The history of the working classes and the labour movements in Britain, United States and Europe is strongly represented within the Library’s holdings, across many of our social sciences, history, special printed collections and archives. Both institutional histories of labour unions and other workers’ organisations, as well as social histories of the workers themselves are well represented.
From its foundation, the Library has been collecting a wide range of primary source publications in this area, many unique and rare, in a variety of formats, including printed books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, posters and other grey literature. Early English and French socialist writings can be found in the Goldsmiths Library of Economic and Social Literature. There are vast holdings pertaining to the development of self-conscious political working class movements in the nineteenth century. John Burns Collection, for example, offers a lot to researchers interested in labour and socialist movements and the formation of trade unions up to the establishment of the Labour Party in the early twentieth century.
The library of the Family Welfare Association, previously known as the Charity Organisation Society, holds material on many social questions that animated the Victorian society, with a particular focus on poverty and the Poor Law, the co-operative movement, and women’s trade union movements. Senate House Library also holds many publications printed by the Fabian Society, reflecting the output of its influential thinkers.
The Pelling Collection holds an eclectic array of left-wing publications, from pamphlets, leaflets and newsletters to manifestos, party manuals and songbooks produced by the Communist Party, the Labour Party or the Red International of Labour Unions.
Publications emanating from Marxist and Trotskyists groups feature prominently in the Richardson Collection, one of the best collection of its kind in the UK. The Library also has significant holdings of Trotskyist archival material.
One of our largest and growing collection of left-wing and radical publications, the Ron Heisler Collection and Archives, holds a vast number of ephemera, spanning over two centuries. (View the Ron Heisler gallery.) There are very extensive holdings relating to strikes and other forms of labour protest during the rise of left-wing politics in the 1950s and 1970s. For researchers interested in the construction of gender and race within a class analysis beyond the history of the white male working class, this collection has much to offer, and includes some uncommon publications from the women’s movement.
Senate House Library has enormously rich holdings in these topics for the Commonwealth and Latin America, giving a unique perspective on the relationship between trade unions and the fight against colonialism. A substantial proportion of this material was published in the countries of origin, and some are very scarce.
Primary sources are complemented by vast holdings of secondary works, many interdisciplinary, about the social and cultural history of the industrial working classes, labour protest, the rise of mass politics, and especially the rise of socialism, including many works by Marxist historians.
Below is a list of selected e-resources with relevant content:
To discover clusters of material on specific topics, here are some suggested search terms (subject headings) you can use in our online catalogue:
- Cooperative societies
- Employee rights
- Equal pay for equal work
- Industrial relations
- Labor laws and legislation
- Labor movement
- Labor unions
- Strikes and lockouts
- Women in the labor movement
- Women labor union members
- Working class