Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Layer 334 . . . Two Men and a Boat

Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize laureate and author of Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death In Venice, as well as numerous other works, was born in Germany in 1875.

"In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason", in which he strongly denounced National Socialism  and encouraged resistance by the working class. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the Nazis. At the same time, he expressed increasing sympathy for socialist ideas."  -  Wikipedia

According to Thomas Mann,

No man remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself.

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.

I mention these things in passing.

Tom Mann, on the other hand, was born 19 years earlier, on 15th April 1856 in Coventry, and lived in a cottage in Grange Road, just a few yards within the city boundary. He was the son of a clerk who worked at a local coal mine.

"He attended school from the ages of six to nine, then began work doing odd jobs on the colliery farm. A year later he became a trapper, a labour-intensive job that involved clearing blockages from the narrow airways in the mining shafts. In 1870, the colliery was forced to close and the family moved to Birmingham. Mann soon found work as an engineering apprentice. He attended public meetings addressed by Annie Besant and John Bright, and this began his political awareness. He completed his apprenticeship in 1877 and moved to London. However, he was unable to find work as an engineer and took a series of unskilled jobs.

In 1879, Mann found work in an engineering shop. Here he was introduced to socialism by the foreman, and decided to improve his own education. His reading included the works of William Morris, Henry George and John Ruskin.

In 1881 he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and took part in his first strike. In 1884, he joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in Battersea. Here he met John Burns and Henry Hyde Champion, who encouraged him to publish a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to eight hours. Mann formed an organisation, the Eight Hour League, which successfully pressured the Trades Union Congress to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal.

Activist and leader

After reading the Communist Manifesto in 1886, Mann became a communist. He now believed the main purpose of the labour movement should be to overthrow capitalism, rather than just to ameliorate the condition of workers under capitalism. He moved to Newcastle in 1887 and organised the SDF in the north of England. He managed Keir Hardie's electoral campaign in Lanark before returning to London in 1888, where he worked in support of the Bryant and May match factory strike. With Burns and Champion, he began producing a journal, the Labour Elector, in 1888.

Along with Burns and Ben Tillett, Mann was one of the leading figures in the London Dock Strike in 1889. He was responsible for organising relief for the strikers and their families. With the support of other unions and various organisations, the strike was successful.

Following the strike, Mann was elected President of the newly-formed Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers' Union, with Tillett as General Secretary. Tillett and Mann wrote a pamphlet called New Unionism, which advanced the utopian ideal of a co-operative commonwealth.

Mann was also elected to the London Trades and Labour Council and as secretary of the National Reform Union, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Labour from 1891 to 1893. In 1894, he was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party and became the party Secretary in 1894.

He helped create the International Transport Workers' Federation, and was its first President. He was deported from a number of European countries for organising trade unions.

He advocated the co-operative model of economic organisation, but resisted alliance between the ILP and other socialist organisations in Britain, like the Fabians. In 1895, the Fabian Beatrice Webb criticised Mann's absolutism and described his goal derogatorily as, "a body of men all professing exactly the same creed and all working in exact uniformity to exactly the same end". Philip Snowden, a member of the ILP, liked Mann but was critical of his inability to stay with any one party or organisation for more than a few years.


The contest for the leadership of the Labour Party is currently meandering on, boring everyone to death, and provoking anger in those who see the candidates as absolute prats of the first order, in one way or another. With the exception of the sole woman candidate the candidates are all members of the faction known as New Labour, which successfully infiltrated and overthrew the party of Mann, Hardie and MacDonald during its inception - under the leadership of Blair, Brown and Mandelson - in the 1990s.


The Coalition and their media allies appear to have been highly successful in brainwashing working class as well as middle class people into believing that slashing public services ("cutbacks") is desireable and necessary, because of "the debt". As if they have any idea what the real effects of the cuts will be on jobs, the economy in general, and the public services themselves.

It was good to hear Brother J, at least, in a state of absolute rage this morning, talking about the Coalition, their economic illiteracy, and their determination to outdo even Thatcher and her voodoo economics.


In 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia to see if that country's broader electoral franchise would allow more "drastic modification of capitalism". Settling in Melbourne he was active in Australian trade unions and became an organiser for the Australian Labor Party. However, he grew disillusioned with the party, believing it was being corrupted by the nature of government and concerned only with winning elections. He felt that the federal Labour MPs were unable and unwilling to change society, and their prominence within the movement was stifling and over-shadowing organised labour. He resigned from the ALP and founded the Victorian Socialist Party.

Returning to Britain in 1910, Mann wrote The Way to Win, a pamphlet that argued that socialism could be achieved only through trade unionism and co-operation and that parliamentary democracy was inherently corrupt. He founded the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, and worked as an organiser for Ben Tillett. He led the 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike. In 1912 he was convicted under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 of publishing an article in The Syndicalist, as an 'Open Letter to British Soldiers', urging them to refuse to shoot at strikers (later reprinted as a leaflet, Don't Shoot); his prison sentence was quashed after public pressure. He was opposed to Britain's involvement in the first World War on socialist and religious grounds and addressed pacifist rallies. In 1917, he joined the successor to the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party, which had affiliated to the Labour Party the previous year.

Tom Mann continued to actively champion socialism, communism and co-operation until his death in 1941. He published further pamphlets and regularly addressed public meetings in Britain and abroad, and he was arrested for sedition on several more occasions. He continued to be a popular figure in the labour movement, attracting large audiences to rallies and benefits. During the Spanish Civil War he wanted to fight on the Republican side, but was by that time far too old. A unit of the International Brigade, the Tom Mann Centuria, was named in his honour.

Tom Mann died on 13 March 1941.   -  Wikipedia

Tom Mann's Memoirs -


I had only a very short time at school as a boy, less than three years all told. When I was nine years old I was considered old enough to start work. My father was a clerk at the Victoria Colliery; so it was counted fitting that I should make a start as a boy on the colliery farm. A year as a kiddie doing odd jobs in the fields, bird-scaring, leading the horse at the plough, stone-picking, harvesting, and so on, and I was to tackle a job down the mine.

My job was to make and keep in order small roads or courses to convey the air to the respective workings in the mines. The air courses were only three feet high and wide, and my work was to take away the mullock, coal, or dirt that the man would require taken from him as he was worked away at 'heading' a new road, or repairing an existing one.

For this removal there were boxes known down the mine as dans, about two feet six inches long and eighteen inches wide and of a similar depth, with an iron ring strongly fixed at each end. A piece of stout material was fitted on the boy around the waist. To this there was a chain attached, and the boy would hook the chain to the box, and crawling on all fours, the chain between his legs, would drag the box along and take it to the gob where it would be emptied.

Although I was connected with the Anglican Church, the Bible class I attended and liked so much was conducted by Edmund Laundy of the Society of Friends. Mr. Laundy was a public accountant, a precise speaker, a splendid teacher. He taught me much, and helped me in the matter of correct pronunciation, clear articulation, and insistence upon knowing the root origin of words, with a proper care in the use in the right words to convey ideas.

See more quotes at http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REmann.htm -

He (Tom Mann) combined the qualities of whirlwind and volcano. His was the genius of sheer energy. His tremendous capacity for the work he enjoys the most became a mighty factor in the supreme crisis of the Dock Strike. For Tom Mann I entertain a deep respect as a comrade which has not been destroyed by the intellectual vagrancy into which his energy led him in after years. I remember old Henry Hyndman saying that Tom's intellect was a tidal one, swayed by changes in the moon, and capable of the same ebb and flow. Still, he has been a consistent class-conscious fighter for the various causes to which he has adhered; sound at heart, self-sacrificing and courageous, he has never deserted the flag, even if he has sometimes attempted to plant it in impossible places.  -  Ben Tillett
No white flag for Tom Mann.





Aunt O still lives in Grange Road, a hundred yards or so down from Tom Mann's house. She's lived in and around Grange Road all her life. Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of the Christmas gatherings that took place in her and Uncle H's little terraced house - their home during the 50's and 60's - which was just a few doors down from Tom's house. It still amazes me to think how many people used to squeeze into such a narrow house for Christmas dinner and Christmas parties.

The Boat Inn was the hub of the community in Grange Road. Uncle H's family apparently used to work on the barges. The Coventry Canal runs across Grange Road, just the other side of the Tom Mann house. To get over the canal you have to use a terrifyingly steep hump-backed bridge - quite a challenge for a horse-drawn vehicle such as a bread delivery van, especially in icy weather.

Hawkesbury Junction is a major intersection on the national canal system, and is situated just off Grange Road.

The Boat Inn is no more. It practically broke Uncle H's heart when some faceless bureaucrat decided to run the M6 right through Grange Road, at the exact spot where the Boat stood.

Now you see it.

Now you don't.


The rumble of traffic is never-ending, 24 hours a day.

So much for progress. So much for improving the lot of the working people.

The thing is - this has become commonplace throughout Britain. Georgian and Victorian pubs demolished or redeveloped as little flats. Nowhere for people to gather, mingle, chat and form friendships. Lives blighted by traffic, and the noise of traffic.

21st Century people for the most part sit isolated in their little comfort zones in front of their home TVs and computer screens, drinking supermarket beer and wine. The new generations don't even miss what they never had. The young people go off to get ripped and fight in the impersonal city centre hangouts. The old people sit alone, and excluded, and remember fondly the good old days. Aunt O is 95 next month.


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