John Newsinger

The great royal con trick

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When millions of people are rejecting austerity and support the idea of taxing the rich, how does the monarchy manage to maintain a level of popularity that defies its privileged position? And why is the bigoted Prince Philip treated as a national treasure? John Newsinger investigates.

The “retirement” of Philip Mountbatten from his “public duties” led to a great outpouring of carefully orchestrated royalist propaganda right across the British media. The press carried page after page of lightweight pap covering the life of this royal nonentity. Even the Daily Mirror gave the royal parasite four pages.

Solidarity forever part 9: War and repression

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Part nine of our history of the Wobblies recounts how the First World War changed the terrain — and not for the better.

By 1914 there was a growing acknowledgement within the IWW that despite the huge part it had played in the class struggle, the union had not succeeded in becoming a mass revolutionary force. It had failed to sweep aside the conservative American Federation of Labour (AFL) and lead the American working class to socialism.

IWW: songs the struggle taught us

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Part eight of our history of the Wobblies celebrates the great contribution of radical songwriter Joe Hill.

Song played a vital part in the struggles and campaigns of the IWW. On the picket line, at meetings, during the free speech campaigns, around campfires and in prison cells, the Wobblies sang their defiance.

In 1908 James Wilson reported from Spokane that the local Wobblies had been livening up their agitational meetings with “a few songs by some of the fellow workers”. He went on, “It is really surprising how soon a crowd will form in the street to hear a song in the interest of the working class.”

IWW: A tale of two cities

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Part seven of our series on the IWW looks at a victorious strike in Lawrence in 1912 and a defeat in Paterson a year later.

The two most famous strikes led by the Industrial Workers of the World were those in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, and in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913. The first of these battles opened the way for IWW organising in the East while the second seemed to close that door.

The IWW has stood with the Negro'

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In part six of our series on the Wobblies, John Newsinger tells how, at a time when lynchings were common, the IWW fought for unity between black and white workers.

One of the great weaknesses of the US labour movement was the way that many white workers fell for the race card and played into the hands of their employers, both North and South.

The concern of many white workers was to keep black workers off the job rather than to build a united movement to fight the bosses and their political representatives.

They stood by while black workers were oppressed, denied the vote, discriminated against and brutalised on a daily basis. The public torture and lynching of black men and women was almost an everyday affair.

The Corruption of Capitalism

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On the plus side, Guy Standing has put together a powerful indictment of contemporary capitalism. While some of his material is familiar, it seems fair to say that everyone will come away from this book knowing more about the inequities of capitalism than they did before.

He looks at the use of charities as a means of tax avoidance, for example. We learn that Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation raised $2.6 million in 2012 but gave away only $5,000. And the Cancer Fund of America over ten years raised getting on for $90 million, but only gave cancer patients a paltry $890,000.

Henry Ford's dirty history

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Donald Trump’s reluctance to denounce neo-Nazis marching on the streets of the US has shocked many people. But there is a long history of US businessmen flirting with fascism, writes John Newsinger.

Donald Trump is by no means the first US businessman to flirt with the far-right and even fascism. In the 1920s and 1930s many American businessmen looked to fascism as a way to protect their interests.

One particular individual stands out though — Henry Ford. Ford is still celebrated as one of the greatest US businessmen, as someone who transformed modern capitalism.

What is less often acknowledged is that he was also a vicious antisemite. Indeed, far from Ford being influenced by the Nazis, it was very much the other way round.

Ethel Mannin: hidden from history

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Ethel Mannin, successful author, activist and fighter for sexual liberation, has truly been hidden from history. She moved in the same circles as George Orwell, CLR James and other radicals in the 1930s, yet few have heard of her today. John Newsinger recounts her fascinating political life story.

Towards the end of the 1930s Frederic Warburg published a number of dissident left wing books, including George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, CLR James’s World Revolution, Boris Souvarine’s Stalin and Andre Gide’s Back from the USSR. These anti-Stalinist books are still readily available today.

There is one remarkable volume that he published at the same time, Ethel Mannin’s Women and the Revolution, which has been altogether forgotten, however. Indeed, Mannin has been pretty much written out of the history of the 1930s left.

Hanging is none too good for them'

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Part five of our series looks at the free speech campaigns the Wobblies waged in their efforts to organise agency workers.

The Industrial Workers of the World set about organising migratory workers across the west of the US. In this effort they encountered fierce resistance.

The corrupt and exploitative role played by employment agencies was a particular focus. The Wobblies would have found the role of employment agencies and the working conditions at the likes of Sports Direct in Britain today very familiar.

Every obstacle was put in the way of their campaigns. Street meetings were banned, speakers were arrested and the distribution of literature prevented.

Gurley Flynn will be the boss

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The fourth part of our series on the Wobblies looks at the role of women in the workers’ and socialist movement.

Only 12 of the 200 delegates at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were women, but they included the African American anarchist and veteran revolutionary Lucy Parsons. In her speech to the convention, Parsons urged all women to read August Bebel’s Marxist account of the position of women, Woman in the Past, Present and Future (first published in 1879).

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