|Issue 7 - July 1972|
by Tom Pickard, 85p (approx)
Pit Life in County Durham (Rank and file movements and workers control) by David Douglas, 60p
The Workingmen's Clubs: From Self-help To Glamour by John Taylor, 60p
Tom Pickard's book arrived in the post the other day and several attempted criticisms all failed to do justice to it. So we've decided just to extract a piece from it so that you can get some idea of what it is like. It's bloody brilliant.
I was called again and ushered through another private room, past dozens of clerks milling through filing cabinets, putting one piece of paper into one drawer and another one coming and putting it into another.
Along another passageway to the foot of some extremely steep stairs.
"What's up there?"
"That's the manager's office with the NAB central advisory committee waiting in it." Sure enough a gigantic man appeared at the top of the stairs glowering down at me.
"SEND HIM UP!" I was pushed up the stairs into a large room. Immediately to my right a small clerk was bent over a piece of paper making frantic notes, even before anything was said. He also seemed very nervous. The others were a bunch of assorted local respectability; MAGISTRATE, LEADER OF INDUSTRY, PERSONNEL OFFICER IN INDUSTRY, and A COUNCILLOR. The manager spoke:
"Now don't start in here with us about your bloody poetry lark, it won't wash, and nor do you by the look of you. We're not here to soft peddle, so straight to the point; if everybody came here and signed on as a poet we'd be bogged down with idlers, layabouts and goodfornothings. I know it's only an excuse to idle, because I've read your record ..."
"Who wrote it?"
"Bloody nonsense like that won't wash with me, so before we start poetry's down the drain ... We've got a lot of questions to ask you ..."
"Under the Geneva Convention I'm only at liberty to give you my name, address and national insurance number."
"You won't be at liberty much longer with that kind of backchat. Remember I'm a Magistrate."
"Who's that bloke taking notes?"
"He's somebody ... he's mine ... he's ... never mind, we're asking questions."
"I would like to know who all these people are."
The manager began to turn purple but the PERSONNEL MANAGER intervened and put down his pipe.
"I think there's no harm in introducing ourselves to the laddo ... I'm Mr ... this is Mr ... and this is Mr ... and he's Mr ... and the chap in the corner, Mr ..."
"Thank you, I'll just make a note of that ..." I began to write all their names down.
"NOW NOW I think you're taking it a bit too far laddo."
"You've got my name."
"YES but you're ..."
"Well you know ..."
"No ... what?"
"A FLAMIN IMPUDENT LAYABOUT!"
In 1891 the miners at Wilksworth colliery went on strike - against the wishes of the Durham Miners Association, as it threatened their position of authority, and because the DMA was an organisation that tended to support the pit owners and not the miners in any dispute, in the manner of all power-crazed unions. Accordingly, when the owners decided to try to break the strike by evicting all the miners from their colliery-owned homes, Wilson, the DMA Secretary, gave full approval, and even thanked the police (who during the battle that took place during the eviction attempt crunched several miners' skulls) for their help. The police, of course, thanked Wilson for his help in trying to persuade the miners to leave their homes quietly.
This was just one of many strikes and fights which took place in the Durham pits last century. Douglas gives many enlightening accounts of others, explaining the reasons for them, the bitterness of the miners and the hypocrisy of the Durham Miners' Association.
But strikes weren't the only form of industrial action taken by the miners in their attempts to better their work and financial situations. Within the pits, continuous arguments took place between the miners and the owners and their agents.
The men worked in teams, picking their own 'marras', bartering the price for each job, refusing to work under supervision (stopping every time some boss man or other was overseeing them), refusing to do a job any other way than they thought best, and resisting the amalgamation of different skills.
However wages were low, and work very hard, dirty and dangerous. Douglas captures the attitudes and resentments of the miners very clearly and so he should - for he is a miner himself and not one of the intellectual, liberal, academic historians who seem to hold only hurt, pained and patronising attitudes towards working-class movements and lifestyles.
Pit Life is printed by the History Workshop - an organisation started a few years ago in an attempt to open an outlet for a series of history books written from a working class point of view. The attempt has come off well.
I strongly advise you to get hold of a copy of Pit Life. It's by far the best account of industrial history I've read, and very easy reading, as it talks in the language of the working men's club and not the university.
Unfortunately the Pit Life can only be obtained from the History Workshop pamphlets, Ruskin College, Oxford. But write away and get one.
For over one hundred years, the Workingmen's Clubs have been made what they are by five generations of working men. The process still goes on, and the clubs are still very much alive and still changing, John Taylor thinks, with the pressures of working life.
This book traces the Club and Institute Union from its foundation by the Rev Henry Solly in 1862 through various phases and responses to needs and pressures, till the end of the 19th century, and picks it up again in the 1970s. Taylor has been a CIU man for nearly 40 years and talks with some feeling. Personally, I feel that by his account the Clubs have become less vital as an active part of working life.
The CIU started under heavy clerical and noble patronage as a device for the moral improvement of the working classes, an attempt to get the men away from the evil influence of the public house. The resulting restrictions - no beer, no Sunday meetings, moralising and patronisation - led workers to break away and form their own clubs according to their own desires. Typically, they started "with very little money but plenty of strong, earnest men prepared to work without fee or reward ... but when all the hard work was done and the place made comfortable, plenty of amusement at a small sum, and nothing to do but sit in armchairs and smoke and read the papers, it was not surprising that applications for admission were plentiful" (1892).
The entertainment in the clubs followed the same pattern - from sermons and 'Penny Readings' to Free-and-Easies. In organisation and entertainment the clubmen themselves did everything. As the clubs freed themselves from the original hierarchical control, they became political, in the forefront of the anti-church, anti-monarchy, radical movements. But gradually, in the last decade of the century, they became election fodder for the political parties and the social interests of the clubs began to dominate - leading to the new brand of plastic, suburban club, where professional entertainment has passed out of the hands of the clubmen and has reached "unprecedented proportions". The clubs are now "as near the heart of the show business industry as the motorways and money can make them". We are given an interesting view of the clubs from the view of the professional entertainers - glasses, noise and smoke - all mates together.
Worth a read.