m - A travelogue in class geography
. . is the oldest, has travelled most miles, been given most load to carry. Poor man. He lived the activist’s wage-working, theorising-and-practising, making-and-sharing life for a quarter century, before Walker was compelled to make his break with m’s life, really raising the liberation stakes; and more than three decades, before Rogers found he had the clear space to really set to work at last. m is the bright hapless baby-boomer working-class lad from the declining mill town, who scoots unselfconsciously up the escalator of the 1944 Education Act in the famously (illusory) meritocratic British 60s.
The story starts here - Class geography, the landscape in which m was born
It is 1972, Year of Flying Pickets, the miners's strike and the Battle of Saltley Coke Depot. Miners are picketing at Corrall's depot in Shoreham, and some of them - along with members of the Brighton Trades Council - have been invited to come up to the green-lawned campus of the elite liberal university, to address a lunchtime meeting in the students' union. At the back of the hall - passing through, unaware the meeting would be happening, a young PhD researcher stops - a twenty-five year old m. A speaker's voice penetrates his after-lunch detachment. 'Most of you', he says, 'will go and be shop stewards when you leave here .. . .’ m looked round. This lot? Shop stewards? Imagine away the beards, the hair, the frayed-bottom denims, and you've got the ICI Blue Book, just waiting for the saving grace of their own desk and a first-class train ticket. The speaker is serious. He thinks what he says is true . . . or needs it to be true.
Either way, m has to take him seriously. He has been taking-in EP Thompson’s Making of the English working class and knows it to be his own story of self-making and history-making. He has been discovering activism, organising in the branch of ‘radical professionalism’ that will become known as the radical science movement. He has been working in historical archives and interviewing ageing science-activists and discovering the self-serving, progressive delusions of the Association of Scientific Workers, part of the preceding generation’s ‘Left-scientists’ movement’ of the 1930s: what they wanted was more funding for the work of their professional class, and to join the elite of decision makers in the machinery of the State. In 1972 - ‘The White Heat of the Technological Revolution’ behind them, they have it now, they have ‘success’. m is not impressed. They seemed to lose the radical plot, got bought off.
And here in this high-ceilinged room, like a church, like a theatre, between the wholefood cafe and the library, is a labour-movement activist who speaks English in an accent familiar to m: and in this moment he becomes working class. And with my organic intellectual words here on the page and my small middle class piece of retirement-leasehold real estate and my five professional-managerial scraps of pensions in lieu of wage-work I remain so: resolute in the face of the delusions of the working class which this year in Britain has voted in a thinnest of majorities to pull up the drawbridge of its island nation and, in the USA, to put a demagogue with a mental age of five in the White House. I stand with him, the wage-worker and skilled man, and with the stockingers and radical printers and non-conforming autodidacts of Thompson’s historical England.
Walking across the grass to the library it buzzes through m’s head . . . Once I have my feet on the solid ground of Knowledge once more, I'll be going back into the world of ICIs. But as a shop steward? He wants me with him. Are you going to put your feet where your moving-left reading is taking you? From that deciding though tenuous intersection of two class lives, m has a new organising focus in his search for knowledge. Literally, an organising focus. If he’s going to be a shop steward and not just a 'radical' - a thinker - his knowledge has to show him how people can organise, where they work, into a self-conscious and expanding movement against capital, for liberation.
m went on to journey in class geography: process design, high-tech manufacturing industry, the local State, academia, consultancy, the ‘knowledge-intensive’ service economy; in global corporations and invisible colleges; in radical communities among other libertarian-socialist activists and community developers. It’s m who, years back, with his raw class sense of baby-boomer landscape, started naively down the infrastructurist, maker’s path of 3 Platforming and 1 Making, and the organic intellectual practice-and-theory path of 2 Commoning and 4 History. He travelled with few companions over many years (save his very nearest and dearest) before Walker and Rogers came to stand alongside. Dear man. way-marker, FoP RoP is your gift.
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