The People’s History Museum of Manchester

I was up in Manchester this week to attend the inaugural professorial lecture of my younger brother Ralph at the University of Salford [my blog posting here]. I took the opportunity to spend some time with my step-mother who still lives close to the city.

She took me to a remarkable new museum in Manchester called the People’s History Museum which only opened this year. Except for Museum Africa in Johannesburg (which chronicles the fight against apartheid in South Africa), I have never been to a museum in which the fight for social justice is so central to the exhibits and messages.

The People’s History Museum charts the campaign for universal suffrage all the way from the ideas of Thomas Paine to the protests of the suffragettes and describes the assertion of the working class through the emergence  of trade unions and the formation of the Labour Party.

Manchester is a wonderful location for such a museum: it was the centre of the Industrial Revolution, it was the site of the Peterloo massacre, and it was the location of the first Trades Union Congress.

What is so powerful about the museum is how much it resonates with today’s issues. When one looks at exhibits concerning the Grunwick dispute, one cannot help but think of the British Airways cabin crew strikes. When one observes exhibits about the poll tax riots, inevitably one thinks of this week’s demonstration by students against rising university fees. The struggle for social justice continues …

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