The revival and decline of rank and file movements in Britain during the 1930s

McIlroy, John (2016) The revival and decline of rank and file movements in Britain during the 1930s. Labor History, 57 (3) . pp. 347-373. ISSN 0023-656X [Article] (doi:10.1080/0023656X.2016.1184044)


The economic and political crisis of 1931 provoked the reappearance of rank and file movements in Britain. This article examines the unofficial organisations that developed in building, engineering, passenger transport and the railways – as well as more ephemeral bodies. It critically synthesises the existing historiography and replenishes it with new material from the Russian archives. The progress of rank and filism to 1939 is surveyed and the largely forgotten project of a new Communist-led rank and file organisation, a Trade Union Militant League, which would supersede the National Minority Movement, is recuperated. The article stresses the role of Comintern policy in harnessing and moulding grass-roots rebellion. It validates that strand in the literature which argues that Moscow’s subsequent turn to the popular front and aspirations to alliances with labour movement leaders predominated over, and legitimated, indigenous influences, enhanced existing adaptation to trade unionism, and encouraged subordination of oppositional movements to activity in official structures. By 1939, the Communists had abandoned the idea of a national rank and file movement they had pursued since 1923. Little survived of the revolutionary enterprise launched in 1931. Rank and filism endured only as a handful of sectional, party-sponsored, trade union ginger groups.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations
Item ID: 19937
Depositing User: John Mcilroy
Date Deposited: 26 May 2016 10:32
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2022 09:20

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