UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

What workers read in 1909

The discovery of a time capsule left in the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh by joiners in 1909 has thrown a fascinating insight into where the workers of the day got their news. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

It contained a copy of ‘The Labour Leader: A Weekly Journal of Socialism, Trade Unionism and Politics’, a paper set up by Keir Hardie in 1888. Stories covered in the 19 March 1909 edition included the Paris Strike of postal and telecoms workers, ‘The Liberal Betrayal’ (what’s new?), ‘Welsh Notes’ on the threatened coal strike and the Russian Azeff Affair.

From the BBC picture, you can see the headline ‘Social Crusade’ of a story by J. Stitt Wilson, the American Christian socialist who became mayor of Berkerley California a couple of years later.

By the time these workers were reading it, ‘The Labour Leader’ was in the hands of the Independent Labour Party and selling 43,000 copies a week – that’s about the same as the Scotland on Sunday newspaper today and considerable more than the Sunday Herald.

Also in the capsule, made from a snuff tin, was the trade paper ‘The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder’ and a list of joiners who worked on the site in 1909. The BBC reports that there were also postcards of the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908

The workers in 1909 had a choice as to what to put in the capsule and their choice speaks volumes. They wanted us to have a picture of what life was like by including a record of the real issues facing workers. It triggers fascinating speculation as to what the debates on the shop floor may have been like at the time.

Now, where’s that biscuit tin and my Morning Star?