Labour history

Who was John Maclean?

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"I stand in the Gorbals and before the world as a Bolshevik, alias a Communist, alias a revolutionary, alias a Marxist. My symbol is the red flag, and I shall always keep it flying high."
John Maclean's Election Address, 1922

John Maclean was a Glasgow schoolteacher who became one of the finest socialist leaders the British working class has so far produced.

He was a fierce opponent of British imperialism and the leading figure in the opposition to the First World War. Maclean was a key figure on "Red Clydeside," and was involved with the Clyde Workers' Committee, which spearheaded a rank and file revolt against the dismantling of trade union defences during wartime.

John Maclean: enemy of empire

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Dave Sherry's book John MacLean: Red Clydesider has recently been republished by Bookmarks. Here we print an abridged version of the new introduction which looks at the importance of Maclean in the context of the debate about Scottish independence.

This year sees the anniversary of the First World War, the independence referendum and the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The convergence of these three important events affords socialists an opportunity to shape the referendum campaign and challenge both British and Scottish nationalism.

1914: War in the US Coalfields

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This month marks the centenary of the Ludlow Massacre when US national guardsmen killed 20 striking miners and their families in Colorado. This is the story of one of the most violent episodes in American labour history.

On 20 April 1914 the US National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking miners at Ludlow in Southern Colorado. By the end of the day at least 20 strikers, their wives and children were dead. Thirteen had died in a pit dug underneath a tent where they were sheltering from the gunfire after the militiamen deliberately set fire to the tents.

US workers: from despair to victory

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After years of vicious repression, US workers rose in 1934 in a series of magnificent struggles, transforming the nation's industrial landscape.

John Newsinger reviews a new book about one of the most significant, that in Minneapolis.

In the aftermath of the First World War the US labour movement suffered a succession of crushing defeats that were to leave it on its knees throughout the 1920s. A countrywide "open shop" campaign saw union organisation broken, driven out of whole industries, and militants and activists sacked and blacklisted.

'A titanic struggle'

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The revolutionary socialist James Connolly played a key role in the Dublin Lockout, taking over the leadership of the ITWU when Larkin was arrested. He wrote this article in the British socialist paper, the Daily Herald, in December 1913 as part of the fight to win solidarity from British workers.

What is the truth about the Dublin dispute?

In the year 1911 the National Seamen's and Firemen's Union, as a last desperate expedient to avoid extinction, resolved upon calling a general strike in all the home ports... the call was in danger of falling upon deaf ears, and was, in fact, but little heeded until the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union began to take a hand in the game.

A class that made itself

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Socialist historian E P Thompson's classic book The Making of the English Working Class was first published 50 years ago. Keith Flett takes a look at this seminal work of labour history that placed workers at the centre of making their own history

It is 50 years since the publication of E P Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. Published by Gollancz in the autumn of 1963, it was paper-backed by Penguin in 1968 and remains in print today. The original paperback cover, a painting of a collier from 1814, clay pipe in mouth, walking stick in hand tramping for work, remains an iconic image of the origins of the modern working class. The impact and influence of the book have been worldwide, despite the fact that the paperback edition weighs in at 958 pages.

Is the American working class different?

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In this article from 1986, Duncan Hallas takes up the argument that the American working class has been historically immune to socialist ideas.

One of the most important developments over the last year has been the revival of radical movements in the US. The uprising in Wisconsin, the Occupy movement, the Oakland shutdown and now the protests over the killing of Trayvon Martin (see Jonathan Neale in this issue of Socialist Review) all point to a new mood. American workers have long presented an enigma for socialists.
Why has the most powerful working class in the world never been able to create even a mass Labour-type party (the Democratic Party has always been a purely capitalist party).

Hallas explains how the conditions of American capitalism initially acted to prevent the emergence of stable working class organisation and to limit the influence of socialist ideas, but argues this no longer applies.

The central question in discussing the American working class is why there is not, and has not been, a political labour movement of any significance in the United States. This is in spite of the fact that the US is today the major capitalist power in the world and has been, since the turn of the century, one of the two or three major capitalist powers.

There are a number of explanations put forward. The first set of arguments are what you might call the "sociological" arguments. They can all be found in letters which Engels wrote to various people in America in the 1880s.

The minority movement

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As major industrial struggle seems set to make a return to Britain, Dave Sherry looks at the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary left during the period of intense class conflict which gripped Britain between the end of the First World War and the General Strike of 1926

In 1920 the best parts of the revolutionary left came together to form the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). It was soon put to the test.

Its first big challenge was the relationship between the "official" and "unofficial" wings of the trade union movement and how to work both with and against a newly emerging group of leftwing officials in the face of a deep recession and a vicious state offensive.

A textbook protest

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In Chicago the Great Depression led to the witholding of teachers' wages. John Newsinger shows how the teachers fought back - and won

The Great Depression hit US state education hard. By 1933, when the economic crisis was at its worst (the US economy had shrunk by a third), in most states educational provision had been seriously cut back. Indeed, in 1932 and 1933 many schools did not open at all because of lack of funds. In Georgia, the worst hit state, over 1,300 schools were shut, leaving 170,000 children without schooling and their teachers laid off. Their pay was already in arrears to the tune of $7 million. At the national level, big business was pushing for the introduction of charges for secondary education.

The uprising of the 30,000

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Migrant workers have historically found it difficult to organise and fight. John Newsinger writes of a furious strike over conditions in New York, 1909, waged by newly organised migrant women garment workers who fought bitterly to the brink of victory, despite hired thugs and conservative union leaders

The Local 25 branch of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) had some 2,000 members working in the shirtwaist trade in 1909. They were mainly young Jewish women, immigrants from Tsarist Russia. On the evening of 22 November the branch organised a mass rally at New York's Cooper Union hall. The turnout took the organisers completely by surprise. Thousands came, both union members and non-members, and overspill meetings had to be arranged hastily in another half a dozen halls.

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