Our collaboration The Alternative school of Economics was inspired and informed by a residency at The Working Class Movement Library in Salford.
Over six months in 2012, we learnt about the Library’s unique story, delved into material held in the collections and archive – from banners and photographs to hundreds of political pamphlets and posters. We interviewed volunteers, archivists and librarians, and documented the many rooms, corridors and basements, and tried to get to grips with the overwhelming amount of ideas, political movements and radical histories contained within the five floors of the building.
The Working Class Movement Library was co-founded by Ruth and Edmund Frow, who began collecting books on the Labour movement in the 1940s. This growing collection was kept in their home in Old Trafford, which they opened to the public to come and use as a resource. Over time, their collection became too big for their house. It was moved to new premises in Salford, and became a publicly accessible library, part funded by the council. The Frows also moved into the new Library with their books, and lived there until they died in the mid 2000s. The Library holds a vast collection on labour history, trade unions, political philosophy and class struggle.
We were inspired by the library as a legacy of the self-education of Ruth and Edmund Frow, for its collections about the workers’ education movement, and by the proposition of maintaining a continuity of struggle whereby historical material can inform current debate. We were also inspired by the Library’s welcoming, homely and egalitarian approach, an attitude we wish to replicate in The Alternative School of Economics.
Nearing the end of our residency we gave a talk at the Volunteers lunch about our research, and were invited back in 2013 to an event organised by the University of Salford Radical Studies Network, where we gave a talk entitled ‘The Alternative School of Economics: Art Practice, Politics and Education’ in which we discussed the parallel between the artist’s pursuit of their own path and the self-educator’s pursuit of knowledge.
At the end of our research residency we shot footage to make a film about the Library, focusing on the links between the private and the public, the political and the personal, knowledge and self-education and politicisation. The film is still in production.