Direct Action: Paper of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation (1950s-1970s)

Header from an issue of Direct Action

Online archive of Direct Action, a monthly paper produced by the Syndicalist Workers' Federation. Taken from the excellent collection at the Sparrow's Nest, the Spirit of Revolt archive and the personal archive of a Libcom user.

Submitted by R Totale on May 25, 2020

The paper began as the organ of the Anarchist Federation of Britain, which changed its title to the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation in 1950 and joined the International Working Men’s Association (the syndicalist international).

This archive commences with volume 5 (1950, when the SWF was formed) through to volume 9 (1954). The numbering then seems to have restarted at volume 1 in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Direct Action absorbed other SWF papers such as the weekly Workers Voice and the IWMA paper World Labour News.

It was published from 1950 until the late 1970s. After this, the Syndicalist Workers Federation transformed itself into the Direct Action Movement, which published its own paper also called Direct Action.

Comments

Fozzie

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 15, 2022

Looks like we had two pages for this journal? I have moved the ones that were here:
https://libcom.org/library/direct-action-world-labour-news-1960s

to this page.

I've left copies of the early 1960s World Labour News publications there.

Possibly there is an argument for them all being on one page, I am not sure?

R Totale

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 15, 2022

I think I started this one, then belatedly realised the other one existed, then got too confused trying to work out how to merge them and gave up. If anyone has the time, the Sparrow's Nest still have a load of scans that aren't here yet, although trying to work out the numbering is a bit of a nightmare - for instance, there's a Direct Action (SWF), vol 5 no 7 (no 45) from November 1950, as well as a Direct Action: For workers' direct control of industry, vol 5 no 7 (no 37) from July 1964. It would be nice if someone has the time to get them archived all the way up to issue 84, cos that's from June 1968, so has some quite historic events to report on. And also has a beautifully unexpected letter from a Canadian cancelling their subscription and advising British workers "to bend every effort to pull your country together - take a voluntary pay cut, work extra hours for no pay..."

Fozzie

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 15, 2022

Thanks R Totale.

I'm a bit confused about the relationship between the Anarchist Federation, the SWF and the International Working Mens Association.

vol 4 #7 (number 39) from 1949 is the organ of the Anarchist Federation
http://www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk/collections/public_archive/4429.pdf

But vol 5 #7 (number 45) from 1950 is from the SWF incorporating the IWMA.
http://www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk/collections/public_archive/4436.pdf

Then by 1960 World Labour News is an IWMA thing but not SWF:
https://libcom.org/library/direct-action-world-labour-news-1960s

Fozzie

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 15, 2022

Oh right here goes:

"Later, the Anarchist Federation of Britain changed its title to the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation and joined the Syndicalist International, the International Working Men’s Association, of which it now is the British Section."

Story of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation: Born in Struggle - Tom Brown

https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/wdbt17

Every day is a school day, etc.

R Totale

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 15, 2022

Yeah, so the Anarchist Federation of Britain (not to be confused with the Anarchist Federation!) started producing Direct Action in the 1940s, and then at some point between number 44/July 1950 and number 52/July 1951, changed their name to the SWF, but carried on using the same numbering, and that series, which has been partially archived by the Sparrow's Nest, runs up to at least number 61/December 1952. Then they started a new run, also called Direct Action with new numbering, of which the March 1962 issue seems to be the earliest surviving issue, going up to number 84/June 1968, as above.

And then of course after that the SWF became the Direct Action Movement, who produced Direct Action from 1981-1990, before becoming SolFed, who produced 47 issues of Direct Action running up to 2009. Simple, really.

Fozzie

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 15, 2022

Righty ho, apologies for flooding the forum - have tided up the titles for consistency now.

syndicalist

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 15, 2022

I largely made copies of stuff I had and posted them a few summers ago here. Done as an individual project. No one has before or since reached out to me. As long as the time consuming work I put into scanning etc doesn't get lost or wasted, I am fine with making things as tidy and organized as can be.

Fozzie

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 15, 2022

syndicalist

I largely made copies of stuff I had and posted them a few summers ago here. Done as an individual project. No one has before or since reached out to me. As long as the time consuming work I put into scanning etc doesn't get lost or wasted, I am fine with making things as tidy and organized as can be.

Thanks for doing that, Syndicalist. I actually ended up tidying because I found an article about an eviction I was reading about in one of the issues, so your work is much appreciated generally :)

Plus this has expanded my and R Totale’s knowledge of mid 20th Century orgs, which is also good.

R Totale

2 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 15, 2022

Yeah, Syndicalist's work is definitely appreciated, any other context you can provide would also be welcome!

Kate Sharpley

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on February 16, 2022

Thanks, Syndicalist, Fozzie, and RT!
On the birth of the SWF:

2nd April 1949. Letter sent out suggesting the formation of the Syndicalist Workers Federation with a separate " Draft Proposals For The Formation Of A Syndicalist Workers Federation". It stated that a preliminary meeting for those interested would be held at 25 Amberley Road, London W9 at 3pm on April 17th 1949. PDF here: http://katesharpleylibrary.pbworks.com/w/file/140142444/SWF%20letter%20and%20proposal..pdf

3 June 1950. Ken Hawkes (for National Committee of the AFB) and Frank Rowe (Secretary of the London Group) send a letter with proposals, the first being that "The AFB should transform itself into an organisation which will concern itself solely with syndicalist propaganda and action." Read the letter with proposals http://katesharpleylibrary.pbworks.com/w/file/140448762/RON01996-7becomingSWF1950.pdf

August 6th 1950. At a Special Conference of the AFB it is agreed that the AFB should be dissolved and the Syndicalist Workers Federation should be created,with " Direct Action" as its newspaper.

(from the chronology of The Split http://katesharpleylibrary.pbworks.com/w/page/139511268/The%201945%20split%20in%20British%20anarchism )

syndicalist

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 16, 2022

Excellent stuff, Barry. Thanks Fozzie, and RT.

Parallel with the SWF would be the National Rank and File Movement, of which the SWF became the most significant player. I thought I might have scanned some of their stuff as well, about the same time I scanned "DA" and "WLN". I'll have to check.

R Totale

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 16, 2022

Thanks for that - I didn't realise the archives went that far back, but I learned from the split article that the Sparrow's Nest have scanned a copy of the very first AFB/SWF Direct Action from 1945. And interesting to learn that Meltzer was on the Freedom side of the Freedom/AFB split, shows how complex these things are I suppose.

syndicalist

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 17, 2022

I need to come back to the question of Meltzer and Freedom and the formation of the SWF.

In Chapter 6 of his autobiography, "“I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels”, Meltzer wrote:

"Since the split of 1944 I had been somewhat a lone wolf even in the few soi-disant anarchist groups. True, the majority of the remaining anarchists took the same position that I did, which was that neither of the two factions involved in the personality clash were viable groupings. ....

"A part of the majority section of the Anarchist Federation had become the Syndicalist Workers Federation and was fairly alive to industrial action. It was obstinacy on my part that I could not be reconciled with them owing to their domination by the Spanish exile group which supported the Toulouse centred organisation and opposed the Resistance, with which I felt personal ties.

On the other hand, the Freedom Press Group, which I never joined because of their lack of interest in class struggle and increasing fixation with academia...."

Meltzer writes elsewhere in "Angels" his rather critical and almost stand-offish position towards the SWF.

Some good background stuff here on Meltzer's independent "The Syndicalist" publish project.
With excellent KSL links.

"Passing without a ripple- the Anarcho-Syndicalist Committee": https://splitsandfusions.wordpress.com/2022/01/02/passing-without-a-ripple-the-anarcho-syndicalist-committee/

Fozzie

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 21, 2022

Spirit of Revolt has scans of SWF Direct Action from the 1970s:
https://spiritofrevolt.info/direct-action-collection/

So that means:

1945-1949: Direct Action (Anarchist Federation of Britain)

1950-1970s: Direct Action (Syndicalist Workers Federation) - this page

1980-1992: Direct Acton (Direct Action Movment) (80 issues?)

1994-2008: Direct Action (Solidarity Federation) 47 issues:
https://web.archive.org/web/20120304101910/http://direct-action.org.uk/

R Totale

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 21, 2022

Almost, although just to be fully pedantic/confuse things even further, I think it looks like:
1945-1949 - DA AFB
1949-1952? DA produced by SWF but carrying on with the numbering from before

Early 1960s-1968? - SWF start DA again with a new numbering system

1973? - SWF relaunch DA yet again with a new issue 1

Before we get to the relatively straightforward DAM and SolFed DAs. In other news, bet you can't guess what the Irish IWW have decided to call their new paper.

Fozzie

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 21, 2022

Lol, no I was hoping for some pedantry, so that’s good!

I’d say there is an argument for having all the SWF DA’s together, with a diff page for the AFoB issues as that represents a slightly different set of politics?

syndicalist

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 21, 2022

Fozzie

Lol, no I was hoping for some pedantry, so that’s good!

I’d say there is an argument for having all the SWF DA’s together, with a diff page for the AFoB issues as that represents a slightly different set of politics?

FWIW, I could go either way, depending on the page headings. I think its cool to have one link, makes it easier for someone researching, say, SWF or AFB or DAM or Solfed to see the historical linkages. Of course, that may be very cumbersome to have on one page

R Totale

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 21, 2022

I mean, I don't really have any time/energy to put into the archiving project at the moment, so feel free to use whatever system works best for you? For me, hypothetically speaking, it feels like the 1950 SWF-DAs would fit with the 1949 AFB-DAs more than the 1960s ones, and differentiating between DA(SWF) Issue 1 (1960s) and DA(SWF) Issue 1 (1970s) within a single page seems like it'd be a bit of a headache, but as I say it's probably not going to be me uploading them so feel free to ignore my backseat driving there.

Fozzie

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fozzie on February 21, 2022

Ok! Thanks both, I will see how I get on, but it will be little and often I think.

syndicalist

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 22, 2022

Thank you both for your respective efforts on this seemingly thankless task. I appreciate the efforts. And it adds to the top rate ability to quickly research stuff. Thanks again. Solidarity!

Splits and Fusions

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Splits and Fusions on February 23, 2022

Since we are discussing the SWF and Direct Action, what can people tell me about the Workers Voice weekly paper of the SWF in 1961?

I know this started life in mid-1960 as the bulletin of Brian Behan's Workers Party and continued as such on a weekly basis from v1 no1 until at least v1 no23 (either late 1960 or early 1961)

In Feb 1961 the Workers Party group fused with the SWF but Workers Voice continued as a SWF paper.

However, and this is the strange bit, it started again with a v1 no1 numbering. The editor of both papers was Bill Christopher.

I would be interested to know how long WV continued (the latest I have seen is SWF v1 no13 probably September 1961...) in parallel with other SWF papers such as DA and World Labour News...

R Totale

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by R Totale on February 23, 2022

You know more than I do there, at first I was squinting at it going "huh, I never knew yer man who wrote The Quare Fellow was in SWF?" Was this Workers' Voice entirely unrelated from and separate to the Liverpool council communist Workers' Voice that went into the CWO? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Workers%27_Organisation_(UK) FWIW, that wikipedia page links to this dissertation on Solidarity: http://archivesautonomies.org/IMG/pdf/nonfrenchpublications/english/solidarity60-77/solidarity-history.pdf which you may have seen before, but does seem to mention Behan as well as the WV/CWO?

Splits and Fusions

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Splits and Fusions on February 23, 2022

Yes, so Brian Behan left the Socialist Labour League (Healyites) in 1960 - (not long before the separate split which gave rise to Socialism Reaffirned / Solidarity).
It is strange that the split was about the need to build an open party (rather than an entrist group in the Labour Party) but very rapidly- a little over six months- joined the SWF.
Behan's autobiography "With Breast Expanded" glosses over the whole thing in a few sentences and I don't think he was long in the SWF.

Not related at all to the Merseyside Workers Voice ten years later.

https://splitsandfusions.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/brian-behan-and-the-workers-party-workers-voice/

syndicalist

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 23, 2022

Splits and Fusions - The first I learned of Brian Behan was in the article you linked to. I'm in the US and both SWF and London Solidarity were influencial in my development back in the early 1970s. But not once do I recall hearing about him or his fascinating story back then. That said, all these years later these little snippets seem to be coming up. I mean, I never really knew the particulars about some of the early SWF people Albert Meltzer went on to criticize (and his general criticism of the SWF people in the pocket of the Tolouse CNT exiles). And even why he chose to do his own thing for many a year outside the SWF. I'll see what, if anything, I may have on this, I tend to think not. Fascinating though.

PS: If anyone, perhaps Barry P./ KSL might have some clues.

Kate Sharpley

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on February 24, 2022

On the SWF: Di Parkin's account:
https://www.brh.org.uk/site/events/running-down-whitehall/
Workers Voice:
There are letters about the group in Rom's Archive (Sparrow's Nest)
https://thesparrowsnest.org.uk/search.php?query=workers%27+voice
See also, Alan Woodward's Life and Times of Joe Thomas
[and R. Totale, you might be getting your Behan brothers mixed up]

Fozzie

12 months ago

Submitted by Fozzie on June 16, 2023

OK so that is 99 issues and is a collection of all the copies I have found online. There are some gaps, which is understandable given how long ago these were published.

I'd be interested to know what was going on with the SWF between 1954 and 1962 and whether DA issues were published then - it seemed to be going quite well in 1954....

asn

12 months ago

Submitted by asn on June 17, 2023

I read somewhere some years back that the SWF was involved around this period in organising amongst apprentices presumably at Techs - but it didn't seem to lead anywhere later on perhaps due to the predominance of the Marxist Leninist groups - Communist Party and then Trot groups to the left of the British Labour Party on the industrial front. (1) This aspect of their activity would be certainly worth looking into .

Also the SWF claimed to have achieved a large membership in comparison to other left groups in these years -a peak of 500 members - but this 'membership' gain was not connected to their industrial activity success but their involvement in the Peace Movement/Ban the Bomb. Presumably this would involve mostly student/middle class leftists involved in the Peace Movement being drawn in due a 'radical phase' they were going through, lack of much understanding of syndicalism and wanting to join a non -Stalinist 'organisation'. With the SWF being drawn into a leftist sect orientation away from the industrial front. Also you would have to take account of a lack of education of these elements about syndicalism and the absence of an appropriate syndicalist strategy for the UK by the SWF and the predominance of the M-L groups on the industrial front to the Left of the Labour Party . This ballooning of 'members' didn't seem to lead anywhere re what the SWF was supposed to be doing - helping achieve mass syndicalist industrial unionism and the transitional steps toward it in the UK.
Notes
(1) See Ken Weller's memoir of 1956 re the predominance of the British CP on the industrial front in these years on libcom.org