From British daily The Morning Star:
Sunday 11 April 2010
On the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Society for the Study of Labour History the new museum may attract a few critical comments – and perhaps tweets as it’s on Twitter – from those of us who are used to researching the history of working people in difficult, cramped and often fairly miserable conditions.
Indeed just for those who remember the old museum, the new one on the same site is a revelation.
The first thing to be said is that it is light, airy, spacious and welcoming.
Spread over four floors and a number of rooms and spaces, together with a cafe and shop, it is also free.
On the ground floor alongside a cafe, shop and a building-high wallchart showing the history of labour and the left in Britain, is a temporary exhibition space. When I was there just before Easter this housed a photographic record covering people arrested on demos from the Suffragettes to the miners in 1984-5 and beyond. Again, there is space to wander round and step back from the photos to take a look, for those familiar with such things being housed in the equivalent of phone boxes.
On the first floor is labour history up to 1945, that is from Chartism to the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party and then the Communist Party of Great Britain. There is a lot to get in and it can seem a bit crowded. However the design and layout are excellent, as are the recorded extracts from speeches, screens and things you can push and open.
Some might say that this is not serious labour history, but the point is that there is enough to interest a veteran like myself, but presented in such a way as to engage those less well versed in the history of this great movement of ours and indeed enough to keep kids happily occupied as well.
The whole thing is also colour coded to indicate the separate strands in our history from revolution to reform. The gallery on the second floor looks at post-1945 struggles from the 1945 election victory to the NHS, CND, Wapping and so on. Here may be seen the more modern influences of the Morning Star and Socialist Worker familiar to those active on the left now.
Again, though, wider interest is not forgotten – for example, in the section devoted to the history of the Professional Footballers Association.
One can of course criticise.
I thought it was a bit harsh, as well as being wrong, to state that the revolutionary Marxist ideas of the Social Democratic Federation were rejected by the British labour movement. They were a strand, albeit a minority one.
And there is not enough sense of the arguments, debates and disagreements that we all know about on the left. They can be maddening and time-wasting, but they are also a sign of a movement that is alive, passionate and because of this sometimes argumentative.
The museum also has the biggest store of banners anywhere in the world, only a few of which can be on show. Behind the scenes the work of restoring banners goes on.
There are facilities for meetings and research. The museum holds both Labour and Communist Party archives and much else besides, including the actual donkey jacket, from Harrods, that Michael Foot wore on that famous occasion at the Cenotaph.
The museum is a must for anyone in Manchester and, with the holiday period coming up, it’s well worth a special trip as well.