We live with zero hour contracts, creeping casualisation and a brutal austerity drive.
A whole generation of activists has grown up used to low levels of working class struggle.
But as author John Newsinger puts it, “our side has taken” these attacks so far. We have beaten back some bosses’ attacks and there’s no shortage of disputes. But they’re on a small and localised scale.
Yet Newsinger’s book isn’t pessimistic. Them and Us gives a rich history of one the highest periods of working class struggle.
Its aim is to reclaim that history for new working class activists who are organising in their workplaces.
The key lesson is that working class people do have the power to fight back and shut society down.
Many of our side’s major gains that are now under attack, such as trade union rights, were won because of those struggles.
They weren’t won through parliament, “social partnerships” or making concessions—but through militant action and solidarity.
Newsinger begins by looking at the Great Unrest before the First World War, which saw 41 million strike days at its height in 1912.
Workers who had never been organised, such as the women chain makers, fought back.
But these struggles reached their crescendo in 1913-14 with the dockers’ strike and Dublin Lockout.
They were sold out by the movement’s leaders.
Newsinger’s most important contribution is showing how the Labour Party and union officials have been able to halt workers’ militancy.
They backed the First World War in 1918 and got sucked into running the war effort. But this also opened up the possibility of a new revolt from below. It brought Britain to the brink of revolution in 1919, but again the officials held it back.
The book shows we need to be organised and build working class solidarity—so we’re strong enough to take action ourselves and win.
Newsinger begins by writing that “We live in a period of unprecedented class warfare.”
That’s true. But this book will also help us start giving it to them, instead of just taking it.
By John Newsinger
Available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, priced £7.99