A Propagandist Visits Birmingham
Euston Station was congested on Saturday, August 11th with industrial workers returning to the Midlands. after the industrial fortnight’s holiday. Workers seem condemned to doing everything “en masse” and it seems the accepted idea that a “holiday” means the mass transference of population (working class) all in the same two weeks.
The sight of hundreds of people carrying cases, all pushing their way through the same three feet wide gap of the “ all important” ticket barrier was one that typified the absurdity of Capitalism. The train, which was late, was packed beyond cattle limitation with people standing in the single gangway right up to Northampton.
Due to late arrival and missing the Birmingham Comrades no meeting was held on Saturday night, but on Sunday an excellent meeting was held. Both a Birmingham speaker and the visiting London member addressed an audience of 100 for 2½ hours. At first the Bull Ring (the public meeting centre in Birmingham) is a difficult place to speak in unless one has had some experience of places in London like Beresford Square, Woolwich and Tower Hill; there is always quite a bit of noise going on, both from traffic and from street performers who also frequent the spot, but a more attentive audience is hard to imagine. The hecklers are few, the reception of the case for Socialism is excellent, and a fair hearing is demanded by the audience if anybody persistently interrupts. At this first meeting 13s. 8d. worth of literature was sold and a collection of 10s. taken up. As is usual, all forms of Capitalism and types of government, were attacked by our speakers with emphasis laid on the black record of the Labour Party in and out of office; and no sign of enthusiasm for that party came from the workers assembled. It was also not difficult to show the real pro-Capitalist (Russian variety) nature of the so-called Communist Party. It was found necessary to stress the difference between nationalisation and common ownership of the means of production, workers being more familiar with quack reforms of Capitalism than the abolition of the wages system as a solution to their problems.
Capitalism being what it is, always in the midst of one crisis or another, there was ample current material to deal with in the strike at Austins, and the Suez Canal dispute. This latter thieves’ quarrel was illustrated to advantage by the August Socialist Standard quoting Eden as telling workers that their very existence depended on winning the “battle of inflation’’ only to find one month later that “ our’’ canal is the thing on which our lives depend.
About half way through the meeting an opponent, who had been heckling, got up on our platform to state his case against us. This largely consisted of a complete misunderstanding of the Party’s concept of equality (the gentleman being a Christian told us that “God did not make us equal”) and the usual vague references to the un-Socialist constitution of “human nature.”
On other days the Bull Ring alternates with meetings and selling stalls, but another good meeting was held at Monday lunch-time. On this occasion another Birmingham comrade spoke to good effect. On Wednesday, the most promising of all meetings so far, was stopped by heavy rain after three-quarters of an hour. An audience of 150 were listening to questions and answers but before they dispersed some literature was sold.
Meanwhile on Tuesday (a marketing day) a trip was made out to Austins at Longbridge, a vast assemblage of factories, work shops and offices, which take the best part of half an hour to walk round outside. There are entrances at varying intervals with Austin Police in attendance; most of the rest of the surrounding is iron fencing with a double strand of barbed wire on top. The main idea in going was to see about the possibilities of a lunch-hour meeting, but the arrangements for this on Thursday fell through once more because of rain. While out there, however, half past five came round, which is knocking off time for some Austin workers, and with the literature case at the ready efforts were made to sell Socialist Standards. These were not very successful, it being only the second day back after the strike and holiday spending. One outstandingly curious feature of the visit was that hundreds of men from the factories and women from the offices coming out from making cars were either riding bicycles or on foot, and extra ’buses are laid on to move the queues. But for the madness of Capitalism there was a wonderful way to get rid of the reported 200,000 unsold cars, but then again, but for Capitalism such a contradiction would not have arisen.
In the evening on Thursday the visiting member went along to the Birmingham Branch meeting where, after usual branch business, an interesting discussion on present-day aspects of Trade Unionism was held.
On Friday, from 12.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. another good meeting was held in the Bull Ring. A Birmingham Comrade spoke again and in favourable weather 200 workers listened to our case. The following day being another Market Day, and the London members having been out to Stratford-on-Avon, the meeting did not start until 7.30 p m., having to stop after 8 p.m. due to heavy rain.
The last meeting of the visit, on Sunday evening, more than compensated for any set-backs. Starting at ten minutes past seven the meeting carried on till nearly 10 p.m. The audience was a good 200 strong and listened attentively to our speakers, 8s. 6d. worth of literature was sold, including some pamphlets (most who were interested had by this time bought the Socialist Standard) and a collection of 5s. 8d. were taken up.
Looking back, the London member would say that the visit to Birmingham was successful and worthwhile: the support from Birmingham members, considering they have to work for a living, was excellent, and it is hoped that next year’s return visit, which he is looking forward to, will be enjoyed as much.