Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Archive for October, 2013

12 Months Hard…. or ‘The more things change…’

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 30, 2013

“For months, the people have suffered under a Tory Government. After dangling a host of plausible promises before the electors, they calmly set about running the country in the traditional Tory manner.

“After promising a cut in the cost of living they allowed process to soar. Instead of full employment, unemployment has more than doubled. After a faithful pledge to provide better social services they have ruthlessly cut education expenditure and imposed charges on Labour’s health service.

“This selfish class Government have frozen wages and allowed profits to soar. They have cut food subsidies and given tax reliefs to the rich. They have spent their time handing out sops to their big business friends.”

Sounds familiar?  As is often the case at the library, I came across the pamphlet this extract comes from quite by chance. I couldn’t help but be struck by how this could have been written today.

Pamphlet cover image

In fact, the Reynolds News pamphlet ’12 Months Hard’ was written a year after the Conservatives came to power in 1951. An election, it turns out, which was all the more unfair for the fact that the Conservatives got in with a majority of 16, despite having about a quarter of a million votes fewer than Labour. Another of those examples of why voting reform would surely make democracy a bit more representative.

But returning to ’12 Months Hard’, it really is amazing and rather sad that, sixty years on, the same old Tory policies still have the same effect on the ‘hard working people’ they claim to represent.

Neil Dymond-Green

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An exciting new Russian Revolution acquisition

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 23, 2013

We’re finding some brilliant nuggets amongst papers and pamphlets of labour historian and former Trustee of the Library John Smethurst, which his widow Alice has kindly donated to us.

Here for instance is a page from ‘What happened at Leeds’, a report by the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates.

What happened at Leeds

The Leeds Convention of June 1917 has been described as perhaps the most remarkable gathering of the period, with contributions from across the breadth of the Labour movement.  There was eager debate, sparked by events in Russia, by 1,150 delegates including Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Sylvia Pankhurst, Bertrand Russell, Dora Montefiore and Philip Snowden.

The first resolution, moved by Ramsay MacDonald, hails the Russian Revolution.   This fourth resolution calls on delegates to ‘work strenuously for a peace made by the peoples of the various countries, and for the complete political and economic emancipation of international labour’.

To find out more, come and read the whole pamphlet here at the Library.  Thanks Alice – and of course the much-missed John – for such an excellent addition to our Library.


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‘Darn that Picasso’ – a Manchester Weekender event to remember

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 18, 2013

On 26 April this year, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism.  The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…

It was with great excitement that we looked forward to the arrival of Maude Casey, with the banner she and other artist activists have been working on, for our Manchester Weekender event Darn That Picasso last Saturday.

With trepidation too of course. Would anyone come?  Would anyone join the walk Suzanne Hindle was leading up the Crescent, following the yarn trail which’d sneakily appeared overnight thanks to guerilla activity by the King’s Arms knitters? Guerilla knitting outside the Library

We needn’t have worried.  Well before our official opening time of 2pm people were starting to come in, and Suzanne brought an influx of 17 walkers.  Maude gave the group an impassioned talk about the political background to the project, as well as about Picasso’s own starting point for creating the painting, and Dora Maar’s often unacknowledged part in its development.

Sewing the Guernica bannerAnd then people set to sewing!  Some were skilled, some less confident but still eager to play their part in such a lovely collaborative venture.

Sewing the Guernica bannerMuch tea was drunk, many stories were shared – including Adrine Middleton’s tale of how she’d seen the original Guernica when the vast painting travelled, extraordinarily, to Manchester in 1939.

Comments included:

‘A fantastic idea and a truly beautiful object. Thank you’

‘An excellent way of getting people together to remember the horrors of war’

‘Great. Friendly, comradely atmosphere and a cracking project’.

It’s been mooted that we should build on the afternoon to create a banner of our own. Thoughts?

In the meantime many many thanks to Maude for travelling up from Brighton to share the banner and its stories with us.  And to everyone who contributed.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager (I’ll try and do a Storify account of the event soon…)

Sewing the Guernica banner

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The Price of Coal – the Senghenydd mining disaster, 14 October 1913

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 14, 2013

October 14th marks the centenary of the worst mining disaster in British history. This involved the death of 440 men and boys at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd – 439 miners and one rescue worker. The death toll was part of the overall number of 1752 miners who died that year.

The background is important to an understanding of the disaster in that it followed a period when the safety of miners had been the subject of Parliamentary debate and legislation. The Coal Mines Act 1911 specified standards in respect of managers, safety qualifications and inspections and the provision of safety lamps and adequate ventilation. In the Parliamentary debates in November 1911 there had been disagreements about some aspects of mine safety but there was a general view, endorsed by the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, that the Act offered the possibility of increased safety standards. The mine owners, the Universal Steam Coal Company, a part of Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Ltd, were required to make improvements by 1 January 1913 but requested a delay until September. By the time of the accident in October the work had not been carried out.

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

The explosion happened at 08.10 at a time when 950 miners were underground and, although local rescue workers were soon on the scene, the recovery was hampered by large fires, thick smoke and roof falls.  439 miners died, including a large number of 14 year olds.  After three weeks, only one third of the victims had been brought to the surface and 11 bodies were never recovered.  The inquest in January 1914 returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’.

An Official Inquiry was held in 1914 and failed to offer a definitive judgement on the causes of the explosion but both the Company and the Colliery Manager were prosecuted under the Coal Mines Act 1911. The manager was charged with 17 offences and the Company four, and guilty verdicts were returned in respect of eight matters for the manager and one for the company.  For the offence most likely to have caused the explosion – the accumulation of coal dust – the manager, Edward Shaw was fined £5. Including the other offences the total was £24. The Company itself was found guilty on only one count – the failure to undertake ventilation work – and fined £10.  On the basis of these fines the local newspaper calculated just how small the value of the life of a miner was.

Senghenydd Colliery had been the site of a previous mining disaster in 1901 when 81 out of 82 miners had died and when there had also been an explosion. The Colliery finally closed in 1928 when the workforce was given one day’s notice of closure.

The disaster showed that whilst legislation had been passed with the intention of improving the safety of miners it was undermined both by companies arguing that improvements were too costly to be introduced right away, and by a critical lack of Inspectors. The struggle for safety in the mines continued to be pursued by the Miners’ Federation but many thousands more miners died and continue to do so in mines around the world.

In Senghenydd, the Aber Valley Heritage Museum has a display on the 1913 disaster. Resources at the Museum include mining related objects, photographic displays, archive films and interactive touch-screens.

Further Information

The WCML has a wealth of material on the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and a volume of the work of David Owen looking at mining disasters in South Wales.

Two Web sites offer a wealth of material on the disaster and the effect on the local community:  This includes a roll call of all the known names of those who were killed at Senghenydd

The National Museum of Wales site contains material on Senghenydd and a link to the Official Inquiry Report:

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer

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