chapter  10
13 Pages

Working class autobiography as cultural heritage: Tim Strangleman


In a period of just under four years in the 1960s, the New Left Review published a series of accounts of work by non-academics in the pages of its journal. These were later published as Work and Work 2 and were edited and given a foreword by Ronald Fraser (1968, 1969). The accounts ranged from blue to white collar employees, male and female, in a variety of occupations and professions. What was valuable then, and now, is the way these autobiographical pieces tell us something profound about the everyday experience of ‘ordinary’ people given a platform to think, reflect and write about their working lives. We will return to the ‘Work’ collections later, but for the time being it is important to put that publication in context and try and make some broader points about working class history and heritage. It is important to see autobiography produced by working class people, often in the context of work and the workplace, as a vital part of cultural heritage, one that is often undervalued, ignored or in some cases vilified. The chapter begins by exploring debates about autobiography and its value to historians and sociologists and draws on discussions from the related field of oral history. In turn, it examines the range of working class autobiography available to us, examples ranging from those of professional writers published by major publishing houses through to short pamphlets produced by local history groups. Finally, the chapter draws on a number of examples from published autobiographies to explore in greater depth the kinds of rich access this genre gives us to a wider and deeper appreciation of working class heritage and the hidden meanings and processes of class.