The Dress Police

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Nov 24 13:06:05 MST 2002


Kay writes:
> Male comrades started stripping down to their shorts
> in an effort to seek comfort and relief from the
> oven-like conditions.  Of course all the women
> comrades remained demurely dressed except one – a
> lesbian comrade from the CL in Adelaide took off her
> shirt in protest.  Did that set the cat among the
> pigeons.


The last SAL national conference - I can't recall if it was a
decision-making or educational one - I went to would have been around
New Year 1983, after I'd returned from my OE in Europe.

The night of the big conference rally, the clothes police were in full
flight.  There was a young working class woman, a shop assistant I think
she was, about 16 years old who had just joined, and was a bit of a
catch.  One of the first recruits of the turn in Auckland I think.  So
she was to be one o the featured speakers at the big 'party-building' rally.

Problems arose, however, over the fact that she typically wore jeans.
Indeed, I don't think she had taken a dress with her - the SAL national
conferences were held outside the main cities, usually in a boy scouts
camp (which was kind of appropriate, looking back).  The leadership,
however, suggested that, even though this was a camp and everyone was in
informal gear, she had to wear a dress and not jeans to speak at this
camp event.

Their bullying actually succeeded in reducing her to tears and not
wanting to speak.

This was how the SAL leadership treated a *real* worker.

What I saw in just the first three months that I was back in NZ at the
end of 1982 made me realise that the SAL was actually quite a sick
organisation and by the end of that year I had decided to leave NZ again
and go back to Britain.  This was a very good thing, because when I
returned to Britain and was in the IMG and the internal grouping called
The Faction, which was aligned with the US SWP, I got to see how the US
SWP central leadership operated up close - their secret factionalism,
how they financially bought and corrupted people in London, etc etc -
and within a year I walked away from both the FI and the US SWP.

I recall when I left I had this almost orgasmic feeling of elation and
liberation.  It was like a great, oppressive, depressing burden had been
lifted from my shoulders and finally I could breath and walk upright
again.  It sure made me determined never to belong to an organisation
which made me feel that way again.

I looked around for what I was going to do politically next, and decided
that the weak link in imperialism in Europe was Britain and the weak
leak in Britain was Ireland and the revolutionary movement in Ireland
was the Provos, so I subsequently moved to Ireland and joined Sinn Fein.
 And what a relief after years of the US SWP tradition, that was.
Although I totally disagree with the trajectory of SF and left in 1994,
I don't really regret a single day I spent in Sinn Fein.  I learned a
great deal more about revolutionary politics and what it means to be a
revolutionary than I ever learned in the tradition that centred around
the US SWP.

Thus, I'm still here and still fighting.

Philip Ferguson

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