Review: Volume 17 - Labour History

Review: Volume 17 - Labour History

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Against the Stream documents the way that the rift between Stalin and Trotsky resounded in Britain. In 1930 some British left-wing activists formed a Trotskyist network that was antagonistic to the Stalinist USSR and sought to influence the mainstream British labour movement. The book has grown out of interviews with many of these the protagonists and research among the published documents and private correspondence of the period. It charts the history of Trotskyism in Britain from the first echoes of the Stalin-Trotsky faction fight, through to the emergence of the Fourth International in 1938. The authors aim to clarify some of forgotten historical and theoretical background to the tactics adopted by the Trotskyist faction and explain the movement's evolution into different millieux. It presents its picture 'warts and all' irrespective of orthodoxies, whether left or right.

Dictionary of Labour Biography

Volume XI of the Dictionary of Labour Biography maintains the strengths of earlier contributions to this well established and authoritative series. It incorporates many scholarly and original studies of Labour movement figures from a variety of periods and backgrounds together with special notes on related and neglected topics. Volume XI pays particular attention to the role and contributions of women and the multi-nationality of the British Labour movement. Each entry is accompanied by a thorough bibliography and incorporates the most recent historical scholarship in the field.

URSULA MASSON School of Humanities, University of Glamorgan TERENCE BOWMAN Mourne Observer, Newcastle, Northern Ireland OWEN ASHTON School of Humanities, Staffordshire University RICHARD TEMPLE Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick KEVIN MORGAN Department of Government, University of Manchester GIDON COHEN Department of Government, University of Manchester ANDREW THORPE Department of History, University of Exeter LOWRI NEWMAN School of Humanities, University of Glamorgan RICHARD WHITING Department of History, University of Leeds ANDREW FLINN Department of Government, University of Manchester AMANDA CAPERN Department of History, University of Hull MILES TAYLOR Department of History, King's College London ARCHIE POTTS Gosforth, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne JUNE HANNAM School of History, University of the West of England, Bristol EMMET O'CONNOR School of History, University of Ulster JOHN MCILROY Department of Sociology, University of Manchester PAUL PICKERING Australian National University STEPHEN CATTERALL Department of Politics, University of York GISELA CHAN MAN FONG Rock Forest, Quebec, Canada NINA FISHMAN School of Social Sciences, University of Westminster MALCOLM CHASE Department of Continuing Education, University of Leeds

Reviews of previous volumes:

'The real lasting value of this splendid book chiefly derives from the decision of its compilers to dig far deeper than the top layer of national personalities in labour's history. Here are countless, moving elegiac pieces on those local men and women who played such a crucial part in the growth of working-class politics and trade unionism.' - Professor Stephen Koss, Times Literary Supplement

'The series as a whole must be required reading for postgraduates embarking on research in Labour history - not only for the biographies, but also for the bibliographical information.' - Dr C.J. Wrigley, Economic History Review

'The Dictionary becomes more valuable as it progresses. the work remains a monument to scholarship and the British people.' - Professor E. J. Hobsbawm, New Society

The gender division of labour in early modern England †

This research was made possible by a Leverhulme Trust project grant: RPG-2014-313: ‘Women's work in rural England, 1500–1700: a new methodological approach’. We are very grateful to Dr Mark Merry for his assistance in design of the database. An earlier version of this article was presented at the core Economic and Social History seminar, University of Cambridge: we are grateful for the comments and suggestions of those present. We would like to thank Prof. Maria Ågren, Imogene Dudley, Dr Amy Erickson, Prof. Steven Gunn, Dr Charmian Mansell, and Prof. Sheilagh Ogilvie for discussing the findings and presentation of this project at various stages, and for the careful comments of the anonymous referees which led to a much-improved final version of the article.


This article presents new evidence of gendered work patterns in the pre-industrial economy, providing an overview of women's work in early modern England. Evidence of 4,300 work tasks undertaken by particular women and men was collected from three types of court documents (coroners’ reports, church court depositions, and quarter sessions examinations) from five counties in south-western England (Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Somerset, and Wiltshire) between 1500 and 1700. The findings show that women participated in all the main areas of the economy. However, different patterns of gendered work were identified in different parts of the economy: craft work showed a sharp division of labour and agriculture a flexible division of labour, while differences of gender were less pronounced in everyday commerce. Quantitative evidence of early modern housework and care work in England indicates that such work used less time and was less family-based than is often assumed. Comparisons with gendered work patterns in early modern Germany and Sweden are drawn and show strong similarities to England. In conclusion it is argued that the gender division of labour cannot be explained by a single factor, as different influences were at play in different parts of the economy.

The winter of discontent: myth, memory, and history

The Winter of Discontent, a series of labour strikes between 1978 and 1979, remains firmly embedded in post-World War II British national consciousness. Many scholars have studied the period’s causes and effects, but Martin López provides a new approach by locating the racialised, classed and gendered currents within the strikes. Her nuanced examination of women’s activism the role of black, West Indian and Asian female workers and the changing gender dynamics within trade unions provides a crucial intervention in the scholarly understanding of this moment in modern British history.

The strikes unfolded during a time of intense economic pressure on workers due to wage restraints. During the autumn of 1978, Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan’s cabinet announced a 5 per cent increase in the wage limit after several years of pay controls. In response to another proposed year of reduced wages, workers throughout Britain went on strike. Poignant images of picketing gravediggers and heaping piles of garbage in the press contributed to an atmosphere of fiscal and political crisis. Thatcher and the Conservative Party made use of the strikes during their campaign. They claimed that the Labour Party was powerless to control its trade unions. Their tactics were successful, and they won the election. Martin López argues that the current distorted perception of the Winter of Discontent is informed by historical inaccuracies and the post-event machinations of the Conservatives and New Labour.

Martin López redresses the inaccurate view of the workers’ unrest by using over sixty personal interviews with male and female workers. She also contrasts the personal interviews with perspectives from politicians and trade union leaders. The many voices Martin López includes provide a balanced view of the era. Recognising the potential for misremembering and imprecision in oral history, she draws from an array of other sources, including newspapers, magazines, published interviews and songs. Over the course of the book, Martin López provides context of the event before turning to specific instances of unrest she discusses and analyses the impetus and outcome of the strikes, including those related to road haulers, gravediggers, school meals workers, National Health Service (NHS) hospital ancillary workers and Ford car company workers. She pays close attention to the gendered dimensions of various spaces involved in the strikes. Martin López also illustrates how the familial, domestic sphere was crucial female interviewees link experiences with domestic violence and divorce in their private lives to their desire for new roles at home and in their feminist and labour activism.

Martin López deepens understandings of women’s contributions to the care industry with her chapter on NHS female workers from former colonial countries. She argues that migrant female workers were a large and essential part of the NHS workforce who went on strike. Motivated by a desire for cheap labour after a decrease in Irish immigration, the British government looked to the newly formed Commonwealth for employees. Colonial Offices set up committees to recruit hospital staff in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, British Guiana, Mauritius, Trinidad and Jamaica. The British state forced them to earn ancillary nursing qualifications, which limited their upward wage mobility.

While she includes excellent insights about non-white and/or female subjects, Martin López’s approach invites further, more in-depth studies of the event against the larger backdrop of decolonisation and its effects on immigration and British national identity. With the Partition of India in 1947 and the ongoing independence of former British holdings in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, the decline of empire is a crucial facet to the tale of labour unrest, the changing character of trade unions, and the composition of public sector and care industry workers in 1978 and 1979.

Martin López looks beyond the common, monolithic understanding of the period to examine the complex, underlying forces that affected the strikes and their reception by Labour and Conservative politicians, the media and the British public. Her book traces the ways in which understandings and experiences of gender were embedded within workers’ lives and the increasing gendering of trade union spaces, which is often overlooked in retellings of the event. She views the Winter of Discontent through the wider changes in gendered work, immigration and feminist activism occurring in British society. Overall, this is a valuable and important book for people interested in British labour, economic and political history, as well as gender and transnational feminist studies. Martin López deepens and enriches previous scholarly understandings of the period. She reminds us that only by accounting for migrant women entering the British workforce and the larger gendered dimensions of the unrest can we fully understand the Winter of Discontent.

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