Watch…. Will And Testament...a new documentary celebrating the life of Tony Benn (3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014). He was one of the longest serving Labour MP’s and a Labour Minister but I don’t think most people on the left would hold that against him. It was his life after he left politics which is of most interest to me. Few people probably realise some of the less popular things he did, for example, when an Irish prisoner on remand, and later cleared of any offence, had a heart attack in prison, Tony Benn (not his local MP) was the only MP who would intervene to get this man an ECG. So ignore the blurb on this film calling Tony a “national treasure”: this trivialises the way in which he affected so many peoples lives and gave support to some of the most important struggles in this country over the years. The film has only a limited number of showings and Cornerhouse is hosting one of them, further details see
Read…The People; the Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-1920 by Selina Todd. In her introduction she says her motivation for writing the book was because; “I looked in vain for my family’s story when I went to university to read history, and continued to search for it fruitlessly throughout the next decade.” She should have come to the WCML!! Ruth and Eddie Frow set up the wcml to tell the story of the working class and to ensure that their autobiographies, the histories of trade unions and the ephemera of struggle was collected and cherished in one archive. Missing from the book is also the work of writer and socialist Jim Allen who produced plays and film scripts which documented the lives and struggles of working class people and organisations from their point of view. Instead we have many pages given over to Viv Nicholson, a working class woman who won the football pools in 1961. Selina uses Viv’s life as “magnified and glamorized form, a version of what happened to the working class”. I think there are many other women that Selina could have chosen to show the way in which working class women struggled as mothers, sisters, workers and activists to make a better world for their families and communities to live in. In my blog I have highlighted many of these women in recent years. She does cite one of our local heroines, Hannah Mitchell, suffragist, socialist: unfortunately she cites Hannah’s unhappiness as a servant which is not true, as Hannah says; “”I was not unhappy especially as my mistress made me free of a well-filled bookcase.” Overall the book is well-written, includes many insightful comments about how life has changed for working class people in this country. I do feel, however, that it reflects the life of the writer, Selina, who has lived the life of an academic, a particularly privileged one at Oxford University, and one in which so far as I know she has not been active or involved in any of the major campaigns or movements.To me this is one of the problems with books of this genre, they are nostalgia fests, mainly written I think for a particular audience of middle-class people who maybe feel a bit guilty about their lives. Perhaps I am being too harsh? Make your own mind up, it is an expensive book, so get it from your local library, if you still have one!
Learn about the radical history of Manchester…Michael Herbert, radical historian and author of Up Then Brave Women; Manchester’s Radical Women and other books, is running a history class based in the wonderful and historic Chetham’s Library. This will begin on 1 October and will run for 8 weeks, every Wednesday, 10.30am to 12.30pm. It will includes topics such as the Industrial Revolution, Peterloo, Chartism , the anti-Poor Law Agitation and Marx and Engels in Manchester. The cost of the course will be £40. For more information about the course or to book a place, please contact Michael; firstname.lastname@example.org
Celebrate the 66 birthday of the NHS….on Saturday 5 July at Golden Hill Park,Urmston, Trafford from 12-4pm. There will be live music, celebrities (!!) and patients and supporters of the NHS speaking about the campaign to stop the privatisation agenda. Further info see Join the campaign at