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Just Catalogued August 2023

Posted in Behind the Scenes on 07 Aug 2023

A scandal to this town - and a disgrace to this country

Cover of Reading Trades Union and Working Men's Club souvenir brochure, 1985 ref. D/EX2767/5/6
We have had some additions to our records for Reading Trades Union Council, 1976-2018 (D/EX2767). Much of this relates to campaigns and activism against Government policies in the 1970s and 1980s, and includes leaflets distributed by picketers at a selective strike at Reading Computer Centre, Queens Road, Reading, in 1981, when 12 computer programmers refused to work on calculating the taxation of unemployment benefit.

Flyer for May Day Trades Union event 1982, ref. D/EX2767/3/44
Papers relating to researching the history of Reading Trades Union Council in the late 1970s include a photocopy of a handbill issued by the Reading Trades and Labour Council [probably in 1907], dramatically entitled The Victimisation at Huntley & Palmers', A Fight for Life and Liberty which provides a rather different view of a company normally remembered with affection.

The campaigners complained about the factory’s low wages and poor conditions, which, they alleged, 'have long been a bye word, a scandal to this town and a disgrace to this country. Like an octopus this heartlessly unscrupulous company has ... strangled and crushed out the manhood and womanhood of their victims, robbed them, and their children too, of joy and happiness, robbed them even of decent food and clothing, robbed them of real life and liberty itself. Tradesmen ... go under, simply because of these workers' low purchasing power. Girls are speeded up, put on new machines and made to do the work previously done by 3 or 4 ... permanently injuring their eyesight and health. .. told to do this work, accept less wages or get out and then when sick or broken down told they must clear off, they are of no use! Other girls are put on men's work at half the money, while ventilation is disregarded and factory inspectors hoodwinked... The only way to alter this wicked state of affairs was to organise as trade unionists, not for the sake of wanton strikes but to enable themselves to make a fair bargain as sellers of their labour power with the buyers of it.'. Interesting reading, though perhaps a little hard to digest.

Giving a bad name to festivals and peace convoys

Cover of Red Rag newsletter, 1982 ref. D/EX2676/5/5
Also within the Trades Council collection there is a copy of the Red Rag, a local anarchist news sheet, dated 19 September [1982]. This includes a report from an anonymous man concerning his experiences obtaining contraceptives from the Family Planning Clinic in Craven Road, Reading. An eye-opening article on the 'Albion Fayres', a series of countercultural festivals held at this period, commented:

'This was a good year for fairs and festivals. You could spend three months continuously at one fair/festival or another. One group that did this was Peace Convoy, which started at Stonehenge in June, passed through Greenham in July and was last heard of characteristically generating mixed feelings in East Anglia. There's no doubt that this motley collection caused a lot of headaches ... especially with their habit of arriving early, crashing in without paying and setting up somewhere really inconvenient from everyone else's point of view... The Convoy has succeeded in giving bad names to pacifists, festivals, druggies, anarchists and especially to peace convoys'. The article writer alleges that this was partly because convoy members supplied illegal drugs to other attendees of the festivals. Perhaps unsurprisingly they were not universally welcome everywhere.

Venture to Kenya

Clothing and tents in Kenya, 1983 ref. D/EX2047/3/4

A more wholesome aspect of 1980s youth culture is reflected in another recently catalogued collection (D/EX2047). The Rafiki/Taurus Venture Scout Unit (based in Crowthorne) expedition from Crowthorne to Kenya in 1983 was one of the first by a British young people's organisation to perform community service in a developing country. This is now sometimes viewed with scepticism as ‘voluntourism’, but its genuinely well-meaning origins are revealed here. Hilary Byrne, assistant leader of the unit, was professionally involved in development work in African countries, spoke Swahili, and had existing links with Kenyan businesses, which made the project possible. 13 boys (aged 15-19), two girls (both aged 18), and four older leaders took part in training at the Intermediate Technology Development Group, Shinfield.

They then joined the project in the village of Kola, in the Machakos district of Kenya, from 14 July to 12 August 1983. The project was known as Harambee '83 - Harambee being a Swahili word meaning ‘All pull together’ and often used for co-operative efforts; it is also Kenya’s official motto.

Teenagers mix cement in Kenya, 1983 ref. D/EX2047/3/9

Before their visit, the group raised funds for latrines to be constructed by local villagers at a new school building where the group would stay. The Scouts themselves were engaged principally in building a pipeline for supplying water to the school and to nearby homes. They also built 30 water storage jars to enable families to store drinking water through the dry season, and planted seedlings to replace trees lost through deforestation, which would provide fruit, firewood and building materials for the future. The work was done in collaboration with, and led by, the Utooni Development Project, a self-help group involving over 100 families in the Kola area. It led to further projects in later years, and a return visit to Crowthorne by some of the Kenyans involved. Because the records contain personal data relating to participants, most will not be fully available for a few years, but they form an important record of this aspect of local youth work.

You can find out more about any of the records mentioned here and more, by searching our online catalogue. Simply enter the collection references mentioned above into the Catalogue Reference field.