Image via WikipediaA while a go I published on this blog an ancient photo of a public meeting that I had a hand in organising about 25 years ago. How time fly’s, which is quarter of a century passed, blooming heck; none of us are getting any younger, say’s he consolingly.
Well I promised to give a fuller account of this meeting and the amazing campaign that involved the renowned and world famous investigative journalist John Pilger, who I had the privilege of working with at close quarters, but this nearly did not happen. So let me explain a little of the back ground and then I intend to reproduce some of what Pilger published in regard to the campaign in his best selling book ‘Heroes’ first published in 1986.
I had been employed at the then Tower Hamlets Unemployed Workers Centre, with special reasonability of working with and highlighting the many problems and sufferings of the homeless in the borough. Tower Hamlets had at that time several large hostels, which provided for a large travelling and working population; situated around the London docks and supporting industry. Missions for mariners, were doted all-around the east end, home temporally to seamen from around the world, who while on shore-leave between trips made them home. With the decline and changes in the oceanic industry during the70s and onwards meant many seamen’s hostels either closed or changed hands and use; as was the case with Princes Lodge. There is no point me delving into detail about the Lodge, as Pilger’s description is very well crafted and graphically paints the picture. My own role in the campaign was as coordinator and group convener of the activists who drove the whole thing forward.
I had been working with the residents and in particular Jim and Kay Mckirdy for about six months when I received a telephone call from Chris Holmes who was the National Director of CHAR the campaign for the single homeless. Chris informed me that a journalist from a national newspaper was eager and willing to do a story on homeliness, ‘that would set the cat amongst the pigeons’ and do an immense service to homeless people everywhere. Chris said that he knew that I was working with families, in a large private hostel and this was what the journalist was after, my first response to Chris was to say No – “it’s completely out of the question.” I just felt that this was not the sort of publicity we needed at that time, as most of the families were in a very venerable position, (here again Pilger will describe the situation). So I said to Chris Holmes who incidentally went on to be the Director of Shelter: No Way! About an hour later I received a call from Pilger, who said he wanted to help the homeless through his journalism, and that he would put the Daily Mirror; which at the time wasn’t owned and controlled by Robert Maxwell, at the disposal of the campaign. Well you can imagine, it’s not everyday you get such an offer, but still I felt that this was not in the best interests of the residents’ who included children, so ‘No’ was the answer I gave him. Pilger with his silver tong pleaded and asked if he could meet some of the residents just for a chat and let them decide, seeing no harm in this I agreed and the rest is recorded in his book ‘Heroes’.
Pilger kept to his word the Mirror was at our disposal and for 4 weeks it reported on the progress of the campaign including on one occasion a full front page with the picture of the Mckirdy children in a small cubicle on bunk beds, with the banner headlines ‘Britain 1984 Living Hell’.
This post is merely an introduction to the Pilger narrative, but there are some things that I wish to say before I post that tomorrow. First this would never have been won had it not been for Pilger and the use he made of the Daily Mirror, but equally true, is that it would not have been won without the group of activists who organised meetings made banners and accomplish a very successful fly posting exercise for which I was caught by the old bill on three occasions, twice by the same pc but not charged, just the posters confiscated and the paste poured down the loo.
In conclusion to this post I often ponder on the thought that despite all our very best efforts and campaigning we still have 25 years on a massive housing problem? This is something I shall return to after the Pilger post