Charity & social welfare

Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (7 of 10).  National Life Stories: General

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  • Recording date

    2010-08-13, 2010-08-20, 2010-08-26, 2010-10-20, 2010-11-02

  • Interviewees

    Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, 1923-2018 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: When AS got back, Mason had left and Hugh Tinker had become overall director of the IRR. The different sections, British and international, did not work very well in harmony. Robin Jenkins was radical. When the Survey was published it got rave reviews from everybody except the black community, it was going to be the “bible” for future government policy. RJ, from the international unit, lambasted the Survey and thus the domestic unit. EJB Rose was on the council with Mason, and they felt this was a betrayal. They wanted RJ fired. The IRR journal had become a monthly called ‘Race Today’. Sandy Kirby, an ex Christian priest, took this over. He opened it up to blacks to write in it. It published a controversial article about Rhodesia, attacking the government. So the split focused on whether the IRR was a government tool, or for the blacks, about race relations or racism. [8:30] Up to now the members had not participated in electing the council. The council wanted to retain their fund providers, such as Ford foundation and Nuffield Foundation. This meant conflicts between staff and management. HT allowed staff into council meetings. AS had been elected plus a researcher, Hilary Arnott. They wanted to represent the black people and express their needs. Details of make up of the staff, which had many radical white women among the numbers. Lord Walston and Betty Boothroyd, story. What is unique about the struggle in Britain is that it connected the third world and the western world. They had had the experience both of being occupied and being discriminated against. You can’t fight racism without fighting fascism. On the Left AS had differences, but was great friends for instance with Paul Foot. [18:14] AS just hated injustice. Explanation. AS was asking Britain to live up to its beliefs. Don’t let the National Front get away with it. Incident with the Virk brothers. And at the Mangrove restaurant and club. They presented these to the council, the voices of the black people. The council wanted to sack RJ, and stop SK from publishing. The staff said that this was not right, stopping freedom of speech and freedom of publication. [22:36] Simon Abbott was the editor of ‘Race’ an academic journal quite different from ‘Race Today’. Hugh Tinker took the side of the staff. RJ left anyway. The staff sent newsletters to the members all over the world. EJB Rose and Lord Leicester had connections with the press, so it all got coverage. HT was asked to leave too. They advertised for his post as director, and eventually opened the post to applications from the staff. Simon Abbott, Sandy Kirby and AS came forward. They could sack the others but not AS, as he was a professional librarian and the union would have something to say about it. [31:34] Details of the meeting to decide. AS said he would not stand as it divided the staff. John Rex from Warwick university also sided with the staff as did Wilfred Wood. They put up Sandy Kirby. Lord Waltham came to talk to the staff, who stuck to their guns, repeating that they must deal with racism, not race relations. [36:31] At one point the whole staff had a sit down in the council chamber. Amusement. The management didn’t know how to handle it. So they called an extraordinary general meeting for the members at St James’s Piccadilly. Ken Leech was a great supporter. The sit in had had press coverage. Even Harold Evans wrote something against them. One of the researchers, Malcolm Cross had sent out letters to academics, who supported the staff. John Rex, member of the council, made a speech in support. The vote was taken. The Black University was alerted. AS was a consultant to the World Council of Churches. They had had a conference in 1969, the Notting Hill conference, at which AS gave a radical speech. ‘Race, the revolutionary experience’. AS said that in the middle of the twentieth century, the ‘colour line, was the power line, was the poverty line’. Details. His speech was made in sorrow. His speech was published in ‘Race Today’. Later the World Council of Churches came to their aid, so this event was important. [49:22] 80% of the people at the meeting voted for the staff, and the council resigned en bloc. And with them went the money. No money for staff or books or for the building. Everything came to a halt, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Mary Dines was a great radical who supported them. The 1960s was a great time in many ways including self sacrifice. This was the crucible in which the new IRR was formed. Within months Nicholas Deakin went to Sussex university with the rump of the domestic IRR. Sussex was the first, then Warwick. This was 1972. The Ford Foundation offered money to buy the library and they refused. Today the main material is at Warwick University, except the emphemera which they have kept. [54:58] Mary Dines’s friend who ran Voluntary Service Overseas told them that there was a warehouse in the Pentonville Road. Very different from Jermyn Street. “The posh and the unwashed!” The National Council for Civil Liberties had the top floor. They had the basement and the ground floor. Wesley Dick was involved, and he worked for the new IRR. On the ground floor AS was being interviewed by the BBC and the black communities were meeting to discuss how they should handle the siege down below. These were the two faces of the IRR. They moved in in 1973 with volunteer labour. The library proper was upstairs, but the meeting rooms downstairs often got flooded. Working there, they had AS, Hilary Arnott, Jenny Bourne, and a few others, library, administration and journals. Simon Kirby went to the BBC. Simon Abbott left. The staff elected AS as editor of ‘Race’ and later director of the IRR. Hazel Waters and Jenny had various functions. [1:03:52] The World Council of Churches funded them and then the Methodist Missionary Society. ‘Race’ was published by the Russell Press who did it for very little money. AS turned it into ‘Race and Class’. Individuals gave money too. They sold the copyright to the 40 or 50 books published by IRR and that brought in a bit more. Eventually they were down to three people. Hazel Waters, Jenny Bourne and AS and they did everything.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.

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