The Workers’ Educational Association was founded in the early 1900s by Albert Mansbridge.
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.
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.
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.
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 discussion series on British working-class history, from the Chartists to today. Download pdf.
[A review of "They knew why they fought: unofficial struggles and leadership on the docks, 1945-1989", by Bill Hunter.]
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.
Readings from Genora Johnson Dollinger, Leon Trotsky, and Antonio Gramsci. See also:
Notes on the readings:
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.
Part One: History and background
The occupation of their workplace by working people is certainly dramatic but it is not a new tactic of trade union struggle.
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.
London Workers' Liberty is holding a meeting about the story and lessons of the strike on 21 October 2010. Details here.
Continuing the series on the life and times of Tom Mann
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.
Continuing a series on the life and times of Tom Mann with an account of the London dock strike of 1889.
Cathy Nugent continues a series on the life and times of Tom Mann
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Faryal Velmi reports on the Grunwick commemoration event held by Brent Trades Council on 17 September.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Contemporary accounts of labour movement struggles from the 1830's.