Strikes and trade union history

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”. But although the top of the union was getting it right, in some areas the grassroots was not. In 1950, white workers...

The Story of Colour Bars on the UK Railway

Speaking at our online meeting in September, Janine Booth tells the story of the period after the end of the Second World War when black people came to Britain but met opposition from some white workers, until the 'colour bar' was defeated in 1966.

Why we need a general strike

Workers' Action pamphlet, "Why We Need a General Strike", 1980 Click here to download pdf

A tribune of the working class

This is part three of a series. For the other articles, see here. In rapidly shifting post-war conditions, as Labour displaced the Liberals as Britain’s second party, there were three general elections in 1922-24. Chosen as the standard-bearer of a strong and radical local labour movement, Indian revolutionary socialist Shapurji Saklatvala was elected Labour MP for Battersea North in 1922; narrowly lost it to his right-wing Liberal opponent in 1923; and won it back in 1924, as a Communist candidate with local Labour backing. Saklatvala was Labour’s first “BAME” MP, but not the first MP with...

Fiendishly/not so difficult political quiz

In these troubled and isolating times here’s a chance to have a bit of fun and demonstrate to all and sundry that you are a real smart-arse. Most of these questions are not that difficult, there are a few stinkers however. Try and resist the temptation to look everything up on Google. Use the quiz as you see fit. I hope some of the answers at least will prove interesting. The full answers will be posted in ten days from when they are made available online. Deaths, assassinations etc. 1. Gavril Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. To which secret organisation did Princip...

The story of the Polish workers

Buy the book referenced, or listen to the audio, here. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Solidarność (Solidarity), the Polish independent trade union, at what was then the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. Solidarność both emerged from and provided the organisational infrastructure for the mass strikes of August 1980. This intense period of struggle thrust strike leaders like Lech Wałęsa and Anna Walentynowicz into the international limelight. With the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement on 31 August 1980, Solidarność became the first independent union to be recognised by a...

Lessons from the seventies

When Avon jet engines being refurbished for use by the Chilean air force came into the workshop at the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride, Scotland, from 1974, workers there decided to refuse work on them. The Chile solidarity movement in Britain celebrated this action as exemplary, and it is the subject of the 2018 documentary Nae Pasaran. Eventually, due to downwards pressure, not only from their bosses, but also the Labour government and the trade union bureaucracy, the workers were forced to end the boycott. But even then they loosely fitted together the bolts in the engines loosely, and...

Organising cleaners in the 1970s

Shown as part of the “Women Organise!” film season in Manchester, The Nightcleaners is a documentary about the struggle to organise women office cleaners in 1970-72. The film has many resonances today when organising cleaners and other low-paid, insecure workers is again a central task for the unions. The filmmakers of the Berwick Street Film Collective (one of whom, Humphrey Trevelyan, was at the Manchester showing) were not traditional documentary makers, but saw themselves both as part of the women’s fight and as creatively producing a piece of cinema. The result is a film that is a...

1919 - Triple Alliance: Untapped Power

With engineers and others taking on the employers, the time was ripe for the other bastions of industrial power – the rail workers, miners and transport workers – to join the fray. The government was certainly afraid that they would, knowing that these workforces’ unions had a deal, known as the Triple Alliance, that they would strike in solidarity with each other if asked. But the government and employers would outflank them, with the union leaders allowing their confrontations to be pushed to the later part of the year, by which time the authorities were ready to contain or even beat them...

“If I don’t get satisfaction I’ll be at that Wilson’s house, private house, until I do...”

Hull's Headscarf Heroes on BBC iPlayer tells the story of a inspiring fight by working-class women in Hull to put workers’ safety at sea ahead of profits. In 1968, the deep water fishing industry employed thousands, not just on the ships but on shore processing. A whole community centred around Hessle Road depended on the trawlers. The trawlers were an extremely dangerous industry, only partially organised in unions. Even though many women worked in the industry onshore, the trawlers themselves were operated only by men. In the Hessle Road community, women were relatively marginalised...

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