Monday, 7 May 2018

The Great May Day Cabaret - A night for Chris Bartter

My contribution at tonight's event. Thanks to Stephen Wright, Dave Anderson, Rab Noakes, Fraser Speirs, Maeve Mackinnon, Susan Morrison, Jim Monaghan and Richard Leonard for making it a great night.

It’s a great honour for UNISON to be part of this fantastic event as a celebration of our comrade Chris Bartter.

This tribute in many ways is no surprise given the massive contribution Chris made to the arts and the labour and trade union movement.


For those of you who didn’t know Chris, I want to tell you a wee bit about him. For those who did know him, you’ll just have to sit through some of it again!

I said at Chris’s funeral that he was a huge, almost omnipresent figure on Scotland's cultural, labour and trade union scene - and the tributes that have rolled in since only serve to confirm that.

Yes he was impressively tall but what made the impression on people was his warmth, his sensitivity, his knowledge and intellect, his creativity, and his sense of fun. His famous Chris hugs, his booming presence and that guffaw of a laugh.

He had a love of words and the bizarre fun you could have with them.

If you said, “It’s muggy today”, you would get the response, “Yes, and tomorrow’s Tueggy, then Weggy….”

Chris was born in North London, went to Grammar school in Dorking and moved here to come to Strathclyde University. He became a proud Glaswegian, running walking tours of the city’s history and perfecting the ability to sing a full and perfect version of Hamish Henderson’s The Freedom Come All Ye.

In the trade union Chris started as a NALGO steward in Glasgow libraries. It was there that he met Doreen who became his partner of 42 years.

He was later elected to the top lay post in NALGO Scotland, then became NALGO’s and UNISON’s first full time Communications Officer - a post he held for 20 years till he retired.

To Chris, communications was not about spinning, It was at the very root of involving, encouraging others and organising in the arts and the labour and trade union movement.

Taking culture out to people, yes culture for culture’s sake – because we fight not just for bread but for roses too - but also as a way of engaging and communicating ideas.

Injustice, inequality and poverty were the things that drove his socialism – a practical socialism about making things better for people - that got him active on the left of the Labour Party and that saw him campaign on so many issues both locally and internationally.

In the arts, Chris was instrumental in 1983 in mounting the first trade union street theatre campaign - 'On The Pig's Back’ - taking 7:84 and Wildcat out on to the streets of cities and towns of Scotland to campaign for our National Health Service.

And he was behind the union’s sponsorship of some of the first performances of ‘The Steamie’ – using that to take the production out into communities and promote the union’s public services message.

He chaired the 7:84 theatre company, he wrote culture reviews for the Morning Star, and of course he was a huge part of reinstating this magnificent Glasgow May Day festival.

Latterly he was organising the launch of the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation and the Havana Glasgow Film Festival both of whom paid beautiful tributes to him.

In his spare time, if he had any, Tottenham Hotspur and cricket were his passions. But not as much as collecting books – lots and lots of them – sometimes the same one more than once!

I was always finding out something else about him, about what he did, what he knew (like all the capital cities in the world) and what he was involved in.

None more interesting than his membership of ‘Daft Watty’s Ramblers’ - described to me by one of its members as “a secret organisation operating deep in the shadows of the Bull Inn Paisley, dedicated to control of Scottish society and creation of a socialist republic ------ which is becoming a bit harder now we are all retired.”

Its membership included the late Bill Speirs, general secretary of the STUC, and Richie Carroll who is here tonight but can’t be named because of the secrecy of the organisation.

Anyway, as far as I could work out from Chris’s accounts, the activities consisted mainly of playing cricket or football - and drink was involved.

It was part of Chris’s sense of fun, the inner-child nonsense that brightened up so many days.

The famous Chris-isms like: “See a pin and pick it up – and all the day you’ll have – a pin”.

Or when some pompous guy had been ranting on and Chris leaned across to me and said: “Aye, the world is his oxter.”

But, as I said at his funeral, he didn’t do all of this alone. He was part of a team that was he and his partner, the wonderful Doreen Kean who is here tonight with his sister Vanessa surrounded by family and friends.

Matched in humour, kindness and commitment to the arts and labour and trade union movement.
This is a night to celebrate Chris. To share in the fun he always brought to these events.
Of course there is sadness but, as his funeral showed, a huge pride, gratitude and celebration of all that Chris was and did.

My daughter, Seonaid, who Chris and Doreen visited on the day she was born 27 years ago, has just won the Communications Workers Union Bread & Roses Song & Spoken Word Award, for some words she wrote about her experience of that funeral.

Stephen Wright of FairPley I think got it just right when he said the poem was a pretty good ‘match report’ of the event. I think Chris would have been proud of her for this and I’d like to finish with that poem…

Funeral for a Socialist

They file in
Red tied and red eyed.

My Dad in his dry
Stoic way
Helps the smiles break
Through.

He talks of his comrade’s love for books,
How he laughed loud and often
And, of course, his socialism -
So much a part of him
That it seems woven
Into the wicker of his coffin.

For his final goodbye
There are fists in the air.
Determined to defy
Even death,
We sing ‘The Internationale’

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