Great online events at the WCML for autumn 2021

The Working Class Movement Library offers an impressive and extensive series of talks, all of which are live-streamed and subsequently made available on its YouTube channel. Its autumn 2021 series of ‘Invisible Histories’ ranges from Thomas Spence to Jayaben Desai, and from the Social Democratic Federation to Militant.

Talks marked below as ‘blended’ will take place from the Library annexe in Salford, while for those marked ‘online’ the speaker will log in remotely. A link to a free online version of each talk will be available on the WCML website on the day of the event. Check here for details nearer the time.

View previous live-streamed events on the WCML YouTube page.

Paul Salveson ‘Will yo’ come o’ Sunday mornin’? – the 1896 Battle for Winter Hill
Bolton’s Winter Hill ‘Mass Trespass’ of 1896 was the biggest rights of way campaign in British history, with thousands of people marching over Winter Hill on three successive weekends to reclaim a right of way. The campaign was led by local socialists from the Social Democratic Federation but it enjoyed wide support. Paul’s talk will outline the events of 1896 and their significance, and their relevance for today. A commemorative march will take place on Sunday 5 September this year to mark the 125th anniversary. Join the Facebook group Winter Hill 125 to find out more.

Harry Taylor ‘Victor Grayson: a reappraisal of the life and politics of Britain’s lost revolutionary’
Harry will talk about his decade researching the life and politics of Victor Grayson and describe how much of the accepted narrative about Grayson was invented by his enemies to discredit the cause of socialism.

29 Sept ONLINE
Uthra Rajgopal ‘Jayaben Desai: the sari-clad lion’
Jayaben Desai was a vocal and highly visible political leader of the Grunwick strike in the 1970s. Fearlessly campaigning for the rights of immigrant workers, Mrs Desai was often seen at the front of the picket line, always dressed in a sari. For many South Asians who arrived in the UK at this time, housing and employment opportunities were severely restricted due to cultural and racist tensions. They had to take what work they could find, often a low-paid job and live where they could. Despite these barriers, Mrs Desai always chose to wear a sari, resisting any expectation to assimilate by adopting a ‘western-style’ dress. This in itself was a remarkable choice, breaking down barriers of what South Asian women should and could do. In this talk, Uthra Rajgopal, a specialist in South Asian dress and textiles, will give an insight into how Jayaben Desai’s image in a sari promoted a statement of power and solidarity, not only with the South Asian women workforce, but also within Gujarati community. This paper was first presented at the Culture Costume and Dress Conference in May 2021 at Birmingham City University.

Frank Palmeri ‘Thomas Spence: satirist, utopian, socialist’
Thomas Spence has been recognised as the most important socialist thinker of the 1790s. He was also a strong satirist of aristocracy and of land-holders generally. This talk will consider Spence as a satirist and utopian writer, and will conclude by considering parallels between the thought and writing of Spence and of William Morris a century later. Frank Palmeri is Professor of English at the University of Miami.

Amy Todd  ‘The Peckham Publishing Project’
The Peckham Publishing Project was one of the many groups that made up the international Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers in the 1980s. This group met at the Bookplace, Peckham High Street – a community bookshop, adult education, and coffee shop built on the same principles as Centerprise (Hackney). The group was established by local working class people wanting to use their local knowledge, social history of the area, sometimes recently acquired literacy skills and many times political activism to come together to write collectively about their individual experiences. The writings of the PPP show the diversity of experience, thoughts and feelings of working class people in Peckham in this decade in which working class identity was heavily under threat. The collection includes diarised accounts of working mothers, migration narratives from children, experiences of moving to Peckham from Africa, Vietnam and the Caribbean, honest accounts of difficult family relationships, abject poverty that can’t be hidden and mothers who were not the martyrs that many working class narratives depict – all of which widen the genre of working class life stories and challenge the dominant narrative of British working class identity to offer an alternative, ‘a working-class identity without guarantees’. Out of this the research shows a re-imagining of working class identity that fits our world today, as even though the language of class might not be as strong a tool to mobilise social action, the injuries of class are still deeply entrenched. As Jon Lawrence explains, ‘Community hasn’t died, but it has changed’ and inspired by the FWWCP’s redefining of class to fit their era, there may be hope to do the same in 2021.

Peter John Fyles ‘The real SDF: rank and file branch activities and responses in Lancashire 1884-1918’
Peter has implemented the first detailed local study of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in the UK. The study questions old SDF historiography and provides further evidence that homogenous and general interpretations of labour histories are lacking and that leisure and commercialism, more than any socialist in-fighting or political opposition, was the major hindrance to SDF and socialist success at the turn of the 20th century.

Black History Month event ‘Multiculturalism in northern England: history, issues and debates’
What were the links between localised far-right successes, long years of deindustrialisation, and New Labour’s policies of ‘community cohesion’? How have the issues highlighted by the northern town riots of twenty years ago affected politics and identity more widely? What’s changing – if anything – for members of ‘the’ so-called ‘white working class’ and people in ‘the Muslim community’ in places from Bradford to Blackburn? Two speakers will open a discussion on aspects of race relations along ‘the M62 corridor’ and in East Lancashire: Shamim Miah (Huddersfield University), author of Muslim Schooling and the Question of Self-Segregation (2015) and Muslims, Schooling and Security (2017). He is also the co-author of ‘Race, Space and Multiculturalism in Northern England’ (2020); and Mike Makin-Waite, who has written about being a local council officer when the BNP were winning seats in the town hall he worked in. His book is On Burnley Road: class, race and politics in a northern English town (2021).

Oliver Price. ‘Militant vs the Security Services’
Oliver’s talk explores how Militant’s rise in the 1970s led British Trotskyists to be considered capable of posing a subversive threat for the first time. It will include a brief history of Security Service investigations into the Trotskyist movement prior to the 1970s; Militant’s rise, and subsequent surveillance of their meetings during the 1980s; the activity of Militant members within the Civil Service, and the effect of this on Civil Service employment policy. Oliver Price is a PhD student at the University of Wolverhampton.

10 Nov Half-term!

Corinne Painter ‘Hidden histories: revolutionary women in Munich 1919’
In autumn 1918, revolution swept across Germany. It led to the abdication of the Kaiser, the end of the First World War, and universal suffrage for all men and women over 20. At its heart was a vision for a radical new world built on equality, peace and social justice for all. Today, Munich is best known for its historic buildings, Bierkeller and the annual Oktoberfest. It also has a darker history as the starting point of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. However, in 1919, it was at the centre of a new revolutionary government and by focusing on this moment, we can tell a different story, one which highlights how the women of Munich risked their lives to fight the power of the German Empire. This talk introduces some of Munich’s forgotten revolutionary women, examines how and why they joined the revolution, and looks at the legacy of the revolution in their later lives. Dr Corinne Painter is Lecturer in German Studies at the University of Leeds.

Deaglán Ó Donghaile, ‘Oscar Wilde: Art, Socialism, and the Working Class’
In this talk, Deaglán Ó Donghaile will discuss Oscar Wilde’s belief that the participation of working class people in the fields of art and culture were central to the socialist struggle.  Although Wilde’s 1891 essay The soul of man under socialism has been dismissed by critics as an uncharacteristically radical piece written by an essentially conservative author, his views on class politics were always revolutionary.  Drawing on research for his forthcoming book, Revolutionary Wilde, Deaglán will explain how Wilde praised workers as ‘the creators in art’ and why, from the earliest stage of his career, he wanted to ‘speak to the hard-working people’ by overcoming ‘the prejudice that shuts them and me away from each other’. Dr Deaglán Ó Donghaile is a Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University.  From 2020-21 he was a British Academy Research Fellow.  His most recent book, Oscar Wilde and the radical politics of the fin de siècle, was published by Edinburgh University Press. His next book, Revolutionary Wilde, will be published in 2022.

Michael Sanders ‘From Luddism to Chartism: John Stafford and the creation of radical memory’.
John Stafford (1790-1852) aka the ‘Charlestown Poet’ was involved in every major working class political and economic agitation of the first half of the 19th century.  Luddism, Peterloo, the Queen Caroline Affair, the Reform Bill, the 10 Hours Movement, trade unionism and Chartism, all of these were commemorated in song by John Stafford.  This talk explores the ways in which Stafford’s lyrics, his choice of tune and the performances of the songs themselves contributed to the creation of a cross-generational Radical Memory in Ashton-under-Lyne. Alongside the talk we will hear songs from Manchester ballad singer Jennifer Reid.  Dr Michael Sanders is Senior Lecturer in 19th Century Writing at the University of Manchester.

Geraldine Van Bueren ‘Prohibiting Class Discrimination – Taking Equality Seriously’
It is legal in this country to discriminate against someone because they are working class. Geraldine Van Bueren argues that class discrimination can only be effectively prevented if class discrimination is made illegal. Geraldine Van Bueren QC is Professor Emerita at Queen Mary, University of London, Hon Senior Fellow of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, and Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, Oxford.

Screening of film by Amy Pennington, ‘How does it feel?’
A film screening and talk exploring the politics of working class storytelling. ‘How Does It Feel?’ by artist Amy Pennington depicts a typically northern humoured, Irish descendant, intimate (but not overly sentimental), working class Derby family’s story: of adoption, displacement and reconnection. Funded by Arts Council England.  After the screening Amy will be in conversation with sociologist Lisa Mckenzie. Amy Pennington is the artist who created the kinetic ‘luggage labels’ sculpture Dear Ruth, Dear Eddie in the hall at the WCML.