As the 1 in 12 club approaches its 25th birthday, Rob Ray looks at the roots of the legendary collective.
The 1 in 12 today is one of the radical north’s biggest treasures. In their earliest incarnation, the anarchist collective provoked a hailstorm of controversy as they exposed council corruption, brought out their own music labels, fought racism and raised funds for strike groups.
In 1981, a group formed around Bradford’s Claimant Union, intending to generate a new social scene for both the employed and those out of work. They took their name from a report brought out at the time claiming that one in twelve claimants defrauded the state.
The group campaigned actively on a range of subjects, with one of their first causes involving the Bradford 12, a group of Asian lads who had been arrested for making petrol bombs to defend their community against a racist attack they had caught wind of. They were released on the grounds of self defence.
Further anti-racist work followed, along with records, literature and direct action. A magazine, Knee Deep In Shit, gained a solid muckraking reputation and exposed corruption in the council and the Freemasons.
The sheer energy and ambition of the founding group eventually manifested in the creation of its members-only club, the 1 in 12, in 1988 – a building bought with a council grant.
Pete Chapman is one of the group’s longest-serving members. He remembers his first experiences of the club persuaded him to get involved in 1983: “It was running one night a week in a pub called Tickles then. I went down there and just started to get to know people. A lot of it was around the music.
“There was a gig on every week but politically it was fighting fascism, and supporting the unions. When I started it was Hindles Gears, which ran for a year – we did some fundraising for them – and then of course it was the Miners’ Strike.”
A plaque still hangs on the wall at the club to remind members of the long struggle – a thank you from the Nottingley Wives’ Self Help Group, who they donated their collections to.
Their plans to take over a building, partly inspired by a piece by Albert Meltzer in the Black Flag magazine, were as much luck as judgment, according to Pete: “Somebody found out that this money was available, and it had to be used. Bradford council needed to get rid of it or lose it. This proposal came up, and they accepted it – although strings have been attached.”
The move caused an uproar in the local press, with one journalist accusing the 1 in 12 of a plan to spend the money on bombs and guns. It took three years to open the building, with the police and authorities interfering all the way and lack of enthusiasm nearly killing the project entirely.
Pete remembers: “It was exciting but when it came down to the boring stuff like sanding down window frames there was only about three or four people working on it, and everyone else was asking ‘is it done yet?’”
Matt, another long-serving member, signed up to help in 1985, just after the building had been bought. A libertarian (with a copy of Freedom already in his hand), he gravitated towards the energy of the place: “To stumble across it – a three-storey derelict warehouse – was very exciting.
“But just having the building ended up being a huge responsibility. We’ve never taken any other grants, we decided to stand it up on our own energies. It takes £56,000 a year to keep it open these days.”
But the timing of the 1 in 12, in some ways, couldn’t have been worse. It coincided with a downturn in political activity in the area. Matt explained: “We went from being a very politically active city when we started up in ’86, and suddenly post ’88, apart from the Poll Tax a lot of the energies that would have gone into political activities got sucked out and went into keeping the place open.
“It was a lot harder than anyone had thought it would be. It went quite quiet in the early 90’s, Bradford had become depoliticised.”
The club staved off the effects of such increasing disengagement by actively reaching out on a community level, Matt thinks: “When we first started we entered a quiz league and it may sound miniscule but it meant we tied in with our local culture, we didn’t lose touch with the city.
“Other examples were that we took on three allotment sites, started a football team, a lot of activity which allowed people with different interests to express themselves. It allowed me to get a handle on what I perceived to be my political aspirations.”
The late 90’s saw another downturn, but the collective continued to innovate. A trip to Barcelona for the 60th anniversary of the Spanish revolution, helped by Albert Meltzer’s extensive contacts book, saw members join in a week of gigs, meetings and rallies. It sparked an idea. “When we came back it dawned on us that the Mayday tradition had died.” Matt explained. “We organised a load of activities in the city when we got back. The local cinema had a series of libertarian films, there was a march through town and it felt good.
“The following year we did one with Class War as they began to close down the paper in ’98, they held a conference of 300 people as a parting shot, and the club was packed every night.
“The next year Mayday became a hot potato again as it took off in London, so in a small way the 1 in 12 played a part, there is a chain. This year, we’ll be holding another Mayday march along with Bradford TUC, and there will be lots of gigs.”
At around the same time, two members of the group helped to establish contacts with radical groups in Kosovo and Serbia as the major conflict began to escalate in 1996-98. During the war, the 1 in 12 was active in procuring, and then secretly transporting, much needed aid into Kosovo.
In the last five years there have been more campaigns, but the focus of recent times has again become anti-facism. The far-right’s resurgence has surprised many in the area, Matt believes: “It’s shocking, there has always been a culture of No Platform since 1976 and the Battle of Bradford. The NF got thousands of people out in the city then, and had planned to march into an immigrant district, but the TUC was strong in those days and over 10,000 people responded.
“There was a pitched battle and it was the first time the fascists had been confronted. They hadn’t set foot in Bradford again, and had no success in organising, until now.
“In the last few years they did get four BNP councilors so there has been a lot of stuff organised by the TUC which we have supported. It’s a different kind of fighting now, knocking on doors, I’d say it’s harder because you have to use your brain a bit more.”
The club helped with catering at the G8, and remains an integral support for the region. Today only two of the founding members remain, with another four whose commitment began before the social centre was founded.
But the club continues to survive, and even grow, despite huge financial challenges. Membership currently tops 400, of whom around 50 are thought to be actively involved in 1 in 12-based projects.
Pete seems optimistic for the future, despite a decline of working class resistance and organisation that has continued over the last decade. The club is stable and active, and remains at the forefront of radical activity. He noted: “We host Radical Routes gatherings, music gigs, politics, and some more official sources like the Workers’ Education Association, who come in to do classes.
“It’s quite difficult because the closest residential area has an aging population (it was the first housing estate in the country), but we draw in members from all over Bradford and even the world. “We have recently got an upsurge in younger people wanting to get involved, which is really encouraging because a lot of us are getting older ourselves.”
Matt concurs: “We started with a very small collective, and have had only four or five people working on it at times. It has been a struggle sometimes and this year again we are going to struggle to break even – it has been quite demoralising. We have had three or four crises when we have considered closing the building.
“There is a price to pay for doing something so real. Campaigns bleed people dry and this is the same thing. But having said that the positive is the model we have created through the club. It has allowed people to express their leanings in ways that aren’t classically political.
Bradford is struggling as a community, particularly because of Leeds, and it has some really difficult ethnic conditions but in amongst that is a valuable core. The banners may have come down but the positives are that what replaced it is real for people and makes anarchism accessible.”
This article was first featured in the magazine Freedom in 2005. The 1 in 12 Club is at 21-23 Albion St, Bradford. Tel 01274 734160 and see their website http://www.1in12.com