Working-class history at Ideas for Freedom

Submitted by Matthew on 4 June, 2014 - 11:29

The AWL believes that socialist organisations must be the “memory of the working class”. A big part of our job is to preserve, rediscover, discuss and spread the lessons and inspiration of past struggles, victorious and defeated.

Our annual event, Ideas for Freedom (3-6 July), will include many discussions on working-class history, with a focus on the First World War and the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

IFF will open on the evening of Thursday 3 July with a Radical Walking Tour of East London, looking at how working-class, socialist and women’s liberation activists organised in the East End in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Our Friday night meeting on “One hundred years of women’s struggles, 1914-2014” will include speakers on the women’s movement during the First World War and women’s role in the Miners’ Strike, as well as the 1976-8 Grunwick workers’ struggle.

On Saturday 5 July, we will discuss “How world war became world revolution”, the “Shop Stewards’ movement and workers’ struggles during the war”, and “How could the miners have won?”

Sessions on 6 July will include the “Miners’ strike and liberation politics”, with a speaker from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, and the “Miners’ Strike and the state”, as well a history of migration and migrants’ struggles in Britain and a look back at the history of Revolutionary Jews and its lessons for radical politics today.

From the Ruby Kid’s talk on the History of Revolutionary Jews

The unions that Jewish workers in London formed were often unstable, due to the extent of piecework and the precariousness conditions of employment for many.

But the broad Jewish labour movement was a real movement that mobilised thousands of workers.

In 1900 there were around 135,000 Jews in London, a figure that had trebled over the previous two decades. In response, the British government introduced the 1905 Aliens Act, the first ever “modern” immigration control in British history.

Much of the agitation of Jewish revolutionaries concerned opposition to immigration controls, and agitation within the indigenous labour movements to see migrant Jewish workers as class brothers and sisters rather than hostile aliens.

There are myriad parallels with contemporary politics. Immigration controls are seen as something fixed, and politics which advocate their abolition are seen as wildly fantastical. But they date only to 1905.

Immigration controls are a modern phenomenon, and the work that Eleanor Marx, Rudolf Rocker, and others did — fighting against racism, and for solidarity between migrant and indigenous worker — is very much necessary today, particularly in the context of renewed racist agitation from the right-wing media.

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