Working Class Movements 2007-2022
Researching the development of the working class movement since the financial crash of 2007/08
The Working Class Movement Library is a radical library founded by working class activists Ruth and Eddie Frow. They provide access to collections and events to encourage working people to learn from and interpret their history and apply a class perspective to contemporary politics and economics.
The Working Class Movement Library is in a new and exciting period of its development following the appointment of a new manager and members of the Board. At this stage, the library wants to focus on its founding principles and mission statement to make improvements to the way it works and to engage with working class communities who are under-represented in its audience and collections.
For this project, the Library had identified a need to better understand and define working class movements for a contemporary audience, as well as receive recommendations on how to make better use of its existing collection, making it relevant for working class communities and activists today.
Project Lead: Steven Speed, PhD Candidate, School of Social Sciences
Project Dates: June-December 2022
KE Scheme: Humanities PhD Placement Scheme
To identify a range of working class movements in the UK since the financial crisis of 2007/08, Steven studied a range of local and national publications that documented them. The project included interviews to several local activists that have campaigned with working class communities during the period analysed. To start developing an idea of what constitutes a working class movement during this period, Steven also conducted a literary review and used this for the analysis of the report, which included an analysis of the types of campaigns that occurred during this period. These activities helped the WCML to make links with local activists and working class communities who are currently under-represented in their work and collections.
The project aimed to answer the question: what is a working class movement and what has this looked like in the UK since the financial crash of 2007? In this period there were numerous crises affecting working class communities, some a direct result of the financial crash, others a result of political and economic policies that emerged since.
The project finalised a report which looked at some key moments in this period for the movement. From cuts to public services to strike action by public sector workers, from the housing crisis to the response by working class people. The project looked at this primarily through the experiences of local activists but also took into account a national perspective. The report identified four key elements:
- what are the crises that working class communities face that cause the inequalities they experience
- what are the structural and cultural conditions in which these crises emerge
- how are working class communities responding to them
- and what are the consequences of their responses.
The report included a list of themes recommended to inform the library’s future collecting policies, which included public services, work rights, housing, food justice, parliamentary struggle, environment, and identity.
The project has allowed WCML to engage with working class campaigners that are active today and they have continued to engage with the library as a result of the project and have already recommended collections that are of interest to the library.
The results of the research were used to inform the library’s new Collections Policy that was reviewed in January 2023 and enabled the library to respond to contemporary working class movements by making sure that they are listed in the areas for collecting from then.
In the Researcher's words
The purpose of the project I have worked on has been to provide an overview of the campaigns that have happened since the financial crash of 2007 that can be deemed relevant to the Working Class Movement Library. This culminated in a report that aimed to offer an introduction to some of the big campaigns of the period and the conditions that they are responding to, give a broad framework for thinking about what might be relevant for the Library’s new collecting policy, and, more simply, tell the story of the working class movement locally in the period since the financial crash.
My own route to being given the opportunity to write this report has been working as journalist and photographer on stories about local people for Salford Star. Since the financial crash of 2007 I reported on the experiences of working class communities and their responses to the conditions that have since emerged and have used this as a starting point for my research. The photographs that have been used to illustrate the findings are my own, and document some of the many amazing campaigns that I have had the privilege to work with. Whilst I have put together the report through my own experiences reporting on local working class campaigns, I have also conducted interviews with working class activists specifically for this research.
In total 5 interviews were conducted specifically for this report. Each of these interviews lasted a minimum of 30 minutes with a total of 4 hours obtained. These interviews provided in-depth, first-person accounts of people’s experiences of a range of campaigns that have affected working class people living in Greater Manchester over the last 15 years. 3 men and 2 women were interviewed and were recorded, transcribed and stored securely.
It was a great opportunity to work with the Working Class Movement Libraries collection and staff. I am pleased to have completed the report and hope it will help the library with their future collecting activities. I feel I now better understand the requirements that the library has for collecting in the future and how my research might inform that.