London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Capitalism and Anti-Austerity

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Stickers of all kinds are a common sight in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Shadwell Gardens, 12/09/17).

Many of the issues that I talking about in these protest stickers blog posts can be traced back to our underlying economic system: capitalism. As such, many of the protest stickers I find take issue with capitalism directly. Linked to capitalism is austerity, an economic policy of public spending cuts associated with neo-liberalism, the system which governments in the UK and USA have followed for almost the last half-century. Since the last global financial crisis in 2008, the UK government has enforced a policy of austerity that has affected public services in all areas. A significant amount of the energy of activists and social movements since 2010 has been devoted to fighting these cuts, and countering their impacts. The protest stickers I’ve found reflect this struggle against austerity and the wider economic system that it derives from.

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‘Fat cat’ is a common way to describe rich, greedy people. This sticker takes the metaphor literally (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Aylesbury Estate, 05/05/15).

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This sticker was produced by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Their name may not be very punchy, but the sticker is (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Bloomsbury Road, 28/05/17).

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This sticker was produced by Active Distribution, but points viewers towards the websites of two other groups. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke works to combat the violence that union leaders often face when standing up to Coca-Cola and it’s bottlers and subsidiaries, particularly in Columbia and Guatemala. War on Want campaigns on a variety of issues with the overarching aim of creating a more just world. In 2006, they published a damning report on Coca-Cola’s activities around the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

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This sticker is produced by a group called Anti-Capitalist Action. The website on the sticker doesn’t exist, but there is an active community page on Facebook (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/16).

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This sticker isn’t associated with a particular group or campaign, but has a general anti-capitalist sentiment, urging the viewer to live for their own pleasure rather the profits of their boss (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Torrington Place, 21/02/17).

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This sticker was also produced by Active Distribution. It features an unattributed quote relating to the way that it is often the most vulnerable people, such as the poor, the homeless, or immigrants, who are blamed for some of society’s biggest structural problems (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston, 17/02/15).

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The People’s Assembly is an anti-austerity movement that argues that austerity is not the only way to improve the British economy. In fact, they argue that it does not lead to a strong economy at all (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/02/15).

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Stick it to the Tories is a sticker campaign thought up by the West Wales Peoples Assembly. The project is a few years old now, and unfortunately the website is no longer functioning. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of a forum for sharing sticker design and encouraging protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Charing Cross Road, 24/05/15)

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This sticker also focuses on the Conservative government’s austerity policies rather than austerity more generally (in recent years, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been just as supportive of cuts as the Tories). This sticker highlights the hypocrisy of austerity, which takes resources away from those who need it the most, supposedly because of a lack of money. At the same time, the richest in society get tax cuts (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Swiss Cottage, 12/10/17).

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This sticker uses symbols rather than words to get it’s point across. Scissors have been a well recognised symbol for economic cuts for the last decade or so. One of the key slogans during the student protests in 2010 was “Don’t run with scissors,” warning against hasty cuts that would do significant long-term damage (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Fleet Street, 20/06/15).

Book Review: The Headscarf Revolutionaries-Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster

The Headscarf Revolutionaries Front Cover

The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian W. Lavery

Brian W. Lavery. The Headscarf Revolutionaries: Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster. London: Barbican Press, 2015.

Whenever I move to a new place, I like to find out about its history, particularly its radical history. I recently moved to Hull in east Yorkshire, and one of the most famous episodes of protest in the city’s history took place in 1968. In early 1968, three trawler ships from Hull were lost in the Artic ocean in the space of just a few weeks. All three crews were lost, apart from one sole survivor. For some women in Hull, this was a tragedy that could have been avoided with better equipment and more stringent safety checks on the trawler ships, and better training for inexperienced crew members. The women started a campaign which captured national attention, won concessions from the ship owners, and changed government policy. They were largely pushing against an open door, but they did face hostility and criticism, including from some trawlermen who didn’t like women interfering in their working lives. The women became known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries because of their distinctive headwear. In The Headscarf Revolutionaries: Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster, Brian W. Lavery tells the story of the campaign, the women involved, and the men who lost their lives on the St. Romanus, the Kingston Peridot, and the Ross Cleveland.

Lily’s Headscarf Revolution may have been a naïve one. But it was a powerful action from the heart that caught the imagination of the world and shamed an industry and a Government into action. Hands that rocked the cradle shook the world and changed it for the better.

Lavery, 2015; p.190

I was not surprised to find out the Brian Lavery has training in both journalism and creative writing. The Headscarf Revolutionaries is incredibly well-researched; it seems like Lavery interviewed almost everyone who is still alive and had any involvement in the campaign. Virginia Bilocca-McKenzie, is the daughter of Lillian Bilocca’s, who kickstarted and was one of the key leaders of the movement. Virginia obviously had significant input into the book; multiple conversations between her and her mother are included. Many sections of the book feel more like fiction than non-fiction; it is much more descriptive that many of the other history books I read. It is an effective approach, particularly the section near the beginning in which some of the men on the crews of the doomed ships say goodbye to their families and head out to sea for what the reader knows is the final time.

There are some elements of Lavery’s writing style that I am not so keen on, however. He has an odd way of using commas that I found irritating. It’s not necessarily wrong, but there are lots of commas in places where I wouldn’t put them, which I found distracting.  Also, some details are repeated in a way that felt unnecessary. These are minor issues in what is otherwise an excellent book, and I guess it isn’t Lavery’s fault that I am quite pedantic when it comes to grammar and style; I blame it on all the undergraduate marking I do.

The Headscarf Revolutionaries is about a local tragedy which sparked a campaign which had national implications. It shines a light on both labour and gender relations amongst Britain’s working classes in the mid-twentieth century, and as such has a much broader appeal than those who are just interested in local history.

 

Journey to Justice Exhibition at the International Slavery Museum

On the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum at the Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool is the International Slavery Museum. Opened in 2007, the museum aims to increase understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and its continuing impact, but also draws attention to contemporary slavery. From the 5th of October 2018 until the 7th of April 2019, the Museum is playing host to the travelling Journey to Justice exhibition, designed by an organisation of the same name that uses the arts and education about human rights movements to try and inspire people to take action for social justice.

The Journey to Justice exhibition focuses on some of the lesser-known stories of the American civil rights movement, highlighting what motivates people to get involved and stay active in social justice campaigns. Unlike a lot of museums, the temporary exhibition space at the International Slavery Museum is not clearly separated from the permanent exhibitions, so Journey to Justice almost merges with the museum’s section on the contemporary impacts of the transatlantic slave trade. This is quite effective, highlighting the links between the legacies of the slave trade and the civil rights movement.

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The Journey to Justice exhibition, which is currently at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The exhibition features a number of ‘bus stops,’ each one telling the story of an individual or small group of people who took a stand against injustice during the civil rights movement. It starts with a map, detailing the dates and locations of 21 important moments in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 60s. As a Geographer I may be biased, but I always find maps a really helpful way of contextualising examples and getting my head around the bigger picture.

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The ‘bus stop’ about Elmore and Peggy Nickleberry. Elmore was a sanitation worker in Memphis who took part in a strike of more than 1000 sanitation workers for better pay and conditions (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Each ‘bus stop’ features text, images, quotations, and recorded interviews or a poem written by local schoolchildren in response to the exhibition. The final example represents the Greensboro Sit-ins, when four black students sat at the lunch counter in an all-white restaurant and refused to leave. It also encourages visitors to interact with the exhibition, filling out labels about how they can take action for social justice. There is also a map of the UK labelled with important social justice campaigns which visitors are asked to contribute to. These interactive elements highlight the importance of properly maintaining exhibitions; the labels for people to write on had run out, which meant that no one else could contribute. It is a minor issue, but demonstrates that a museum’s work isn’t finished once the exhibition opens.

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The lunch counter section of the Journey to Justice exhibition encourages visitors to sit and reflect , and interact with the exhibition by writing down and displaying their responses (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There is also a section for radical zines, self-published magazines that are frequently produced by activists. The Represent! exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester (open until the 3rd of February 2019) also has a section for zines; perhaps this is an emerging trend amongst museums. It is also quite common now for exhibitions to feature sounds, speech, and/or music played out loud, so the visitor has no choice but to listen. The Journey to Justice Jukebox plays songs associated with the civil rights movement. I find speech played out loud in museums distracting, as I struggle to listen to one set of words and read another at the same time, but music I can deal with. In this case it adds an extra dimension to the exhibition, illustrating the relationship between the civil rights movement and popular culture, and highlighting the role music can play in motivating and inspiring activists.

Journey to Justice is a small exhibition with ambitious goals. It aims to use the history of the civil rights movements to encourage people to take their own stand for social justice. Whilst I am not convinced that a museum exhibition is an effective method of creating activists, I do think it is a thoughtful and interesting exhibition that is well worth a visit. The exhibition will continue to tour the country when it’s stint in Liverpool finishes, visiting London, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Leicester over the next few years, so don’t worry if Merseyside is a little too far for you to travel!