Tales of real working class heroes

Former Unite GS Len McCluskey reviews Diamonds in the Mud by Brian Reade

Reading time: 5 min

Brian Reade is one of the finest, and rarest, journalists of our time. He exposes the nature of our class system and the inequalities and injustices it’s riddled with.

His opinion pieces in the Daily Mirror are a must read for me. I often turn first to them when I go through the day’s papers – both his sports and his politics columns – and find myself agreeing with all his views.

It came as no surprise then that I found Brian’s new book Diamonds in the Mud a brilliant read and impossible to put down. Dedicated to “everyone born with nothing who chose to fight for something”, he sets out to remind us that the actions of those we have always been taught in school to revere – the generals, monarchs and aristocrats – often pale into insignificance compared with the real working-class heroes who we come across in everyday life.

Brian tells the story of a number of individuals who have dedicated their lives to fighting for justice for ordinary, working people in order to eloquently, and compellingly, prove his point. And prove it he does. He had me laughing and crying in equal measures, as well as angry and humbled.

Taking that infamous Bullingdon Club photo of Boris Johnson, David Cameron and other old Etonians in their tail-coated finery as his inspiration, Brian lets us in to some of the extraordinary interviews he has conducted during his career.

From incorruptible class warrior Dennis Skinner to the relentless matriarchs Doreen Lawrence and the Hillsborough mothers Margaret Aspinall and Anne Williams. From my personal hero Jack Jones, trade unionist and anti-fascist, to the Liverpool dockers, fired and rehired, then sacked by Thatcher’s anti-union laws and let down by their trade union leadership.

From healthcare workers saving lives on the Covid frontline to Marcus Rashford and Fans Supporting Foodbanks campaigners, putting food on the tables of millions of families during a humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s richest countries.

And there are so many more in between. Brian Reade gives our class a voice by letting them tell their stories, our history, through their own words, in a witty, fast-paced and page-turning way that pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to be rude about royals and the ruling class.

Laugh out loud moments
One of my laugh out loud moments was the reminder of how, in 2013, Royal Mail issued a set of stamps to commemorate the lives of ten great Britons who would have been 100 years old that year. Elizabeth David, a viscount’s daughter and food writer, was among them. Jack Jones, who organised supply ships to feed the starving of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War was not.

“If only Jack had told us how, in the Sorbonne, they teach one how to make the perfect crème brulee… Maybe then he’d have been a great British hero,” Brian suggests.

The overarching point of Diamonds in the Mud is that if state school pupils learned about the achievements of those from their own backgrounds rather than just about the establishment, then they might share just some of the confidence that the public school educated elite does and understand that they too are capable of changing the world.

I commend this book not only to Unite members but to all trade unionists and socialists. It will lift your hearts and give you renewed spirit to continue to fight for a better world.

Diamonds in the Mud is available to order here. All proceeds from the book will be donated to The Casa, Liverpool’s Community Advice Centre.

By Len McCluskey, former Unite general secretary

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