SOME 200 years of struggle by working people in Britain is the theme for a new website which the Trades Union Congress has helped put together. 'The Union Makes Us Strong-TUC History Online' covers the years 1815 to 2000. Its motivation is the fact that 'trade unions have played and continue to play a decisive role in shaping economic and social developments in Britain. Yet much of their history is at present unknown and inaccessible to the public.'
The website has gathered together a wealth of archive material including photographs, recordings and newspaper cuttings from key strikes and campaigns. These include clear images of mass meetings, demonstrations and strikers during the explosion of struggle in the 1880s in industries that employed mainly women and young, unskilled workers.
Some of the commentaries on the website bring the different periods of history to life. For instance in the section on the inspiring match girls' strike in 1888 there is an extract from the book It Just Went Like Tinder: 'They were young. They were loud. They were confident. They charged about the area holding meetings and placards. They forced the Bryant and May bosses to climb down. And they won!'
The website also includes a comprehensive section on the 1926 General Strike with 2,000 images and a recording of a striker from London's East End. However, the content of the website is very uneven. The coverage of the 1970s is particularly frustrating.
This marked a key period of strikes and resistance by workers to the attacks from the Tories and Labour. Both governments attempted to use the fear of unemployment to force workers to accept pay cuts. The first wave of strikes, with its high point of the 1972 miners' strike, brought down the Tory government.
These years saw the biggest revolt among British workers for 50 years. There were unofficial strikes involving up to 250,000 workers, demonstrations and mass pickets. Yet the commentary of this momentous period on the website tells a different story.
Nina Fishman writes at length about the relationship between the TUC leadership and government, and the problems industry in Britain faced. She refers to 'the problem of wage drift'-the idea that workers' pay was too high and contributed to the series of economic crises in the 1970s.
Nina Fishman also gives ground to the myth that the 1970s were a time when unions had too much power and were constantly going on strike for spurious reasons. 'Some factories seemed to be particularly strike prone. Workers went on strike, it seemed, not to gain significant concessions, but for a small point of principle,' she says.
Hundreds of thousands of workers took strike action because they faced savage pay cuts. When the system that Tory and Labour governments praised was racked with global economic crisis, they wanted to force workers to take the pain. While inflation was running at 24.2 percent in 1975, the Labour government was trying to hold wage rises down to 10 percent or less. But some pictures on the website show the real spirit of the 1970s.
These include women workers on strike for equal pay at Trico in 1976, black and white workers occupying Ford's Dagenham plant in 1976, and women workers organising a picket line rota in Basildon in 1978. The website, used selectively, is a real resource. It has a 36-page tutors' pack that gives an overview of the whole site and highlights how it could be used in schools, colleges and on trade union courses.
It's a shame that at this stage the site only goes as far as the year 2000. Hopefully it will be updated to reflect recent disputes and workers' involvement in the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements.
Go to www.unionhistory.info
Give your ears a treat with these CD Postanova 3 Favela Chic
THIS ALBUM gives us a sample of the latest dance music from Brazil. Several familiar tracks with underpinning samba beats remind me of the soundtrack to the acclaimed film City of God. These are interspersed with more modern hip-hop styles, including Marcelo D2, who many have named Brazil's Manu Chao. There are even traces of drum & bass. Just like the music of Manu Chao, it leaves me wishing I had a grasp of the language, in this instance Portuguese!
Favela Chic also lends its name to a Parisian restaurant devoted to the drummers, DJs and cooks who organise parties to promote this new music of Brazil.
Although this album allowed me to dance round my living room on a cold snowy day, I suggest you take a PA, gather some like-minded people, and play it outdoors in the sun.
Poetry Against War
WOULD YOU like to sit in a room listening to Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Tony Harrison? These poets reading some of their anti-war pieces are available on a video. It is a recording of a packed out poetry evening in London's Bloomsbury Theatre held on the eve of the landmark 15 February anti-war demonstration. The video promises 41 minutes of 'some of our best poets in a mix of rap, dub, irony, monologue, chant and lyric'.
Schools and educational institutions can order the video for £25.49 from Team Video on 020 8960 5536. Bookmarks is selling it at the special price of £15. Phone 020 7637 184 for details.