Neil Findlay, the former Labour MSP, says he compiled his new book as a means of sourcing hope amidst despair. It’s a collection testimonies from men and women who have campaigned against seemingly hopeless odds for social justice in their communities and workplaces.
The title “If You Don’t Run They Can’t Chase You” is a quote from Mick McGahey, the former vice-president of the National Union of Mineworkers who used it during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. It was intended to stiffen the resolve of the miners in the darkest days of their struggle when Margaret Thatcher was unleashing all the power of the British state – and billions of pounds – to destroy the power of the trade union movement.
The people whose stories unfold in this book do not immediately chime with you. With the exception of Dennis Skinner and perhaps Maria Fyfe and Margaret Aspinall their names are not recalled beyond the time and the realm in which they occurred. It seems appropriate then to name the rest of them here: Alistair Mackie; Jim Swan; Terry Renshaw; Brian Filling; Dave Smith; Alex Bennett; Tony Nelson; Mark Lyon and ‘Andrea’.
Some of them did eventually win justice against misuse of power and corruption in the state and the judiciary, such as Margaret Aspinall and her struggle for the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster. Others like the mine worker Alex Bennett were part of campaigns that were forced ultimately to bend to the power and fury of a vengeful British state.
Here, we learn about Alistair Mackie’s fight to protect the jobs of hundreds of journalists and printers after the Daily Express shut down its Scottish operation overnight. And then find himself dealing with the megalomaniac psychopath Robert Maxwell who wanted to buy a newspaper on the cheap. Here too is Tony Nelson, the Scouse docker who fought with hundreds of his colleagues to protect their livelihoods and better working conditions. It was a struggle that resonated with trade unionists across the world, yet ultimately they were to be betrayed by their own leadership and an ineffective Labour Party.
Findlay is the right man to collect these witness accounts from the front line. He was perhaps the best-known of Labour’s very few authentic Socialists at Holyrood until deciding to step down at the end of the last parliamentary term. As well as being one of the few in the party not masquerading as Socialists he was one of even fewer who actually helped get results for the people Labour are supposed to represent. Last year, after a long campaign, he was instrumental in persuading the Scottish Government to pardon hundreds of men convicted of offences during the miners’ strike.
He was also at the forefront of the campaign to compensate women who suffered life-changing injuries from mesh implants. Yet, owing to his support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Findlay became a pariah figure in a Scottish party which now exists merely as a step on a career path leading to something more lucrative in the corporate world. He is now embarking on a career providing much-needed advocacy and lobbying for charities and the third sector.
The collected testimonies in Findlay’s book form a primer on how the British state moves quickly to crack down on protest, no matter how rooted in justice such dissent may be. No artifice or deception is left un-used when the UK political establishment seeks to protect its power networks and no financial outlay is considered too costly to demonise those who challenge it. As a journalist, you’re also startled on being reminded that the free press in the UK is only as free as the political elites allow it, hence why a disproportionately high number of alumni from fee-paying schools run the nation’s newsrooms and feature on the Comment pages.
The most distressing and moving witness testimony belongs to ‘Andrea’ a Scottish trade unionist who became active in the radical left. She met and fell in love with a man known to her as Carlo Neri only to discover a decade later that he was one of a number of “Spycops”, trained by the British state to destroy the lives of those deemed by them to be a danger to their hegemony. It’s rarely acknowledged, of course, that betraying the state and undermining the security of the realm has been the exclusive reserve of Oxbridge and Eton and their sociopathic alumni.
Findlay tells me he wanted to remind himself and us how ordinary people armed with little more than the truth and a burning desire for justice can overcome corrupt power and corporate greed. And that even though some met with inevitable defeat they laid bare the iniquities of a British state still beholden to the whims of ruthless capital.
Several of these stories proceeded in the wake of the 2008 global banking crisis when it seemed that the ultimate wickedness at the heart of capitalism had been exposed: the corruption and avarice of the money-changers and the governments which supped with them. Millions who used money honestly and paid their bills were literally robbed by billionaires.
A decade or so later, when you might have expected the ideas of Socialism to have been re-born in the detritus, the West’s politics are still dominated by brute capital and its political acolytes. The aftermath has produced Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and the catastrophic failure of a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan dressed up to look like a liberation when it was always really a business opportunity.
And in Scotland, where we like to think we’re a rebuke to such iniquity, we have settled for an ornamental administration governing by feelings and proclamation and waging a cold war against our entire female population with the gender lie. It weaponises every bogus artifice, including its now laughable commitment to independence, to divert attention from some of the most distressing poverty statistics in Western Europe.
And so Neil Findlay’s book couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The stories of his working-class heroes remind us that true social justice is still worth fighting for.
If You Don’t Run They Can’t Chase You, by Neil Findlay. Published by Luath Press. £9.99. Neilfindlaybooks.com
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