There is nothing quite like the rapid approach of the start of a new academic year to focus the mind. As the new term loomed at Leicester, we concluded the main set of interviews with former participants in the Non-Stop Picket. In total, we have now interviewed 69 former picketers and their supporters (there is still a chance we will make it to a nice, round 70). We also have a couple of interviews lined up with some of the politicians who lent their support to the Picket and the lawyers who defended its members. This short report gives an overview of who we have interviewed, updating the review we offered back in May of this year.
We have interviewed 30 men and 39 women. While it is difficult to accurately estimate the precise demographic make up of a dynamic, constantly changing protest collective over a four-year period, we are confident that this gender split broadly reflects the prominent role women activists played on the Non-Stop Picket.
Most of those we have interviewed are ‘white’ (56), with 13 participants being from Black and Minority Ethnic groups. Again, this seems to broadly reflect what we know about who participated, regularly, in the Non-Stop Picket. Thirteen participants joined the Non-Stop Picket soon after moving to the UK from other countries (or whilst being permanently resident outside the UK). They came from Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland (2), the Netherlands (3), South Africa (3), and the USA. Several other interviewees had been born outside the UK, but moved there long before they joined the Picket.
At present, until all of the interviews have been transcribed, it is not possible to report patterns on how participants described their social class and family background. The Non-Stop Picketers seem to have come from a wide range of class backgrounds. Some had grown up in professional middle class families (or, amongst the adults, were themselves professionals at the time); but others came from a variety of working class backgrounds. Paradoxically, a first glance over the interview transcripts suggests that a significant minority of the young picketers appear to have grown up in precisely those skilled working class families that were the focus of the Thatcher government’s attempts to promote individualized aspiration.
We have noted the period in which participants became involved with the campaigning of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group. Twenty-four were involved with City Group before the Non-Stop Picket started in April 1986, with several of those having been involved from the group’s beginnings in 1982. Thirty participants joined the Non-Stop Picket in 1986 or 1987; with fifteen joining from 1988 onwards (including a couple who really only got involved with City Group’s work as the Non-Stop Picket was coming to an end in early 1990).
A quick calculation of how old participants were when they joined the Non-Stop Picket (or, in the case of those people who were already involved, when the Picket started) reveals the following pattern: four were children under the age of 13; twenty-two were teenagers; and, eighteen were young adults aged 25 or under. The remaining twenty-five interviewees were over the age of 25 at that time (many of them were still in their 20s, but the rest were in their 30s, 40s and 50s at the time). So, it appear 60% of our interviewees were children and young people at the point they joined the Non-Stop Picket. These figures are provisional and will need to be double-checked against the full set of interview transcripts.
Of the people we have interviewed, twenty-eight served on the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group’s committee at some point over the twelve years of its existence. A handful of people were long-term members of the group’s committee, but many served for a year or less. We have, for example, interviewed three people who were the group’s Secretary at different times. This group of core activists is over-represented in our sample. Although three of the people we have interviewed could best be described as ‘supporters’ of the Non-Stop Picket who only visited it occasionally, often just for major events, we have largely failed to record the stories of those people who formed the Non-Stop Picket’s periphery.
Finally, we have recorded whether the people we have interviewed were members of any of the political organisations that operated, as organised groups, within the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group. Throughout the twelve years that City Group existed, the Revolutionary Communist Group was the main such organisation, but members of the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Humanist Party also played a role at different times. Twenty-six of the people we have interviewed are or have been supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Group – some came to City Group and the Non-Stop Picket already active in the RCG, many were recruited to the RCG (occasionally for just a very brief time) through their involvement on the Non-Stop Picket, and a handful joined that group after the Non-Stop Picket had ended. In other words, although just more than a third of our interviewees once had an allegiance to the RCG, they were not all members at the same time. It would be wrong to impute that anything like a third of City Group’s membership were organised supporters of the RCG. However, these figures do suggest that the RCG was a pole of attraction for many of City Group’s core activists (even if, for many, that political relationship did not last). Alongside them, we have interviewed one member of the Humanist Party (and another Picketer who was close to them for a while), but (despite several attempts) no members of the WRP.
The figures reported here are very descriptive. Our intention, for now, is simply to demonstrate the breadth of people we have interviewed over the last two years, but also to acknowledge some of the gaps (and over-representations) within this sample. With this basic information in place, the challenge for us now is to look for the patterns and trends within the interview material: both in terms of the stories people tell about their involvement with the Non-Stop Picket (who did what, at the time), and in the trajectories their lives have taken since then.
We do, of course, offer our thanks to all those who have given their time to participate in our research.