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Laurence Platt: a life very well lived in the cause of the working class

THE 100 years of the Communist Party are full of stories of momentous struggles on a local, national and international level — and full of the inspirational lives of CP comrades … in their trade unions and communities, in workplaces, campaigns and daily struggles of working-class people to assert themselves and shape the world.

The CPB, as part of its centenary celebrations, looking back at its history and forwards to an equally demanding future, will be publishing a book of short biographies, Red Lives.

As a taster we publish here a contribution to it about Laurence Platt who died in January 2019 — and who contributed in so many ways to working class life, culture and struggle.
 
LAURENCE PLATT, born 1950, lived in the Nottingham area. The Midlands community played a big part in shaping him, but Laurence was also rooted in the world’s working class, and in its varied history and culture.

Internationalism was fundamental to him. His commitment to understanding and sharing the vibrant history of the working class was in no way “academic.” 

Together they formed the essence of the man, and a life so varied — with the powerful imperative of class politics running through his 50 years of activism as a musician, historian, trade union leader and Communist Party cadre.

His love of English working-class music and tradition illustrated his politics, though Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending also moved him to tears.

The 1960s folk revival saw him grow as an accomplished musician with mastery of concertina and an instantly recognisable voice. 

He performed throughout his life in clubs, pubs and folk festivals around the country — or just in mates’ homes and back yards with the same joy and verve, often with long-term close friend Sharon Clancy, whose first impression was “how he moved like a dancer … a beautiful man inside and out.” 

Laurence played an influential part in the renowned Nottingham Traditional Music Club. 

Characteristically, he took on an organising role for the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and in the Musicians’ Union, while his commitment to working-class tradition saw him dancing with various Morris sides, being a founder of “Owd Oss” Mummers — performing traditional morality plays of the people, derived  from Notts & Yorkshire Old Horse Play.

He returned to Owd Oss in the 2000s, striding into Pleasely pubs in black suit, cummerbund and bowler hat bedecked with flowers and ivy, with carved cane aloft and declaiming the opening lines with verve and energy. 

He was a born showman and often said if he had his time again that he would have been an actor.  

For many, such a creative life would have been enough — but the historical experience of working people the world over developed in him burning commitment to justice and equality, hatred of racism, capitalism and imperialism, and recognition of the necessity and power of revolutionary socialism. 

At 23 he joined the Communist Party, from which he never deviated or sought an easier path. 

He threw himself into struggle, active in the party’s Race Relations Committee, becoming the trade union officer of Nottingham Community Relations Council and secretary of his large branch of the TGWU (later to become Unite). 

A powerful activist in Unite’s Midlands Region, he played a key role In United Left, in developing a class conscious, member-led, organising union — which anyone associated with the movement will know is no small task! 

He was tireless in organising to change the face of Unite so that it mobilised its black, ethnic minority and women members. 

Laurence believed in unions as a progressive force within communities. 

In the ’80s as workers came under Thatcher’s cosh, he led Nottingham Trades Council in the jobs fight, through Jobs for Radford — a Nottingham inner-city area where its industries were largely based. 

Laurence’s calm, thoughtful approach to politics and struggle — peppered with his strong sense of humour and the absurd — must have been stretched in the Thatcher decade, but it never broke, and his leadership was the stronger for it. 

Many workers’ struggles were shaped by his militancy, framed carefully and strategically, without the histrionics of some “anti-Thatcherites” of the day. 

Laurence’s patience and dry humour — very biting when required — were known to all, as was his running joke of always managing to avoid buying a drink! 

Laurence never deviated from his communist path. But the revisionist leadership of the CPGB certainly did and in 1991 it dissolved the party after a fierce internal battle for Marxism-Leninism, in which Laurence was heavily involved. As he said, he never left the party, it left him. 

Laurence had 17 years without a political party, though not without working-class struggle. 

To add to his activities, Laurence became an archaeologist, reflecting both his love of people’s history and his desire to “get his hands dirty,” in both the real and metaphorical sense. 

As a Marxist, it was his first nature to put all theory to the test of practice, taking part in many Midlands digs, publishing consequent discovery papers, leading countless public discussions and education sessions. 

Dr Howard Jones, director of Trent & Peak Archaeology, spoke of “Laurence’s time in the trenches” at his memorial meeting. 

As both archaeologist and anti-war activist, Laurence would have appreciated the pun.

After those 17 years, Laurence joined the Communist Party of Britain, formed in 1988 re-establishing communist continuity from the CPGB’s 1920 foundation. 

At one of his first CPB meetings he opened with: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…”

Laurence became chair of CPB Midlands District, a candidate in EU elections for “NO2EU” in which he was active for the CPB.

He wrote extensively including a memorable party pamphlet on the Tory anti-union laws and many Morning Star features, particularly on manufacturing.

The Morning Star lay at the heart and head of Laurence’s life. He regularly called people together for the Nottingham Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group, using the paper to “educate, agitate and organise” and to raise sales and funds. His impassioned closing speeches to “rally round the paper” are not to be forgotten.

He was a man of great intellect, but without an ounce of hubris, wearing his knowledge and erudition lightly. 

His warmth, deep kindness, patience and steely determination saw him through some very tough situations as a leader among workers, while his great sense of the absurd and surreal allowed him to celebrate life’s struggles, victories — and even some defeats — in a uniquely philosophical Plattian way.

His deep respect for the world’s people and the natural world made him both a fierce anti-imperialist and passionate advocate for the environment. 

His whole approach to life and politics demonstrated a love for the whole planet — but the landscape and people of North Nottinghamshire in particular.

Some people only saw one side of this many-faceted revolutionary — full of confident leadership and derring-do on the surface, quick-witted, sharp and quite indomitable. 

But they may have missed the deeply tender, introspective, sensitive and rather shy man below it.  

The mix of these qualities made him the widely respected and loved working-class political, social and cultural figure that we won’t ever forget.

When Laurence died in 2019 at 68, dozens of copies of the Morning Star were spread around the room which he was having read to him, along with many messages from friends and comrades. 

His memorial, full of music, history and politics was a celebration of a life very well lived in the cause of the working class.

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