Post Colonial Labour and Working Class Histories

Share

HMS Souvenir pamphlet cover

Guest blogger this week is Megha Sharma, a PHD Scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in India who came to study in late summer 2018

I visited UK from 20th august to 15th September, 2018 for my archival work funded by the Charles Wallace India Trust. My thesis titled ‘Juridicality of Labour in India 1947-80’ looks at the growth of labour relations and policies formulated to deal with post-independence challenges. Specifically focusing on the establishment of industrial tribunals and labour courts to counter the rising number of strikes. Tribunals aimed to introduce a new way of dispute resolution and changed the discourse of labour relations. Workers resisted these states’ led mechanisms of labour management. Their expectations and demands were represented to a certain extent through the union representatives in the official circles. But it is through the court proceedings that we can get a greater insight into the ways that workers used such institutions. In the court cases the workers acted independently, and through unions, to negotiate their terms and nature of work. By using examples of case proceedings from Delhi I will bring out how workers were able to access the courts/tribunals. And their implications on changing dynamics of labour relations.

My work was based in the trade union and labour archives I consulted in the London Metropolitan University’s Special Trade Union Collection. I prerequisited my material and it was ready for consultation when I visited the reading room. They have online and hard bound catalogues for reference which are very easy to use. They let you order as many files as you wish or need in the day. You can reserve and keep the files on the table to use next time. The staff over there were very friendly and helpful with everything from planning the visit there to directions for reaching the archives. My weeks over there were wonderful and very comfortable to carry on my research.
Among the collections I accessed there was Marjorie Nicholson’s special collection who was a British trade unionist interested in the Indian labour movement. I researched the material she found in India during her visits. As well as her notes to these resources inclusive of secondary and primary records. This made the collection extremely insightful and relevant for my thesis. The archives also included field notes from her conversations with trade unionist and Indian policy makers detailing the scope and growth of trade union in India. It gives a quick recapitulation of the entire Indian working movement along with the future plans as remembered and shared by eminent trade union leaders.

A critical phase of the labour relations was when the British administrators and trade unionists tried to help their counterparts in India. The British model of trade unionism was taught in India with the hope that the model could be emulated to an Indian setting. There is a very thin archive on this theme in India making it difficult to develop my chapter further. The TUC Library’s archives filled this critical gap in my research and gave new insights into how communications between the two countries were progressing. And their implications on the labour relations. There were rare reports of the British administrators’ visit to India to understand and survey the conditions of trade unionism.

There is also a rich collection of the trade union pamphlets and research bulletins by various political parties; such as the Indian Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, All India Trade Union Congress and Indian Federation of Labour. These parties regularly came out with bulletins of information regarding their past activities and engagement with workers across different establishments of production. Along with economic and development plans for the future. All of these pamphlets and booklets were neatly arranged in the TUC Library for scholars to access and read. The rich selection of material gives a comprehensive view from below i.e. of workers; to counter these narratives there were equally well-preserved records from the research institutes of Labour in India. These were set up by the Government of India to monitor and regulate the capital and labour relations. Detailed cases studies conducted by Indian Labour commissioners to figure out the best model of labour and management relations that could be adapted to India. Most of these institutes and parties are no longer functioning which has made it impossible to find their records anywhere in India. In the TUC Library, the workers’ world comes to life when you sit reading their publications. Including workers’ descriptions of their conditions of work, aspirations for their future generations and hope from the current government.

These journals are critical for understanding the life and times of workers, and how they were able to negotiate their demands and expectations with government and their employers.

For any researcher dealing with the issues of labour, development and specifically trade unionism this Library offers an integral repository. By allowing quick access to the material as well as preserving material spreading over several years covering various events of political and industrial significance.

Share

Dispute between G D H Cole and Walter Citrine

Share

Lansburys coverOur guest blogger Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official) describes an exchange between two leading figures of the Labour movement on the role of trade unions Douglas Cole and Walter Citrine he discovered in the TUC Library

G.D.H. Cole (1889-1959), an Oxford don, had been a research officer (as a conscientious objector), for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers during WW1. He was one of the brightest and most committed pro-union socialist intellectuals of the early to mid- twentieth century. He would become Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford, but remained active on the left of the Labour movement for decades. He wrote extensively on every aspect of trade union affairs, The Labour Party and Socialism, as well as producing biographies of historical figures such as William Cobbett and Robert Owen, in a lucid style which influenced generations of activists. In 1925, he was promoting Guild Socialist/Workers Control ideas and wrote a piece entitled, ‘Organise the Workshops’ for [George] Lansbury’s Labour Weekly of 27th June.  

Cole article

In it, Cole urged the trade unions to ‘Organise the Workshops’ for a ‘A Left Wing Industrial Policy’. He was critical of the unions’ tendency to “make men loyal to their craft [or sectional group of workers], rather than to the workers’ movement as a whole”. In his view, workers should be reminded that their union card committed them to a class loyalty with wider industrial objectives.  The branch structure of the unions he saw as ‘entirely ineffective’ and ‘obsolete’ for this purpose and instead suggested that they should organise on a workshop basis to get control of industry. Shop stewards (then becoming common) should represent the whole shop rather than a particular trade or group. Such gratuitous advice would not be well received, even today!

Sure enough, it ‘drew the fire’ of the unions in the shape of a response from the new Assistant General Secretary of the TUC, Walter Citrine (1887-1983). In the following issue of July 4th 1925, Citrine, who had recently moved from being AGS of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in Manchester where he had considerable experience in the movement since before the war, entitled his piece, ‘Theorists and Facts’. This gives a flavour of how he regarded Cole’s ‘advice’ and he took issue with what he saw as criticism by an outside academic.  He took it as implying the futility of all trade union effort to improve the lot of workers under capitalism, based on the classic Marxist analysis and conclusions. Cole had argued, ‘Hence, we must have a movement which can make a frontal attack on capitalism for the drastic remaking of society.’   

Citrine article

Perhaps reminded by his friend George Hicks or Alf Purcell of the General Council, that the left-moving Hull Congress of 1924, had just agreed an Industrial Workers Charter, he penned another, more emollient, article in the following issue (‘Where we fall short’, July 11th). This accepted the need for ‘a considerable measure of practical [workers] control’, and that ‘unless we can permeate the individual Trade Unionist with a fuller appreciation of his identity of interests with workers of other occupations, our prospect of achieving the wider objective of Trade Unionism is remote.’ 

The week after (July 18th), Labour Weekly, carried a reply from Cole, whom Citrine had challenged. He urged Citrine not to be so touchy, citing his own credentials for entering such a debate! He said, ‘I fancy I have earned [it], both by study and by work for the Trade Union Movement’. He went on to clarify that it was not his intention to demean the contribution which the unions had made since the 1850s. They had forced Victorian British capitalism to concede the improvements which had been made to the standard of life of all workers. But now, he believed, they had entered a new stage of capitalism in which their ability to pay was curtailed, especially by the burden of War Debt and the power of finance capital generally to which employers were increasingly beholden. It was in those new circumstances, he believed, that traditional union organisation, however strong, would not be sufficient. Instead, ‘a frontal attack on the rights of property’ was needed, preferably through parliamentary action, but if necessary through revolutionary force. 

It is a reflection of the mood of the time in the trade unions, that Citrine in his further response, (July 25th), did not return to the fundamental argument which he had first raised. Instead, he declared himself satisfied by Cole’s ‘well-reasoned and frank reply’ that ‘the difference between us is not fundamental’! Now he gave a short tutorial on the different types of union structures there were, (citing the famous Heinz boast in his heading, ’Our 57 Varieties’) and how complex it all was. He had been given the job of sorting out the different union perspectives on the best future structure by the Hull Congress! It came to nothing by 1927, as all the craft, industrial, occupational and class type unions were quite happy with what they had built over the years. 

A few days later, July 30th, (‘Red Friday’), the threat of coordinated industrial action by the ‘triple alliance’ of railway, road transport and miners’ unions, forced the Conservative government into substantial concessions in the coal industry. However, in less than a year (May 1926), a better-prepared government forced the TUC into a humiliating retreat ten days into the first and only British General Strike. The syndicalist philosophies of the previous two decades were tested to destruction. It was ‘back to the drawing board’ for the unions and the TUC. Walter Citrine emerged from this cauldron to lead the TUC in an entirely different but highly successful direction. 

But maybe Cole wasn’t so far out really, in calling for a workshop/office-based unionism along with Citrine’s ‘adequate participation of the workers in control and management’.  We are still waiting, nearly a hundred years on!

Share

Collaborative Preservation of Working-Class Histories: Migration, Food, and Cultural Heritage in the FWWCP Collection (Part 3) By Jessica Pauszek and Vincent Portillo

Share

Examples of book covers

Guest bloggers Dr Jessica Pauszek and Syracuse University Fellow Vincent Portillo describe their recent visit, along with their summer school students from the Syracuse University’s Studies Abroad Programme, which took place over a month between May and June 2018. This is the third in a short series written about their visit and the work they have been doing on the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. 

In our first two blogs (here and here) about building the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP) Collection at the TUC Library, we talked about themes of mental health, gender, and sexuality as working-class concerns. Here, we are going to talk about the material concerns of migration as evinced by FWWCP working-class writers, specifically focusing on the roles food and language play in these stories.

Throughout its 40+ year span, the FWWCP sponsored working-class writing groups in multiple areas of London where it originated in 1976. During this time, the FWWCP also gained global membership. Writing groups were forming, for example, in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, and the United States. As people moved between countries, the FWWCP became an outlet for immigrant writers to share their stories, representing writing across national, cultural, and linguistic borders.

Still, the greatest concentration of FWWCP groups remained in England. Sometimes, immigrants started their own writing groups; other times, they joined already existing groups. Regardless, through their subjectivity as immigrants, they shifted the focus of working-class writing. Rather than solely addressing the concerns of the dominant White, Protestant, English citizen, the FWWCP became a space for the disenfranchised of numerous nationalities, ethnicities, and languages to speak out and have their stories heard.Some groups such as the Ethnic Communities Oral History Project focused on immigrant histories through oral histories and interviews. Other groups such as Centerprise, Commonword, Peckham Publishing Project, and Pecket Well College integrated migration stories alongside other topics such as education or gendered identity. Within these writing/publishing groups, the narratives range from Bengali, Caribbean, Polish, Irish, Iranian, Greek-Cypriot, Welsh voices and more. Interestingly, writers did not only express their own concerns related to migration — the exile and nostalgia felt from leaving their homeland, family, and friends — but they also discussed absences that play out in daily life. For example, it wasn’t always easy finding ingredients, or even the utensils to cook food from the home country.

One graduate student, Gabriela Arguindegui, was interested in the representation of food and migration in the FWWCP collection. She noted, “Reading about how food and culture reinforce identity helped me to better understand the plight of some of these groups and the importance of these recipes to their lives.” In fact, through cookbooks published within the FWWCP, Gabriela saw how writing about food and cooking not only provided a chance to showcase  “the eloquence [of] those who are otherwise marginalized or ignored in society” but also represented a space to share expertise and cultural knowledge.

Often times, this knowledge was conveyed through bilingual texts — Urdu and English; Polish and English; Creole and English; Arabic and English — representing an important sense of rhetorical agency in writing and publishing, which allowed members of these groups to maintain connections to culture and linguistic heritage, while creating a sense of community in their new space. Brittney West, an undergraduate student researching migration in the FWWCP Collection, described the resiliency and hope that she witnessed in “these raw, honest, unapologetic narratives.” She states: “Working with immigrant stories preserved in the FWWCP Collection cemented the idea that writing is more than just a creative outlet. It’s something that commemorates, listens, speaks, and remembers. It’s what some people need to survive change. Writing is a way to remember who you are, where you came from, and who you may want to be.”

The FWWCP Collection contains numerous publications — life histories, memoir, poetry, oral history, fiction, and interviews — that explore food and migration in both English and bilingual publications. You can learn more by visiting the TUC Library. The FWWCP/FED is also on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) and at http://fwwcp.gn.apc.org.

Share

Collaborative Preservation of Working-Class Histories: Social Concerns in the FWWCP Collection (Part 2)

Share

Students in reading roomGuest bloggers Dr Jessica Pauszek and Syracuse University Fellow Vincent Portillo describe their recent visit, along with their summer school students from the Syracuse University’s Studies Abroad Programme, which took place over a month between May and June 2018. This is the second in a short series written about their visit and the work they have been doing on the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. (Our own member of staff Hannah Bennet took part in the classwork.)

In our first blog post, we wrote about our student’s archival work to organize the FWWCP Collection. Their work was part of a Civic Writing course, where they explored how community groups address social concerns through writing. Students explored the Collection, now consisting of over 80 boxes of materials, choosing themes highlighted by FWWCP members to focus their reading, including: Art, Food, Gender, Literacy, LGBTQ+, Mental Health, Migration, Race/Racism, War, and Work. The goal was to find, read, and summarize texts within the FWWCP Collection that connected with major themes, while writing user guides for future academic and community researchers interested in working-class identity, community literacy, and self-publishing.

Often, we saw how the themes overlapped in exciting ways to deepen our understandings of this unique working-class collection. For example, one student, Trenna Soderling, focused her reading of the FWWCP publications on gender in the 20th century. She noted, “These publications provide great insight into the lives that these people were living . . . Overall, I’ve walked away with a wealth of new knowledge and greater understanding of working class life in 20th century England.” One publication that stuck out to Trenna was Tough Annie, which she describes as “a detailed account of a woman’s life from her time as a Suffragette to her work as a Member of Parliament.” Indeed, Tough Annie —  published by Stepney Books through interviews with Kate Harding and Caroline Gibbs — describes Annie Barnes’ contributions to the Suffragette movement, as well as her future work with the Labour Party. Amongst her group of texts related to gender, Trenna also recognized intersecting concerns of domestic life, motherhood, migration, race, politics, labour, World War II, and more.

Student Michelle Tiburcio also explored topics of gendered identity, but her work specifically focused on LGBTQ+ narratives. She describes the excitement of her findings: “Once I opened my first box to get started, I saw a little yellow book with words that jumped out at me: Northern Gay Writers. My heart warmed up… I spent the entire 2 and a half hours of class time reading that book. I felt like I had suddenly been invited into this new world of literature and discourse that put everything I have felt and experienced into a neatly compact published book, and I couldn’t wait to read more.”

Another publication that stood out to Michelle was Words from the Women’s Cafe: Lesbian Poetry from Word Up. Michelle noted: “I found a beautiful poem written by Lim Aii Ling about her life with her lover of over 40 years. Ling speaks about issues that many people in the LGBTQ+ community deal with constantly that often go unspoken, including issues with family acceptance and love, creating a ‘chosen’ family, and the lack of representation.”

Michelle goes on to describe the impact of Words from the Women’s Cafe and the FWWCP preservation project as a whole: “Preserving works like these can help other people — maybe future students — feel represented and not alone . . . I am happy to have contributed, even in a little way, to the preservation of the work that the FWWCP has created, and I hope that other people are lucky enough to look through those boxes someday, too.”

The FWWCP Collection contains numerous publications — poetry, prose, fiction, memoir, and interviews — that explore gender, identity, and LGBTQ+ issues. You can learn more by visiting the TUC Library. The FWWCP/FED is also on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) and at http://fwwcp.gn.apc.org.

Share

Collaborative Preservation of Working-Class Histories – The FWWCP Collection (Part 1)

Share

US student volunteers in reading room Guest bloggers Dr Jessica Pauszek and Syracuse University Fellow Vincent Portillo describe their recent visit, along with their summer school students from the Syracuse University’s Studies Abroad Programme, which took place over a month between May and June 2018. This is the first in a short series written about their visit and the work they have been doing on the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. (Our own member of staff Hannah Bennet took part in the classwork.)

In recent years, the TUC Library has been building its holdings of the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP) publications. In 2014, the TUC Library received a large donation of community publications from Nick Pollard, longtime member of the FWWCP. Subsequent donations followed. Today, the FWWCP Collection at the TUC consists of nearly 2,300 unique community publications, as well as nearly 40 years of administrative materials, including pamphlets from yearly FED Festivals, writing workshops, meeting minutes, membership applications, and more.

The FWWCP Collection is a significant resource for those interested in community publishing, as well as working class histories and testimony. In the late 1970s, the FWWCP worked to create an inclusive community, whose writing, ideas, and testimony reflected the concerns of a largely disenfranchised working class. This network expanded from eight community writing groups at Centerprise Bookshop in London to over one hundred writing groups in regions of England, parts of Wales, Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

In an ongoing project, Jess Pauszek and Steve Parks have brought university students from the United States to the TUC to support the preservation of FWWCP materials. This summer, through Syracuse University’s Study Abroad program, eight students from universities, including Syracuse University, Auburn University, University of California at Santa Barbara, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, visited the TUC Library to learn how the FWWCP’s working-class writers used writing communally for social purposes.

Led by Vincent Portillo and Jess Pauszek, students have been working to sort and index materials; further, they have been exploring the collection, identifying key themes within the publications, including: Art, Food, Gender, Literacy, LGBTQ+, Mental Health, Migration, Race/Racism, War, and Work. Based on these topics, students and instructors read and summarized publications to develop reading guides for future users of the FWWCP Collection, including community members and researchers alike.

One student, Joshua Johnston, remarked the following about his experience: “I spent time going through publications by writing groups looking to empower people struggling with the stigma of mental illness. These groups call themselves Survivor’s Poetry, and they use poetry and illustration as an outlet for self-expression in order to revive a sense of agency either taken from them by the system or suppressed by dismissal from loved ones. These haunting past experiences have awakened a voice that is beautiful and powerful. The TUC is the place to get lost in genuine, heartfelt writing.”

Survivors Poetry spread to include groups in London, Stevenage, Glasgow and more. The FWWCP Collection houses multiple publications from these groups. Additionally, Stevenage Survivors, a longtime FWWCP member, still maintains an active writing presence (check out Stevenage Survivors Poetry on Facebook).

To find out more about the FWWCP Collection, you can visit the TUC, or follow the FWWCP/FED’s work on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) as well the website: http://fwwcp.gn.apc.org.

Share

WORKERS UNITED – new exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary of the TUC

Share

Workers United

The TUC Library is launching its new exhibition “WORKERS UNITED” at the 150th Anniversary Conference – Retrospect and Prospects – at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester this Friday 1st June https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tuc150-retrospect-and-prospects-tickets-42781768421

Share

Walter Citrine part 3 – Citrine as the Acting General Secretary, November 1925

Share

Our guest blogger Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official) completes his series with the final part of his article on Walter Citrine in Russia.

Having to cut short his visit in such dramatic circumstances, Citrine arrived back in London to find himself heading up the TUC at a time of cataclysmic events. The threat of ‘Triple Alliance’ sympathetic industrial action in support of the miners by road and rail unions’ was enough to extract major concessions from the government on ‘Red Friday’ in July 1925. Unplanned, the conflict escalated into the General Strike called by the TUC General Council in May 1926. This time, the government’s reaction was to treat the strike as a constitutional challenge with an ultimatum to call it off under threat of a military response. This brought the General Council leadership ‘up short’ and all those who had gone along with the emotional appeal of solidarity with the miners, now pulled back and called it off. As Acting General

Secretary, Citrine too had been swept along initially by the emotional mood – he had advised the committee responsible to prepare more effectively for the confrontation. But now as officer to the lead negotiators, he and the chair of the General Council, Arthur Pugh (Steelworkers), had to deliver the humiliating decision to call it off to Prime Minister Baldwin.

That decision met no understanding in the USSR, despite all that the TUC had done to support the Russian unions. They had pressed large sums on the TUC to pursue the ‘class war’ for the miners, but the General Council felt it would be portrayed as ‘Russian gold’ and so had to be declined. The reason for this hostile attitude by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), seems to have been that Tomsky’s entire conciliatory approach had become a major issue in the power struggles within that ruling Party. The Opposition belaboured the CPSU leadership with having ‘banked’ on the TUC Lefts. Now, the very different Red International of Labour Unions’ leadership of Tomsky’s rival, Solomon Losovsky and their far Left supporters in Britain, poured torrents of abuse on the TUC. The virulence of these attacks appalled even those Left General Councillors such as Purcell, Hicks and Swales, who were now reviled. By 1927, everyone on the TUC General Council concluded that they could not go on with Anglo/Russian committee. Citrine, (now substantive General Secretary)’s report to the Edinburgh Congress recommended that it be discontinued, and that was overwhelmingly carried.

This account recalls a most interesting episode of TUC involvement in international affairs after the Russian Revolution in 1917. It adds to the TUC Library Collections’ vivid portrayal of the links which the TUC leadership at that time sought to develop. It recalls the hopes and possibilities which motivated many of Britain’s union leaders and activists for what they saw as ‘a land of promise’ and ‘a great experiment’. Today, when Russia is again widely viewed as a ‘fallen idol’, it may surprise that such sentiments were so widely entertained in Britain. Were the TUC just deluding themselves in thinking that by embracing the Russian unions, the unity of the international labour movement could have been restored to the benefit of workers throughout the world? Was Russian union leader, Mikhail Tomsky’s overture simply a different communist ploy to gain access to the western workers for revolutionary ends? Or was he genuinely seeking to strengthen the position of unions in the USSR with this international union link-up, so that they could more effectively shape the society then emerging from the Revolution in the USSR? Whatever the answers, given what followed – one party ‘communist’ dictatorship in USSR, fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain, the Great Depression in USA and Europe, all leading to a second war of carnage and destruction – did it not have the possibility of ‘a road not taken’?

We shall never know, but the episode highlights the important role trade unions began to play in the history of the twentieth century. They were perhaps, the only institutions which could reach across the ideological and nationalistic gulfs then opening up in the aftermath of the First World War. Walter Citrine, as the new General Secretary of the TUC would be at the centre of those continuing efforts for peace and democracy, over the next couple of decades.

Share

Making use of Oral Labour History – Saturday 2 June 2018

Share

Britain at Work (B@W) 1945-95 in association with British Universities’ Industrial Relations (BUIRA) IR History Group and Oral History Society (OHS)

Saturday 2 June 2018, 11am – 4.45pm
University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS
(opposite Madame Tussauds and nearly opposite Baker Street tube)
Room C279 (lunch C287)

For further details or to reserve a place, please email Michael Gold (m.gold@rhul.ac.uk) or Linda Clarke (clarkel@wmin.ac.uk)

This year’s Britain at Work Oral Labour History Day will focus on what we do with the recordings we make, both audio and video. How do we share what we learn from interviews and how do we make sure that oral histories we collect are preserved for future use in safe environments and archives? The day will begin with an opening address by Robert Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History and the Director of National Life Stories at the British Library. Rob is also secretary of the Oral History Society and an editor of the journal Oral History. He will talk about developments and opportunities for the dissemination and sustainability of oral history collections.

Rob will be followed by a roundtable reports from participants currently involved in oral history in work settings. After lunch, there will be presentations from presenters whose oral history projects have resulted in books, films, pop-up museum and a comic. The day will end with a presentation from Martin Astell (tbc), Sound and Video Archivist at Essex Record Office, who will talk about being an archivist working in a local authority museum/archive and the challenges besetting local archives and archivists at the moment.

B@W is an initiative to capture the memories of people at work between 1945 and 1995, some of which are to found at the TUC Library Collections held at London Metropolitan University (www.unionhistory.info/britainatwork)..

Draft Programme

10.30-11.00 Registration

11.00-11.15 Welcome and introduction: Michael Gold and Linda Clarke

11.15-12.00 Keynote: How can I future-proof my oral history project? Guidance on best archival and legal practice for preservation and public access and reuse’. Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History & Director of National Life Stories at the British Library. Chair: Joanna Bornat

12.00-13.00 Roundtable: brief contributions from participants on their current interest in oral labour history. Chair: Michael Gold

13.00-14.00 Lunch:

14.00-15.25

Presentations. Chair: John Gabriel tbc

  • · Alex Gordon/ Chris Reeves (RMT History Project)
  • · Sally Groves (author of Trico: a victory to remember)
  • · Sundari Anitha / Ruth Pearson (Striking Women educational website + book)
  • · Padmini Broomfield (Ford Transition Pop-up Museum, Southampton)

15.25-15.45 Break 

15.45-16.15 Local collections: Martin Astell, Essex Record Office tbc. Chair:

16.15-16.45 Discussion + closing observations. Chair: tbc

Share

Walter Citrine part 2 – Trade unions in the USSR 1917-28

Share

Purcell & Tomsky

Our guest blogger Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official) continues with part two of his three part article on Walter Citrine in Russia.

Walter Citrine and George Hicks were particularly interested to probe their Russian hosts about the role of the unions in the Soviet state. This was a key issue in the IFTU ‘merger’ talks, especially for their European union colleagues, who suspected that Tomsky and his colleagues, were primarily communist politicos aiming to undermine the western social democratic union leaderships for communist revolutionary purposes. In the course of the visit, they had a number of serious discussions about how independent the Russian unions really were. There was no doubt but all the leading Russian union officials were all communists, it was a matter of pride for them how much they had played a part in bringing about the October Revolution and in the Civil War. But they did convince Citrine that they were also genuine union leaders. Tomsky was an engraver/compositor by trade and a union activist in the Petrograd and Estonia areas. He had also become a revolutionary as unions were illegal under the Tsarist regime and by the February 1917 revolution, he was an active Bolshevik and had spent spells in prison and exile. In their discussions, he gave them the Party line – that the unions need not be independent as they were all communists and supported the wider economic and social aims of the socialist state over all sectional claims. Citrine, more sceptical than Hicks, argued from their experience with the 1924 Labour government, that unions should always retain their independence.

There had been considerable controversy in the Russian Communist Party from 1920 on the role of the unions in the new socialist society. One faction, known as The Workers Opposition, had wanted to give the unions power over managers in the production process and generally run the economy on syndicalist lines. At the other extreme, Trotsky and Bukharin wanted to ‘statify’ them i.e., to incorporate them in the state as organs of its productionist aims. After much bitter wrangling in the Communist Party, a compromise devised by Lenin was agreed. The unions accepted the primacy of managerial control and piece-working, but they were to remain ‘independent of government machinery and control’. In this capacity they would be able to press their members’ claims on pay and conditions, especially in what was still a substantial private sector during that period of state capitalism. In fact, Tomsky had defended the unions vigorously at the expense of his own position and he was removed as chair and sent far away for a while. However, by 1925 he was back in position (said to be with the rising Stalin’s support). Unions then had both considerable autonomy and influence in state economic bodies as wages and productivity improved. However, in 1928, he was again removed by the Communist Party’s powerful fraction in the unions’ Central Council. It is thought that he opposed the dilution of the unions’ independent role in the further development of the economy with the State Five Year Plan for rapid industrialisation. It is ironic that he took this stance, a few years after he had argued the opposite with Citrine and Hicks.

As they got to know Tomsky in the course of 1924/5, western union officials, both at IFTU and the TUC, speculated as to his real purpose in seeking to link up the Russian unions with IFTU. He came across as a genuine union official and easy to get along with, rather than a Party ideologue. Accordingly, some thought that he was really trying to strengthen the Russian unions’ independence from State control in the USSR. As Citrine sought to persuade Tomsky of this when he was in Russia, he probably had hopes for this outcome through their Anglo-Russian Joint Advisory Committee (ARJAC) which was set up by the Scarborough Conference of September 1925. As we will see in the third part, the Soviet authorities had very different objectives for ARJAC. When Citrine visited again in 1935, he insisted on meeting Tomsky (who was then in charge of the Soviet Publishing House). To learn that the Russian leader had committed suicide a year later to avoid arrest must have been very distressing for him and can only have strengthened his concerns about how the Soviet Union was going.

Share

The 1911 Idris lemonade factory strike and Annie Lowin

Share

Guest blogger Bob Reeves returns to write about strikers at the Idris lemonade factory and the use he made of the TUC Library Collections when doing his research (specifically the Gertrude Tuckwell Collection). See his Blog for more information.

In April 1911 the strikers at the Idris lemonade factory were selling this song-sheet on the streets of Camden Town. They sung at every opportunity-picketing the factory gates, marching and collecting money to sustain themselves.
Appearing very soon after they first walked out, no one woman claimed authorship. Then who claims authorship of football chants and anthems?
They sung this to the tune of the then popular “Every Nice Girl Loves a Sailor” so it would have been immediately recognised in the streets.
Here is just a very brief account- a background sketch – of the song and the strike. I’m currently working on more detail and, in this, the Gertrude Tuckwell collection at the TUC Library (source of this song-sheet) has been invaluable.

What does the song tell us?

Master Willie is William Idris, owner of the Idris lemonade factory. Little sister Anne is Annie Lowin, union activist in the factory, just sacked for lateness and, allegedly for abusing the time keeper – but she never cheeked the man at the gate.

William Idris is quoted a few days into the strike as saying he would never re-employ that woman.

Discontent at the factory had been simmering since the previous autumn. Annie Lowin, who was president of the local branch of the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW), had achieved some basic improvements – women had complained that they were often up to their ankles in dirty water, so management had provided clogs. Under pressure Idris had provided an urn, instead of a bucket, so that they could make tea.

But in recent months union activists had been harassed, so sacking Annie, a 24 years old widow with two children who had worked at the factory for 13 years – just do the sum, since she was 11 or 12 – was probably not a surprise.

The walk-out in support of Annie seems to have been spontaneous. First it was her department, followed by the ginger beer workers. They picketed out some of the boys recruited to break the strike.
Everything about the events of the next week or so was creative and even theatrical. The public was appealed to for sympathy and for funds. With the support of the NFWW and Mary MacArthur they rallied in Trafalgar Square. They worked hard on publicity, portraying a bullying male owner victimising a single mother with two children. They didn’t win. Not all the strikers were taken back after men and boys had been taken on as strike breakers; also, not all the women in the factory joined the strike.

For Annie Lowin it was life changing. She wasn’t going to get her job back but the NFWW recruited her as a paid union organiser, and four months later she could be found helping the women on strike in Bermondsey.

I think the significance of the Idris strike is that, unlike the much better-known Bermondsey strikes in August, it was about trade union rights. Without a union they didn’t see how they could right the wrong… so they sung
Now then girls all join the union.

Share