Archives and Resources Committee

Since its foundation the Society for the Study of Labour History has actively encouraged the preservation of labour history archives, objects (banners, cartoons, ephemera) and printed collections.

The Archives and Resources Committee (ARC) includes staff working at key archives, libraries and museums whose collections tell the story of the British labour movement.

Role of the ARC
The ARC is active in encouraging good practice in the preservation of labour history, and in guiding those seeking to deposit papers and supporting researchers to make best use of specialist UK archives by publishing a series of advice and reference documents. These documents are listed here.

It meets twice a year to share news of new acquisitions, events, research possibilities and good practice and new members from institutions are always welcome.

The ARC was established at the Society’s annual conference in autumn 1965, some five years after the SSLH itself was founded. But a commitment to archives was present from the beginning. The objectives set out in the Society’s constitution at its founding conference in 1960 included a commitment ‘to encourage study, teaching and research in the field of labour history and to safeguard the preservation of labour archives’.

The ARC’s original members, and for some years its leading lights, were:

  • Irene Wagner (1917-2016), a German-Jewish anti-Nazi activist who had escaped to London in 1937 and subsequently became chief librarian of the Labour Party;
  • W.S. Guttsman (usually known as Willi) (1920-1998), who also arrived in England as a German-Jewish refugee in the late 1930s, having spent six weeks in Buchenwald concentration camp after Kristallnacht, and who in the early 1960s became the first librarian of the University of East Anglia; and
  • E.P. Thompson (1924-1993), then Reader in History at Birkbeck College, whose The Making of the English Working Class had been published two years earlier in 1963.

Prominent later members included Roy Garratt, the librarian of the Co-operative Union, and Christine Coates, who had joined the TUC Library in 1967 aged 18 and remained there until her retirement in 2014, and who served on the ARC for much of that time.

Irene Wagner, W.S. Guttsman and E.P. Thompson: original members of the ARC.

From its earliest days, members of the ARC were involved in advising not just trade unions and other labour movement organisations but also business groups and employers on the preservation of records; the ARC was also at the forefront of campaigns by the SSLH during the 1964-1970 Wilson government to convince the then Home Secretary James Callaghan to open up official records, many of which were still subject to a 100-year closure rule.  

Current members of the ARC
The ARC currently has representation from:

  • Numerous university archives (including the TUC Library at London Metropolitan University, the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University and the London School of Economics)
  • Co-operative Archives
  • Bishopsgate Institute
  • Working Class Movement Library (WCML)
  • People’s History Museum
  • Trade unions (including the GMB and the Royal College of Nursing)
  • The national libraries of Wales and Scotland
  • Marx Memorial Library
  • Transport for London
  • Sparrow’s Nest Library
  • Senate House Library
  • International Association of Labour History Institutions (IALHI)
  • May Day Rooms

You can find out more about the libraries and archives represented here.

Officers and Contact
The Chair is Lynette Cawthra (of the WCML) and the Secretary is Rob Phillips (National Library of Wales). Email the SSLH-ARC.