Anti-austerity protestors who gobbed on journalists at the recent Tory conference were condemned by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn quickly after it had happened.
A spokesman for Corby said: “Jeremy strongly agrees with [Trades Union Congress general secretary] Frances O’Grady, what has happened is inexcusable and journalists must be able to do their jobs.”
Yet footage has emerged that suggests not everyone in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet agrees that spitting can never be used as a form of protest, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell addressing an anti-austerity rally in April 2011 as follows:
“I always give the example of P&O, when I worked for RMT as well. In the P&O dispute we had some real difficulties and all the rest of it. People said: ‘Well, we lost.’ But the strike was difficult and the struggle went on.
There was one woman in all of that said: ‘I don’t care just we have to keep our heads up high and if we go back, we go back.’[Then] she said: ‘But I make the manager’s tea, and I spit in it everyday.’”
McDonnell went on to justify such “direct action” by saying it builds up a “climate of dissent” that could “bring this [coalition] government down”:
“And it’s that form of we’re not taking it any more, and we’re going to give it back, [that] I think builds up a climate of opinion, a climate of dissent. Which I actually think, when combined with industrial action, will produce a tipping point that will force this government out of office, and that’s got to be our objective.”
“This isn’t about mild-mannered debates or anything like that – we’re winning the argument. This isn’t about just tokenistic demonstrations. This is absolute determination that we’ve got to bring this government down.
McDonnell is presumably referring to the dispute between the National Union of Seamen (NUS) and the shipping company P&O in the late 80s, a history of which can be found in this document.
A considerable photo gallery of the strike can also be seen on the photographer Mik Critchlow’s website.
Image Credit – John McDonnell, November 2011 by Transition Heathrow