Everyone knows about the General Strike of 1926. It paralysed the nation for nine days and the serious damage it inflicted on the relations between employers and employees was never quite repaired. However, just a few months before the General Strike another strike took place that largely seems to have been written out of labour movement history. The Internet has little or anything to say about it and it doesn’t seem to have troubled historians. It was the Book Trade Strike of December 1925.
We at Jot HQ were unaware of the strike until a four page flier was discovered among a pile of papers. Entitled ‘The Strike in the Book Trade ‘and issued by the Book Trade Employers’ Federation on December 10th1925, it outlines the reasons for the strike, who were involved in it, the effects of it on the public, and possible remedies. The main arguments put forward by the employers’ Federation against the strike focussed on the privileged position of those unskilled workers in the book trade who were at the centre of the dispute—the ‘ packers, porters and lookers-out ‘—compared with other unskilled employees doing similar work in other branches of industry in London.
The figures supplied by the Federation to support their case are themselves revealing. Packers in the book trade were indeed paid better and worked fewer hours than the majority of their peers elsewhere in the metropolis, as this table of payment demonstrates:
Wage Age Hours
Packers in Drug and Chemical Trade 58/- 21 48
Packers in Co-operative Societies 60/- 24 48
Packers for London Employers’ 62/- 24 48
Packers in Furniture Trade 62/1 21 47
Packers for Wholesale Textile Association 63/- 25 44
The link between Socialism—or at least, left-leaning tendencies– and bibliophilism has a long and honourable tradition. One thinks of William Hone and Leigh Hunt in the Regency period. Charles Lamb, who wrote warmly of his love for ancient volumes, wrote blistering attacks on the Tory administration of Lord Liverpool in the same era. Later on there was William Morris, a proto- Socialist, who was into fine printing. In our own time the radical Labour leader Michael Foot could be classed as a bibliomaniac. My late uncle, Denis Healey, with a library of around 16,000 books could be placed in the same class. Also, in our own time, David King, the chronicler of Soviet history, had a vast library. And then, two years younger than Foot and a year Denis’ junior, there was Harold Smith. Not quite in the same league as a collector perhaps, but a bibliophile with a collection of over 3,000 volumes of, and certainly one who devoted all his working life to books—initially as a librarian and latterly as a publisher in the tradition of Morris.
Smith was born in 1918 in the Hackney Salvation Army Women’s Hospital to a Polish couple who had come to Britain as children. Tragically, Harold’s father died six months after his birth and his mother was left to care both for her son and her war-injured brother, on the proceeds of a sweet shop. After Highbury School and at the outbreak of hostilities Harold served in the army Pay Corps, mainly in South Africa, where he learnt the rudiments of librarianship. On returning to the UK he continued his studies part-time while working on the journal of the Plumbing Trades Union. Following his initial appointment as an assistant at Westminster City Libraries in 1947 he moved to various posts around the country, including one in Manchester, where he became friendly with the artist L. S. Lowry. He ending up back in London as Deputy Borough Librarian at Battersea in 1961. The amalgamation of the old boroughs under the GLC in 1965 saw him as the Deputy Librarian for Wandsworth, which was when his troubles began. Continue reading →
Here is a signed photo of that amazing woman, Frances Willard ( no relation of Dolf !!), an icon of American feminism, who almost single – handedly organised the suffragist movement in the States from the mid nineteenth century until her comparatively early death (probably partly from sheer hard work) in 1898 aged 58. As a committed proto-Socialist and president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) for 19 years she lobbied on an enormous range of progressive social issues, including the voting rights of all women over the age of 21, federal aid for education, free school lunches, unions for workers, an eight-hour working day, municipal sanitation, national transportation, anti-rape laws and protections against child abuse. On the issue of female suffrage she argued that women could only be safe from male violence in their own homes if they were seen as ‘companions and counsellors of men’ rather than their playthings.
Willard made several tours of the UK to promote her ideals and it was probably on one of these appearances in October 1895 that she signed as ‘your affectionate sister’ this mass-produced photo of herself. Three years later she was dead. [R.R.]
From the Reeve* collection this study of Sir Frederick Mander (1883 -1964) headmaster and trade unionist and the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) from 1931 to 1947. He was an important figure in British educational history but there is no photo of him available. He may be in this photo of members of the National Association of Head Teachers taken in Leamington Spa in the 1950s. Teachers are not movie stars and most searches bring up a British moustachioed character actor called Miles Mander who was born in 1884…Reeve is good on detail, especially speaking style - it is useful to know that occasionally Sir Fred 'murmured at the end of a sentence.'
SIR FRED MANDER
The late Sir Fred Mander was at one time a highly successful headmaster in Luton. During that period of his life he was popular with children, staff and parents; the school was throbbing with life and happiness, and when he resigned to labour in a wider sphere, Luton lost a splendid headmaster, although he still continued to exert a great influence in other branches of life in his own town. Continue reading →