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SOCIALIST NETWORK is an ambitious project bringing together socialist social clubs into a co-operative group for joint political activity and mutual help.
The idea of linking independent socialist clubs was born at a Morning Star fundraiser in Manchester two-and-a-half years ago.
Two political activists from Glossop Labour Club in Derbyshire, Gwyneth Francis and John Hallsworth (John sadly died last year aged 67), and myself, from the Hebden Bridge Trades Club in West Yorkshire, came up with the plan.
The Trades Club had already formed a link with the “Red Shed,” as Wakefield Labour Club is affectionately known.
The link began with a pantomime. The Red Shed Players every year write and present a hilarious political pantomime. But the show was usually performed only twice, both performances taking place in the tiny concert/meeting room at the Red Shed.
It seemed a waste of such a good political show, so the Wakefield Red Shed Players were invited to perform in Hebden Bridge, where it drew a far larger audience to the Trades Club’s bigger concert room.
At the same time Glossop Labour Club had starting working with Bolton Socialist Club in Greater Manchester, with visits to each other’s clubs and to the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.
The four clubs became the foundation for the new network, which was formally launched at at the Red Shed in August last year.
Francis from Glossop acts as secretary to the network, which holds quarterly meetings of delegates from the clubs involved, rotating between clubs.
“We’ve now got six northern clubs in the network,” she said.
“Glossop, the Trades, the Red Shed, Bolton, the Red and Green Club at Milnsbridge near Huddersfield, and the Clarion Club at Pendle in Lancashire.
“We’ve also been contacted by Whitstable Labour Club in Kent. They wrote to us saying that, if ever any of us were ever passing through blue Kent, we should call in and visit their little red oasis.”
The clubs are supporting each other’s political events.
Red Shed Players’ 2017 pantomime, Little Red Corbyn Hood, went on tour, performing at four of the clubs in the new network.
The latest event was Clarion House’s annual Big Red Picnic, which is a Morning Star fundraiser.
All the clubs have their own political histories, rooted in the labour and trade union movement.
For example, Clarion House is the last of dozens of Clarion Clubs that were part of the nationwide Clarion socialist movement which was formed towards the end of the 19th century.
There were also Clarion choirs, walking groups and cycling clubs, helping workers in industrial towns and cities to enjoy the countryside.
The clubs provided shelter and refreshments for the walking groups and cycling clubs. Clarion House staged political events, one of which is its annual Big Red Picnic which raises funds for the Morning Star.
The Trades Club at Hebden Bridge was built in 1924 as a trade union headquarters for the textile workers of the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. The industry has gone but the Trades is now an internationally renowned music centre and a hub for political activity.
The Red and Green Club is thought to be the oldest surviving socialist club in Britain. It opened in 1892 at Milnsbridge in West Yorkshire’s Colne Valley in 1892.
In more recent years it went into decline and faced closure.
It was taken over by political activists in 2013 and opened as the Red and Green Club, intended to be a centre for activism for the community. Its revival was backed by rail unions the RMT and TSSA.
The network’s next big co-operative venture, the Peterloo exhibition, will be mounted in the weeks before the main Peterloo anniversary event which takes place in Manchester on Thursday August 16. The exhibition will tour the clubs involved in the new network, and hopefully other venues.
Francis says: “A lot of events marking the Peterloo anniversary are taking place in Manchester, but with the Trades, the Red Shed and the Red and Green Club being part of the network, we hope it will raise awareness of Peterloo on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines.”
The network hopes to recruit more clubs, including miners’ welfare social clubs, which are still active despite the destruction of the coal-mining industry.
Any socialist club interested in joining the network should contact Gwyneth Francis c/o Glossop Labour Club, 11-13, Chapel Street, Glossop SK13 8AT, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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