‘Jane was a wonderful woman and an invaluable aid in our campaign. Dedicated and knowledgeable, she gave us the means and the hope to continue the fight.’
Like many who encountered Jane Barker, Paul Hinch, shop steward for the Billingsgate fish market porters, is full of admiration for Unite’s tenacious researcher. Jane brought with her to the union a rich history as an activist in the women’s movement and campaigns for international solidarity.
During the last years of her life she worked with the Billingsgate porters’ campaign against the City of London Corporation and the London Fish Merchants Association. The conflict was over the corporation’s decision to revoke an 1876 by-law under which it had to issue licences to the market’s porters, which acted as de facto permits to work.
‘Portering is not something anyone can just turn up and do,’ says Paul. ‘We’re personally responsible for making up complex orders, often worth thousands of pounds. In the course of a day, we will select and move hundreds of different orders, carrying in our heads details of all the locations of each type of fish by species, weight and age of stock. In effect, the licences were like a cabbie’s licence; they indicated that the holder had the “knowledge”.’
The porters contended that the City of London Corporation and the merchants wanted to casualise the work and allow in cheaper, unskilled labour. Jane worked with them to put together a comprehensive rebuttal of the corporation’s case that the system was holding the market back.
‘She put together this fantastically detailed response that completely challenged what they had been saying,’ says Paul. ‘It outlined the knowledge and training in the current system, the fact that the market makes a healthy profit and how the current system was already very flexible. She also made much of the heritage in the existing system.’
Jane had long felt that detail was one of modern trade unionism’s greatest assets. In an age when traditional campaigning methods had become less effective and companies more complex, she saw in-depth knowledge as a vital weapon, just as she had used in‑depth medical knowledge in her previous work at the Essex Road Women’s Centre, in Islington, to fight for improvements in women’s health.
‘It was her view that the workers needed to know everything about the company or organisation they were up against, so she saw it as her task to turn these bodies inside out,’ says Unite national secretary Jennie Formby, who worked closely with Jane. ‘She was obsessive and pedantic, but in a good way, and possessed a wonderful understanding of how different organisations and companies worked and what they valued.’
This was seen in Jane’s attempt to illustrate the porters’ value to the Billingsgate ‘brand’. She suggested that tourists and customers frequented the market not only to buy top quality fish but to see the ‘real London’, the kind of intangible asset that companies spend millions trying to incorporate into their brands.
‘That was one of the many reasons why we were so impressed,’ says Paul Hinch. ‘She knew how to think like management.’
Prior to Billingsgate, Jane had spent several years researching how business had altered. ‘She was one of the first people to grasp globalisation. She realised that we had to change the way we campaigned, including alliances with trade unions in other countries and attempting to influence shareholders more directly,’ says Jennie Formby.
She helped pioneer an innovative approach to industrial disputes. Rooted in detail, corporate campaigning involves researching a company or organisation thoroughly (including aspects not always related to the dispute) and using the information for the benefit of the campaign.
‘Jane understood how companies worked and thought. She was great at getting under their skin,’ says Barrie Roberts, chair of the Cadbury/Kraft national committee. ‘During the recent Cadbury dispute, Jane helped us unpick Kraft’s balance sheet to discover that the company was carrying debt backed by RBS, effectively the British taxpayer.’
Despite Kraft’s ultimate success, the widespread support for the creation of a ‘Cadbury Law’ to protect viable concerns from predatory takeovers is attributable in part to the work that Jane undertook during that dispute. In the case of the Billingsgate porters, despite all her best efforts the campaign ended with the repeal of the licence system.
‘Although I don’t think we ever really stood a decent chance, it was because of Jane that we made a fight out of this,’ says Paul Hinch. ‘Like many others who benefited from her tenacity, knowledge and dedication, we’re glad that she came to help us.
‘As a group it takes a lot for us to take to outsiders. But her passion for the cause, combined with her generous and warm nature, meant that we took to her very easily. I think it’s fair to say that although she didn’t work in the market, in every other respect she was and always will be one of us.’
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’