Working Class History

The following information will, I have no doubt, be of interest to students of Black Country working class history. Much of this has been supplied/suggested by George Barnsby, who runs the GB Peoples Library and Free Communist Bookshop. George has a website, also containing information that will be of use to students.

Email from George to Tristram Hunt in response to an article to be found here.

Dear Tristram,

Yesterday I sent you a collection of my free booklets Radical Wolverhampton, Radical Birmingham, Radical Dudley, Radical Walsall and Radical Bilston in response to your campaign for the celebration of Labour History. My purpose was to stress the importance of Birmingham and the Black Country as areas not sufficiently celebrated in Labour History annals.

The purpose of this email is to show some of the sources of local history, including Labour history, active in Birmingham and the Black Country.

Probably the most important is Carl Chinn who writes a a weekly column for the Express and Star, does a weekly 4 hour slot on West Midlands radio each Sunday, makes himself available as the opening star of almost any historical event and was and is an opponent of the closure of the Rover car plant at Longbridge. This is an incredible workload to undertake.

Yet it is no more than the workload undertaken by the Editor of the Black Country Bugle, Robert Taylor. If anyone needs recommending for the honours list it is Robert and his predecessor as editor. The Bugle, calling itself the Voice of the Black Country, is a unique publication. It used to be a monthly, then fortnightly, but now it is a weekly publication from which pours forth every 7 days the seemingly unending flow of memoirs, reminiscences, letters etc. of the ordinary people of the Black Country.

And as if a weekly were not sufficient there is the quarterly publication "The Blackcountryman" now in its 39th year under a series of editors, one of the most important sources of labour history in the Black Country, particularly for the lives of those craftsmen before and after the Industrial Revolution who, deprived of education, made the Black Country one of the key centres of the Industrial Revolution. Now, of course, although we are educated our industry has disappeared under New Labour who rule us.

The next source to be mentioned is Ned Williams, prolific historian of the Black Country, now a free lance full-time historian, but also a historian of the Walsall Co-operative movement in its most radical phase from 1829 of association with Robert Owens Utopian Socialist period when Co-ops were producer Co-ops with the aim of peacefully superseding capitalism.

Then there is Stan Newens ex-Essex Labour MP and MEP, but an honorary Black Countryman from being a Bevin Boy in the Cannock mines during World War II who associated with the Garner twins in the Labour youth organisation of the time. Both Alan and Ray became Wolverhampton Labour councillors after the war. One of Stan's many contributions to Labour history has been his collection of radicals between 1850 and about 1900 with a picture/photograph of every one of them. Unique.

Then, we must mention the Black Country Living Museum which has avoided the fate of other museums and flourishes open seven days a week this summer and with its Mary MacArthur Institute taken down brick by brick and rebuilt at the Museum it deals worthily with its political and trade union past.

Talking of those working themselves to death I would mention the Express and Star which not only hosts Carl Chinn, but whose reporters efficiently research history and the paper serves the majority of its readers by opposing the war in Iraq. The reporter I refer to is Peter Rhodes, the only journalist I know who writes a witty, satirical and anti-war column for six days a week. I have had my ups and downs with both the paper and Peter Rhodes, but we are now on the best of terms and only he and I appreciate the fact that the founder of the paper was the Scottish/USA steel monopolist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, whose philosophy was that every penny of what he earned should be returned to those it was earned from. If Peter Rhodes were ever appointed to the editorship of the Express and Star I think he might well adopt the Carnegie approach to wealth. I would also mention their Sports Correspondents who dealt with the World Cup and the particular torments of Wolverhampton Wanderers deserted by their previous manager and waiting for another backer as Sir Jack Hayward, entrepreneur and patriot extraordinary refuses to continue in that role.

Then there are the current developments, both progressive and otherwise. The Wolverhampton Windrush Project, story of first generation West Indians in Wolverhampton and Britain, particularly suitable for showings at schools. The Wolverhampton Special Needs Unit under the redoubtable Kal Dale, the Jenny Lee Professional Teachers' Association led by Sedhev Bismal with its important library, which I criticised when last I had occasion to visit it, as pandering to the prevailing 'conservatism' of the British public. Then there are the trade unions recently re-united and still a formidable force at 9m members; Anti-war and with contacts with the New World of Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentine etc. Add to this THE VOICE, most influential of the Afro-Caribbean weekly newspapers anti-war and with a mission to protect the Afro-Caribbean community.

I could go on, but will end with the working class history organisations of Socialist History Society, the newly independent Working Class Movement Library, various organs of Communist History in Britain, and the very latest History Society of the Communist Party of Britain advertised on the highly influential Saturday Listings of the Morning Star Progressive Web Sites of Graham Stevenson, historian and Transport & General Workers' Union official with more than 100 biographies of leading working class figures.

Unfortunately there are also reactionary tendencies, particularly in education, which prevent 3rd generation ethnic minority children from naturally embracing the multicultural world in which most of them live. One is the lack of a role model for ethnic minority children in schools. Another is the phenomenon remarked on by Trevor Phillips chair of the Commission for Racial Equality of his famous statement Sleepwalking to Segregation. Then there is the totally unacceptable position of local schools calling themselves schools or colleges of Special distinction such as Sport, Music, Arts etc. which can thereby dodge the rules of accepting children from their catchment area and accept donations from private sources, some of them from very seedy religious sources, which they need not disclose. Lastly there are those such as the Lords of the Fourth Estate such as Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr, Jon Snow of Channel 4 and Kirsty Walk who think that in these days of BLOGs and people power that they can ignore critics by not replying to them. They are mistaken.

So, Tristram, I have outlined the resources we have in the West Midlands to celebrate our Labour history. The next thing will be to use all these resources to further your grand project. Please keep in touch with us.


The links above have been added by me to assist those who would like to read more. You could do worse than to ask George for copies of his books, listed above. I have made some slight alterations to George's text, I call this editor's privilege. George does have political views that I may not agree with, I prefer to stay outside of party politics.