Media silence over Freedom firebombing – imagine if it was Waterstones

•4 February 2013 • 6 Comments

Apart from a few notable exceptions, there’s been an indefensible level of silence about the firebombing of Freedom Bookshop on Friday morning. Only one TV channel, Press TV, bothered to send a camera crew to East London.  ITV, the Evening Standard and the Guardian did write stories about it, even if the latter did use the bizarre phrase about the shop that “[i]t claims to stock thousands of books, newspapers, pamphlets…” It’s a bookshop, what exactly makes a statement of easily verifiable fact a claim?

The fact that the story was picked up by the Associate Press meant the story was auto-syndicated around the world (e.g. the Washington Post), but, apart from those, there’s been little else in the mainstream media. No BBC London, no Channel 4 News, no Mirror – let alone any of the conservative newspapers.

Since when is the deliberate targeting of a bookshop not news? Imagine if it had been a branch of Waterstones (there are still a few around). I have no doubt crews would have been all over it and it would have made news bulletins and every newspaper. The only explanation for the lack of coverage of the attack on Freedom is blatant politics.

It would seem that because Freedom is an anarchist bookshop, it doesn’t count. No, most of the mainstream media is only interested in anarchists when they can print groundless allegations that we’re planning to wreck royal weddings or the Olympics.

I went down to the shop on Saturday and saw real anarchism in action – around 100 people turned up to wipe down soot-covered books, clean floors and scrub walls. Not just anarchists, but friends and fellow travellers all ready to help out to get the shop up and running again. Not for pay, not because someone told us to, no – because we wanted to, because solidarity is important and Freedom needs to exist.

Freedom Press, founded in 1886, is one of the last reminders of a different time in London’s East End, a time when people like Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta and Rudolf Rocker walked the streets of the East End. A time when Jewish trade unions rose up and struck to end the sweat shop system that blighted their lives. A time when revolution was in the air and people were willing to fight for a better world.

As the Tories and their sell-out Lib Dem colleagues strip workers of their rights and condemn the less well off in society to food banks and poverty, it’s a time we should all remember. It’s also a time we should start emulating.

Unfortunately, Freedom’s recent financial woes meant the shop was uninsured at the time of the attack, so they need funds to continue. Lots of fund-raising efforts are underway, check out the Freedom website for details.

Motions passed at the NUJ Delegate Meeting from London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch

•29 October 2012 • Leave a Comment

The NUJ London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch, which I currently chair, proposed two motions to the union’s delegate meeting – both were passed without opposition. LNM means Late Notice Motion (ie. they were proposed after the deadline for motions in response to specific events).

LNM 17
This DM congratulates Channel 4 for its brilliant coverage of the Paralympics (29 Aug – 9 Sept), in particular how presenters and journalists with disabilities were at the forefront of their coverage.

DM hopes that Channel 4 will continue this practice, which has helped bring disabled people into the spotlight and show that many are capable of doing these jobs.

However, DM condemns the government’s attempts to use the success of paralympians to attack disabled people who depend on benefits and condemns the cuts being imposed on these benefits that are absolutely essential to their ability to live. DM further condemns the closure of the Remploy factories that gave so many disabled people a chance to work in an accessible environment as gross hypocrisy from a government that claims to be trying to help bring disabled people into the workplace. DM furthermore condemns the role of the private company ATOS in these political machinations.

DM instructs the NEC to support organisations fighting cuts to disability benefits, in particular Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

LNM 18
DM congratulates the Youth Media Agency (YMA) on the launch of their Youth Media Directory on 24 July and their successful meeting on getting age entered into the replacement
of the editor’s code as a topic of discrimination on 27 September.

DM supports the work of the YMA to improve coverage of young people in the mainstream media and in supporting independent media by young journalists.

DM urges all branches to look at the Directory on the YMA website ( and to recruit the young journalists involved in the projects to the NUJ.

DM instructs the NEC to work with the YMA to develop guidelines on how to improve the coverage of young people.

The Branch will be holding a Recruitment and Organising session this Saturday (3 November) from 11am to 4pm.

Starting at 11am, the plan is to have two hours of training – then lunch paid for by the Branch – and then back at 2pm for two more hours of strategy – defining targets and plans to approach workers in workplaces where we’re not yet organised.

If you’re a member of the Branch or work in Independent Broadcasting (ie. anywhere but the BBC) or New Media (websites, mobile phone content, bloggers, tweeters) and want to get involved, come along.

The session will be held in NUJ HQ, Headland House, 308-312 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8DP.

A tale of two Harry Bolands

•9 August 2012 • 2 Comments

Many years ago, I was reading Emma Goldman’s autobiography sitting beside the pool while on holidays in Greece (not necessarily everyone’s idea of relaxing, but I’m not everyone). I sat bolt upright in my sun-bed when I got to page 567 and Goldman writes of lecturing in Philadelphia. There, she writes, she met “two persons whose friendship recompensed me for the otherwise dreary experience, Harry Boland and Horace Traubel.” Harry Boland! She goes on, “Harry was an old devotee and always generously helpful in every struggle I made.”

Some personal biography is probably necessary at this point to explain my surprise. The Irish revolutionary Harry Boland was my great-granduncle; I grew up with stories about him and the rest of the Boland family. I even chose to write about Harry for my Leaving Certificate history essay. I knew Harry had travelled in the US fund-raising for the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and there was the strange tale of the Russian jewels, but a connection to Emma Goldman was unheard of and a complete surprise.

However, only a few pages later, she writes about the 1916 Rising and how Padraic Colum wrote an account of the events for Mother Earth. Which means the Philadelphia meeting happened earlier in 1916, most likely before the Easter Rising. The Harry Boland I knew about was in Dublin at the time, he fought in the rising and was imprisoned until 1917. He didn’t go to New York until May 1919, at which time Emma Goldman was in prison. Their paths might have crossed in the short time between Goldman’s release in September and her deportation in December that year, but he clearly wasn’t the Harry Boland to whom she referred in the book.

A bit more research and I found that a Harry Weir Boland had written a poem for Mother Earth himself marking the death of King Edward VII in less than respectful terms. “Bury him, then, face downward in the dust,” it begins, a sentiment I’m sure would have been shared by his namesake in Ireland.

Over the years, I’ve found out more about the American Harry Boland. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1873 of Irish immigrant parents, Michael A. Boland and Ellen Carolan. He lived in Philadelphia most of his life and across the Delaware River died in Camden, New Jersey, in 1926. Like Goldman’s other Philadelphia friend, Horace Traubel, he was an admirer of Walt Whitman. However, what I’ve never been able to find out is whether he knew of or even met his namesake.

There were numerous other possible connections between them. Emma Goldman writes of a meeting in June 1917 that the widowed Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was in attendance. Hanna was a member of the Republican women’s organisation Cumann na mBan alongside the Irish Harry Boland’s sister, Kathleen. After his death in 1922, Kathleen and Hanna travelled to the US to raise funds for the anti-Treaty side of the Irish Civil War.

Harry himself gave a speech in Philadelphia in 1921 when acting as Sinn Féin envoy to the United States. After his death in 1922, Joseph McGarrity of the Philadelphia Clan na Gael organised a mock funeral procession in the city which was attended by up to 10,000 people (see Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution by David Fitzpatrick).

It’s hard to believe the American Harry was unaware of the Irish Harry. Did they meet in 1921? Was Harry Weir Boland still living in Philadelphia when thousands marked the death of his namesake? If there’s anyone out there who knows more about Harry Weir Boland, the old devotee of Emma Goldman’s, I’d love to hear about it.

Rally for Media Reform – democracy in Britain corrupted by illegal and unethical press practices

•20 June 2012 • Leave a Comment

More on the event:
Hugh Grant: Leveson inquiry has shone ‘disinfectant sunlight’ into ‘infected corners’
News: Rally for Media Reform – democracy in Britain corrupted by illegal and unethical press practices: Natalie Peck

and my subsequent piece for the LSE Media Policy Project:
Media Reform Now: We Need to Re-Unionise the Industry

Commemorating the 1912 East End Jewish tailors’ strike – two events

•16 May 2012 • 6 Comments

This month marks the centenary of the great 1912 East End Jewish tailors’ strike, which saw 13,000 immigrant sweatshop workers walk out on strike. Three weeks later, on 25 May 1912, the bosses capitulated – they’d won.

I’ll be speaking at a public meeting organised by the Jewish Socialists’ Group at 7pm on Wednesday, 23 May, in the Library of the Bishopsgate Institute with Ben Gidley. A recording of the meeting is now available from the Circled A show website.

A couple of days later, on Sunday 27 May at 6pm, David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group will lead a walk through the radical history of the East End, focussing on the 1912 strike. Join us at Freedom Books in Whitechapel – details on Indymedia.

Stuff elsewhere

•15 May 2012 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t posted here recently as I’ve been writing a lot of stuff for other sites. Here’s the ones published so far, I’ll update as more appear:

Media Reform Now: We Need to Re-Unionise the Industry (25 May 2012)

Union-News: Jewish tailors – the East End’s forgotten sweatshop strikers (22 May 2012)

Union-News: Missiles in London are no match for trade unionists (15 May 2012)

Left Foot Forward: The criminal war on journalism in Mexico (7 May 2012)

Ceasefire: Comment | Rupert Murdoch and his amazing dog-whistle (5 May 2012)

Twitter Journalism event – New London NUJ branch launched

•21 April 2012 • Leave a Comment

I chaired the public launch of London’s newest NUJ branch – the London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch (check us out on Facebook) on Thursday 19 April. Organised with BIMA – the British Interactive Media Association – the event started out with a workshop organised by VisiononTV.

That was followed by two speakers, the Guardian’s Paul Lewis who spoke about Twitter and the London riots of 2011 and social media expert Tiffany St James who spoke about the business use of Twitter.

Alas, the full video plug-in isn’t working properly on WordPress, but you can see the videos at the link below.

Latest media news via visionOntv

Full descriptions and credits – plugandplay

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