Paul Griffin

Assembling a Working Class Presence: Clydeside’s Usable Pasts

This paper primarily engages with two key concepts regarding radical history; E.P. Thompson’s notion of a ‘working class presence’ and broader understandings of ‘usable pasts’. The paper will begin by considering examples from the Red Clydeside period (working between 1911-1934) of Glasgow’s labour history to explore these concepts. References will be made to the forty hours strike in Glasgow during 1919 and political activists such Guy Aldred, Helen Crawfurd and James Maxton. The activities emerging from these events and individuals facilitate more general arguments regarding the importance of asserting the material geographies of a ‘working class presence’. The paper stresses how place based politics are developed around particular sites and places whilst also representative of broader connections and geographies. The paper argues for recognition of the diversity of labour politics emerging from this notable labour history. This discussion leads into a more direct engagement with ‘usable pasts’. The paper suggests that engaging with archives committed to left wing politics remains an essential part of historical research by reflecting briefly on my own engagement with two archives committed to providing political history. The paper argues for further acknowledgement of more collaborative practices of historical work and for recognition of social history archives as a public good. The paper situates itself within a context whereby the overall provision of usable pasts face increasing pressures, particularly financial, yet asserts how such archives provide a crucial part of a more contemporary ‘working class presence’.

About Paul Griffin
Paul Griffin is a final year PhD candidate in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow. His research considers the spatial politics of Red Clydeside. This was a period of sustained industrial and political unrest in Glasgow’s labour history. Paul’s work considers the labour geographies of this period through an engagement with some of the broader national and international connections which were developed by Glasgow based workers. As part of his broader interest in Clydeside’s working class history, Paul has become involved with a developing archive, Spirit of Revolt, which aims to collect and provide access to records of Clydeside’s anarchist history. This group has linked with the aspect of his work which considers the possibilities within archives for the political left and the creation of ‘usable pasts’.

Email : p.griffin.1[at]
Spirit of Revolt –


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