Why Bureaucracy Broke our Hearts on 14 February 2014

Guest blog by Ian Morgan (Manchester Centre President of the Association of Revenue & Customs)

Hello – I’m Ian and I’m a committed trade union campaigner.  The members of my union (Association of Revenue & Customs or “ARC”) are all senior professionals working in HM Revenue & Customs.  We’re not faceless bureaucrats but real people striving every day to secure the funds which build schools, hospitals, libraries and playgrounds.  Our work knits the social fabric of the UK and delivers for the nation.

#ARC14FebOn February 14 2014, with sterling support from our sister unions, we took our first independent strike action against HMRC in an effort to do our jobs free from the tangle of bureaucracy.  Our dispute stemmed from the Civil Service Reform plan, specifically our new performance appraisal system, and review of our employee terms and conditions.  Both elements were imposed by our employer, refusing arbitration by ACAS, and despite our serious concerns about issues like:

  • link to pay and dismissal
  • no independent appeal process
  • cost and level of bureaucracy when resources are limited
  • greater risk for staff with protected characteristics
  • longer working hours in London, and less sick pay and annual leave nationally, for all new staff and (bizarrely) when existing staff are promoted.

Just under 2300 eligible ARC members were balloted between Dec 2013 -Jan 2014, commanding a respectable turnout of 48%.  This reflected a comprehensive campaign by trade union activists, both nationally and at local branch level.  Of those members exercising their ballot vote, 58% were in favour of strike action and 78% voted for work to rule.

#ARC14Feb 2ARC chose February 14 to launch our strike action, with a strong “broken heart” theme branded across placards, stickers and Valentine’s Day postcards.  They illustrated our sadness and frustration, not just that the new systems are unfair and unjustified for HMRC employees, but because they are also a massive distraction from our work in closing the UK tax gap and helping defeat the deficit – so vital to the UK in these times of austerity.  Last year we delivered an extra £20.7 billion into Exchequer coffers, enough to fund the cost of primary healthcare for the whole of the UK, and the lion’s share of that came from ARC members.  That’s why we think we deserve a fair performance system and a fair deal.

Like our fellow members throughout the UK, on February 14s Day of action.  ARC received some fantastic coverage in the national press, including sympathetic articles in tax publications, and members of the public up and down the country stopped to chat with the pickets or went on their way sporting our broken heart stickers!

Many more ARC members supported the strike quietly at home or with their families.  Each and every one of them were stars – we all know that industrial action is never easy but is proof positive of our commitment, both to our union and to our duties as public servants.  As a union we are small in number, but we do have a voice and hopefully a strong one.

The Manchester picketers were pleased to reconvene later in the day on 14 February in the much warmer surroundings of the Left Bank cafe bar at the People’s History Museum, always our preferred planning HQ.  Our Twitter photo was taken on its doorstep and I’m now proud to post my guest blog here, as a more detailed record of our campaign.  I hope that readers agree it connects with the museum’s story of ideas worth fighting for, during its Play Your Part project.


Conscientiously hated: Objectors during World War I

A guest post by our Exhibitions Assistant, Josh Butt.

In our upcoming exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes we will be looking at how and why most of the country got behind the nation’s great war effort. Despite mass support for the war there were a small number of people who objected to it.

Keir Hardie anti-war speech Trafalgar Square 1914Shortly before war was declared on 4 August 1914 the Labour MP Keir Hardie led an anti-war protest at Trafalgar Square attended by several thousand of people. There was little interest for war in the weeks leading up to the declaration. Yet after war was declared Hardie’s anti-war stance was reviled and his speeches met with heckling as the country came together in support for the war effort.

Public attitude towards the war is perhaps best shown in statistics.  Only 16,000 people, known as conscientious objectors, refused to serve in the army during the war, four times less than in World War II. Yet, over two and a half million men volunteered to fight between August 1914 and January 1916.

Conscientious objectors were often labelled as ‘conchies’ and the rest of the country had little time or sympathy for them. Those that stayed at home were viewed as ‘shirkers’ or cowards. This lack of sympathy was perhaps understandable,Recruiting Office 1915 especially from people who had just lost relatives at the front. Indeed many volunteers were motivated by the sense that if men were needed to win the war, why should they stay, while others fought for them? Clement Attlee, future Labour leader, reflected in his memoirs that ‘it appeared wrong to me to let others make a sacrifice while I stood by.’

This sense that those who refused were harmful to the war effort increased negative feeling towards objectors. Up before a conscription tribunal in Oldham an objector was described as ‘a deliberate and rank blasphemer, a coward and a cad, and nothing but a shivering mass of unwholesome fat’. God had already been conscripted.

Some objects served in a Non-Combatant Corps – dubbed the ‘No Courage Corps’. Those who refused to contribute in any way to the war effort spent the war in jail. Trouble for ‘conchies’ continued after the war with job interviewers asking candidates ‘and what did you do in the war?’. Often job adverts appeared with the line ‘No CO need apply’.

While objectors were viewed as cowards during the war, to face down such strong public opinion and not waiver from one’s morals took its own degree of courage.

Snapshot on Women

3 March 2014, Snapshot on Women @ People's History Museum

The first Monday of every month brings a lunchtime Snapshot session down in the archive in the museum’s lower level. It’s an opportunity for anyone to have a look at some of the 80,000 photographs in our huge collection from the Labour Party and Communist Party archives in a friendly and informal setting.

On Monday, 3rd March, Snapshot focuses on women. The 20th century saw enormous changes in women’s lives and in women striving towards equality. There’s a wealth of photos of women in many roles, from the suffrage movement, strikes for a living wage and equal pay, taking up jobs previously unavailable, the women’s liberation movement, and much more.

3 March 2014

All are welcome from 12:30 to 1:30 pm, further info on the main PHM website.

This event is part of Wonder Women: Radical Manchester.  Every spring, Wonder Women shines a light on some of the incredible, creative and campaigning women working in and from this city today – it’s our way of highlighting that feminist journey, via a month’s worth of events, debate, music, art, gigs, profiles and more. More information on Creative Tourist

Things worth remembering

Guest blog by Matt Hill (singer-songwriter Quiet Loner)

As a songwriter I’m always looking for ideas and inspiration. A hard felt emotion, an overheard conversation, a spectacular location, even a turn of the weather can be a catalyst that sparks the creative process. And so can museums.

In 2012 I was a few weeks away from recording my third album Greedy Magicians but was missing a song. This album was exploring the ways political issues can shape our lives. But I needed a song that could pull all these threads together.

I needed something like ‘For the people’, a poem by Tony Walsh that had knocked me sideways when I’d first heard it. A trade union had asked Tony to write a poem about cuts to public services. But in talking about cuts to libraries or home care services Tony reminded us of our history, of the battles that were fought to lift people out of lives that were barely an existence.

Tony’s poem moved me deeply. And it inspired me. I decided I would take the baton and run, I would try and write a song that explored those same ideas. But I didn’t pick up my guitar, instead I headed to the People’s History Museum.

This remarkable building in Manchester is full of beautiful objects. If you need inspiring, look no further. These objects once held ideas that were so powerful  they changed the world.  As I walked the collections I saw the desk where Thomas Paine wrote a book called The Rights of Man. On that desk ideas were born that would cause a global revolution. I saw posters and pamphlets,  banners and badges that were full of ideas, passions, dramas, aspirations and dreams.

The People’s History Museum is special to me because it tells the stories of people. Not the tiny 1% of royals and aristocrats who keep their wealth across centuries and want to maintain the status quo, but the rest of us. The people who make things happen, who make things change.  The people who build things, invent things, and whose radical ideas propel the human race forward.

This is a museum full of dreams that were dreamt in secret. A collection of quiet objects that once spoke loudly of dangerous ideas like equality and democracy. Ideas that were firmly spoken but met with violent oppression from the ruling classes.  Ideas that became the things we now take for granted. Things like a walk on the moors at the weekends,  turning on a tap to get clean running water, a visit to doctors for a prescription when you’re poorly, paid holidays from work and the right to vote come polling day.

What I saw in the museum was also the story of my own family. My Great-Grandparents who lived in the slums and poverty of Narrow Marsh in Nottingham, my Grandparents who moved into the brave new world of council houses and indoor toilets, my Parents who grew up on those estates and then became homeowners and me and my sister who were the first in our family to go to University.  In the space of 150 years our lives were transformed by the political battles of the day.

I went away and wrote a song called We will not forget.  It’s a song inspired by the story told in the People’s History Museum. About places like Tolpuddle and Peterloo , about ideas like suffrage and sewers, and about people like Paine and Pankhurst, Bevan and Benn.  But it’s also a very personal song and mentions events, writers, places that have been important in my life and I even give a name check to my granddad.

Remembering is important but it’s not just about looking back, it’s about looking ahead. Many of the freedoms and rights we take for granted, hard won over many years, are being taken away. The People’s History Museum is important because we must understand our past if we are to build a better future.

Quiet Loner will be performing at the People’s History Museum in Beneath its folds, flagwaving, poetry and song along with Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) Book your place and find out more.

Exciting times in Manchester in 2014!

A guest post from our Director, Katy Archer

People's History Museum, copyright KIPPA MATTHEWS I can’t quite believe that it’s now 4 years since the People’s History Museum reopened following our capital redevelopment – time really has flown by since 2010!

Having been out this week with the Manchester Museums Consortium Directors Group for a site visit to Home – the new space that will house both the Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre – I’ve been reflecting on all the developments that are taking place in the city – and on our own experiences since reopening 4 years ago.

Home site visitHome is going to be the new space for both the Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company

With the new purpose-built centre for international contemporary art, theatre, film and books opening in March 2015, it’s already looking very impressive from our site visit this
morning. Dave Moutrey, Chief Executive and Director, gave us a tour of the space which will include two theatre spaces and five cinemas, along with a brilliant gallery space for visual and digital arts. There will also be a restaurant and café offer in keeping with the excellent food and drink that you can currently get at the Cornerhouse.

HomeHome is part of the First Street North development – and simultaneously there is a hotel, car park, restaurants and retail spaces being built to create a real destination in this part of the city.

The tour was great (if a bit cold and wet) and you could already visualize how amazing the finished spaces will be by early next year.

And Home is only one of a number of cultural capital projects underway in Manchester right now…

The new Central Library is opening next month and I can’t wait to see inside.

The Whitworth Art Gallery is undergoing a major transformation which is going to be stunning when that re-opens later this year.

And Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is also due to reopen this Autumn.

And there may be more… it’s definitely an amazing year for culture in Manchester with new buildings being built and some of our best cultural attractions being redeveloped. This can only be a good thing for us all – attracting media coverage and press to Manchester over the coming two years – providing an even bigger and better cultural offer for our existing and future visitors – attracting people to the City who may otherwise not visit and giving us another opportunity to shout about Manchester as a major cultural destination for our residents and tourists.

The People’s History Museum has benefitted from the investment made in Manchester and since 2010 when we reopened we have seen our visitor numbers increase from 25,000 to 100,000. Half of our visitors continue to be Greater Manchester residents and the other half come from further afield (national and international tourists) who are attracted to the city by the museum and the wider cultural offer. As the national museum of democracy and the home of ideas worth fighting for, we are the only museum dedicated to telling this story and our stories and collections are so relevant to the world in which all live in today. We have worked extremely hard over the past 4 years to increase our visitors and to secure the future of our museum – and we are really looking forward to working with new and old partners in the coming years, including Home, to bring more investment, more visitors and more profile to the city of Manchester while continuing to improve the lives of everyone who lives in Greater Manchester through the high quality services we all offer.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of our partner organisations open or re-open in 2014 and 2015!

Conservation of Hither Green National Union of Railwaymen’s banner

Go behind the scenes in this guest post by Senior Conservator, Vivian Lochhead

Hither Green National Union of Railwaymen’s (NUR) banner is receiving treatment in the Textile Conservation Studio ahead of display in People’s History Museum exhibition focused on World War I, A Land Fit For Heroes, which opens 24 May 2014.
DSCF0070 Full banner

The banner dates from 1916-1918 and is a typical example of commercial production by companies such as Tutill and Toye Kenning. It was made by G Kenning & Son, although attributed to George Tutill in John Gorman’s Banner Bright.

Measuring over 2.5 metres in height and 3 metres wide, the Hither Green NUR banner is made from a single layer of green twill woven silk, painted on each side and edged with contrasting red borders.
On a cursory glance the banner appears to be in reasonably good condition, but closer examination reveals several elements of deterioration and physical defects, which make it unsafe for display. Restoration treatments most probably done while the banner was still in active use by the union are now causing problems. The original red silk borders have been replaced with polyester rep fabric, which would have provided a robust ‘frame’ when carrying the banner. Unfortunately natural movement of the silk fabric has been restricted by this polyester border. The weight of the paint dragging on the aged silk fabric has added to the distortion, creating a pouched effect through the main painted silk layer and creasing in the corners. Display of the banner in this condition would lead to gross distortion of the original silk and eventually cause the fabric to tear away from the borders. Creased silk in corner (2)

In addition, the banner is showing typical signs of deterioration found in painted banners. Splits are occurring through the silk at the junction between painted and unpainted areas of the design. Creases formed during use of the banner have fractured the paint surface and left the paint vulnerable to further loss at the edges of the scars.
Splitting silk beside a painted area (3)
Fracture in painted silk (4)
During the restoration treatment some areas of damaged paint were re-touched with poorly colour-matched paint. Despite not being visually pleasing, these will probably be retained. They are not causing further damage and as ‘working life’ repairs, they represent part of the history of the banner.

Examination and testing currently underway will indicate the most appropriate conservation treatments to achieve re-alignment of the original silk, secure loose paint and support splits between painted and unpainted sections.