Blog Posts

Image depicting US Labor - Hard Hat and Gloves

American Labour's Cold War Abroad: From Deep Freeze to Detente, 1945-1970

American Labour’s Cold War Abroad is a wide-ranging study of the international free trade union movement in the post-war years. The context is the Cold War, the book’s central concern being the way international events in this conflict were perceived in labour circles and how, in response, American labour’s policies were developed and implemented ...

Lowrie industrial scene

Labour Under the Marshall Plan: The Politics of Productivity and the Marketing of Management Sciences

If one year in the post-war period saw the world’s fate politically sealed, it was 1947. In that year the emerging Cold War took a quantum leap forward, while the development with the biggest impact was undoubtedly the announcement of the Marshall Plan for aid to Europe. The Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggested that it would be ‘the turning point in history for a hundred years to come’ ...

Reuther pictured with the leader of the Farm Workers Union, Cesar Chavez

Walter Reuther

Walter Reuther was without doubt one of the most important American labour leaders of the twentieth century. Raised in West Virginia, the son of a German immigrant and local labour leader, from whom he imbibed his early socialist values, in the late 1920s Reuther apprenticed as a toolmaker in Detroit with the Ford Company. When laid off in the height of the depression, he travelled widely throughout Europe and Asia and worked for eighteen months in the USSR. Back in the United States, in 1935 he became a founder member of the newly formed United Auto Workers (UAW), which was soon to become America’s largest union. As a union organiser, he played a key role in the sit-down strikes of 1937, emerging as one of the three or four leading contenders for the national presidency of the UAW ...

Image of the cover of the report on the 1945 and 1949 World trade union meetings in Paris and London

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

Formed in 1949 as the global trade union international for unions in the Western bloc, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was the latest in a succession of bodies dating back to 1902 that aimed to speak for international labour. It was established in rivalry to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), created four years earlier in an ambitious attempt to unite unions worldwide, but which had soon fractured under the polarising pressures of the Cold War ...

Image depicting determined protesters

Democracy & Government in European Trade Unions

At an earlier stage of trade union development it was commonplace for writers to see close links between internal democracy and the wider aims of organised labour. The Welsh miners who wrote The Miners’ Next Step were acutely conscious of the relationship between union structure and policy. The labour theorist, G.D.H. Cole, viewed organisational democracy in practical terms of how best to direct strikes and wage demands. Many rejected Roberto Michels’s notion that union organisation inevitably led to oligarchy, but rather argued that efforts could and should be made to offset this condition. As a former principal of Ruskin College, the workers’ college at Oxford, John Hughes, wrote:

Image showing newspaper report of the mutiny

The Invergordon Mutiny – thoughts on its past treatment

I would like to offer some observations on the treatment (or lack of it) of the naval mutiny at Invergordon in Chapter 5, Comintern Work in the Western Armed Forces in the 1930s (Revolutionary History, Volume 8, no. 2). This chapter uses Invergordon as a peg on which to introduce the Comintern programme, but its two short paragraphs that deal with the mutiny contain two important errors that are likely to mislead the unsuspecting. You state that the mutiny was ‘led by a Communist’, and you then quote the Balham Group in saying that the men of the Atlantic Fleet ‘took over the ships’. Neither point is true.

Photograph of Professor John Saville

John Saville 1916-2009

When I graduated, Saville encouraged me to take a research position with the Canadian labour movement. Years later, when I moved back to Britain, he gave further encouragement to my work in the academic field, first at the University of Sussex and then at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. It was a proud moment for me when I appeared on the same panel at the North American Labour History Conference in 1995. So I owe a great deal to him and to the Economics Programme at Hull, and I regard my recent book, American Labour’s Cold War Abroad, written in retirement, as a personal tribute to Saville ...

Royal Navy Rating receiving wages

The Lower-Deck of the Royal Navy 1900-1939: Invergordon in Perspective

The Royal Navy (never merely the ‘British’ Navy) has historically been a bastion of deep dyed conservatism, reaching down from the Board of Admiralty to the most lowly seaman and stoker on the mess deck. And yet, during the first thirty years of the last century, it gave rise to a movement for the reform of conditions conducted by the lower-deck ratings themselves.  This was a remarkable development in a disciplined service where ratings were denied the right to collective representation. The Naval Discipline Act, always prominently displayed in ships and naval establishments, was a truly fearsome document setting out harsh punishments for action that, in civilian life, would not be seen as an offence. Yet in spite of this deterrent, the organisations the lower deck established to pursue their campaign came close to resembling trade unions which were completely forbidden. This movement of naval ratings is now long forgotten ...

Picture of Royal Navy Ratings

Collective Organisation in the Armed Forces: the Case of the Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 1900-1925

Labour and military historians have left unexplored the occasional attempts by other ranks in the armed services to establish the right to collective representation. Yet in the Royal Navy at least collective organisation of ratings in a primitive form of trade unionism and efforts to win recognition from the authorities were significant factors in lower-deck life in the first quarter of the last century. (1) The organisational base for this reform movement was a collection of lower-deck death benefit societies which first emerged in the last quarter of the nineteenth ...

Photograph of Walter Kendall and Tony

Walter Kendall (L) 1926–2003

I first became aware of Walter Kendall, the editor of Voice of the Unions and member of the executive committee of the Institute for Workers’ Control, when I was living in Ottawa and working for the Canadian labour movement. He was then a Research Fellow in the Centre for Contemporary European Studies at Sussex University. When I registered for post-graduate work at Sussex, he took an interest in my research for an M Phil on rank and file movements and workers’ control in the British engineering industry. He was just about to publish his path-breaking study of the foundation of the British Communist Party (The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900–21, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969) and would soon start work on a major book on the labour movement in Europe (The Labour Movement in Europe, Allen Lane, 1975). These books earned him an international ...