27 October 2005
Memories of right and left
I can't remember the year, but it was the mid 1970s, and I am pretty convinced that the place was Red Lion Square in London. The National Front were due to hold a meeting and the unions, Trades' Councils and political parties were all clamouring for people to go along and "peacefully protest". Yeah, right.
A small group of us, me the projectionist, a Manchester docker and two lads who worked in factories, decided to get the train down. This we duly did and we arrived at Euston Station in the late afternoon. We had a couple of pints near Euston and set off for the demonstration.
When we got there we found that time had slipped us by and we couldn't actually reach the rest of the crowd because of the police lines. We could hear the racket coming from just down the street, but getting to it was out of the question. Standing around in the drizzle did not seem like a good idea, so someone suggested that we take shelter in a pub that was at the other end of the street. We justified this by saying that if the evil Nazis managed to burst out of the square, then we would spring into action as a sort of strategic reserve. Feeling thoroughly justified we walked down the street and went into the swill shop.
The place was almost empty - I wonder why? - so getting served was easy. I had to listen the the same whinge as before because, of course, the docker wanted his pint of mixed and stubbornly refused to believe that nowhere in London served mild. Anyway, we took our bitters and went and sat in a corner. Then we saw them for the first time. A group of six blokes about our ages. We knew who they were and they had certainly clocked us. The National Front were sitting in the other corner of the pub.
We were wearing the same type of clothes, that's the rum thing. They were not skinheads in bovver boots and we were not festooned with badges. One of the labourers had been given an ANL badge by a girl who wanted to recruit him into her three-initial party, but after he had shagged her the badge had been thrown away. Other than that all we were wearing were our union badges and the docker had his CPGB badge on as well, but they were all small, brass things and could not be seen across a room. Nevertheless, we recognised them and they damn well knew who we were.
Everyone had full pints in front of them so that meant that whatever was going to happen was not going to happen for another five minutes at least - no bugger wanted to spill beer that cost twice as much in London as it did in Manchester, at least on our side of the room. The NF lads seemed to be of the same mind so everyone settled down to have a good glare at each other.
"Wotcha do," shouted one of their group to nobody in particular in ours.
"Docker," shouted our docker back. "What about you?"
"Meat Porter," came the reply.
Everyone digested this information and then an NFer shouted over: "I'm a docker too."
That was it. For the rest of the night we chatted together. We steared clear of overt politics, but the two dockers at least found that what troubled one also led to sleepless nights for the other. Containerisation that would lead to the closure of London Docks was the big topic between them. The rest of us just talked until the place closed and then we all shook hands and went our seperate ways.
I was no fan of the National Front because the NF was trying to recruit our people and turn them into scabs. This notion that race is stronger than class as a primary focus of people's loyalty has always struck me as just plain daft. That said, I had to admit that I had a lot in common with those Londoners. I just wish that they hadn't been such dupes, that's all.