I have just 21 weeks to wait before the start of the Rugby World Cup. To while away the time, I want to remember a rugby-playing Marxist from New Zealand who in 1934 taught the haka at a summer camp for unemployed men.
James Munro Bertram was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to spend his summer with the Universities Council for Unemployed Camps (UCUC). Born in Auckland on 11 August 1910 to a Presbyterian family, he came to England with left-wing views and a training in journalism. He graduated in 1934 with a first in English, then took a second class degree in modern languages in the following year.
UCUC, though based in Cambridge, drew support from a number of English and Scottish universities, and is best understood as part of the broader tradition of student social service, sharpened by the…
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PowerPoint comes in for a lot of stick, but I’ve found it really handy while travelling around talking about work camps to local history groups. Most groups expect their speaker to carry on for an hour – something I can do perfectly happily, of course, but illustrations make the whole session a lot more interesting. So where do you find images of work camps?
For interwar Britain, postcards are an indispensable resource. Or at least, they are a great source of images, but so far I haven’t got much from the texts on the back. Apart from anything else, postcard messages are usually pretty short, and it often isn’t clear who sent them.
Here’s an example – a postcard of Ardentinny Instructional Centre that I use to illustrate talks to audiences in the west of Scotland. It was posted in summer 1939 by someone signing themself “J McN”, and addressed to a Miss Bannatyne…
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While we know quite a lot about the inmates – who were recruited precisely because they fell into pre-defined categories – it isn’t always easy to find out much about those who managed them. This is hardly surprising for the nineteenth and early twentieth century labour colonies, where the records are scattered and often sparse; but we don’t know a great deal about the more organised and bureaucratic twentieth century systems either.
The largest system in Britain was run by the Ministry of Labour in the fifteen years before the Second World War. Mythology says that the managers were largely ex-military men, a view repeated recently by Del Roy Fletcher, and it is quite possible that some had seen service in the Great War. However, civil service regulations required the Ministry to recruit its camp managers from within.
As one senior official pointed out, work camp managers needed rather different…
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Red Clydeside collection: http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/
This leaflet comes from the Glasgow Digital Library, a fabulous mine of information and collection of resources for teaching. It must date to around 1933-34, when the Left was campaigning vigorously against what became the 1934 Unemployment Act. The National Government introduced the Act in order to restructure poor relief and bring unemployment benefits under central control. It also contained a clause which combined the old poor law requirement of the ‘work test’ with existing powers to compel claimants to undertake training.
The campaign against the Bill was enormous, and the historian Neil Evans describes it as the most-discussed piece of legislation in inter-war Britain. Most of the agitation was led by the Labour Left (including the Independent Labour Party) and the Communist Party. But others were involved as well.
This flyer was published by a group calling itself the Workers’ Open Forum, a Glasgow-based network…
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A GOVERNMENT minister has been challenged to a face-to-face meeting with South Tyneside councillors concerned at the impact the ‘bedroom tax’ is having on borough citizens.
> Good luck with that. The Jarrow marchers in the 1930s walked the length of England to London, only to have government ministers refuse to meet them when they got there.
South Tyneside Council chief executive Martin Swales is to write to Tory MP Kris Hopkins, the current housing minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, calling for the meeting.
> Make him come here.
It comes after a motion expressing concern over the scheme was carried unanimously at a full council meeting last week.
The motion – signed by ten South Tyneside councillors – stated that the tax ‘discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society’ and welcomed a commitment by Labour Leader Ed Miliband to ‘repeal this draconian legislation’ if the party returns to power at next year’s General Election.
> Given Labour’s other plans for the poor, I should wait a while before we all start cheering (and voting).
A total of 2,770 council tenants in South Tyneside have been affected by the tax, which has seen a cut in housing benefit for households with one or more bedrooms deemed to be spare.
Nationally, one in three council tenants affected by cuts to housing benefit have fallen behind on rent since the policy took effect in April, according to figures from the Trades Union Congress.
Since March there has been an £81,000 rise in South Tyneside council rent arrears, with the total amount owed to the local authority now standing at £1.8m.
The motion stated: “South Tyneside Council notes with concern that 2,770 council tenants have been affected by the bedroom tax.
“The council believes that the bedroom tax discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society, and that by forcing residents to leave their homes can lead to instability of close-knit local communities and neighbourhoods.”
> Suprisingly ( or perhaps not…) they don’t seem to have connected the above with the rise in begging on the streets in South Shields, reported yesterday.
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 Jan 2014