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Fun memories of protesting

By Tony Staunton, Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for Plymouth Devonport

IN 1975 unemployment was rising, the unions had a "Social Contract" with the Labour government to cut pay and stop strikes, Ricky Tomlinson was in jail for being a militant building worker, and Mark Steel bought a copy of the Morning Star. It wasn't long before he recognised that Russia wasn't socialist and joined the Socialist Workers Party. Thank god for that!

Mark Steel's new book, Reasons to be Cheerful, offers reminiscences of the countless highs and lows of fighting the bosses and Thatcherism through the eyes of working class people. It works as an easy to read activist's handbook, and as a guide to building class struggle and political organisation. Mark's political life began by eating a banana in the school corridor as an act of defiance, and careered on to standing as a Socialist Alliance candidate in the Greater London Assembly elections last year.

Through the period of working class defeats against Thatcher and the 1980s bosses' offensive Mark charts the up side, the funny side and the successes. His life as a comedian gets less attention than his experiences as a flying picket, as an unemployed protester on the Right to Work march, calling a rent strike on his council estate, and organising solidarity for the Great Miners' Strike.

There are lows as well as highs, and touching emotion when writing of the mistreatment of his dad's illness by an uncaring system. The big message is that people who consider protests are pointless should think how much nicer a day the cabinet minister would have if we weren't in there having a go.

Mark also shows how many successes we've had-the collective smashing of the fascists here in the late 70s, or the swift rise of organised international opposition to the Gulf War. For Mark, the best reason to organise an anti-war movement is to preserve your own sanity. As this book reveals, Blair didn't scrap the poll tax-we did. Blair didn't release Nelson Mandela-international political solidarity by socialist activists did.

The welfare state is still around because of all the community and trade union campaigns that collectively fought back across those 25 years. Mark writes, "How can you chant, 'Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!' for 11 years and not feel delighted when she is finally gone?" Look-we did that! This book screams against complacency, exposes political posturing and pessimism, and is nowhere more passionate than about the injustice of the Irish border.

Through these pages we are with the international working class always, against the world's boss class always, and trying all the time to understand more while not oppressing each other in our personal lives. Not bad! Mark finishes with the Seattle protests and the rise of global resistance to capitalism. It is a serious, funny book of reasons to be cheerful.

Today the opportunities are enormous. For those of us who have gone through the fights of the 70s, 80s and 90s, 2001 is just what we've been waiting for. Thanks for the memories, Mark.

  • Mark Steel will launch Reasons to be Cheerful on Monday 9 April at 6.30pm at Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1. Copies of the book are available for 10.

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