'Working Class history' - by Vigilant, Westralian Worker, 19 July 1918, page 2

Fitzgerald wrote of Vigilant being in 'an intense phase of feeling’ in this article, in which he calls for a Labor University, ‘setting enormous tasks and standards for Labor….No other future Labor PM (or Labor politician) had laid down such ardently exacting objectives for the Party'. [1]


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Working Class History by Vigilant

A Notable Publication

At the risk of being considered ad nauseum we will venture the declaration that Will W. Craik’s compilation, entitled “Outlines of the History of the Modern British Working Class Movement,” fills a “long-felt want.” It does; but the chief merit of the work is that it does, or should, create a sense of that want, while at the same time filling it.

The volume is what its title purports. After a brief introductory chapter in which he sketches the status and relations of the worker in ancient and mediaeval times, the author plunges right into the heart of his subject. The early trade unions of the eighteenth century, and their associations with industrial revolution the penal laws of the early nineteenth century; the first attempts at national organisation, under the guidance of Robert Owen; the Chartist Movement; the growth of the present day unions; the rise of the Parliamentary Labor Party – these form the chief heads, and each is dealt with in turn in simple, straightforward, and concise fashion. One might say that there is hardly a line of “fine writing” in the whole book – not that the style is uninteresting or affectedly ponderous, but merely because the author has an immense mass of fact to present, and desires to present it in the smallest possible compass. He has written a text book, not a classic. Some day a classic, covering similar ground, will be written, embellished with gems from the oratory of Owen, the poetry and art of Morris, and the genius of Kropotkin, and undoubtedly we wish that, even today, it were at hand; perhaps, indeed, Will Craik is himself at work at it; but whether it be he or another, we know of no volume more likely than the booklet under review to prove the constant companion of the author of the more ambitious work, as, indeed it might well be of every Labor propagandist, speaker or writer.

We have but one serious complaint to make – the work is not indexed.

The volume is notable for two reasons. In the first place it presents in a convenient manner an enormous mass of facts not otherwise available in collected form – if we exclude Sidney Webb’s “History of Trade Unionism,” which is a much more ponderous work. Secondly, it is an example of union activity well worthy of imitation.

The English edition was published by the London District Council of the National Union of Railwaymen, and the Australian edition by the Victorian Railways Union. Copies may be had on application to the union secretary, Mr Frank Hyett, and the charge is 1/4 posted.

A Brilliant Australian Woman

Another recent publication, entitled “The Trade Union Woman,” by Alice Henry, services to remind us that its author is an Australian; although for many years past engaged in organising the women workers of that great boodlers’ paradise, the United States of America. “Life and Labor,” a fine American working-class review largely owes its high standard to her genius.

A Labor University

Books of this sort – the fewness of them, rather than anything else – bring forcibly home to us the great need that Labor has for more scholarship in her ranks.


A few students’ classes, conducted at haphazard, an occasional writer relying almost entirely on his own efforts – there it begins and ends. This is not enough. The times now call for organised studentship, systematic research. A university has two functions – that is, on its material side. It serves as a storehouse for knowledge already accumulated, and also functions as a factory in which new knowledge is made. The idea of the Workers’ Educational Association is a good one. It is on the right lines, and deserves more encouragement, especially from big unions. In fact, it is little short of a crime against the future of the Labor Movement that big unions should boast of their bank balances while students’ classes languish for want of libraries, text-books and properly equipped lecture halls. Labor must make recruits – not merely secure new Labor voters, who will stampede at the first sign of reverse, but new blood, young men convinced by study that the Labor Movement alone can lead the workers forward to a happier world.

This is not all. Labor is confronted with the gigantic task of healing the world. Labor is the only power on earth great enough to do it. Labor is the only power that wants to do it. Mighty problems must be solved. Finance, Cost of Living, Control of Industry – these are a few to go on with. The rule o’thumb politician will not do. Tinkering methods will not do. The fact is that nobody really knows what policy must be followed. We must have our research schools – associations of investigators all over the Commonwealth, devoting their time to the collection of facts and study of methods. This would not be an university in the accept sense of the term, but it would be the sort of university that Labor requires to direct her footsteps. One of its first tasks will be the compilation of the history of the Labor movement. Dale’s book on Broken Hill, recently reviewed in this column, was a good instalment, but after all, he only touched a small corner of the field.

‘Value and Surplus Value”

The above is the title of a pamphlet just published in Melbourne. It is by Karl Marx. It consists of several chapters from the middle of “Value, Price and Profit,” a larger pamphlet by the same author. The chapters selected are those in which Marx explains, in simple language, his theories of value and surplus value. The first chapter deals with what determines the value of a commodity; incidentally how the price of a commodity is determined. Next we have a chapter on how the value of labor power, or the wages of the laborer, is arrived at. These two chapters open up the way for the discussion of “Surplus Value,” and here we find an exposition of the subtle method by which the working class is fleeced, and how the spoil is divided amongst the various sections of the exploiting class. It is the pamphlet on economics for the man who reads as he runs, while at the same time it is undoubtedly one of the best statements in simple language of those theories of Marx, upon which is based so much of Socialist philosophy. Every person in the movement should study it. Every person who studies it should induce his fellow unionists or workmates to do likewise. 3d; posted 4; per dozen 2/6 post free. Apply to Ross’s, 345 Queen Street, Melbourne.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36