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Live Working or Die Fighting: How The Working Class Went Global
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2008
This book is mostly a history of working-class movements from the early C19th to the start of World War II. It opens with Peterloo, then looks at the loom-workers of Lyon, the Paris Commune, the American Knights of Labour, London dockers, Limoges ceramicists, Argentine conventillos, Wobblies, the pre-1914 German SPD, Shanghai communists, the Jewish Bund in Poland and ends with Turin and Flint car-markers of the 1920s and 1930s. These wide-ranging narratives often use the perspective of an `ordinary' individual caught up in the events to lead into a story of an industrial and social battle. They're gripping and sometimes shocking. The recurring themes interestingly include the conflicts between skilled and unskilled workers, and between workers who wanted merely better working conditions and those who wanted a whole new society. The book describes the development of various forms of resistance (factory occupations, sabotage, sit-down strikes, full-scale insurrections...) and tactics (the Flint auto-workers using half-made cars as barricades); and the varying claims and practices of syndicalists, socialists, communists, anarchists and social democrats. The other consistent factor is the extremely brutal repression by the ruling elites to such resistance - commonly involving use of a nation's troops against its own people and, not uncommonly, mass murder. The `Die Fighting' in the title of the book isn't mere rhetoric.
The author argues that workers firstly tend to `create the new society from within the old' - a pre-welfare-state `union way of life' with services like education and health run by themselves - before confronting corporate power, and predicts a forthcoming global labour movement to match globalised capitalism. Compared to the dramatic historical narratives, the sections dealing with present-day worldwide workers are much shorter and, despite being based on first-hand reporting, seemed a little flat to me. The examples are taken from Shenzhen in China, Varanasi silk workers, Nigeria, Iraq, Bolivia (twice) and New Delhi. If I have a criticism, it's that I'd have liked a bit more about how today's third-world workers are attempting to confront the immense power of multinationals. But, if the book's thesis is right, maybe the most dramatic episodes from that struggle have yet to happen.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
How can you tell the stories of the struggle of the working class in a manner that seemed relevant today? Only by counterpointing present day reportage of poverty and human rights abuses amongst the underclass of people who support our modern society with the unvarnished tales of the battle for working class justice over the part two centuries. Peterloo, the Silk Workers strike in Lyon, the Paris Commune, pre-war German metalworking socialists, China under Japanese occupation, Brzeziny in Poland - all seem populated by aliens to a modern television viewing wired reader. How could civilised people live cheek by jowl with such human rights abuses and downright inhumanity?

We need to learn the lessons of our history - to stop us compounding them. This book deserves to be on every secondary school history teachers' reading list and in every university library. Only by showing the next generation the relevance of the working class struggle can you enable them to build on lessons learnt to improve the present and future.

Paul Mason's book shows how the trade union movement grew, became global and then imploded as it failed to maintain its social contract with the working class. Today in modern service economies with good enforceable `elf and safety and employment laws trade unions seem an irrelevance. In developing countries the trade unions tend either to be part of corrupt kleptocratic establishments or are supporting shibboleths which exclude the poor and unskilled from the very rights which the original trade union organisers fought for.

Paul tells stories about the past to give us some pointers towards our possible future. As far as this goes this is good. But "Live Working or Die Fighting" is only a starting point. It, together with Polly Toynbee's "Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain" form good foundation texts on which we can get young people debating the follow-on questions - How could underclasses be globally protected from abuse in a free market economy?" "What activities could genuinely help foster the failures of all businesses which engaged in cruel, inhuman and unsafe practices against the underclass.?

Read it and think - the solutions are out there. And we owe it as a debt to the brave people who founded the working class movement to finish the story for them in the way they would have wished.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic research and a work of respect and love for the working class by BBC's Newsnight Industrial reporter, Paul Mason. Essential reading for anybody half interested in the struggles of the working class, internationally over the last few centuries, contrasting conditions then and today, makes me think how litle we have progressed in some areas. Mason does not seem to have a particulary sharp political axe to grind but he does point out in many of the industrial battles and struggles described that the workers were often well ahead of the offical trade union leaders and left political parties. The prose is magic, each chapter moves along at a pace, the detail and research is awesome, if you have any interest in the stuggle of working people for a more dignified and more valued life then this book is invaluable, often shocking and often violent, this is a work of real history. Best thing I have read for ages, buy it, you will not regret it. Look forward to more of the same.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2010
In any circumstances, this would rank as a brilliant contribution to human understanding; in the globalised world of today with the crash of neo-liberal policies and a growing army of unemployed, Mason's book is essential reading. Here is a exciting gallop through often forgotten or hidden working class history: it should be a wake-up call for anybody who still thinks the current system can "turn the corner" and is a clarion call to action for all concerned about a slide into barbarism for most of humanity.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2008
A timely reminder for me of the courage of our forebears, whose sacrifice at least means we in the West are not sent out to work 10 hours a day at 7 years old any more! The parallels Paul Mason makes with conditions in today's Capitalist-sponsored slave labour economies are almost haunting - and show just how seriously we should be supporting those in the Developping world who are now fighting for their basic rights in the face of the Neoliberal onslaught.

All in all, a serious topic covered in a writing style which is both gripping and compulsive.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2012
This is a very good book, reviewing some long lost episodes of working class history, with some interesting attempts to draw parallels with contemporary events within the new, globalised working class. This is a bottom up view of working class struggle - the emphasis on workers' self organisation beyond the limits of an institutional approach.
Yet, one of the most obvious examples of European workers self organisation was the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour or CNT), the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union (c. 1910-1939) which was not mentioned - even once! This was a movement that encompassed almost everything that Mason saw in the examples he cited but also went on to launch a social revolution with the outbreak of the Nationalist uprising in 1936. This is a surprising and disappointing omission - Mason's take on the CNT would have been interesting.
That said, this is a book I'd recommend - it takes a reasonably balanced line, and is aware of the constraints and contradictions within which these people operated - and modern day activists could do worse than read this work.
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on 9 January 2014
This book is long overdue. It reminds us of how very precious democracy is in protecting us all. Not just the poor.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2011
Its such a great book that even though I borrowed this one from the library I just had to buy Meltdown, his other book.
He's great journalist, perhaps the only one left at the BBC.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2011
I have just finished reading this and I want more! I have learnt so much about the struggle of the exploited workforce in my grandparents' time, that somehow I'd just never really heard about anywhere. The 'war between brothers' in Germany made me cry, that so much that was good was lost, leaving the Nazis to take power; now I weep when I look at how my grandchildrens' expectations in the UK have been so eroded compared to the hopes and opportunities available to my post WW2 generation.Read this book, Paul Mason's description of the struggles across the world to escape enslavement and oppression, the sacrifices, successes and failures of peoples' movements are compelling, heart-rending and absolutely relevant to present times.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2012
So much history here which is so needlessly neglected - real history, the stories of real people, their lives and their struggles for some semblance of fairness. And given the course that globalised finance capitalism is taking, they are stories which are being relived across the world and from which even we in the 'modern' world we will have to learn from again as our living standards decline under the current kleptocratic system.

I'm looking to reading his next book about the uprisings of 2011.
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