by Stan Newens
Most Labour autobiographies are by people who have been prominent on the national scene with limited of the rank-and file activity on which the party is based. Vintage Red is the story of John Katz, a lifelong party activist who achieved much at municipal level but devoted himself; above all, to organisational and electoral activity. He has worked at every general election since 1945 as well as local and by-elections. Without such people the Labour Party would never have survived.
Born in 1930 into an East End Jewish family, he joined the Hackney Labour League of Youth in 1945. Deputy agent in Hackney at 21, he became agent at 23 and was himself elected to the council. After serving as chief whip, he became the youngest Mayor of Hackney (with the exception of Herbert Morrison) in 1963. He remained on Hackney council until 1986, serving as deputy leader and leader. He was ousted by an intolerant group of ultra-leftists, who failed in their bid to precipitate revolution by refusing to set a rate (They eventually drifted away- some joining New Labour). Kotz was persistently on the left in the Labour Party. He invited CND to hold meetings in the Mayor's parlour during his term of office. He opposed the US bombing of Vietnam. He opposed the sale of council houses.
After he ceased to be council leader, he served out his term but then yielded to his family's wish to move out to the Essex-Suffolk border where he threw himself into activity in very different political conditions in which the Conservative Party dominated. He was elected to Braintree District Council, stood as parliamentary candidate in Saffron Walden and became secretary, then chair, of Essex County Labour Party. The struggle for democratic socialism through the Labour party has been a central mission in his life.
This book should he read by everyone who wants to see the Labour Party back in power on a democratic socialist programme. It is an inspiring story of a man who never gave up his ideals.