Friday, 17 October 2014

Culture & Organised Labour


This is just a short post, based on a brief discussion I had today with two colleagues at Ruskin, John Retallack and Helen Mosby, of the Foundation Degree in Writing for Performance ( on the way in which I use social media (including this blog) to promote our politically valuable work at the College and the MA ILTUS.

The discussion with John and Helen reminded me that for some time I have wanted want to explore in much greater detail my understanding of the nature and notion of culture (not sure of my definition even - will need to speak to Helen and John) and its implications for both intellectual development across the working class, and for the realisation and interpretation of experience within organised labour.

Thus, the work of Raymond Williams (e.g The Long Revolution), Jonathan Rose (The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes) and in particular my history tutor at Ruskin, Raphael Samuel (e.g. Theatres of Memory Vols 1+2) have profoundly informed my opinion - and that's before we engage with the mass of literature  that we ought to e.g. Richard Hoggart (e.g. The The Uses of Literacy). Here is Stuart Hall's fantastic critique of the book and of Hoggart's wider influence on cultural study and analysis:

As I need to be brief (because I am teaching this weekend, and wanted to type up basic thoughts), but want to make a point that there is an epistemology of cultural tradition within organised labour, I must use the book Hard Lessons: The Mine Mill Union in the Canadian Labour Movement as a case study analysis of how culture (writing, performance, song, spoken word etc.) enabled organise labour to realise an expression of experience - if you can get the book, read chapter seven: creative response in organisation and culture.

There is a rich tradition of literature (often sociological in orientation) that we can also draw on here, and none better, I would contend, than Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The pitiless experience of the migrant labourer, and the brutalisation of organised labour are themes meticulously executed, and which allow us to gain a perspective on this experience from a fictionalised perspective.  I would also add Orwell's Down & Out in Paris and London as both sociological interpretation and cultural expression worthy of reading and analysis. Zola's Germinal is perhaps the major work of fiction which has the most significant, personal impacton me - one of the few books I re-read to grasp an understand of how and why I teach trade unionists.

In terms of film, Salt of the Earth (which I have written of here before) was a major leap of the way in which the experience of workers/organised labour was interpreted and thus simultaneously attacked under McCarthyism such was the fear that workers/labour had realised a medium through which to express itself:

There is masses I could say here (e.g. Sillitoe's Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, the Ashington Group: et al) but I won't, other than to say, I welcome on-going discussions with colleagues at Ruskin (and elsewhere) which enable me to better understand and appreciate how to inform my appreciation of the relationship between culture and organised labour as part of my approach to teaching and learning.

In Solidarity


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