have kicked out all those who collaborate with the employers, then our fight for justice, improved pay and conditions and safety at work will be undermined. Despite Brian’s current incapacitation the struggle goes on, and Brian’s supporters will continue to raise these issues.

(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/)

________

Other contributions from Brian on the

Emancipation & Liberation blog

WHY NO PITCHFORD ENQUIRY IN SCOTLAND?

 

A STATEMENT FROM BRIAN HIGGINS, SECRETARY OF THE BUILDING WORKERS’ GROUP, ABOUT THE DEATHS IN QATAR

 

BLACKLISTED

 

DAVE WILLIAMS – A TRIBUTE

 

UNDERCOVER BUT WITHIN SITES – POLICE INFILTRATION OF TRADE UNIONS

 

COLLUSION AND BETRAYAL

 

The First Shoots of a New Industrial Fightback?

 

Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign

 

Campaign To Fight The Blacklist And To Support Brian Higgins

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Other obituaries

Dave Smith, the Blacklist Support Group

https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

Paul Lynch, Northampton Chronicle

https://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/people/northampton-bricklayer-who-became-most-blacklisted-construction-worker-in-britain-dies-1-8955980

Marcus Barnett, Morning Star

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/progressives-play-tribute-to-britains-most-blacklisted-construction-worker

 

 

 

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Apr 09 2019

BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM

The following article, written by Allan Armstrong, is the second last chapter of his new book, From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit – The Forging and the Break-up of the UK  and Britishnessness. It is hoped to publish the full book on line. Anybody who would like a pre-publication pdf copy of the book send an e-mail to intfrobel@yahoo.com

 

BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM

 

From the ‘Peoples Vote’ demonstration in London on 23.3.19

The 2016 Euro-referendum highlighted the divisions that had emerged amongst the British ruling class over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU). But it was the 2007/8 Financial Crisis which bought about the preconditions foe this split. This crisis showed that the UK economy wasn’t bearing up too well, and British politicians could see that their influence amongst the Council of Ministers on the top table of the EU was shrinking. Continue reading “BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM”

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Apr 06 2019

INDICTMENT ON VIOLATIONS WITH IMPUNITY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEE PEOPLES

The Permanent Peoples Tribunal met in London on the 3-4th November 2018. During the session on the Violation with Impunity of the Human Rights of Migrant and Refugee Peoples the following Indictment was submitted.

 

 

INDICTMENT SUBMITTED TO THE PERMANENT PEOPLES’ TRIBUNAL

SESSION ON THE VIOLATIONS WITH IMPUNITY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANT AND REFUGEE PEOPLES (2017-2019)

“HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT ON TRIAL” LONDON HEARING
3-4 November 2018

http://permanentpeoplestribunal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Indictment_final.docx.pdf

 

 

Specific charges against the UK government (in its own right and as representative of the EU and member states and the global North)

1. Within a work force impoverished and rendered insecure by neoliberal policies, it has ensured that migrant and refugee workers often remain super-exploited, marginalised and deprived of rights by legal and operational measures including:

i.Failure (in common with virtually the whole of the global North) to sign or ratify the UN Migrant Workers’ Convention; Continue reading “INDICTMENT ON VIOLATIONS WITH IMPUNITY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEE PEOPLES”

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Mar 25 2019

RESISTING THE LIBERAL ORDER

 

Murdo Ritchie, who has been an advocate of Leave vote on this blog, continues with his review of The Left Case Against the EU by Costas Lapavistas

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Costas Lapavistas

A REVIEW OF THE THE LEFT CASE AGAINST THE EU BY COSTAS LAPAVISTAS

“You can vote for any government you like in Europe pretty much. But the policies that thegovernment will have to follow and apply with regard to the economy will be the same, if you’re inthe European Union.”1 Marxist monetary economist Costas Lapavitsas is scathing about the damagethe neoliberal order has brought across Europe. He is also angry that so many on the “left” have
allied themselves with these forces. He is especially angry about the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA who he accuses of subverting the entire movement by turning a vote against austerity into policies to accept them. He is also scathing about Yanis Varoufakis who he believestook unnecessary risks during the negotiations with the European Central Bank and now promotes
an unworkable strategy regarding the European Union and the European Monetary Union. Continue reading “RESISTING THE LIBERAL ORDER”

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Mar 04 2019

WHAT VOTING LEAVE HAS REVEALED

Category: How they are organised,The EURCN @ 2:41 pm

Murdo Ritchie, a contributor to this blog, who has been an advocate of a Leave vote, argues what a Leave vote represents.

 

WHAT VOTING HAS REVEALED

Blue – Leave
Yellow – Remain

 

The loud vote of no more in the United Kingdom against remaining in the European Union has been one of the most successful protest votes in history.1  Unlike the previous referendum on Europe in 1975 voters were not asked to vote Yes or No, but to Remain or Leave.  This turned the poll into a vote of affirmation for the EU institutions and Prime Minister David Cameron’s strategy or rejection for a multitude of different reasons.  Never have the class and national divisions that make the UK been made so visible. The UK’s semi-detached approach to the EU may have never undergone the depth of crisis that Greece, Ireland or Portugal experienced or the flights of population that many countries in the south and east still undergo, but many voters unexpectedly unleashed an angry statement they were not prepared to continue living with the rotten status quo.  It was a protest without a coherent plan, but a protest nonetheless.  This crisis would not have occurred if the Remain vote had won. Continue reading “WHAT VOTING LEAVE HAS REVEALED”

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Mar 04 2019

IRISH NURSES AND THE FAILURE OF SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP

We are posting two articles from the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) blog addressing the nurses’ struggle for improved pay and a better health service in Ireland. The second goes into the underlying problems faced when unions embrace a partnerships with the state and employers in a time of economic crisis. 

 

1.SQUARING THE CIRCLE

Government, union bureaucracy put nurses back in their box

 

Nurses take action in Dublin

In antiquity Greek mathematicians came up with an insoluble problem called “squaring the circle”.  The term entered the English language as a metaphor for an impossible task.

Yet this is the task that INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, alongside the executives of the nurses and midwives union and the psychiatric nurses union, with the support of ICTU, set out to achieve. Continue reading “IRISH NURSES AND THE FAILURE OF SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP”

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Feb 20 2019

THE CONTINUING BREXIT CRISIS

The National Forum of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) held on June 30th  agreed to take up the issue of a Ratification referendum over Theresa May’s Brexit Proposals (http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-case-for-eu-ratification-referendum.html). A letter advocating this course of action was published in The National on  24.7.19. In his new letter published in The National on Sunday on 17.2.19, Allan Armstrong argues that the time for this has now passed. He advocates a different course of action needed to meet the current political situation.

A ratification referendum could unite those in RIC who supported a Remain vote, and those who supported a Leave vote. The crisis over Brexit has brought about a new situation where Lexiters and Left Remainers have different views of the way to move forward.  RIC has continued to organise discussions,  where both sides could put their case. Cat Boyd  put the case for a new Lexit campaign in her letter to The National on 18.11.19, to which Allan wrote a reply 0n 27.11.19. 

(http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2018/12/where-now-for-brexit.html)

Allan’s new letter to the National on Sunday is also written from the perspective of a critical Remainer.

___________

And ALL includes EU residents and 16-18 year olds denied the vote last time

LETTER TO THE NATIONAL ON SUNDAY, 17.2.19

In all the bourach surrounding Brexit at Westminster, no particular alternative commanding majority support has yet come forward. Last year The National published a letter I had written suggesting that Holyrood organise a ratification referendum over Mays’s proposed Brexit deal (24.7.18). The Scottish people have already voted decisively to reject Brexit, so there is no need to re-run the original 2016 Leave/Remain referendum. One of the most important things about a Holyrood organised referendum is that it could have included all those EU residents and 16-18 year olds included in IndyRef1. An additional benefit of a Holyrood run a ratification referendum is that it would have given focus to the Scottish independence campaign at a time when May had put the shutters up on any IndyRef2.

Given the Tories’ continued resort to all the most anti-democratic powers given to the government under the Crown-in-Westminster set-up, it is unlikely that May would then have conceded some separate Scottish deal. Separate deals are only made for those who want to reinforce all the most reactionary aspects of the Union, like the DUP in Northern Ireland. However, it would have forced the smug Scottish Tories to defend their constant Brexit U-turns. But more importantly, by organising a referendum that included those excluded in 2016, this would have shone a spotlight on the profoundly anti-democratic way by which the Right’s Brexit vote victory was achieved. And given that the Cameron government was responsible for agreeing the franchise criteria in both the IndyRef1 and the EU membership referenda, it would also have shown up the Tories’ hypocrisy.

The time has now run out for any ratification referendum in Scotland, and the possibility of supporting so-called Peoples Vote has attracted SNP MP’s support. To allow a rerun of the original EU referendum is to invite trouble. The people most affected by any Brexit are EU residents and 16-18 year olds. Their voice needs to be heard, as May and Corbyn manouevre to introduce a new gastarbeiter system of labour control in the new Immigration Bill. We have had to fight a series of defensive battles to stop the Home Office deporting people from Scotland. Our most recent success, supported by SNP MPs, has been the case of Iranian born Rezvan Habibimarand and Mozaffar Saberi.

However, instead of mounting a series of rearguard actions to defend people the UK state deems not to be British subjects, we need to start by including EU residents (and 16-18year olds) as part of our people. Therefore, if a People’s Vote proposal is placed before Westminster,  it should only be backed by SNP MPs, following an amendment restoring the franchise arrangements made for IndyRef1.

 

Allan Armstrong, 15.2.19

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and for an earlier response written immediately after the Brexit vote see:-

JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

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Feb 19 2019

FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM

Below is a synopsis of Allan Armstrong’s new pamphlet  From Blatcherism to Maybynsism. Chapter 6, Scotland – from ‘Project Hope’ to ‘Project Hate’and from ‘Better Together’ to ‘Bitter Together’ can be seen in the bella caledonia blog at:- 

https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2019/02/19/from-project-fear-to-project-hate-from-better-together-to-bitter-together/

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FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM

THE CONTINUING SHIFT TO THE RIGHT
IN THE TRANSITION FROM
NEO-LIBERALISM TO NATIONAL POPULISM

 

Allan Armstrong presents a case that the world is leaving the period of neo-liberal domination and entering a period of national populist domination. This is analogous to the earlier move from post-Second World War social democratic domination, which ended in 1979/80. He emphasises the role of the 2008 Crash in dividing the UK and US ruling classes. This had led to the rapid growth of national populist politics in these and other states. The Right’s winning of the Brexit vote and then the election of Trump (‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’) has performed a similar role in the transition from neo-liberalist domination to national populist domination that the election of Thatcher and Reagan had played in the earlier transition. Continue reading “FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM”

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Feb 19 2019

BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND

The E&L blog  has been reporting the situation in Ireland since we started up. However, during  current Brexit negotiations , the  ‘backstop’ has pushed the issue of Northern Ireland to the fore. We are publishing two articles which share a lot in common in their analysis of Ireland, but which offer differing perspectives on the role of the EU. The first is written by David Jamieson and first appeared on the Commonspace blog. The second is written by Allan Armstrong and forms the seventh chapter of his new pamphlet From Blatcherism to Maybynism.

 

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  1. ANALYSIS – MICRO-POLITICS ISN’T ENOUGH – WE MUST ADDRESS

THE  PARTITION OF IRELAND

 

Debates around the UK border in Ireland and the so called ‘backstop’ bring the crisis elements of the British state into sharper focus. Continue reading “BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND”

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Feb 04 2019

THE ENIGMATIC GILETS-JAUNES

Mike McNair of the CPGB (Weekly Worker) has written a critical analysis of the Gilets-Jaunes protests in France. He suggests that the politics stemming from this movement could move both Right and Left.

 

THE ENIGMATIC GILETS-JAUNES

 

We have just seen the ninth weekend of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests in France. Numbers were slightly up compared to previous occasions, with the government claiming 84,000 took to the streets across the country and 8,000 in Paris, while 80,000 police were deployed France-wide. Continue reading “THE ENIGMATIC GILETS-JAUNES”

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