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We are Women. Hear us Roar!

By Labour International Women

Labour International Women, Copyright © 2018


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Rowan Shaw

Jenny Twist

Cover Art:
Heather Butler

Thanks to Billy Bragg for permission to print our version of Between the Wars.

The publication of this book was made possible by a LP NEC development fund grant. 


To all the women in the Labour movement who have
fought so hard for equality and respect.

I can hear the roar of women's silence.”

Thomas Sankara


Introduction by Julie Ward, NW Labour MEP

My Journey through Socialism – Eve

The Struggle – Ann

Lauren’s Story

Labouring through the Decades – Lorraine

Labour is in my DNA – Sarah

Asking for it – Jenny T

My Socialism Journey – Penny

My Political Education – Carol

La Lotta Continua – Hannah

The Personal Really is Political – Jenny S

How I Came to Join the Labour Party – Jade

I’ve Learned a Little about a Lot of Things – Nina

Turnham Green, more red than green – Rowan

Between the Wars – Sarah

The Road to Socialism – Jenny T

71 and a Socialist Forever – Mo

Introduction by Julie Ward, NW Labour MEP

Women have long been at the forefront of social change, campaigning locally and globally, not just for the improvement of their own situations but for a better world for everyone. Labour Women come from all walks of life and we find common cause in getting things done, but we don't often stop to take stock of our achievements or share our stories. There’s still so much to do in this world not just to eliminate poverty and inequality but also to stand up and protect our hard-won rights. As nation states increasingly turn inwards we need to be even more vocal about what it means to be a woman living in a globalised world. Women members of Labour International have a unique perspective that comes from a wider engagement across borders. I therefore warmly welcome this timely collection of personal testimonies that will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of intrepid activists as well as honouring the huge contribution made by so many sisters to the cause of socialism, not just on home territory but across Europe and around the world.

Julie Ward, NW Labour MEP, 2014-2019

My Journey through Socialism – Eve, France

I think I just might have socialism in my DNA.

I was born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1954 to a black Guyanese father and white Canadian mother, both of whom were at one time card-carrying members of the Communist Party, with an auntie who counted Fidel Castro among her friends and an uncle who was chucked out of his teaching post at the University of the West Indies for his left-wing politics and who went on to teach in Nkrumah’s Ghana. I grew up surrounded by political discourse and heated debate (usually accompanied by the clink of ice in rum glasses), although to be fair much of it went over my head as I sat hidden in a corner, hoping no-one would tell me to go to bed. I just soaked up the atmosphere of it all.

Our house (and those of my large extended family – they were pretty interchangeable) was always full of people coming and going, each bringing their own perspective to the ongoing debates. Local politics was the major topic, initially the struggle for independence and its aftermath, including the role of the CIA in destabilising the country and the elections to ensure a socialist government was not voted in; the assassinations and attempted assassinations; house-to-house searches by the then-Governor-General at the request of the USA . . . one of our family stories is about our house being searched and a “coffee table” book of the Bolshoi Ballet being seized as evidence – a copy of Das Kapital was ignored as the young soldiers didn’t really know what to look for.

In 1966 we gained independence from Britain, and in 1970 Guyana became a Co-operative Republic.

Of course the conversations also covered international politics (the Cold War, the entire spectrum of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, Cuba, South African apartheid); the future of Africa and India (from whence many ancestors came); environmental issues; all dissected to within an inch of their life.

Meanwhile, at school this all largely passed us by, as we struggled to digest Shakespeare and Chaucer (for children who mainly spoke Creolese at home, English was like a second language and don’t get me started on Chaucer) to fulfil the very British middle class curriculum which also brought us George Macaulay Trevelyan’s version of British history as it related to Empire and those pesky ungrateful slaves who kept rebelling and making life difficult for the plantation owners. Oh, and Latin, about which I will draw a veil in my case. There was always reading – I read everything I could lay my hands on – and art and swimming.

And there was my feisty and stern paternal grandmother, mixed native Creole, Anglo-Catholic and conservative to her core, convinced that we (all the cousins) would become total savages, who insisted that we all attended Sunday School, and who held us prisoner on Saturday mornings in her “Culture and Charm” school, until one by one we grew up enough to say “No More”. I think she might be rather disappointed in me, as I am neither especially cultured nor charming, although I can usually negotiate a place setting bristling with assorted cutlery, so perhaps something sank in.

I arrived in England in a rather chilly November 1974, (my first reaction was “who left the fridge door open!”) with the intention of studying furniture design at the London College of Furniture at Whitechapel. Well, that was the Plan. Three years later, as a young single mother, I started working for Newham Council social services as a care assistant in a mental health centre and then did social work training. I stayed with Newham until I took early retirement in 2010 − for the last eight years in joint posts with the local authority and local NHS.

Newham, an East London borough and one of the poorest and most diverse in the country, was a heady mix of movements and activities − women’s rights, black and minority ethnic groups, Anti-Nazi League and Anti-Racist Alliance, nuclear disarmament, union groups, marches to resist the poll tax, resist Thatcherism, support the miners, campaign for employment. I wish I could say that I was always an active participant in it all, but for a part of that time I was struggling with a very difficult relationship, with a partner with pathological jealousy issues and alcoholism, which eventually spilled over into physical abuse. Those were dark years, and my involvement in activism took a back seat, until I finally broke free in 1990.

In spite of those earlier difficult years, Newham was where I guess I developed politically, where I eventually joined a women’s group, a BME staff group, and the Anti-Nazi League. A very close encounter with fascists in Whitechapel Road made me even more determined to fight. I always voted Labour, always, even when just the sight of Tony Blair’s face set my teeth on edge during the campaign in 1997. I was so glad Labour won. That gladness gradually turned to huge disappointment, and anger especially after the Iraq War debacle, and I distanced myself from Labour for the next few years, except at election time. Life carried on and I dealt with other challenges and heartbreaks, such as losing my parents, and our first grandchild, who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at 10 months old.

In 1992 I met my current husband. Our granddaughter was born in 1997 and will be 21 this year. We were married in 2002 and sold up in UK to buy our house in France in 2003, although I had to stay on at work for another seven years, renting a room in a friend’s house in Hackney while Steve concentrated on turning our dilapidated farmhouse into a proper house with a gîte attached. We ran the gîte as a “micro-enterprise” until 2017, when we retired.

In January 2016 we went to volunteer in the Calais “Jungle” and our lives changed forever. To try to capture what we witnessed and experienced there would take another lifetime, but just to say it took us farther outside our comfort zone than anything before, and we will never be the same people again. Steve, who became a long-term volunteer teaching English to Sudanese refugees in freezing cold tents menaced daily with everything from intimidation to tear gas and rubber bullets by the French CRS police, has a form of PTSD. We still support refugees here in Normandie, and in the UK, after some of our young friends made it over there, risking their lives under lorries only to face the “hostile environment” of the UK − something we passionately want addressed!

One day, back in 2015 I think, Steve went over to the UK for an anti-austerity march. He came back full of excitement, about an MP we’d hardly heard of, a backbencher and friend of Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner, our heroes; someone who spoke with passion about social justice, who was against neo-liberalism and the current austerity programme, who believed we could restore Britain to a place where everyone mattered, where services were owned by the people for the people. Suddenly, a better world seemed possible again. We were inspired to join the Labour Party and be a part of this movement, and here I am. I feel like I’m slowly coming back into the groove, with membership of Labour International (my CLP), and of Labour International Left Alliance, LI Women and LI Migrants Rights. I’m really privileged to be the Woman Delegate for LI at this year’s Conference – which is my first ever!

So although I’m a long way away from my Georgetown childhood, in a way I’ve come full circle and I’m back in a socialist family, where I feel I belong.

I know my parents would approve.

The Struggle – Ann, Spain

With Sylvia east and Mama west
they both believed their way was best
It was a case of food and jobs
or being bestowed the vote from God.

There is no doubt, just like now
the signposts show a different way
with Sylvia east and Mama west
they both believed their way was best

Men in suits, men in power
enjoyed their lives, they were a shower
but also stood out in the rain
the working man who was in pain

He stood and waited to be called
to work today, not you, yes you
Those lucky ones found work today
and those pennies fed wife and kids
the others had no means

Sylvia east and Mama west could
not affect those daily lives

Then an Archduke died and lo and behold
more names were called, more jobs were found
Sylvia east and Mama west
were told to wait while war took place

The women force fed in jail and
jobless men filled a need once more
Build the guns, make the shells
Don’t worry your pretty yellow heads
about the dying about the dead

And at the end we saw

Sylvia east and Mama west
each won scraps to calm the hope
that war would mean homes for heroes
and plenty for all
and women forced back home once more
and some could vote but many more
waited their turn and another war.

Lauren’s Story, Australia

I was born in the UK but now live in Australia, a country that I love so much I left my family, friends and beloved London behind to begin a new life and start a family here. For all of the amazing aspects of Australia that make it such a wonderful place for me to live, I recognise that I am lucky to live the life that I do here. It is also a country whose Government thinks it is OK to indefinitely imprison asylum seekers of any age in an offshore detention centre and where the population was recently forced to vote on whether all people deserve the right to be married; something that shouldn’t be in question let alone deserving of a referendum.

The idea that some people are lucky and get to live a happy, relatively peaceful life while others are forced to endure unimaginable misery is not something that is unique to Australia. It is evident in almost all news stories from anywhere in the world. The news has been so depressing in recent years that it reached a point where I was tempted to switch off and ignore what was happening. It was at this point that the opportunity to join Labour International came about and I realised that doing something, however small, would be an infinitely better idea than burying my head in the sand or throwing my TV out the window.

Being involved in politics is new to me and it is still a work in progress. I come from a very politically active family and their beliefs and convictions have driven positive change but also caused suffering. One example of this is my grandmother who in the 1960’s used her position as Editor of a national newspaper in South Africa to fight against apartheid. This ultimately led to her being jailed and placed in solitary confinement for 100 days. She had two young daughters at the time and was denied any access to her family or the outside world in general.

I cannot imagine the toll this would have taken on her mentally and physically. She could have been released immediately if she gave the names of her accomplices but she refused. Eventually, she was released and had to flee the country when she received information that she was to be arrested again. She fled to England where she, my mother and aunt made a new life.

As proud as I am of her for her actions, the damage that was left in the wake of her arrest and exile lasted through the years and made a large imprint on me as a child right through to being a young adult. So much so, I avoided politics for a long time; I was afraid of the harm it could do to me and my loved ones. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realised how important it is to play a part, no matter how large or small, in shaping the world through politics.

I am still tempted to look away when I see what is happening around the world, but I know that this only provides temporary relief and it is much more comforting in the long run to be involved in a political party that is driving real change.

Labouring through the Decades – Lorraine, Ireland

I am 74, born in Peel, Isle of Man, but moved to live with my Grandparents in Clara, Ireland when I was four. I am widowed (sadly twice now) and also lost my son in 2015. My daughter, Sarah (also a member of Labour International) lives near me in Tullamore, Ireland. Born just after the war and raised by a Grandfather who had fought in the Second Boer War and WW1, a commitment to peace and social justice has been the philosophy that shaped me. My Grandparents raised me to be aware of those around me who were oppressed by poverty and to do what I could to resist such oppression. One of my earliest memories is of my Grandfather and other local men in Clara taking pitch forks to guard a neighbour’s house and prevent the landlord evicting the widow and her children.

At 17 I moved to London, first to live with my Aunt, and then training to be a nursery nurse with the Crusade of Rescue. Working with the babies before their adoption, plus my own experience of being separated from my Mother, had a profound and lasting effect on me and I currently help those tracing birth parents on a voluntary basis. I continued to work after marriage and children, but moved into secretarial work. I worked for a number of different organisations in this role but my longest employment was with the Royal Mail as Communications Manager. I was Union of Communication Workers representative until my retirement in 1991. In 1991 I moved back to Clara.

I joined the Labour Party in 1964 inspired by the first Harold Wilson Government. In 1972 I was elected to serve as Labour Councillor on Wiltshire County Council, the last bastion of Conservatism. In 1976 both my late husband and I were elected as Councillors to the then Thamesdown District Council where I served until the untimely passing of my husband. Due to the lack of child care facilities and the timings of Council meetings it became necessary to combine a full time job, looking after my children and council duties.

Shortly after returning to Ireland my second husband became ill and passed away soon afterwards.

In 2002 I joined the Irish Labour Party acting as Branch Secretary, PRO and Constituency Secretary for Laois/Offaly. I was selected as one of the candidates for election to Tullamore Town Council but, unfortunately, I failed to win a seat.

I still maintain a keen interest in community and political affairs and together with my daughter, also an LI member, we keep in touch with current UK Government policies and the role of the Opposition. As a firm follower of Jeremy Corbyn, I am inspired by the recent upsurge in youth membership which I believe is as a result of Jeremy’s leadership.

Labour is in my DNASarah, Ireland

I am 47, married to Tom, step-mum to three and step-nanna to three. I am a qualified social worker working for a national charity that provides services for people with disabilities (mostly intellectual and learning disabilities, but some mental health services and physical disabilities).

I was born in Swindon, Wiltshire and spent most of my youth under the misery of the Thatcher years. Both my parents were Labour Councillors in Swindon, and my Dad worked for GWR and was very involved in the RMT union before his untimely death in 1978. His death was to have a profound effect on my mother, brother and I, both emotionally and financially, as the years that followed were extremely difficult for my mother as bread winner. My mother was a huge inspiration to me. She was the first Irish woman (and youngest) elected in Wiltshire (and probably anywhere else in the UK in the 70’s) but Wiltshire was my only reference point back then.

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