Speakers from Hertfordshire, Swansea, Nottinghamshire and Bristol travelled to Blackbird Leys to share the stage with local activists at the main event of this year’s Working Class History Month which took place on 11th May at the Pegasus School assembly hall.
Dave Taylor, an ex-coalminer, textiles worker and former trade union activist turned maths lecturer joined us from Worksop (near Sheffield) to talk about the political and social life of working people immediately prior to the industrial Revolution. Dave explained how the emerging capitalist class schemed its way into a position in which it was able to achieve power and wealth through the naked exploitation of workers. Dave’s talk, which was in two parts, was followed by an interesting question and answer session.
Dave was followed by Peter Cohen from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, who gave a first- hand account of ‘The Battle of Hatfield’, a significant, bloody encounter between local anti-fascists and skinhead members of the National Front which took place in and around a gig by The Specials, The Selector and Madness on 27th October 1979 at Hatfield Polytechnic. Peter’s hard hitting and highly entertaining talk prompted a number of questions from members of the audience who had been previously unaware of the events at Hatfield polytechnic which Peter gamely answered.
Next up, Stuart Craft gave a speech on the ‘Revolution of Otmoor’ – a long running anti-enclosure campaign which took place just five mile from Blackbird Leys in the early 1800’s. Stuart’s speech shone a light on a much neglected area of local history which has inspired some audience members to go away and do their own research on the subject.
Stuart’s talk was followed by another story of militant Oxford History, this time that of the 1934 Pressed Steel Strike. Dona Velluti, who has recently returned to Oxford from her native, Sardinia gave an entertaining talk on the Cowley car plant strike and its importance in the development of working class militancy in Oxford. Afterwards, Dona showed an impressive knowledge of her subject when it came to the Q & A session.
After the lunch break and further informal discussion, the evening’s entertainment, which had a lighter, sporting theme, was kicked off by Billy Burrows from Swansea who came to tell us all about Seren Goch FC, a community football team that he was involved in setting up a few years back. Aside from the obvious sporting side to the club, Seren Goch also fostered knowledge of local militant working class history amongst its players and supporters. Billy talked openly of the achievements and problems of running such a club and of the lessons learned. In the Q & A session Billy also instigated a thought provoking and fruitful discussion on youth football that struck a chord with audience members who are involved in sports coaching at junior level.
Next on the agenda came Roger from the Easton Cowboys, ‘Britain’s most intrepid sports club’. An engaging footballer, Aikido black belt and political/community activist, Roger entertained us with stories of the club’s globetrotting exploits across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North and South America.
The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls exploits have included playing football against the Zapatista Freedom Fighters in the Mexican jungle and a cricket match against former gang members in Compton in LA. Never ones to rest on their laurels, the club is currently planning a football trip to Tristan Da Cunha, the most remote inhabited island in the world!
We then watched a short film, voted the viewers’ favourite on Sky TV, about the Cowboys ‘Alternative World Cup’ and discussed a recent book chronicling the Cowboys exploits over the last 20 years which contains never before published pictures of the work of street artist and sometime Cowboys goalie, Banksy, taken on the trip to Mexico.
Further underlining the kindred nature of the work done in both Bristol and Blackbird Leys, Roger then talked about the sterling work of the Bristol Radical History group which was spawned from the club.
Fittingly, considering the Easton Cowboys/Cowgirls martial arts connection, next on the bill came Sensei Ben Soloman, chief instructor at the Blackbird Leys Windrush Karate Club, and 17 year old student Emmy Craft who is currently training for her own black belt. Ben gave a brief talk on how he got involved in karate and of the history of his club before Emmy gave an impressive demonstration of her gold medal winning kata
After a brief presentation on the history of the working class Rocker movement of the late 1950’s and early 60’s by IWCA Athletics Club youngsters Isobel and Francis, Blackbird Leys local hero, Paul Brackett, chatted about his colourful life which has taken him from anti-social drunk to a respected community activist who has crossed the finish line of 115 marathons and ultra marathons.
A big thank you to Pegasus School for the use of the hall, to all our volunteers, especially Rachael, Grace and Tracy for running the kitchen, to Shan for doing the technical stuff, to Marco for taking photos and to David T for taking care of the door and for driving our guests around. Thanks once again, to all of our speakers and their fellow travellers who generously made the effort to come to Oxford at their own expense and to the audience members who chipped in to make the Q & A sessions so fruitful.
Here’s to an even bigger and more successful event next year!