Simon Basketter

When Adam Delved and Eve Span

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The revolt of 1381 by tens of thousands of peasants shook England’s rulers. This new edition of Mark O’Brien’s short but powerful book recognises the importance of this entry of the poor into English history.

England was dominated by the king; lords and the church reached into every area of the peasants’ lives. The authorities imposed a poll tax on people to help finance wars against France.

The situation of unfree peasants or “villeins” was grim. They owned “nothing but their bellies”. There were laws on what they could wear, and on what and when they could eat.

Hack Attack

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For a moment it looked as though Rupert Murdoch’s international media empire might be on the brink of collapse. The political pillars of the establishment looked shaky. In the summer of 2011 there was uproar over revelations that the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World had hacked the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler, a 13 year old girl who had been kidnapped and murdered in 2002.

A Colossal Wreck

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Alexander Cockburn, Verso, £20

The journalist Alexander Cockburn liked to drive around America's highways in decrepit cars sending in his copy when it suited. It's not the worst life for a journalist and Cockburn was far from the worst journalist.

A Colossal Wreck is an acerbic and eclectic new collection from the past two decades. Cockburn, who died last year, "lived in every quadrant of the United States and has driven across it maybe 40 times".

Taking on Crossrail

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Simon Basketter reports on an important step forward in the battle to rebuild union organisation across construction sites.

Frank Morris, an electrician sacked in a blacklisting case after raising health and safety concerns, won his job back last month. It was a stunning victory for union campaigning. Frank, a Unite union member, was dismissed over a year ago from London's Crossrail project, Europe's largest railway and infrastructure construction scheme.

Dial M for Murdoch

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Tom Watson and Martin Hickman

Journalists hack into the phones of murder victims. Cops get cash in envelopes at McDonalds. The prime minister rides police horses with Murdoch empire executives. The phone hacking scandal is both surreal and seemingly never ending. Dial M for Murdoch is an account of this by Tom Watson, the Labour MP and The Independent's Martin Hickman.

Construction lessons

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Electricians have been protesting for months against wage cuts and attacks on their terms and conditions. Last December workers took unofficial strike action. Simon Basketter looks at the background to this battle and the prospects for rebuilding union organisation on construction sites.

On a freezing Wednesday night on 7 December last year, a small group of men stand on a street in animated discussion. Every now and again, someone else joins their group and talks to them for a few minutes. After over half an hour, they decide to go to the pub. It was a small, but nonetheless significant event.

My Paper Chase

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Harold Evans, Little, Brown, £25

In his new memoir Harold Evans recounts his journey from working class background to editor of both the Times and the Sunday Times and beyond.

As the title, My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times, suggests, he describes a time past, when bad articles landed on an actual spike.

The early part of the book about his childhood is unremarkable and overlong, but the blow by blow accounts of the journalists' trade and his battles as editor are enthralling.

We Sell Our Time No More

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Paul Stewart, Ken Murphy, Andy Danford, Tony Richardson, Mike Richardson and Vicki Wass, Pluto; £19.99

Workers have become used to "key performance indicators", "team working", "appraisals" and a whole battery of measures that go under the rubric of "flexibility" and "modernisation". The test bed for all this nonsense was the car industry.

In Japan, where the system was first developed, "teams" weren't mentioned. US human resource managers added the word "team" to sell the idea to workers.

As one US study of the car industry puts it, "The teams in auto plants are made up of interchangeable workers, each adaptable enough to grant management maximum flexibility.

Lockerbie: cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit

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Britain secures privileged access to Libya's oil riches; Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi claims a diplomatic victory on the eve of celebrations to mark his 40 years in power; Scotland's nationalist politicians get to strut on the international stage. That was the plan and it has gone wrong.

The release on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, has led to an outbreak of claim and counter-claim.

But Megrahi is innocent. Evidence produced over the years by journalists, including Paul Foot, and victims' families have demolished the case against him.

Dublin 1916

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Clair Wills, Profile Books; £15.99

At just after noon on Easter Monday 1916 Irish Republican leader Padraig Pearse stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin and read out a proclamation announcing the birth of the Irish Republic.

The Easter Rising would give birth to the movement that would drive Britain out of 26 counties of Ireland, and laid the basis of the modern Irish state.

It sent shock waves around the world. At the height of the First World War a rebellion had been staged in Britain's oldest colony.


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