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Online Lecture: 100th Anniversary of the NUWCM

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Roger Seifert illuminates the societal context behind unemployed workers' struggles in the 1920s-30s and their organised tactical response.

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A broadly based united front with clear demands, a fluid approach to tactics, and strong sense of class struggle.

The unemployed struggles of the 1920s and 1930s were an unlikely success story. The groups involved were unevenly spread across the country, mainly based in a few major industrial sectors outside London, not in easy-to-organise workplaces.

They were up against an ill-informed public and hostile press, and all governments (Conservative, minority Labour, and National) unconcerned with either their plight or the reasons for their unemployed status.

Success was slow to emerge and suffered many set backs, but the movement built on several key factors starting with the material world experiences of the unemployed, their families and communities; it developed hard evidence of the extent and degree of suffering based on quantitative data and individual case studies.

The movement set out remedies for the immediate alleviation of poverty (higher benefits, early retirement with pay), the short and medium term policies on supply side such as more apprenticeships, more health and safety precautions, and also espoused longer term socialist solutions of national ownership and government intervention on the demand side.

Furthermore, armed with evidence and remedies, they were able to organise branches through local activists being involved in painstaking advocacy of individual cases and then thoroughly preparing rallies, demonstrations, and hunger marches.

The lessons therefore include all of these factors, but also being rooted in local communities (no division of men and women, old and young, English and Welsh, Scottish and Yorkshire) and seeking all the time to link into local trade union branches, trades councils, and political organisations.

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