Battle of Ideas

How transport workers beat the colour bar

This story of colour bars in the UK railway and bus industries begins after the Second World War, when Britain had a labour shortage and people moved to Britain in increasing numbers from Caribbean countries and elsewhere.

The National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, predecessor of the RMT) declared in 1948 that: “we have no objection to the employment of coloured men in the railway industry” and that “coloured men had been satisfactorily employed on the railways over a long period”.

The "idiot of Vienna"

The expression “antisemitism is the socialism of fools” is widely attributed to the late-nineteenth-century German socialist August Bebel. In fact, Bebel did not ‘invent’ the expression. Nor did he even agree with it.

The original version of the saying is to be found in a speech by Ferdinand Kronawetter, an Austrian liberal sympathetic to the labour movement, at a general meeting of the Margarethen District Electoral Association held in Vienna in April of 1889:

Walter Benjamin: 80 years later

Things never seemed to work out for Walter Benjamin. He failed to obtain the teaching post he wished for in Germany and, for the rest of his life, made only a precarious living through his writing.

As a Jew, he fled Germany to exile in Paris, and then had to leave Paris in 1940 as the German tanks approached. Having obtained a US visa he eventually made his way to the very south west corner of France and crossed the Pyrenees to the relative safety of Spain.

Rosa, Karl 1919

We can say:
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht,
You are no longer in the circle
Of the living
But you are present amongst us,
We sense your mighty spirit,
We will fight under your banner,
Our fighting ranks shall be covered
By your moral grandeur!
And each of us swears
If the hour comes,
If the revolution demands it,
To perish without trembling
Under the same banner
As that under which you perished.

The Black Jacobins: the Haitian revolution against slavery

This is a speech by Dan Davison, a labour activist and sociology PhD student at the University of Cambridge, for a talk on C.L.R. James and the Haitian Revolution held in July 2020. All page references are to C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: New edn., Penguin 2001). Video, text, and audio.

Shapurji Saklatvala: Labour's first "BAME" MP

This is part one of a series. For the other articles, see here.

In 1922, sixty-five years before before Diane Abbott and three other Labour MPs of colour entered Parliament, Indian-born Shapurji Saklatvala was elected MP for Battersea North in South West London.

Like some other Labour candidates more recently, Saklatvala was a bourgeois figure standing in a working-class constituency which was not his home. There the similarity ends.

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