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 move from Glasgow to England in 1972, eventually moving to Northampton becoming 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 (the ‘illegals’), 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 if 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, bit 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. Bit 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 too! 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-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 was the beginning of the shift of the majority of the Left in Scotland, away from the British road to nowhere. Amazingly, even following the 2016 Brexit vote, and Trump’s ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’ presidential electoral victory, 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-Scottish (like James Connolly) and Glasgow (like John Maclean) background found this a very easy political step to make. When I wrote 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

 

____________

 

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

___________

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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Oct 04 2018

ALL UNDER ONE BANNER DEMO – EDINBURGH, OCTOBER 6th

ALL UNDER ONE BANNER

Saturday 6 October Assemble 12.30pm,
Johnstone Terrace
Edinburgh

 

RIC Edinburgh has agreed to organise a contingent on the march to
emphasise RIC’s Scottish republicanism, internationalism and diversity.

We have new banners for the event including –

Another Scotland Is Possible, Another Europe Is Possible, Another World Is Possible
For an Independent Scotland – Freedom Come All Ye – For Scottish Internationalism
For a Democratic, Secular, Inclusive, Sustainable, Social Scottish Republic

We will have Catalan flags and Palestine flags and welcome others too.

Trade Unionists for Independence are marching with us

Other socialist, green and radical groups are invited to join us.

 

________

 

also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2018/09/11/edinburgh-october-6th-a-rallying-call-for-the-left/

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Sep 11 2018

EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT

Allan Armstrong puts the case for building a Scottish-wide Left contingent on the ‘All Under One Banner’ march in Edinburgh on October 6th

 

EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT

 

35,000 in Glasgow, 10,000 in Inverness, 13,000 in Dumfries and 16,000 in Dundee – ‘All Under One Banner ‘ clearly represents something significant in Scottish politics. However it requires an examination of a wider politics going back to 2014 to appreciate the nature of this phenomenon.

A thwarted democratic revolution

If we look at the Indy Ref1 campaign we can see that it represented a democratic revolution, with 85% actually voting, following a registration drive which drew in 97% of the potential electorate. This was something unprecedented in UK politics. Continue reading “EDINBURGH OCTOBER 6th – A RALLYING CALL FOR THE LEFT”

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Jul 19 2018

WHAT NOW FOR THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT?

.

Murdo Ritchie raises questions for the Scottish Independence Movement.

 

WHAT NOW FOR THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT?

Nicola Sturgeon and corporate lobbyist, Andrew Wilson present the SNP’s Growth Commission report

 

The issue should never be in what direction the Scottish national independence movement should go but what is the best way a new Scotland can be created. It is from this approach that the future political movements can be built. Organisations and movements can limp from political crisis to another if they fail to critically examine their initial purposes. Self-censorship in order to obtain a Yes vote may produce an outcome that could be very undesirable. Continue reading “WHAT NOW FOR THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT?”

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Mar 07 2018

SCOTLAND’S RATIFICATION REFERENDUM

Below is a leaflet from the ad-hoc Committee of Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party being distributed at the Radical Independence Campaign’s Spring Conference in Edinburgh on March 10th.

Location of Dalmeny Declaration – Out of the Blue Centre, Dalmeny Street, Leith

 

SCOTLAND’S RATIFICATION REFERENDUM

The Scottish Ratification Referendum Act 2018 empowers the Scottish Government to hold a referendum on Thursday 6 February 2019 for all Scottish and EU citizens living in Scotland over sixteen years old. The people of Scotland will be asked:

Do you support the agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union?

Do you reject the agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union?

Why should Scotland have the right to vote on Tory Brexit? Continue reading “SCOTLAND’S RATIFICATION REFERENDUM”

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Mar 05 2018

RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN SPRING CONFERENCE

RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN

 

National Spring Conference

City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 25 Nicolson Square

Edinburgh, EH8 9BX

 Saturday, March 10th

Doors are open at 11.00am and the event starts promptly at 11.30pm.

 

Session 1: 11.30 – 12.30

The effect of Brexit on Scottish independence –

Maggie Chapman (Scottish Greens) and Neil Davidson (RS21)

 Lunch: 12.30 – 13.15

There is a cafe in the venue and several excellent places for lunch close by.

 Session 2: 13.15 – 14.15

What now after the Scottish Independence Convention Conference

Lesley Riddoch and Jonathon Shafi 

 Session 3: 14.15 – 15.30

The effect of Corbynism and the election of Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader on Scottish politics

Cat Boyd (RIC), Rory Scorthorne (Labour Party), Tommy Sheppard (SNP)

 Session 4: 15.30 – 16.30

International connections Catalunya and Ireland

George Kerevan (SNP,  Gerry Carroll (People before Profit MLA for West Belfast)

 Winding Up: 16.30 – 17.00

(All the speakers are speaking in a personal capacity)

 Everyone is welcome. There is no upfront ticket charge but we ask for £10/£5 on the door.

 

Sign up to secure a place: 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/radical-independence-campaign-conference-tickets-43271637633

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Oct 17 2017

THE CATALAN REPUBLIC

In the aftermath of the Catalan referendum, Steve Freeman emphasis the republican aspect of the struggle.

 

THE CATALAN REPUBLIC

 

The demonstration organised by the Radical Independence Campaign at the Spanish Consulate in Edinburgh on October 1st.

 

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, took a cautious line on Catalan independence. She hoped that “dialogue will replace confrontation”. She called for a way forward that “respects the rule of law” and also “respects democracy”. She refused to say if the Scottish government would recognise the result of the disputed referendum. She told Andrew Marr: “I consider myself a friend of Spain”.

Spain is nothing in this context but its ruling class exercising political power through its crowned, unionist, ‘Francoist’ state. Sturgeon is giving comfort to the enemies of the Catalan people in the hope they will be more favourable to the Scottish government’s quest for independence under the crown. The leaders of the Scottish National Party want to keep friends with the queen of England and the king of Spain. Continue reading “THE CATALAN REPUBLIC”

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Aug 17 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 3

 

This is the third part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. The first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/and the second part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/11/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy-part-2/

 

3. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNISM

AND A POLITICS BASED ON EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF DETERMINATION

 

Contents of part 3

 a.     The limits placed on social democracy during a crisis of global capitalism

 b.     From revolutionary democratic social democracy to existing state-accommodating reformist social  democracy

 c.     A further shift in the meaning of social democracy; the brief emergence of an alternative revolutionary democratic communism; and the descent to state-backed official communism and dissident communism

 d.     Social democracy and official communism morph into social neo-liberalism

 e.     From social liberalism to populism

 

_______________

a.     The limits placed on social democracy during a crisis of global capitalism

i.       We are living through a period of unprecedented global crisis – political, economic, social, and cultural. This means that ideas will be tested continuously. A democratic party based on the exploited and oppressed will have people from a whole number of tendencies – communist (as outlined in 2.f.iii), republican socialist, social democratic, movementist, green socialist, socialist feminist, environmental, etc. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 3”

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Aug 09 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

Socialists are now confronted with the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the re-emergence of British Left social democracy. This first part of this article by Allan Armstrong will examine the significance of this and make a critical appraisal of their future prospects in the face of the current global multi-faceted political, economic, social, cultural and environmental crisis.

Contents of Part 1

   1.      From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in  Scotland.

   2.     The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left social democracy

   3.     The prospects for Corbyn and British Left social democracy when handling economic and social issues

   4.    The limitations of Corbyn and British Left social democracy when dealing with matters of state

             A.  Brexit

             B. The National Question

a.  Conservative, liberal and unionist attempts to maintain the unity of the UK state since the nineteenth  century

               b.  Corbyn and the National Question in Ireland

               c.  Corbyn and the National Question in Scotland

               d.  Corbyn and the National Question in Wales

 

 

1. From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in Scotland

i.     Following the demise of New Labour and its successor, ‘One Nation’ Labour, the SNP has been the most effective upholder of social democracy in the UK. In 2007, the SNP won 363 council seats; 425 in 2012, and 431 in 2017. In 2007, the SNP won 47 MSPs; 69 in 2011; and 63 in 2016, (still easily the largest party at Holyrood). In 2010, the SNP won 6 MPs; 56 out of 59 in 2015, but fell back to 35 in 2017 (still having the largest number of MPs from Scotland by some way). Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY”

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Jul 07 2017

ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th

Allan Armstrong was delegated at the RISE National Forum held in Edinburgh on 8th April to be its representative at the LUP conference on May 20th. Due to the General Election this was postponed to June 24th. Attached is the full version of the talk he prepared for the conference held in London. In the event, because of time constraints, the oral version was slightly abridged.

This was first posted on the LUP blog:- http://leftunity.org/rise-speaker-addresses-lu-conference/

ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th

I would like to thank the LUP for providing me with the time to address your conference as a visiting representative from RISE. Many of you here today are old enough to remember the heyday of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), which had a considerable impact throughout the UK. The SSP united the overwhelming majority of socialists in Scotland and at its height had 6 MSPs. It inspired the Socialist Alliance (SA) in England and Wales. Although the SP and the SWP managed to sabotage the SA, the SSP’s downfall was an almost entirely Scottish affair. This can be largely laid at the feet of a certain Tommy Sheridan.

After 2004, socialists in Scotland were very divided. IndyRef1, though, provided an opportunity for socialists to regain political influence. Young socialists, largely unaffected by ‘Tommygate’, initiated the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in 2012. This coalition, or united front, brought together, not only many of the previously divided socialists, but the Left in the SNP and the Greens and a majority not involved in any party. Continue reading “ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th”

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