Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘workers’ campaigns’

Tailored Trades: clothes, labour and professional communities

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 16, 2013

Items from the collection at the Working Class Movement Library feature in a virtual exhibition that has been launched at  A notebook (c.1907)  kept by a tailor, containing various patterns and plans for garments, features in the ‘Sweated Industries’ exhibition.

Tailor's Notebook pages









A National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (NUTGW) pamphlet, produced in 1947, features in the exhibition on ‘Professional Identity and the Textile Trade’. This pamphlet discusses the Tailors’ Union from 1885-1909 looking back at the “nationwide agitation” on sweated trades following the Daily Mail exhibition in 1906.

Tale of the Tailor's Union












The online exhibition was developed by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Northumbria. Their Research Network Clothes, Labour and Professional Communities 1880-1939 focuses on topics such as hand versus mass-production of clothing; the Arts and Crafts movement; the Dress Reform Movement; work in the textile industry; and the place of women in the new workforce.

Nicole Robertson, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Northumbria

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Book Review: ‘Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism’ by Dave Hann

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 18, 2013

Last night 40 people came to the Library to the launch of  Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism by Dave Hann, with an introduction by Louise Purbrick.  Thanks to Louise for coming up from Brighton especially for the event, and to her and all those who contributed to making it an informed and impassioned evening. Physical Resistance is published by Zero Books –

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer, reviews the book below.


The difficulty in reviewing such a work lies in the fact that for many people their principal focus will be upon the degree to which the author has ‘correctly’ recognised the contributions of the various actors in the anti fascist struggles detailed. In writing the ‘collective history of anti-fascism’ the author inevitably highlights the sectarianism of such resistance; the changing alliances, the splits and the re–alignments, the never ending procession of acronyms.

But, this should not be the main focus of analysis. The emphasis should be upon the fact that this is an extremely able historical work containing some chapters of real quality. The use of oral history is very skilful in that the author allows people to speak and then provides well written contextual material. The skill of listening to people comes through in that it is clear that although the author knows enough of his subject to be able to have a discussion, an argument or even a row – he does not. He listens, records and respects the views of those who he interviews.

The strength of this approach is demonstrated by one of the best chapters in the book – ‘Hold Madrid for we are coming’, detailing the experience of comrades in the Spanish Civil War. Towards the end of that chapter an interviewee says of her grandfather,

‘He said what a waste it was because they were mostly people with great ideals and hopes for humanity and they were lying there dead. He never did come to terms with that part of it but he thought it was something he had to do.’

PhysicalResistanceThose words link with a significant section of the Introduction written by Louise Purbrick who notes that physical force has been largely written out of working class history. Hann, she writes, ‘presents an alternative interpretation of political action that includes physical resistance as part of an everyday pattern of opposition.’

Such resistance is unambiguously male and in many respects the book chronicles male on male violence with the refrain that the Fascists were often surprised by the ‘hardness’ of the opposing forces. The role of women, on both sides, is subordinate. This is not a criticism of the work of the author but a reflection on the fact that physical resistance is a game for the ‘boys’. There is a clear line of argument that any non violent response to Fascism would play into the hands of the enemy. The fact that some manifestations of Fascism might have failed for other reasons is not explored in any detail. In the words of the Introduction, political opposition is ‘defined by acts of participation rather than any adherence to very precisely defined ideological standpoints.’ Broad, predominantly non violent participation in, for example, the Anti Nazi League played a major role in the decline of the electoral ambitions of the National Front.

The chapter on the Spanish Civil War is critical in that it serves to ensure that the struggle against Fascism both home and abroad is given equivalence. That challenges those on the Left who can appreciate and applaud those who fought Fascism in Spain but recoil at physical confrontation at home. The author does present a consistently well presented and well argued narrative and invites the reader to consider the defining question of the work: What would you do if Fascists were intimidating your neighbourhood, beating up ‘targets’ and (throughout most of the narrative) being actively protected by the forces of law?

The strength of the work lies in the quality of the scholarship; the first hand narratives and the relentless pursuing of the core question of physical resistance. The reward of reading it lies in the fact that once finished, it must be followed by further discussion about tactics on the Left. In this work there are so many Fascists and so many false Patriots vilifying so many different scapegoats over the years that it is clear that the struggle against them must continue. The work highlights the fact that many, especially in the Labour Party, are content to ignore this unpleasant fact. Physical Resistance is a chronicle of those who did not.

Note: The author of this work died in 2009 and Louise Purbrick has done an excellent job of preparing the book for publication.


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Making words work – an attendee’s perspective on Saturday’s EP Thompson event

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 17, 2013

The day held at the People’s History Museum on 13 April to celebrate 50 years of The Making of the English Working Class took place in the context of the death of Mrs Thatcher earlier in the week. Many speakers felt that they could not ignore such an event and, indeed, added some anecdotal material. The real triumph of the day was not the disparagement or veneration of any individual (even E.P. Thompson himself) but the extent to which the importance of the word emerged.

Whilst this might initially not be obvious in the efforts of Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake to read aloud that which was not written to be read aloud, what actually happened was that actors with the skill and commitment to read scholarly prose illuminated exactly what that prose was about. The Making is about words, about hearing the words of those with high ideals who thought that their words would change society but were met with the response of starvation, imprisonment and, for some, the scaffold. By the end of the day the ‘poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott’ were successfully rescued ‘from the enormous condescension of history’.

The programme itself, put together with a wonderful sense of balance, celebrated the word in all manifestations. It was a testament to the power of the word that few people left early. When a less interesting contribution came along (and there were some) there existed the reassurance that what came next would be different.  The readings did not simply occupy the space between the personal stories and the academic readings they formed the glue: they gave the day cohesion.  They also reminded the audience that E.P. Thompson wrote with a profound respect for the intellect and the words of working people.  It is that respect which makes the book readable.

The People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library clearly put substantial effort into the organisation of this day.  It even finished on time, which is an achievement in itself. But, more importantly, the programme was a reflection of the purpose of both establishments.  The galleries and the archives record the stories and struggles of working class people and the centrality of the book, the speech and the pamphlet is shown in their collections of images, voices and, above all, words.  E.P. Thompson rightly celebrated the self-taught and showed in The Making the extent to which those seen as ‘ignorant’ were capable of sustained and sophisticated argument.  If they could not read, then newspapers and pamphlets could be read aloud and argued about.  The celebration of words that took place to celebrate The Making is a reminder that there are still many stories to be uncovered and many campaigns to be run.  The legacy of this day, and of The Making of the English Working Class itself, is to get out there and make those words work.

DW Hargreaves, WCML volunteer and attendee at the conference

[WCML would like to thank Craig Horner from the People’s History Museum for the huge amount of energy he put in to make this event such a success]

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4 October 1936 – Battle of Cable Street remembered

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 4, 2011

On this day in 1936, a fascist march on London’s east end was stopped by a large counter-protest. It became known as ‘The Battle of Cable Street’. There’s a link to some good quality newsreel footage of the event at the 75th anniversary commemoration Web site.

As that site says:
In 1936, fascism was gaining ground across Europe. In Britain, Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirted British Union of Fascists (BUF) portrayed Jewish people as the cause of the country’s problems. East London had the largest Jewish population in Britain and the announcement that Mosley and his Blackshirts planned a provocative march through the area on October the 4th was greeted with anger and a determination that it should be stopped. A petition was signed and local politicians tried to have the march called off – but to no avail.

On the day, up to 250,000 people gathered to defend the East End. There was a fierce battle with the police when they attempted to clear a path for the march and a barricade was erected and defended in Cable Street. People in their houses threw eggs, milk bottles and the contents of chamber pots from upstairs windows, whilst at ground level, marbles were rolled under police horses’ hooves. The march could not proceed and Mosley was ordered to abandon his plans. It was a blow against fascism and that night there was dancing in the streets.

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Book review – ‘Striking a Light’

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 3, 2011

This is the first we hope in a new series of reviews of books which have come in to the Library.  Let us know if you fancy contributing a review yourself!


Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History, by Louise Raw

Continuum Press ISBN 978-1-4411-1426-6 £17.99

Book coverLouise Raw’s book is not only a fascinating history of the matchwomens’ strike in 1888 but also an exposé of how little real research has been done into what has come to be seen as a turning point in British trade union history. The strike of 1400 women and girls at the Bryant and May factory has been underplayed in terms of their actions and the significance of the strike. As the author says: “I hope this book will go some way towards restoring to these women and their workmates their own voice and agency, serving both as a rewriting of the very beginnings of modern British labour history and as a tribute to the women”.

Louise starts off with the best of credentials for writing this political history for she has worked in the East End with local people and has herself been on strike with them. Her research on the Matchwomen has provided us with a new story about the women that has been ignored by more famous and lauded historians. This book is the first proper history of this group of women workers taking industrial action. She had to write a history without any autobiographies written by the individual women, and with all the participants long dead. Her account is fascinating not least because of Louise’s research methods. She spent several years laboriously tracing the women through local papers and history talks and eventually succeeded in interviewing and speaking to the grandchildren of those whom she believed were the true leaders of the strike.

One of the key myths of the strike is that Annie Besant (a middle class journalist and Fabian) actually led the strike. Louise demonstrates that in reality Besant was fundamentally opposed to the kind of action that the women instigated, in fact she wanted a more middle class compromise ie boycott of the Bryant and May products.

This is an important book on many levels but particularly in giving back to these women and their descendants the true history of their lives. Too often in histories the independent actions and motivations of working class people are ignored or underplayed. This book conveys to us an understanding of who these women were and why they decided to go on strike. Also it puts into context the vibrant political community they came from, which was largely an Irish community, a community that has through the years played a significant role in British trade union history. As Louise says: ”Certainly there is good evidence that the working-class Irish community in the Victorian East End was a politicized one. The London Irish brought with them traditions…passive mass defiance, street violence and armed rebellion.”

In this book Louise shows that the Matchwomen’s strike was an important part of the lead up to the wave of strikes, including the Great Dock Strike of 1889. which led to the birth of the trade union movement in this country and the creation eventually of the Independent Labour Party.  In 2011 as we are going through a major attack on public services in this country it is important that we look back and learn from past experiences. The Matchwomen are part of the fabric of the trade union movement in this country and as such quite rightly deserve their place in our history. I am confident Louise’s excellent and sympathetic book will ensure that this happens.

Bernadette Hyland

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‘Rid the World’

Posted by wcmlibrary on March 8, 2011

A touring production of Rid the World by Manchester-based writer Rob Johnston, about political activist Tom Mann and the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, is at the Festival Theatre Hyde on 11 March, before ending its run at Unity Theatre Liverpool from 17 to 19 March.  The play is adapted from the screenplay Such Impossibilities by playwright Trevor Griffiths.

A review of the play by WCML supporter Jeremy Hawthorn can be found here


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Fascinating parallels with our current situation

Posted by wcmlibrary on January 21, 2011

Material being catalogued here at the Library from the Sheffield branch of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement shows direct parallels with our current situation with regard to protests against government cuts to services.  A typed letter and delegation form advises ‘fellow workers, all working class organisations,  unemployed workers’ and, most progressively for its time or indeed for any time, ‘working women in their homes’, of a Mass Conference Against Economy Cuts (to unemployment benefits; social services; and wages, and against the National Government), to be held at the A.E.U. Institute, Stanley Street, Sheffield on the 3rd October 1931. The letter, headed ‘The Fight Against Economy Cuts’ states that “The working class of Britain stands before the gravest menace which it has ever been called upon to face. To overcome the crisis of British capitalism, the workers are to be driven to starvation and misery…every worker is anxiously looking forward to a great mass mobilisation of workers to challenge the vicious drive of the financial dictatorship against Unemployment benefits, against Social Services and against Wages…”.

Hazel, WCML volunteer

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