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Welsh History Review


Vol. 2, nos. 1-4 1964-65

The central labour college. Book review.

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those who sought to make the institution an orthodox college and those
who wanted to develop it on the lines of its founder rumbled along until
1909. Craik describes the ideological struggle within the college, and,
because of the lack of records, does not do justice to the part played by
the South Wales students and the miners. Among the rebels were the
future leaders of the South Wales miners: George Dagger, Frank Hodges,
Arthur Jenkins, W. H. Mainwaring, Ted Williams, Ted Gill, Nun
Nicholas, E. J. Williams, W. J. Saddler, Griff. Maddocks, Noah Rees,
Tom Rees, and the greatest thinker of them all, Noah Ablett.
The miners of South Wales, with their penny levies, sent young men to
college to acquire knowledge to enable them, more effectively, to fight
the coalowners. In the battle with the owners the miners saw the necessity
for educational training-not only to get more efficient leadership, but
also to provide the signposts to a society in which there would be no
coalowners. The rebellious spirit at Ruskin was the reflection of the revolt
in the South Wales coalfield. Two years' residence at a college gave to the
young miner student a halo which commanded the highest respect among
his fellows. Like Moses coming down from the mountain, he was the new
leader who brought with him new knowledge and new commandments
for the incessant struggle against the tyranny of the coalowners.
The ex-students took their message to almost every mining village of
South Wales. There was hardly a Miners' Lodge, and there were over 200
of them in those days, which did not organize its winter classes in
Industrial History, Marxian Economics, Logic, and Social Problems.
The oral teaching of the ex-students was reinforced by a flood of radical
literature. The works of Marx, Engels, Dietzgen, Labriola, Boudin,
Lester Ward, De Leon, Debs, Jack London, William Morris, and others,
were sold in thousands throughout the movement. The South Wales
Central Labour College purchased shares in the socialist publishing house
of Kerrs of Chicago, so that the many socialist classics could be obtained
at cheap rates. The publication of The Miners' Next Step by the Unofficial
Reform League, and the Miners' Minimum Wage Strike, with which were
associated the famous Tonypandy Riots, were expressions of the great
ferment which had its ideological inspiration from the college at Oxford.
But Oxford could not tolerate so radical and irreverent a centre in its
orthodox midst. Craik describes how the college was driven out of
Oxford and found its new home in London in 1912. This was achieved
by the acceptance of financial responsibility by the South Wales Miners'
Federation and the N.U.R. Among the first London intake of students
was A. J. Cook from the Rhondda, subsequently to become the General
Secretary of the M.F.G.B., and a notable figure in the 1926 National
strike. The college was shut down for the period of the 1914-18 war, and
did not reopen until September 1919.
On the reopening of the college, the S.W.M.F. offered six scholarships
to its members and over 200 young miners sat the competitive examination.
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