Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Working class history revival - New free courses.

The WEA (formerly known as The Workers’ Educational Association), the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education has jointly organised with the GFTU a series of online discussions about key moments in working class history from the Peasant Rebellions in 1381 onwards.  

Each 90 minute session will be facilitated by a leading expert on the topic and delivered in an inclusive and accessible manner. The courses are completely free of charge. The series is titled Their Legacy – Our History. Among topics to be considered also will be the 1549 rebellions, the development of the Chartists, the fight for the provision of adult education, great women trade unionists, Winstanley and the Diggers, the Levellers, Captain Swing, how songs changed history. 

The series begins on September 15th with Labour Historian Professor Keith Gildart discussing the origin of the modern trade union movement. A recent warning by leading academic historians that the closure of two university history departments reflected the trend that was seeing British history becoming more and more a subject for the elite, has been reflected in the adult education and trade union education worlds. Working class history was one of the primary subjects alongside politics, philosophy and economics on the trade union education curriculum. Now it is rarely looked at.   

The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) has been working to reverse this trend by commissioning, plays, poetry, songs and graphic novels which keep this history alive in an accessible format. 

Simon Parkinson Chief Executive Officer of the WEA said: "We are dedicating this new series of history courses in memory of Nigel Todd a former WEA tutor, co‐operator and working class historian. The tradition of which Nigel was an important part deserves rekindling. Whole generations of activists in trade unions and community organisations were inspired by our history of winning rights, overturning injustices and creating greater commitments to equality. We hope future generations can feel this power and the living presence of what those who went before us achieved." (See further comment https://www.wea.org.uk/news‐events/news/tribute‐nigel‐todd) 

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the GFTU said: "So much of our history has been deliberately buried, people might have heard of Henry VIII, but not of equally important figures like Robert Kett or Anne Askew, and there's been a reason for hiding our past. This is going to be a pioneering series of learning opportunities led by some of our great popular educators with exceptional knowledge of the subjects covered.  

 Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University added: "This series represents all that is best in adult and trade union education and something that my father would have been proud of.  To forget the past is to ignore the future. The areas of study in this series cover moments in time when the people made history very decisively and with an impact still felt today."    

Contacts for further information and comment:   

Doug Nicholls,  doug@gftu.org.uk 

Phil Coward,    pcoward@wea.org.uk  

 Further information. 

Founded in 1903, the WEA is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education, delivering over 6,600 part‐time courses for over 39,000 people each year in England and Scotland. With the active support of around 350 local branches, 2,000 volunteers, 3,000 part‐time tutors and 5,000 members, the WEA provides high quality, student‐centred and tutor‐led education for adults from all walks of life. We also maintain our special mission to provide educational opportunities to adults facing social and economic disadvantage. For further information on the charity, please visit http://www.wea.org.uk 

The GFTU was founded in 1899 and played a leading role in providing welfare services for workers and their families, campaigning for the creation of the welfare state and was the original international arm of the British Labour Movement. It provides free adult education provision for some 2,000 learners a year and a full range of services to trade unions and community organisations, and runs a hotel and learning centre, please visit www.gftu.org.uk.

Chatham Cuffay (1755-1815)

Chatham Cuffay (1755-1815) - Black dockyard worker in C18 Kent 


The life of William Cuffay (1788-1870) the black leader of London Chartism in 1848 is becoming better known but there is now some detail on his father. Chatham Cuffay (not his original first name which appears to be as yet undiscovered) came from a slave background and travelled to England on a navy ship possibly as a chef. He became one of a significant number of black workers in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. 

Many arrived as Cuffay had done and probably the largest cohort remained dock and ship related workers but over time they may well have had an increased presence in the wider working population. William Cuffay, a tailor, is one example of this. His father has until now remained very largely hidden from history. See 

https://kmflett.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/black-history-month-william-cuffay-leader-of-londonchartism-in-1848/ 

“Chatham Cuffay, believed to have originally been from St Kitts and Nevis. His parents were possibly former slaves who had been freed but their son Chatham Cuffay was never enslaved. In 1772, he emigrated with his mother to Medway on board a naval ship under Captain Charles Proby. A young man of about 17, he was baptised in the same year in Gillingham and given his first name after the port at which he had landed. Probably later became Resident Commissioner at Chatham and it is his influence which was likely to have helped Cuffay find employment in the Dockyard as an Able Seaman and Cook. In 1780 he gained a position on the Chatham Yacht –the Commissioner’s official vessel. The plaque has been positioned where it is as this is the location the Chatham Yacht would have been moored and subsequently where Chatham, worked and boarded the ship from. Chatham appears in pay books across several years at Chatham Dockyard, the last entry being March 1803 where he is recorded as a Storehouse Labourer. Chatham is by no means the first Black worker at the Dockyard but he is the first named. He represents an unknown number of slaves that, by free will or force, boarded Naval Ships in the Caribbean and established themselves in England.”

 https://thedockyard.co.uk/news/celebrating-medways-black-heroes/

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

Engels’ favourite Manchester pub and beer revealed

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

 There are 50 volumes of the Marx and Engels Collected Works containing many letters between the two beard wearers. You can find discussion about what wines they liked and their favourite beer style (pilsner). There is very little about where they drank in London and even more so in Manchester. A fascinating blog post now reveals some Manchester detail: 

https://confidentials.com/manchester/missing-houses-in-searchof-mr-engels 

Engels drank with political allies (including Marx when in town) at the Thatched House pub off Market Street in central Manchester. It was knocked down in 1972 and is now covered by the Arndale Centre. In later years it was a Boddington’s pub. I haven’t yet been able to verify if it was owned by the brewery in the 1850s and 1860s when Engels lived in Manchester. However since the brewery dated back to 1778 it’s likely. The brewery was closed by ABInBev its current owners in 2004 and whatever beer appears under the Boddington’s brand is not Manchester brewed now. Engels of course also drank with business associates, particularly the German business community in Manchester at the Albert Club and Schiller-Anstalt club. Here he may had pilsner which was certainly available in the UK in the 1860s.

Keith Flett

Nine Elms Station, April 1848 and the Chartists

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)] 

Two new London Underground stations (Northern Line branch from Kennington) are now open, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station. Nine Elms will serve the new US Embassy (handy for demos) and New Covent Garden market. It will also serve some new (largely unaffordable) housing being built to offset the cost of the project to TFL. Both stations are in Zone 1 which reflects south London exceptionalism.

 There was however a previous Nine Elms station. It was opened in 1838 and was the terminus of the London and Southampton railway. It closed to passenger traffic in 1848 when Waterloo opened, although Queen Victoria still used to welcome royal visitors. It carried freight traffic until hit by a German bomb in 1941. The station was knocked down in 1963, despite opposition from John Betjeman, and New Covent Garden Market now occupies the site. 

When the Chartists demonstrated for the vote at nearby Kennington Common on Monday 10 April 1848 the station was used (with the full support of the railway company of course..) to hold troops in reserve who had come up from Gosport. That included 35 marine artillery soldiers with two light guns and 450 infantrymen. The expected revolutionary assault on London did not occur and they were probably not used, although some troops were deployed at Blackfriars Bridge to stop the Chartists going north of the Thames.

Keith Flett

Anniversary - 20 years of Stop the War

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)] 


It’s the 20th anniversary of the Stop the War Coalition. Derided perpetually by right-wing critics and those who like wars as either pacifists or supporters of terrorism (it’s quite difficult to be both) like any social movement it has its up and downs in support. It is however still here and held a 20th anniversary event at Conway Hall in London on 18 September. 

You might be forgiven for not noticing. While the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the end of a 20 year strategy by the US, the UK and others, those who said it would all end in tears (and for many much worse than that) have not featured much in media coverage. This tells you unsurprising things about the British media of course - points about its narrowness of focus that have been made many times. 

The forces that came together to form the Stop the War Coalition- CND, the Muslim Association of Britain and a spectrum of the left, perhaps primarily the Labour left and the SWP, held a meeting full to overflowing shortly after the war with Afghanistan started in late September 2001. The first demonstration took place in London on Saturday 13 October 2001. I was at both. With the invasion of Iraq pending the STWC organised what remains the biggest demonstration in British history in central London on 15 February 2003. I was there with my national union banner. 

So it went on and goes on, protesting against western military interventions, not always without controversy on the left but still often ignored by the media for whom the basic message of opposition to war was often an inconvenient one. There was an exhibition at Bow Arts featuring a lot of the art work associated with Stop the War down the years and particularly perhaps the early years. The visual aspect of the protest was key and ground breaking. It’s interesting to remember and review for those who were there but as important for those who were not, often because 20 years on they were too young. A 10 year old in 2001 is 30 now. And the need for Stop the War is not going away. 

Keith Flett

Comment - Socialist historians and the culture wars

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

The Tories are continuing to prosecute the Culture War with the appointment of Nadine Dorries as culture secretary. This issue of the Newsletter rounds up a number of the interventions the LSHG has made in some particularly high profile instances. 

Dorries’s first act as culture secretary was to nod through the destruction of the Dorman Long Tower on Teesside. A monument or statue to the steel industry and steel workers on Teesside, it was grade ll listed by Historic England but that didn’t bother Dorries. In a war, tactics and strategies can vary. The Government’s aim is to invent a layer of people it calls ‘woke’ and in reality promote their history over ours. Hence statues of slave traders must stay at all costs, while the Dorman Long Tower must go.


Dorries’s predecessor Oliver Dowden had pursued a slightly different strategy along the lines of ‘retain and explain’. He oversaw a policy that no statue or monument should be moved or taken down. He claimed he preferred new statues to be erected but in fact during his tenure as Minister none were. It might be argued that much of this is simply a distraction launched by the Tories while they get on with bashing the working poor. However, it is also something that seeks to establish and dictate exactly what British history is or is not. 

That is reflected not just in statue wars but in terms of persistent interventions by Tory politicians into what history is taught in schools and universities. Labour has had very little to say on this, not least because it’s clear that the current leader Starmer is not a history man. It is however a task that socialist historians need to address and dispute rather than leave the field to Tory propagandists. 

Thatcher laid waste to industry on Teesside. Now Dorries want to destroy the industrial heritage. The Dorman Long tower at the former steel works at Redcar on Teesside was built to store coal in the 1950s. It was a fine example of brutalist industrial architecture. Unsurprisingly the Tory mayor covering the area, Ben Houchen, would prefer to have no reminders of Thatcherite destruction of jobs and industry left on Teesside. He lobbied for the tower to be destroyed - an act of Tory industrial vandalism.

 I lived on Teesside in the 1970s and 1980s including the 1980 steel strike, in which I had a supporting role. The destruction by Thatcher of people’s livelihoods and lives has left a dreadful legacy and, as Dorries’s diktat shows, the Tories are proud of that legacy. Given that Dowden went to great lengths to make sure that no bit of existing British history was in anyway moved let alone destroyed, presumably Ms Dorries will no raise no objection to a few old statues being taken down as well.

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-58593615 

Keith Flett

Monday, 25 October 2021

Upcoming LSHG seminars


Monday Nov 1st 5.30pm Judy Meewezen 'Turtle Soup and Cato Street 1820'

Register for the seminar here: 

https://www.history.ac.uk/events/turtle-soup-and-cato-street-1820

Cato St was an attempt to violently overthrow the Government in February 1820. It failed and in the Johnsonian version of British history is written off as the work of a few deluded conspirators. In fact, post Peterloo, it had considerable support.
The 200th anniversary in 2020 has sparked a considerable amount of new research of which Judy Meewezen’s historical novel 'Turtle Soup for the King: The Cato Street Chronicles' is an important part.

Peter Linebaugh wrote in Counterpunch:
The Cato Street Chronicles, to give the subtitle to this historical novel, is as fully faithful to the historical record as may be empirically possible. Based largely on the documentation of spies, police, informers, turncoats, and provocateurs, on the one hand, and on the other the documentation, of the trade union movement, the reform politicians, and radical press, an archive that was already censored or in peril of extinction.


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Monday Nov 15th 5.30pm Merilyn Moos 'German Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945'

Register for the seminar here:

https://www.history.ac.uk/events/anti-nazi-germans-1933-45

Merilyn Moos will introduce her 3 books celebrating the lives and struggles of left-wing Germans who opposed the Nazis from exile. These may be freely downloaded below.

Anti-Nazi ExilesGerman Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945
by
Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…
 
Hans JahnBiography of an Anti-Nazi Trade Unionist
by Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…
 
German Anti-Nazis and the British EmpireThe Special Operations Executive, Deserters from the German Army and Partisan Movements in Occupied Europe
by Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…
 

The refugees Merilyn will be discussing almost all fled Germany as political activists, most from a working class background. They risked their lives again and again in Germany, often escaped arrest and probable death without knowing where they would end up.

Most survived. But, once in Britain, organising an anti-Nazi struggle became very difficult and there was much disagreement as to the best means. Merilyn will examine the details of a few of these refugees. One example is Hans Jahn, President of the German Railway Union. Faced with the Nazis’ attempt to break working class organisations, he tried to organise anti-Nazi resistance amongst railway workers, even when, later, he was exiled here. He  was to say that “one of the greatest tragedies is that German unions did not fight to prevent Hitler taking power in 1933”.


More ferociously anti-Nazi than many at the time in the UK, some anti-Nazi German exiles risked their lives all over again in an often uneasy alliance with sections of the British military. Some worked with SOE. A small group, almost all of whom had fought in Spain, fled to France and then were sent by the French Government to camps in Algeria. They also ‘volunteered’ to fight with the British. Thousands of Germans were conscripted into the 999 ‘Death battalions’, a sub-section of the Wehrmacht, made up largely of political prisoners. Many of them either deserted to the partisans in Greece or clandestinely supported them. Upon the partisans' defeat, a few of the German deserters escaped to Albania and supported their partisans. The tensions within British policy between being anti-fascist and pro-imperialist, are sharply exposed during the Greek civil war when the German deserters who first were fighting with the partisans  alongside the British against the Nazi forces, then fought with the partisans against the British.

It is a good time for such stories of courage and resistance to be heard.