Labour history

Class war at Christmas

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A Woody Guthrie song commemorates the heroic attempts by Michigan copper miners to achieve union recognition in 1913. The bosses resorted to any murderous means they could and in one incident 62 children were crushed to death. John Newsinger looks at how class war was waged in the US.

Take a trip with me in 1913
To Calumet, Michigan in the copper country
I'll take you to a place called the Italian Hall
And the miners are having their big Christmas ball

Woody Guthrie, The 1913 Massacre

Old fashioned values

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"The affairs of the world are ordered in accordance with orthodox opinions. Owen saw that in the world a small class of people were possessed of a great abundance.

"He saw also that a large number lived lives of semi-starvation from the cradle to the grave, while a yet smaller but still very great number actually died of hunger.

"Seeing all this, he thought that it was wrong, that the system, which had produced such results, was rotten and should be altered. And he sought out and eagerly read the writings of those who thought they knew how it might be done.

"It was because he was in the habit of speaking of these subjects that his fellow workmen came to the conclusion that there was probably something wrong with his mind."

How the working class went global

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John Rees talks to author Paul Mason about his book Live Working
or Die Fighting
and the importance of writing about workers' history

Q. You start off each chapter with a contemporary piece of reportage about the international labour movement and move on to historical comparisons. How did you come to that structure?

To Fight Chauvinism Everywhere

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Communists in Harlem, just republished, is the celebrated account of the relationship between communism and the black struggle in the US. Hassan Mahamdallie speaks to its author Mark Naison.

Communists in Harlem first came out in 1983. What spurred you to write it?

I was very involved in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s and the whole approach of the Communist Party to the 'Negro question' was something that different groups in SDS were using to justify or explain their own understanding of race in America in that pretty tumultuous era. They used the communist approach particularly to justify how they would deal with organisations like the Black Panthers or black student unions on college campuses.

Poplar 1921: Guilty and Proud of It

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Keith Flett explains how the Poplar councillors in the 1920s took on the government.

We know Old Labour as being a bit more principled and usually a bit more to the left than Blair's New Labour. We don't think of Old Labour as a party that organises street theatre and film and sees women as activists rather than 'wives'. Yet this is exactly what happened in Poplar in the East End of London in the 1920s, and the example still speaks down the years to those who voted in Respect in East London on 5 May.

Poplar Idol

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Review of 'George Lansbury', John Shepherd, Oxford University Press, £35

George Lansbury was one of the most popular figures on the left of the Labour Party. Consequently he is still patronised and reviled by newspaper columnists, and Historian AJP Taylor claimed Lansbury's Lido on the Serpentine was the only lasting achievement of the 1929 Labour government. Given that the current government will leave the derelict Dome as its only memorial, Lansbury's open air swimming pool looks more impressive.

The Lost Tradition

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There is a rich history of workers' struggles in Iraq.

'There was no alternative' was the familiar mantra of liberals supporting the US and British juggernaut as the only force capable of ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. However, even a cursory examination of 20th century Iraq reveals an alternative - a working class whose combativity was belied by its youth and small size.

Industry - Anger into action?

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The firefighters' action has revived talk of the winter of discontent in the 1970s. Chris Bambery and Peter Morgan look at what happened.

Everyone has their breaking point and I'm afraid the FBU has reached theirs.' These are the words of Jim Burge, a firefighter of 15 years based in North London, who takes home just £21,500 per year. He was speaking shortly before the FBU leadership announced that they were suspending their first two strikes over pay after the government hinted that there might be more on offer than the 4 percent on the table.


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