Working Class Movement Library (WCML), Salford
Landworker article 2018
Tony Benn, the late radical Labour MP, called the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford: “One of the greatest educational institutions.” It is internationally recognised for containing one of Britain’s most important collections of working class history as embodied in the trade unions, the co-operative movement, organisations of the oppressed and the political parties and campaigns of the left.
The library was established by and built on the personal collection of Ruth and Eddie Frow, who coming from rural Lincolnshire was always delighted to find an item or book on agriculture at the numerous fairs and bookshops that he visited with his wife.
Consequently, the WCML contains a great collection of materials relating to rural social conditions through the ages and particularly since the second half of the nineteenth century onwards.
The official reports include the 1843 one by the Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture nationally and which examined wages, working and living conditions and revealed widespread poverty and abuse. The pamphlets include ones by the Socialist Countryside Group, established after a fringe meeting at the 1981 Labour Party conference, examining rural housing, countryside access, national parks and low pay in agriculture.
Periodicals include Landworker magazines going back to the 1930s. The WCML shelves contain numerous academic books on farming, agriculture, rural industries and communities by University lecturers and professors. There are also lots of biographies and autobiographies, often written by politicians who have represented rural communities, including Joseph Arch’s, written in 1898. Additionally there are poems and songbooks and posters.
The collection demonstrates how British rural life and working conditions has economically, socially and culturally changed, often beyond recognition and not always for the best.
The agricultural collection is a very small part of the huge archive held by the WCML, which includes many newspapers, photographs, artefacts, banners and the personal papers of past labour movement heroes such as Benny Rothman.
Anyone wanting to study in the library should search through its online catalogue as you need to ring in advance so that staff can ensure all relevant materials are available when you visit.
The WCML has library exhibition space which hosts public information displays. There are regular talks, lectures and guided tours. A range of pamphlets are published annually and there is a library e-newsletter.
WCML only receives a small sum of public money. As an independent charity it largely relies on donations from individuals and trade unions with occasional trust grants. Please get your branch to affiliate as the WCML urgently needs financial support.
Working Class Movement Library
51 The Crescent
U.K. M5 4WX