Monthly Archives: April 2014

Four images for Blair Peach

Standard

Thanks to friends for sending me the following four images which help to fill in some of the blanks in Blair Peach’s life

The first is a poster for one of the two pickets of the Railway Tavern pub in autumn 1974, after members of the East London association of the NUT discovered that the pub in which they drank after meetings refused to serve black customers.

public

 

The second is Peach’s write-up of the campaign for the teachers magazine Rank & File:

picket

The third is Peach (photographed in the top left hand corner) attending a picket of the National Front headquarters which had recently been established in East London.

presses

The fourth is a report of Peach having been attacked and beaten up by a National Front supporter, in 1978, on returning home after work. This was the second time he was attacked and he suffered serious injuries. No-one was ever prosecuted.

thug

You can double click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Blair Peach in the press: “Peach group name police on ‘wanted’ poster” (22 April 1980)

Standard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADouble click on image to enlarge

Ten thousand people marched through central London to commemorate the anniversary of Peach’s death. Protesters carried posters identifying the six officers in Unit 1/1 who were in the vicinity of Peach when he was struck and killed.

The Police Federation called the poster “deplorable”, while for the Coroner John Burton it was  yet another incident justifying his belief that the demonstrators and not the police should have been prosecuted – in the case, for contempt of court.

 

Who killed Blair Peach? by Sean Hutton

Standard

WHO KILLED BLAIR PEACH? CÉ MHARAIGH BLAIR PEACH?
Who killed Blair Peach? Cé mharaigh Blair Peach?
“We,” said the parents, “Muidne,” arsa na tuismitheoirí,
“we killed him. “muidne a mharaigh é.

We penny pinched. Charn muid na pingneachaí
We did without. Rinne muid gan rudaí.

We knew that Reds and immigrants Bhí a fhios again gur súmairí
were spongers. Deargaigh is lucht inimirce.

We killed him.” Muidne a mharairgh é.”

Who killed Blair Peach? Cé mharaigh Blair Peach?

“I did,” said the teacher, “Mise,” arsan múinteoir,
“I killed him. “mise a mharaigh é.

I quelled the spark of inspiration, Mise a mhúch an splanc feasa,
and moulded my pupils, a mhúnlaigh mo dhaltaí,

by regurgitation of lopsided rubbish, le buinneachántacht chlaon,
towards mass-produced non-thinking. do smaointe olltáirgeacha.

I killed him.” Mise a mharaigh é.”

Who killed Blair Peach? Cé mharaigh Blair Peach?

“I did,”said the minister, “Mise,” arsan ministéir
“the Chief Constable and I. “mise is an tArd-Chonstábla.

We rationalised a God, Muidne a chuir réasún ar Dhia,
replacing love with retribution. dubhdhíoltas in áit an ghrá.

We detect in every corner Faigheann muid i ngach cúinne
the stink of sin. boladh bréan an pheaca.

We killed him.” Muidne a mharaigh é.”

Who killed Blair Peach? Cé mharaigh Blair Peach?

“Nobody killed him,” “Níor mharaigh aoinne é,”
the calm, assured young policeman said, arsa póilín óg go dearfa ciúin,
“he just fell down “is amhlaidh gur thit sé síos
with a pain in his head.” agus pian ina cheann.”

Seán Hutton, Gairdín mo Sheanuncail (1983)

Blair Peach and NUT reform (December 1977)

Standard

rank

With NUT conference taking place this weekend, it is nice to be able to republish a piece Blair Peach wrote for the teachers’ newspaper Rank & File, 40 years ago calling for the liberation of the union’s structure, which were then dominated by headteachers.

As previous critic of the union’s structures, Duncan Hallas, had written in 1969, “The outstanding feature of the NUT is its complete domination at the top by the privileged minority of full-time administrators called headteachers. Not only is the executive completely controlled by them, they also dominate the great majority of local associations outside the London area and hence the national conference.”

By the way of further context, I should explain that the reform of the Executive was made necessary by rule 8 of the NUT constitution, which provided that “No Constituent Association or Division of the Union, or members or member thereof, shall organise or engage in a strike or industrial action without prior approval of the Executive” and was backed up by other rules providing for the disciplining or expulsion of teachers who struck unofficially. At a time (unlike today) when most strikes in Britain were local, unofficial, short and successful, the left was campaigning hard to introduce into schools the unruly spirit then dominant within industry.

You can double click on the image to read the whole piece, for the moment I quote the last two paragraphs:

“Is there no hope? Are teachers doomed to be members of a union controlled by our employers (or their agents)? If that were the case, Rank & File wouldn’t be bothering. We believe that firstly we must expose the situation as it really is, and secondly we can do something about it. How? By union action based on school union groups.

We won’t change the Executive until our actions force the change, until Rule 8 is simply a number between 7 and 9 and until heads are viewed as the paper tigers they really are. After all there’s 96 of us to every 4 of them. In the meantime make sure you know who headteachers are in the next NUT election. Make sure they don’t get your vote.”

Blair Peach in the press: “Unofficial report condemns ‘police violence’” (23 April 1980)

Standard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Double click on image to enlarge

The NCCL report, published on the anniversary of Peach’s death in 1980, was scathing about the police’s conduct on the day. Three passages (not quoted in the Times article) give a flavour of report as a whole:

“On a number of occasions, the evidence shows that police officers used their truncheons, not for self-protection but as instruments of arbitrary, violent and unlawful punishment”

“There is disturbing evidence of racist behaviour by police officers on duty on 23 April”

“We believe the SPG has no place in the policing of demonstrations”.

 

 

 

Tony Dickens, Blair Peach

Standard

dickens

Another poem for Blair Peach, this time from Rank & File. the paper of the old teachers’ left. What I love about it is the way it conveys the atmosphere of union conferences, and the great deal of utopianism which is sometimes embodied in modest-seeming resolutions… As always with the image on this blog, you can doubl-click on them to enlarge them to full size.

I hardly knew him really
Tall, lean-framed, gentle as his name.
For six brief conference days our
paths were one.
Conversations…
Dreams of societies free from hate.
Plans of small victories through resolutions.
His name radioed through my
sleepy morning offices preparing
for ‘back to school’
Dead!
His teaching all posthumous now.
Frail head broken by anonymous
blows in defence of racist filth.
Self-defence?
Jack-booted England is one death
nearer now.
Fathers and uncles died for nothing
in the war of my childhood
How will we face our children tomorrow?

Blair Peach in the press: “Peach riot PC ‘grew a beard’” (8 April 1980)

Standard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Double click on image to enlarge

Amanda Leon, one of the witnesses at the Inquest, had travelled to Southall with Blair Peach and had been with him on Beechcroft Avenue. Leon told the Inquest that she heard police sirens and saw a row of a row of police officers with shields and truncheons ready to charge. She saw a police officer hit Peach from behind on the head, with a truncheon. She too was then hit by a different officer, and was later seen in hospital with a lump on her head. The papers disclosed with the Cass report show that on their count six demonstrators received head injuries on 23 April, three of them (Peach, Leon and an un-named middle-aged Asian man) on Beechcroft or Orchard Avenues (Cass, enclosures, page 259), although given the large numbers of protesters reporting that the received similar blows to the head at Park View Road, it is likely that the real figures ran into several dozens.

The press coverage of her evidence went into the conduct of an unknown Officer who, Leon claimed, had grown a beard in order to avoid identification. It seems most likely from the Cass report that this was “Officer E”, Inspector Murray, who had attended for duty in August 1979 with a black eye, which he claimed to have suffered while playing badminton, and with a beard (Cass, enclosures, page 607, 617).

Campaigning for Blair Peach in New Zealand

Standard

peach

The articles I’ve been reprinting from the British press give (hopefully) a sense of how activists in the UK attempted to keep pressure on the government here to come clean about police involvement in the death of Blair Peach. The demands of the Friends of Blair Peach committee were for a public inquiry, and for disclosure of all documents relating to Blair’s death. Neither demand was immediately successful, although it is clear from reading the Home Office files that the government felt under considerable pressure for the entire year from Peach’s death, and right up until the findings of the Inquest, considered it a realistic possibility that it would have to concede a judicial inquiry.

How about in New Zealand? The organisers of the campaign were Natalia Aston and Richard Hill, a friend of Blair Peach’s who had met him while studying in the UK in 1972, and had been in the IMG (Peach was of course in IS/SWP).

In November 1979, the National Executive of the NZ Labour Party discussed whether to support the call for a further Inquiry and voted to do so.  The National government in New Zealand, however, refused to take up this call:

“The Government has followed this case closely through the High Commission in London because it involved the death of a New Zealand citizen. Nevertheless the Government had held the view that the framework of British law provides an adequate setting for the Peach family and its supporters to to seek redress … The question of whether there should be a public enquiry is for the British Government alone…”

A number of New Zealand MPs supported the campaign including Russell Marshall, the MP for Wanganui, a former Methodist Minister, and a Labour MP. In 1981, Marshall was the Labour Shadow Minister for Education, and he agreed to ask a question in Parliament of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Brian Talboys, the National Minister, declined to make any enquiries of the government in London.

As late as 1986, April 1986, Russell Marshall (now the Minister for Education) was still writing to Hill, saying that he doubted the Thatcher government would concede an inquiry but was heartened by news that the Metropolitan Police was likely to have to concede the disclosure of the Cass report. (As we know, it was only in fact disclosed in 2010).

The boldest decision taken by the New Zealand Friends of Blair Peach was its call in April 1981 for a labour movement boycott of all British imports. “We conduct this campaign”, the campaign wrote, “in the interests of civil liberties and justice, and to commemorate the life and work of a comrade devoted to anti-racist and anti-fascist activities among the most under privileged layers of British society.”

The boycott was widely publicised. The New Zealand Friends were interviewed by a series of national newspapers and on radio. The call also had the effect of forcing  a response from PJ Priestly, the first secretary of the British High Commission, which had been trying to ignore the campaign.

According to Hill, “I can’t  as yet find any records relating to the boycott, but I recall  we had support from a number of left-of-centre organisations (such as the Socialist Left of the Labour Party), community groups  and trade unions. We didn’t really anticipate a significant boycott, and it was more of a way of dramatising the issue (and of course the boycott   of South African  goods was often in the news, and a parallel call  seemed a good way of focussing people’s minds on issues) so we just let the campaign die away when it had served its publicity purposes …  I don’t think we asked the Labour Party per se to support the boycott, though I’m pretty sure some branches – especially in the Wellington region, the most radical region – did so, including the Kelburn Branch of which I was chair.”

Colin Revolting: My friend Blair Peach

Standard

TL01

Guest post by Colin Revolting

My Mum knew Blair Peach as a ‘nice gently spoken man’ as they were both in  the National Union of Teachers Rank and File group. She told me Blair taught ESN (“Educationally Sub-Normal”) kids and that National Front members had pulled him off his bike whilst cycling to and from the school in East London.

There were lots of times to confront the Front during their election campaign of 1978-79.

Me and mates had spent Sunday in Leicester. Thousands of us took over the city centre and rained rocks down on the master race when the cops stupidly paraded them past a building site. (“I got hit by a rock against racism,” moaned a copper when he caught us fly-posting for RAR).

The next night in a little place called Southall sounded like it’d be a quiet affair in comparison to our riot in Leicester, so I spent the evening printing pages for our punk rock fanzine instead. But my best mate, Neal and my big brother, Stuart made the journey across London by Ford Cortina.

They felt like they’d entered an occupied city, with police vans patrolling as Asians and Anti-Nazi’s filled the streets with tension and anticipation. Neal and Stuart got out just as the police’s Special Patrol Group went wild.

I was still asleep when my Mum burst into my room the next morning – what was she doing? – she never came into my teenage bedroom and anyway I was doing the late shift on the Town Hall’s computer.

“They killed one of us,” she said.

That afternoon I went to visit our punk band’s drummer in hospital as he’d broken his leg and I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard. RIOT MAN DEAD was the headline.

Going on anti fascist marches and protests were always exhilarating and terrifying, adrenalin-fuelled affairs  – but from that day on they felt different again … It wasn’t a game.