Strikes and trade union history

The story of the Polish workers

Published on: Wed, 04/03/2020 - 10:30

Eduardo Tovar

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 Warsaw Pact country.

At its height in September 1981,

Lessons from the seventies

Published on: Wed, 30/10/2019 - 09:04

Pete Boggs

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

Published on: Wed, 22/05/2019 - 12:12

Bruce Robinson

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

Published on: Fri, 12/04/2019 - 16:44

Janine Booth

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...”

Published on: Wed, 03/04/2019 - 10:25

Luke Hardy

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,

“They steal the roses from our cheeks”

Published on: Wed, 20/03/2019 - 10:11

Jill Mountford

A ten-week strike involving recently unionised women home-workers is the subject of Neil Gore’s latest production.

“‘Rouse, Ye Women” is a folk-ballad opera telling the stirring story of the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910 through uplifting songs sung by Bryony Purdue as Mary MacArthur, and Rowan Godal as “Bird”, a downtrodden chainmaker.

With only a guitar and banjolele, a simple but evocative set, and an imaginative use of lighting, the audience are quickly transported to a backyard outhouse in Cradley Heath.

This foot tapping, hand clapping, chorus sing-along performance is an inspiring play

"We belong to history": the end of coal and the miners

Published on: Tue, 11/12/2018 - 10:03

John Cunningham

In the summer of 2012 a small group of ex-miners and labour movement activists met in a pub in Sheffield. We had just heard of the Spanish miners’ strike against the attempts by the right-wing government of Manuel Rajoy to withdraw subsidies to the mining industry and thereby, in effect, close it down.

A ‘fact-finding’ trip to Spain then followed and on returning to the UK a Spanish Miners Solidarity Committee was formed, raising 28,000 Euro in something like six weeks – money that went to support the families of the strikers. After which time the miners called off the strike.

Nevertheless, I

Why did working-class militancy collapse in face of Thatcherism?

Published on: Sun, 17/06/2018 - 17:06

John O'Mahony

A small pamphlet published by us in 1989, reprinting extracts from Trotsky previously presented by us in 1983 with a new introduction.

For something like two decades, from the mid-1950s, trade union militancy in Britain increased in a succession of waves. There were ebbs as well as flows, of course, but each time the movement picked up again and rose higher.

That working- class movement frustrated a series of attempts by the ruling class to change Britain to their own advantage. It stopped the ruling class from ruling as it wanted to and as the needs of the profit-regulated capitalist system

Guns, controls and the labour movement

Published on: Wed, 28/02/2018 - 10:53

Gerry Bates

The US constitution famously states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”; historically, revolutionary democrats insisted on this right as a guarantee against arbitrary state power and the development of tyranny.

But the early United States was a society composed predominantly of independent small farmers, with only a small urban population. It is obvious that carrying a gun around your farm is different from carrying a gun in the hot house of a big city packed with people, full of social tension and with numerous potential flashpoints for violence.


Why the 70s shop stewards lost

Published on: Wed, 08/11/2017 - 11:00

Jim Denham

For a brief period in the 1970s, Derek Robinson (who has died, aged 90) was widely regarded as the most powerful trade unionist in Britain.

The so-called “Red Robbo” wasn’t a full-time official. He was a shop steward (albeit a senior steward, allowed time off by management, to devote himself full-time, to union duties).

I was a shop steward at the same car plant as Robinson (Longbridge, Birmingham) in the 1970s, and was one of those who went on the picket line when he was sacked in 1979. If some of what I say about Derek seems harsh, it’s because it’s essential we learn the political lessons

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