Book review: Registering Class

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Guest contributor Howard A. Doughty reviews books that are labour activists will want to add to their required reading list.


In August, 1969 Frank Eastham (1944-1998) and I were hired at Seneca College. Frank was a Liverpool longshoreman who’d won a union scholarship, graduated in law and politics from England’s Hull University, and wound up at Seneca College. He soon became a major force as we transitioned from the Civil Service Association of Ontario to OPSEU.

Frank and I remained good friends until his untimely death. He taught me about British union history and labour struggles. He introduced me to The Socialist Register. It was and remains an annual collection of essays on “left-wing” politics, but it has changed.

Above the desk are copies of The Socialist Register dating back to 1965 when it was edited by brilliant British historians John Saville and Ralph Miliband (the unapologetically Marxist father of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband). It was politically committed, but it was also intelligent, open-minded and eagerly engaged with trade unionism.

Over the past decades, The Socialist Register has relocated at York University in Toronto and been redirected by its Canadian editors - mainly Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. They are tremendous assets with enormous intellectual credibility, yet uniquely able to bring academic ideas out of the ether and onto the shop floor.

The 2014 edition of The Socialist Register celebrates its 50th anniversary. It highlights the core issue of social class and has excellent essays on the history of class analysis, the impact of digital technology, the rise of part-time jobs, the evolution of the “precarious proletariat,” and the new ways that classes are formed and understood in the 21st century.

What I learned from Frank and from OPSEU leaders such as Charlie Darrow and Sean O’Flynn was that class matters. This volume helps us understand this critical concept and shows how ideas and actions can merge to provide creative ways of thinking and doing as we move forward toward a better society.

Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber, editors, The Socialist Register 2014, Registering Class. (New York: Monthly Review Press), 352 pages. ISBN: 9781583674314