By Larry James on June 17, 2009
E. P. Thompson published Making of the English Working Class in 1963. I picked up my well-worn copy the other day for the first time in about thirty years. So, it's been a while since I worked my way through the story rise of labor in England. Once you get into Thompson's rhythm and style, the book flows. And that is good, the book is a tome - over 800 pages - not exactly a quick, weekend read, but well worth the effort.
The history of democracy and the growing insistence on democratic reform in England in the days just before, during and following the French and American revolutions makes for fascinating reading. The London and provincial corresponding societies provided regular meeting opportunities for revolutionary minded, anti-monarchical thinkers, most of whom were common, laboring people - artisans, tradesmen, dissenting clergy and the like.
The interests of these groups - often persecuted, spied upon and, at times, suspected of plotting insurrection - remained largely unchanged across the reach of English labor history, at least in principle. Much of the conflict and debate stirred by these groups pitted a vision of traditional "moral economies" against emerging "free markets" - one product of modernity and a system served by expanding trade options.