A sister’s story

As we remember this year's holocaust memorial day, Unite's Barry Faulkner pays tribute to our very own anti-fascist union heroes of the Battle for Stockton, 1933

Reading time: 5 min

There was something in the air that day
It had been coming for weeks
As Jack went out that morning
Like every morning
Looking for work, looking for hope
The atmosphere felt heavy


I know he’s been down to uncle Charlie’s last night
I know why he had gone there
I know he’d asked uncle for his old razor blades
I saw him breaking them up on the kitchen table
With dads rusty old pliers


I’d seen him reach into mams potato box
Pulling out a couple of fine king Eddies
Peppering then with the shards from the razors
A hand grenade which could explode on him
As much as injure another


We all knew what was coming
The talk of the town for days, for weeks
God knows how they knew
But they knew
Those mates of his
The ones from the unemployed workers gang


I saw them sharpening stones on the street corner
I saw the brick dust on Jacks trousers
I thought at first he’d found work
But the dust was from breaking bricks not laying them


A bag, an old canvas sack,
Laying in the corner of the yard
seemed full of sharpened stones and broken bricks
A welcoming for Moseley’s men
A bag of tricks to turn those black shirts red
As red as the flags we stood under


I watched him dress
His old jacket, trousers shirt and hobnail boots
And a bright red handkerchief
I’d never seen it before
Was it there to make a statement
Or to hide his face that day
I never did find out which


At least it was red
There was an advantage to being red that day


We heard it happening, clattering over the cobbles of the high street and down the many alleyways
They gathered on the street corners
Ones and twos, then tens
Then tens turned into hundreds
Mostly young ‘uns, like our Jack


Off he went with his bag of stones over his shoulder and pockets stuffed with loaded spuds
I saw him meet up with Billy Owens down the road, just like our Da and Billy’s had done as they marched to the recruiting office nearly 20 years back
I saw them head towards the bridge
Like two young men on their travels
Though their travels that day were purposeful


All around town they congregated
When the buses turned up
And they disembarked in their shiny black outfits
Ready to wake up Stockton to their message of hate
Little did they know the people had already heard it and rejected it
We may have been desperate, but we were decent


As they headed for town, they realised their welcome was well rehearsed
Young men, women, even children
Greeted them with stones and missiles and flying fists and the odd spud grenade
And the battle began
The Battle for Stockton
The battle for hope over hatred


Freedom of speech shouted the blackshirts
As many have done since
Freedom to hate, freedom to divide, freedom to demonise


We knew we had no freedom
We had no freedom, not because of the Jews
We had no freedom because of the bosses
The mine owners, factory managers and docks companies
We had no freedom because we had no work
We had no freedom because we had no money
Our kids weren’t free from poverty or hunger and neither were we


So what was their so called freedom born out of
Surely not from the man who led them?
Peer of the realm
Man with title, man with money
Man with power and influence


Their blind apostles religiously following in military form
Just as hungry and poor as us
Duped by the politics of hatred
Only the leaders wore the fancy clothes, as ever


Well we found our freedom
We found our freedom and we found our voices, on Silver Street
We found our freedom as we stopped the fascists at the market cross
We found our power as we chased the blackshirts out of our town
We found our power and they lost theirs as they ran back across the Tees
We found our freedom in Solidarity
And that’s where it remains till this day


And our Jack?
Well he found comrades that day
A few years later he found himself chasing fascists again
Those ones also wore jackboots and his grenades were real
And he told new comrades of how Stockton stood up to fascism back on that day in 1933

By Barry Faulkner, Unite education officer  


Read how Unite heritage unions’ members led the way in the Battle for Stockton