I am Chair of the University and College Lecturers Union at my place of work – or was so until my employers at the University of East London prohibited me from setting foot on the campus. What was the background to this surprising management action?
At the request of the UCU both regionally and nationally, I had been invited to convene a response to the G20 London Summit scheduled for April 2nd 2009 at the ExCeL centre a few hundred yards from our campus. My university management at first gave permission, whereupon we assembled an exciting line-up of climate scientists, economists, social scientists, artists, activists and others to speak at our Alternative Summit. When management at the last minute instructed me to cancel everything, I could hardly believe it. Cancel Tony Benn? Cancel Oliver Tickle? Cancel Richard Wilkinson? At this late stage? What were my employers thinking of? Besides, the Summit had been called for and organized by my union, not by UEL management. It was not theirs to cancel.
In the event, I felt unable to obey the instruction. A raft of accompanying instructions – not to speak to my trade union comrades, to any of my long-term friends and colleagues at my own place of work, to any of my students, to anyone who might be a journalist etc. etc. – seemed equally absurd and impossible. Only a university modeling itself on a police state, surely, could expect literal compliance with such draconian restrictions on my personal freedom? My conscience urged me strongly not to collude.
The Alternative Summit was opened by Tony Benn on the afternoon of April 1st with nearly all the invited speakers attending. The passionate lectures and other contributions were delivered as planned, except that the 300 participants were forced to meet outdoors in the central plaza, management having closed off the entire campus. Ironically, the university canteen remained staffed and was offering hot drinks and food – although exclusively to security staff and police. When the 84-year-old Tony Benn arrived (‘If I don’t make it’, he had earlier assured us, ‘it won’t be for lack of trying!’), we couldn’t even offer him a cup of tea.
My presence in my union capacity on my own campus on that April afternoon has since been deemed by my employers an example of ‘gross misconduct’ under Section f) in Appendix B of our Staff Disciplinary Procedures: ‘Serious insubordination and/or refusal, without reasonable cause, to carry out legitimate instruction given by an authorised member of staff’. Likewise, words attributed to me in my Government of the Dead street theatre role – ‘Eat the bankers!’, for example – have been taken out of context and interpreted by my management as literal incitement to violence. Such intentional misrepresentation and disproportionate punitive action would have been inconceivable had Professor Martin Everett remained in his post as UEL’s respected Vice Chancellor. Neither is it conceivable that the former Vice Chancellor would have thought it appropriate to cancel our Alternative G20 Summit – on the contrary, he’d have helped publicize it and celebrate it. Unfortunately, the free market ideologues who have decided to suspend and dismiss me are the very corporate team that on political grounds suspended and dismissed Professor Everett in a secretive operation condemned by the University and College Lecturers’ Union as a corporate take-over.
Although I have been summarily dismissed from employment at UEL, I am pleased to report that the Alternative G20 Summit proved a memorable and inspiring occasion. While I believe UEL’s current management should hold their heads in shame, I am proud of my university community, my passionate and committed students and my trade union colleagues who have been vigorously resisting my victimization. I also remain proud of my own role in defending academic autonomy and freedom of speech and assembly at the University of East London and beyond.
If you oppose UEL management’s recent course of action, please sign this online petition and (even better) add your own comment to the many heartening messages already there.
You may be interested to know that another petition has gathered over 3400 signatures in protest against UEL closing its doors to freedom of speech and assembly on the occasion of the G20 London Summit.
(I do science; I also do political street theatre. Unlike the science, my theatrical output is not to be interpreted literally or taken too seriously!)
The Government of the Dead presents:
A travelling circus in which governments fall, Parliament is sacked and politics exceed the wildest possibilities of art….
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Launching Mister Mayhem’s ‘Project to Destroy the Labour Party’
“In Knight’s parallel universe, he will become general secretary of the Labour Party, while John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, replaces Mr Brown as leader.”
David Cohen,“Meet Mister Mayhem”, London Evening Standard, March 23 2009.
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What’s in a name?
What’s the ideal name for the new party of the working class? You’ve been bombarding us with ideas:
1. The Gordon Brown Nightmare Labour Party
2. The Walking Dead Zombie Labour Party
3. The Astonishingly Resurrected Labour Party
4. The Radioactive Mutant Labour Party
5. The Monster Raving Loony Labour Party
6. The Street-Fighting Direct Action Labour Party
7. The ‘Bash-the-Rich’ Anarchist Labour Party
In the end, however, we decided to call ourselves, very simply,
“THE Labour Party”
SHORT VERSION: The best way to destroy matter is to force it into contact with anti-matter.
1. ‘New Labour’ is currently impersonating our party. We want to seize back the name, preventing our enemies from using it any more. By identifying ourselves as ‘The Labour Party’ and printing membership cards, we’ll force ‘New Labour’ to react. Will they take out a High Court injunction against us? However they respond, it will trigger a public contest between ourselves and ‘New Labour’ as to who has the right to campaign and recruit members under this name.
2. John McDonnell’s ‘Labour Representation Committee’ already exists. This must form the core of any resurrected Labour Party with trade union affiliates capable of displacing ‘New Labour’. Although no decisions have as yet been made, the LRC can be expected to re-name itself as the Labour Party once it splits from ‘New Labour’, as seems likely soon.
3. ‘The Labour Party’ was the name printed on every ballot when we won the May 1st 1997 General Election and subsequent elections. ‘New Labour’ dared not print its name on any ballot paper in any election: Blair and his coterie knew they would lose if they did. We won the vote, but they stole the power. It’s time we seized back that power.
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While our party is nothing if it’s not an all-night mayhem party – the party to end all parties – our more serious political friends have been demanding to read the small print. At the risk of sounding boring, here’s what’s been worked out so far.
SERIOUS STUFF. LONGEST AND MOST TURGID VERSION:
1. THE Labour Party is the PARTY OF LABOUR. ‘Labour’ is meant in the dictionary sense, as in ‘labour is the source of all value’. Our job is secure political representation for our class. We oppose capitalism and will be replacing it with freedom and socialism, guaranteeing a home, a job and a future for all.
2. THE Labour Party is a broad church. But not so broad as to include free-market ideologues, benefit-cheat, tax-dodging MPs, war criminals, corporate and financial criminals or fascists. We’ve nothing in common with ‘New Labour’, an entryist organization of Thatcherites who for too long have been impersonating our party. Their ‘Labour Party’ is now thankfully dead. Surviving remnants may cling to the hope that it can somehow be ‘reclaimed’. We say: Repudiate the corpse! Sever all links with it! Fight with us to bring LABOUR to POWER!
3. The Party of Labour is not wedded to any specific ideology. As an umbrella uniting multiple ideological strands, we view ourselves as a direct action working class Parliament. The Labour Party welcomes affiliations from all sections of the trade union, co-operative, green, socialist, communist, anarchist and anticapitalist movements.
4. In the past, Labour has been an electoral party. Yes, we’ve shouted at anarchists, expelled socialists, barred communists. Yes, we’ve believed in the British parliamentary system. Yes, we’ve spent ordinary workers’ trade union subscriptions to sponsor career politicians eager to become Councillors and MPs. Yes, we’ve repeatedly won victories in elections.
5. But why keep fighting elections if the system keeps denying us power? Why sponsor people in Parliament if they switch sides once in office for their own private gain?
Beyond electoral politics lies the struggle for real power in the workplace, in the streets, in the media and in society as a whole. Having gained legitimacy on the electoral plane, our task now is to translate office into power. This means mobilizing our extra-parliamentary strength and overcoming the resistance of the rich.
6. Are we advocating a proletarian dictatorship? We want freedom, not dictatorship. But the rich have enjoyed their dictatorship for too long. They’ve fixed things to ensure that regardless of how you vote, they’ll still be in power. The time to turn the tables on them is now. How can you have democracy without dictating back to the dictators? Democracy means stopping politicians from accepting bribes. It means deploying the full force of the law. Instead of one law for the rich and another for the poor, let’s apply the same law to all. Let’s have a crackdown on crime – starting at the top. In a free and democratic society, no-one is above the law.
7. THE Labour Party under present circumstances has no special interest in holding parliamentary elections. Before yet another election, why not act on the mandate we already have? It was not ‘New Labour’ whose name was printed on every ballot when we defeated the Tories on May 1, 1997. On that date and in each subsequent election, the victorious party was ours. The people voted Labour but the capitalists stole the power. Let’s take it back.
This story was written by my younger brother, Kevin in March 1988. Since he was fifteen, Kevin has worked as a gardener in Regents Park. He has many stories to tell about the park and its visitors; this is one of them. It is not fiction. Written immediately after the events described, every word is true. In 2008, a film was made of Kevin’s story; it was shown in Regent’s Park during the late summer in ‘the smallest cinema in the world’. Chris Knight August 31, 2005.
THE MAN WHO LOVED DAFFODILS
He approached as I was cutting the grass in Regent’s Park. Stopping and sniffing the Spring air he pronounced:
— This is beauty!
— Yes, it is, I replied, well used to concurring with oft repeated banalities concerning the beauty of the park.
— See those daffodils over there, he pointed, each one is an artform, a masterpiece of nature. I was happy to agree. He introduced himself as John Lawrie, the artist. He had studios in London and Bristol and was shortly to hold an exhibition of his works at the Festival Hall, to which I was invited.
We got on to discussing art and artists.
— All truly great artists are revolutionaries, he said. I am a revolutionary, he announced.
— Yes? I said, my interest aroused. As if to allay any possible doubts I may have had about his revolutionary credentials, he launched into a tirade against capitalism in general and the conspiracy of Zionism and Freemasonry in particular.
Waving his brolly in the direction of the Nash terraces:
— At this very minute, he said, they are conspiring against us in their secret clubs.
— I expect they are, I said.
Perhaps finding encouragement in my observation, he said that recognising in me a fellow artist and revolutionary, he proposed to take me into his confidence.
Feeling rather flattered, I listened respectfully as he outlined his plans to build his revolutionary party.
— I am, he said, an extremely wealthy man and am in control of about fifty major companies and finance houses.
He also let slip that he was of the aristocracy and was an intimate of circles close to the Queen, one member of which, a duchess, he would be dining with that evening.
— The true aristocracy, he said, find the royals vulgar. I agreed that they probably would.
He then revealed to me his plan to set up a workers’ dictatorship, on a Marxist-Leninist model. His plans involved buying out the remaining companies and banks which he did not own. This to be done with the aid of powerful backers in America, men who, he said, wanted to “do England down”. And when he had obtained control he would announce the Revolution and the end of capitalism.
This novel and ingenious plan to seize state power won my almost unreserved admiration and recognizing, as he did, that here, standing before me was the Lenin of the British Revolution, I readily fell in with his plans.
This agreement was strengthened quite considerably when he said he was going to give me £5000 to furnish a barge on the Regents Canal.
— Canals and waterways, he explained to me, are no-go areas as far as the State is concerned. They come under the jurisdiction of another authority. On this barge, he said, myself and other specially chosen and selected lieutenants of his could plan the revolution, free from mundane financial worries and interference from the forces of the state.
Mr Lawrie, the artist and revolutionary leader then shook hands with me, and said he had to be off. He would see me again tomorrow. The conversation he had just had with me, he said, was amongst the most interesting he had ever had in his life.
The following morning Mr Lawrie invited myself and a blonde girl he had met in the park, to meet him on Friday evening at 7pm at the National Theatre, and from there we would go to dinner and discuss his plans for the revolution.
I arrived at the National Theatre on Friday, at 7pm on the 18th of March. Mr Lawrie was sitting in the foyer, staring at the ceiling. He was very pleased to see me and told me had spent the day walking around Camden Lock where he had talked with his old friend Lawrence, who sold paintings there. Lawrence was a marvellous character and also a revolutionary, he said, and we would be meeting him later in the evening for dinner.
By 7.30, the blonde girl not having arrived, Mr Lawrie said we would wait no longer, as our table was booked for 8pm. We left the National Theatre, Mr Lawrie hailed a taxi, and we arrived at a very expensive-looking French restaurant somewhere in Mayfair.
The waiter had reserved a table for four, and Mr Lawrie explained that one of his party had been unable to come, but that he was expecting a third party shortly. He asked the waiter to inform the chef that an artist was eating with his friends, and would the chef, as a fellow artist, prepare the dishes with that in mind. The waiter, looking somewhat bemused, said that he would pass on the message.
We started the meal with a very good champagne with caviar and olives. When we were on the second bottle of champagne, Lawrence arrived. His arrival aroused a tremor of interest as his appearance was that of a chubby Andy Cap. He wore rimless spectacles, had slightly bulging eyes, and wore a shabby cloth cap which he never removed. He seemed to me not to fit in very smoothly with the smart bourgeois clientele of the restaurant.
The waiter, however, attended him with every politeness, no doubt allowing for artistic license in an artist’s choice of friends. The conversation returned to Mr Lawrie’s insurrectionary scheme and Lawrence was asked what he thought about waterways.
— What do you mean waterways? said Lawrence. Mr Lawrie explained it all to Lawrence, who seemed sceptical, his bulging eyes signalling doubt. However, when offered like myself £5,000 to start him off on the barge as one of Mr Lawrie’s chosen lieutenants he quickly came around to seeing the advantages of the plan. He revealed that he had once been a member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and would get in contact with numerous other ex-members. Mr Lawrie said that each one would have to be vetted by himself. Lawrence said that of course he understood that.
Meanwhile, a marvellously elaborate series of tasty dishes were regularly placed before us, Mr Lawrie being kind enough to order what he thought myself and Lawrence would like. On one occasion however, seeing that Lawrence and I had a particularly delicious scallop dish, he seemed rather peeved and ordered it for himself also. On being presented with it he quickly swallowed it, pronounced it delicious, and asked for another one.
Mr Lawrie said he would be driving up to Stratford on Avon to stay with his friend Sir Eric Porter, the actor. There would be plenty of girls there, actresses and the like, and we could, of course, have any girl we liked.
– What about Princess Anne? said Lawrence, by way of a joke I thought.
– Mr Lawrie, perhaps piqued that his influence to procure royalty was being questioned, snapped: If you really want her then I will get her for you. But I don’t think you really do.
– Lawrence agreed that perhaps he did not.
At around 11pm having got through half a dozen courses, with a new wine selected to accompany each new course, we got on to the sweet course. We chose raspberries out of season, couched in a fragrant wine or liqueur, with plenty of clotted cream. After brandy, coffee, and Havanah cigars I suggested to my host that I had better be leaving, as I had a train to catch. Mr Lawrie looked surprised and said not to worry about that, as his chauffeur would drive myself and Lawrence home.
At about half past eleven Mr Lawrie signalled the waiter to say he was just popping outside to see if his chauffeur had arrived. As it happened Mr Lawrie never returned. After waiting for about ten minutes myself and Lawrence grew uneasy. The suspicion crossed our minds that perhaps Mr Lawrie was an impostor, had taken us for a ride and was leaving us to foot the bill which, Lawrence believed, must be round about £800.
— How long have you known that geezer? I asked Lawrence.
— Known him? I met him this morning, in the Market, said Lawrence.
We decided that we had better slip away as unobtrusively as possible. On the way out, I picked up Mr Lawrie’s brolly. It had a very nice, ornately carved handle. The waiter wanted us to stay and wait for our friend, but once outside the door we ran for it. Myself one way and Lawrence another.
I never saw Mr Lawrie again. Indeed the only tangible evidence I have of the great man’s existence is his brolly. But perhaps he is at this moment still plotting the destruction of the capitalist system in some select West End club, restaurant, or barge on England’s waterways.
Kevin Knight, March 1988. The Man Who Loved Daffodils.