12.There's one born every minute

I returned to Birmingham, and for a short time lived with my father whilst I sorted a job for myself, and then found my own accommodation. Initially I obtained work at Lucas Components as a centre-less grinder. This at least was day work, and stood me in good stead for a few weeks until I decided what to do longer term. I soon found that what I could earn as an unskilled engineering worker would not provide me with enough money to maintain myself and give me sufficient to make an adequate allowance to Rhoda for the children. I explored several possibilities, but always came up with the same answer, not enough money. It was then I reluctantly decided to try to return to Cadbury’s working on the night shift. I knew that if I could get a job at Cadbury’s I would be able to earn sufficient money for my purposes.

Fortunately I was taken on again when I applied, but not in my old department nor at my old grade — I had been a leading-hand in the Confectionary Dept. However, I accepted the work I was given, which was in the packing department for chocolate buttons. This was mind-numbing work, even though it was not particularly physically arduous, and I soon found that I could earn sufficient for my purposes. I suppose at the time I was quite glad to have work that required little or no thought, merely repetitive manual dexterity. After the political and personal upheavals of the previous year I found I did little but go to work, go home and sleep and at weekends watch television. It was a form of ‘therapy’, TV is often a good way not to think!

However, after a few weeks I was asked if I wanted to return to the Confectionary Dept., which I did since it was possible to earn better money. So I returned to my old department for some months, and was soon back into many old routines. Eventually I applied to work in the inspection department, and was accepted. I remained in that department until I once more left the firm in 1963, but that is running on somewhat. My work as an inspector meant that, after an initial period of training, I was expected to be able to go into any department of the factory and inspect it for the application of standards. These standards were laid down by a production committee which included directors. The inspection department only had a representative on such a committee, but had to enforce the agreed standards. The factory at Bournville was, at the time I worked there, the largest chocolate production factory in the world. It employed several thousand people day and night, and in a multitude of departments and trades. There was a large printing works, which printed labels and made boxes etc., this on top of numerous divisions such as covering, chocolate blocks, cocoa, confectionary, assortments, Easter eggs, etc. As an inspector I was expected to be able to go into any of these and apply the standards.

The work not only required a wide general knowledge of all the departments, but also diplomatic skills and sometimes considerable nerve. Since our work as inspectors entailed very often having to condemn work for being sub-standard, this meant that this cut into management bonus. Therefore we were never very welcome by the foremen or forewomen and senior managers when we appeared. We always made it clear that, as inspectors, it was not our responsibility to ensure that standards were maintained, but only to point out when they were not. In other words, it was the responsibility of management that any products that left the factory conformed to the set standards. As inspectors we only made random checks, not continuous inspection. We could appear in a department at any time and inspect anything that had a bearing upon production. This meant that we not only inspected the actual products but also ascertained the cleanliness of machines, floors etc. and even could ask for hand inspections of all those actually handling products. With such wide powers one had to be able to apply them without at the same time creating such antagonism that all relations broke down. Therefore our first move as inspectors was to make suggestions to the management about anything that we were concerned about. Only if our suggestions were ignored would we then move in and start condemning work as it left the production lines. It was then that very often all hell broke loose. I often had to stand my ground when I was surrounded by several, charge-hands, foremen etc. being told I didn’t know my **** from my elbow, and that I would soon be back on a machine etc. etc. Such intimidation was sometimes successful against female members of the inspection staff, particularly if they were being abused by a gang of men, but not very often. I was an inspector for over three years, and never once had any of my decisions reversed by the senior inspection staff.

All in all the work was very interesting, it enabled me to work in every part of the factory and no one shift was the same as another. There were always different problems arising which had to be dealt with. One thing I quickly learned was that it was often the production workers who tipped me off about bad work being pushed out by the management!

I suppose having such work, and carrying it out successfully, enabled me to recover my personal equilibrium after the severe buffeting it had taken in the previous period. If my judgement had been shown to be faulty in politics and in my personal life, at least at work it seemed to be working normally. I gradually recovered my self-confidence and could once more begin to consider what to do politically.

Upon leaving Nottingham I had broken political and comradely relations with Pat Jordan. I considered that his actions had been very detrimental to the political fight that we had engaged in together in the RSL, and then I discovered his activities on behalf of Pablo and Cooper, and this was sufficient to push me to the final break. This, of course, did put me in a bit of spot politically, since the other members of the faction in Nottingham considered I was ‘over the top’ in my reaction to Jordan. For a few months I felt, and was, very isolated as far as the RSL was concerned.

However, this did not stop me from engaging in some political activity in Birmingham. The New Left Forum was reactivated and this provided a point of contact with a mainly ex-CP milieu. This in turn provided me with some contacts with members of the Labour Party YS, and I was soon selling copies of the Nottingham Rally in several branches of the YS. Subsequently, when I had found a place to live in Kings Norton, I rejoined the Labour Party and was elected to act as the constituency YS liaison officer. However, at that time Birmingham was not particularly productive politically, the grip of the right-wing on the City Party was still tight.

Jordan, meanwhile, had attempted to needle me further by a series of rather abusive and vulgar letters. These I ignored, which only seemed to make him worse! Eventually things blew up in the Nottingham branch of the RSL and faction. There was a meeting at which Jordan had been confronted by the other comrades and slated for his conduct. It seemed that all the criticisms that a few months earlier had been ‘over the top’ when I made them now made sense. It seems that it merely took longer for the other comrades to appreciate the activities of Jordan. As a result of this meeting Jordan wrote to me again, but this time in quite a different vein:

‘My aim in writing this letter is to see if by discussion with you or with you and others can lead to [an] amelioration of our relations even if only to a small degree. … This is not ‘a frantic appeal for unity’ but I think a realistic reaction to the situation. I would be dishonest with myself if I didn’t admit that the fact that … ***** sees in aspects of my behaviour suspicious traits is a very serious thing. This leads me to admit that someone like you … can hardly be blamed if they too adopt a critical attitude. … my behaviour and the whole set up must contain elements which give rise to these … suspicions. That is why I have decided that to substantially erase the question mark over my integrity and sincerity I must end the position where I am dependent on G.[Pablo] and C.[Cooper] financially.

‘I must ask again that you treat this letter in the spirit in which it is written. If you respond in the same spirit many of the arguments we have been using against each other will be weakened. This has been a difficult letter to write and no doubt you will find it hard to reply. … This past week or so have been one of the worst in my life as you can, no doubt, appreciate. It would be easy to blame everything on slander etc. As I said before this would be dishonest even with myself. [11]

This marked a definite shift, not only in Jordan’s attitude towards me, but indicated that other comrades had begun to appreciate the problems. I replied:

‘First of all I never did preclude discussing the questions under dispute, but as I found myself in a minority of one at first … I did not attempt to pursue the matters. I would point out though that when I did try to discuss your last letter to me, I met with a very violent response, this despite the fact that I had written to you suggesting that you had written under stress. I did this to enable you to withdraw some of the more outrageous items so that we could discuss and clear up some of the political matters.

My break with you was, and still is, of a political nature. I am well aware that this has been hard for the others to grasp, but fortunately they have come to see this…I would also point out that I have never raised the question of your sincerity or otherwise, I think such arguments are largely fruitless, it is how a person acts, and how these acts are viewed by others that matter, to question motives only gets one bogged down in discussing ‘absolute morals’ a subject I never had any wish to discuss.

You say that you had come to the conclusion that you would have had to come into conflict with me…I can only say that it was I who raised these matters with you, if you had any criticisms you kept them very much to yourself, and it’s a bit late in the day to say this. If you had criticism then you should have raised them before, on this matter it is well known that I did do just that…

As you say, the charges that have been made against you are far too long to go into in a letter, and I am prepared to discuss these matters with you personally, I know that you think this is a change on my part, but up to now you have never shown any inkling that these things were discussable. With this in mind I shall be in Nottingham next Sunday for the day. If you are available then we can at least get down to the preliminaries…

As you say, this has not been an easy letter for me to write, but I think it is one that is necessary. You no doubt have felt that the rest of us are ganging up on you, but in all fairness I think you brought most of it on yourself, if we can now begin to sort these things out very good, but I must warn you that I shall need some convincing.’ [12]

From this exchange there began a series of meetings, letters and negotiations, which included the other members of the faction that were still active in Nottingham. I certainly wanted to resume full participation in the activity of the faction, such as was left, and also to see what could be salvaged from the debris of the RSL. I eventually arranged for a meeting in London with some members of the EC of the RSL, and reported on it as follows:

‘I went to London yesterday for discussions. I saw F.B.[Fred Bunby] and J.Smith of the EC [of the RSL], also Sam and Doris Bornstein. J. Deane was also there. Firstly, they knew all there was to know about the faction, this they had from John Fairhead, although I’m afraid he had embroidered the story somewhat. I saw no point in hiding the facts, but I did correct the story on some points. …Then there was a general discussion on the question of the RSL and the IS etc. Several points came out of this. The Bornstein’s are very bitter about MP [Pablo] and the IS and there is no question of their returning to the group. JD took the line that although what had taken place was bad and that it was necessary to raise these matters at the IEC or world congress, the main question was to build the group. Both F.B. and J.S. took much the same line, I should point out that Ted was out of London so could not be there. What emerged from this was the fact that Ted has been sent out to work and as far as they are concerned he won’t be employed as a full-timer, even when they can afford one. J.S. told me that on many occasions both he and F.B. would have supported us against Ted had it not been for the way the faction was secret etc. Also they admitted that the group was just a shadow of its former self, and J.S. spoke of the need to build from the ground level again… Only J.D. wanted to put the blame for the disintegration of the RSL on to the faction and the IS, I refused to accept that…[saying] the prime cause lay with the leadership and its perspectives. I must point out although we were all on friendly terms, I for my part am still sceptical that anything can be achieved with the present group.’ [13]

That meeting confirmed me in my opinion that the faction fight had been well and truly messed up because of the refusal of Jordan to commit himself openly before the conference in 1959. He had alienated many comrades who could have been won over on the political and economic perspectives had it not been for the anxiety aroused by fears of a ‘parallel centre’ being set up in Nottingham. This is not to say that the Grant clique could have been decisively defeated, but it did suggest that the defeat of the opposition should not have been so total as it was.

In the situation, at the end of 1960, I attempted to salvage what I could. I made financial and written contributions to the Rally and also made financial contributions towards the production of the Fourth International’s information bulletin the Internationalist. This latter contribution, it turned out, was crucial in keeping the small journal afloat.

‘Thanks for you letter. Since writing to you originally I have sorted out the question of the Internationalist with the I.S. The position is that we are to have a fortnightly, 4 page issue (like you I think this much better than the monthly). This will cost about £20 per month. All they can afford is £10. Apart from the business in Holland they have to raise some thousands of pounds to pay for the World Congress. This means we must raise £10 per month. You will see from this that your offer would be a considerable contribution towards this.’ [14]

The reference to the ‘business in Holland’ was regarding the arrest of Sal Santen and Michel Pablo in Holland for activities connected with helping the Algerian FLN. They were tried and sentenced to 18 months in jail. We attempted to raise a campaign in their support in this country, but with little success, there was no real outcry on a wide scale on this matter. Jordan’s letter also indicates how precarious were the finances of the FI at this time, it could only manage to find £10 per month for an English language information bulletin. The letter also indicates that we had managed to arrive at some sort of modus operandi, even though it was still very delicate. I think it fair to say that although we had reached some sort of working agreement, it was never again an easy relationship.

The faction of 1959 no longer existed, the Left Fraction in Glasgow had walked out of the RSL, the London end had evaporated along with most of the RSL. What remained was myself in Birmingham and a few comrades in Nottingham. Such was the situation that in 1961 the faction had to be re-constituted.

There was a meeting called in Nottingham on 23rd April 1961, attended by Denis Anderson, Alex Acheson, Martin Flannery, Pat Jordan and myself. George Powe and Dick Skyers were unable to attend but indicated their support. Denis Anderson was an Australian comrade resident in the country, his real name was Denis Freney. In a letter sent out on the 25th April 1961 it was stated that the following decisions were taken:

a) To establish from this meeting an ‘Internationalist’ faction within the RSL.

b) In view of the fact that the EC is unwilling or unable to distribute the IS letter and our document on the RSL that we would produce these documents ourselves and distribute them.

c) To ask why we have heard nothing about preparations for the National Committee and Annual Conference. To date we had heard nothing of documents etc. Since then I have received a set of minutes in which certain decisions have been for putting the Annual Conference on the agenda and calling a National Committee for Whitsun.

The letter ended:

‘I would finish by saying that we are well aware of the serious decisions we took and that we arrived at them after careful consideration. The EC must bear responsibility for this situation by its actions of suppressing documents, even those of the IS, of misinforming the membership of the International, even cooked and in many cases downright lying minutes.’

The letter was signed by Pat Jordan, who from then on acted as contact secretary for the re-formed faction. Copies were sent to the EC of the RSL, all RSL branches and the International Secretariat. As anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Trotskyist movement will know, this letter was in effect a declaration of independence from the RSL, i.e. a split. It was from this meeting of four people that there grew the organisation which eventually became the International Marxist Group, but that was a few years down the line. As far as I am aware, or can recall, at that time we never actually formalised the split from the RSL, we maintained the fiction of being a faction, but rather semi-detached. We found it made little or no difference to our relations with the International Secretariat, except that no-one formally sat on any committees of the FI. We continued to circulate Fourth International publications, internal bulletins and had regular meetings with members of the International Secretariat. However, as far as the RSL was concerned we went our own way, with as little contact as possible. I think by this time relations had been reduced to mutual loathing. Fairly normal in your everyday Trotskyist split.

Having disentangled ourselves from the RSL we were able to make some headway, even if in a modest manner. We were eventually able to recruit members from the Labour Party YS and from the students at Nottingham university. Eventually Ken Coates joined us, although this was against Jordan’s wishes and he (Jordan) had to be ‘bullied’ about Coates joining us.