Strikes and trade union history

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The origin of the Plebs League part 2: two kinds of working-class education

Author: 

Colin Waugh

The Workers’ Educational Association was founded in the early 1900s by Albert Mansbridge.

The Workers' Educational Association was founded in 1903 by Albert Mansbridge, who hoped to create a layer of educated workers who would help create class harmony. But class-conscious workers were trying to organise their own educational efforts.

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The origin of the Plebs League part 1: taking the university to the workers?

Author: 

Colin Waugh

In October 1908 students and former students at Ruskin College in Oxford founded the League of the “Plebs”. From 26 March to 6 April 1909 they took strike action in the college.

In 1908, students at Ruskin College in Oxford founded the Plebs League which eventually became a national movement providing independent working-class education. Later, as the National Council of Labour Colleges, this movement involved tens of thousands of working-class people, producing both thinkers and organisers.

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Trade unions, socialism, and working-class sectionalism (excerpts from Marx, Engels, Connolly, and Gramsci)

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Marxists support, orient to, and give great importance to trade unions as basic organisations of the working class. But in most circumstances, in capitalist societies, trade unions are dominated by the better-off sections of the working class, and often follow a narrow sectionalist policy.

The British labour movement was like that for all the time that Marx was politically active in Britain, and broadened out only after Marx's death and when Engels, though still alive, was an old man.

The socialist and Marxist case for working-class unity and against craft, grade, and trade sectionalism in the working class.

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Working-class solidarity: how British dockers built it and how they lost it

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Nothing will ever efface for me the memory of my first real strike — on the Salford docks — the first time I saw my class acting as a surging, uncontrolled force breaking the banks of routine capitalist industrial life and, for a while, pitting itself against those who control our lives.

The foundations of working-class solidarity on the docks had been built up by Marxists organising them from the 1880s, work that has much to teach socialists now.

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Was Manny Shinwell a race rioter

Author: 

Dale Street

According to a recent article by Mark Smith in "Scotland on Sunday", a “controversial new history" which contains "new revelations unearthed by Stirling University historian Dr. Jacqueline Jenkinson" accuses Red Clydesider Manny Shinwell of having "encouraged Glasgow seamen to launch a series of attacks on black sailors."

A new history accuses "Red Clydesider" (later, Labour MP) Manny Shinwell of encouraging Glasgow seamen to attack black sailors.

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Marxists and reorganising the ports in the 1960s: How the dockers forged solidarity, and how they lost it

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

[A review of "They knew why they fought: unofficial struggles and leadership on the docks, 1945-1989", by Bill Hunter.]

The Trotskyists in the ports in the 1950s qnd"60s. A review of "They knew why they fought: unofficial struggles and leadership on the docks, 1945-1989", by Bill Hunter

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Militancy and Solidarity On the Docks in the 1960s: Remembering....

Solidarity

Author: 

Sean Matgamna
Sean Matgamna remembers militancy on the docks in the 1960s

Nothing will ever efface for me the memory of my first real strike - on the Salford docks - the first time I saw my class acting as a surging, uncontrolled force breaking the banks of routine capitalist industrial life and, for a while, pitting itself against those who control our lives.

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Occupations, workers' control, and workers' government: readings

Vestas

Readings from Genora Johnson Dollinger, Leon Trotsky, and Antonio Gramsci. See also:

Readings from Genora Johnson Dollinger, Leon Trotsky, and Antonio Gramsci

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Background notes for readings on "occupations, workers' control, and workers' government"

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Notes on the readings:


FLINT 1936

Excerpts from an account by Genora Johnson Dollinger, who was a leader of the Women's Auxiliary. The occupation was decisive in winning union recognition in the US car industry. Genora Johnson Dollinger was a left-wing member of the Socialist Party USA who became a Trotskyist.

Notes on the readings.

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British factory occupations in the 1970s

Part One: History and background

1.History

The occupation of their workplace by working people is certainly dramatic but it is not a new tactic of trade union struggle.

The following text is the first and second parts of a pamphlet produced by the North East Trade Union Studies Information Unit in June 1976. The text has been substantially abridged.

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The Working Class Self-Education Movement: The League of the "Plebs"

Author: 

Colin Waugh

In October 1908 industrial workers who were union-sponsored students at Ruskin College in Oxford founded what they called the League of the “Plebs”. Former students who had returned to their jobs as miners, railwayworkers, textile workers and engineers, supported them.

From January 1909 they began to organise socialist classes in South Wales, the North East, Lancashire and other working-class areas. Under the umbrella of the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC), there were, by 1926-27, 1,201 classes like this across Britain, with 31,635 students.

Between 26 March and 6 April 1909 union-sponsored students at Ruskin College, Oxford, conducted the “Ruskin College strike” (actually a boycott of lectures). In September 1909, they opened the Central Labour College.

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The real story of Made in Dagenham

Author: 

Becky Crocker
When women workers "brought the Ford empire to its knees".

London Workers' Liberty is holding a meeting about the story and lessons of the strike on 21 October 2010. Details here.

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The Labour Party: born of struggle

Author: 

Brian Pearce

Down to the 1880s there was no “labour movement” [in Britain] in the continental sense at all. There were strong trade unions (of skilled workers), and these unions were politically-minded — but the only parties were the two ruling-class ones, the Tories and the Liberals.

The Labour Party: born of struggle

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Tom Mann 3 —1889: The Great Trade Union Turning Point

Author: 

Cathy Nugent

Continuing a series on the life and times of Tom Mann with an account of the London dock strike of 1889.

Tom Mann 3 —1889: The Great Trade Union Turning Point

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Socialist pioneer Tom Mann part 3: the struggle for free time

Cathy Nugent continues a series on the life and times of Tom Mann

  • For part 1 click here
  • For part 2 click here
  • For part 3 click here

    Soon after Tom Mann joined the Social Democratic Federation he proposed to a packed meeting of his Battersea branch that they launch a campaign for an eight-hour day. The SDF had already made the demand part of its policy, but it was a paper policy, not something to agitate about, or fight for.

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    Live working or die fighting?

    Paul Mason, author of Live working or die Fighting (Harvill Secker), spoke to Mark Osborn

    Question: What are you aiming to do with this book?

    PM: I’m trying to bring some of the great scenes of labour movement history to a new generation of readers. The readers I have in mind are not activists, are highly individualistic, have no party line or much knowledge of real history.

    What I’ve attempted to do is to produce a book in a way that parallels my journalism: telling the story through the stories of individuals. It brings the history to life.

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    Eleanor Marx

    Author: 

    Fran Broady

    Karl Marx's daughter, Eleanor, played a major leading role in the early history of the Trade Union movement.

    She was active strike organiser and a member of the executive of the Gas Workers and General Labours' Union, one of a number of unions which later fused to form the General and Municipal Workers Union, which became the GMB. Fran Broady describes the life of Eleanor Marx and the early days of the Marxist organisation in the British labour movement.

    An article by Fran Broady outlining the leading role played by Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor in the British trade union movement.

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    Workers' control and D-Day

    Last night my father told me a story I had never heard before which I would certainly like to know more about. He was talking about his brother-in-law, who at the start of WW2 was in the fire service but was then called up and put as a Lieutenant in an unit designated as part of the Royal Engineers who worked on the Mulberry harbours which were moored off the coast of Normandy and served as the means to get supplies across.

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    Union Organising in the Workplace: a 'Left-Wing Policy' from 1925

    Browsing Lansbury's Labour Weekly again, I found this article from June 27 1925. So, what do you reckon? Are union branches obsolete? Is organising in the workplace the way forward? Is the policy outlined here unworkable in small, scattered workplaces? Personally, I'm inclined to agree with the broad outline of this.

    A Left-Wing Industrial Policy
    ORGANISE THE WORKSHOPS

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    Lansbury, the N.U.R., and Union Mergers

    I'm currently writing a book about Poplarism, which gives me a superb excuse to leaf through labour movement stuff from the 1920s. On Friday, I browsed 'Lansbury's Labour Weekly', the newspaper that George Lansbury set up after the TUC took over his 'Daily Herald' in 1922.

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    Taff Vale

    The Trade Union Freedom Bill is being proposed to coincide with the repeal of the “Taff Vale Judgement”. What was “Taff Vale”?

    Bit by bit, over the 19th century, British workers rolled back the Combination Acts, passed in 1799-1800, which had made trade unionism illegal in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.

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    Leafleting on the Manchester Ship Canal*

    Author: 

    Rachel Lever, Sean Matgamna and Harold Youd

    This article was based on the experience of Workers Fight, from which AWL has developed and which worked inside the International Socialists (predecessor of the SWP) at the time. It was part of a drive to turn IS towards production of factory bulletins at the end of the 1960s. It has been abridged. It was written by Rachel Lever (Rachel Matgamna), Sean Matgamna and Harold Youd. Memory suggests that Rachel was the main author. SM.

    Leafleting on the Manchester Ship Canal in the late 1960s

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    1000 rally to defend pickets

    By Cynthia Baldry, Workers’ Fight, March 1973

    In Shrewsbury on 15 March, 24 building workers appearing in court were met by a show of solidarity from other workers, meeting outside the court and then marching through the town. They were also met by a massive attempt at intimidation by the forces of ruling class “law and order”.

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    Trade unions against capitalism

    The following extract is taken from Frederick Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England.

    Writing in 1845, Engels described the misery of life for English workers at this time, particularly in and around Manchester. The book is a passionate indictment of capitalism, and is well worth reading for that alone. But it is also full of ideas.

    The following extract is taken from Frederick Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England.

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    100th anniversary of the Wobblies

    This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), otherwise known as the Wobblies, in the United States.

    The IWW was founded in Chicago in 1905 at a convention of 200 socialists, anarchists and radical trade unionists from all over the US, who were opposed to the policies of the mainstream American Federation of Labour (AFL).

    The first IWW leaders included Bill Haywood, Daniel De Leon, Eugene Debs, Mary Harris Jones (commonly known as “Mother Jones”), Vincent Saint John and many others.

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