On Workers' Culture


The following article is an extract from an unsigned editorial in the newspaper Correspondence, December 12 1953. It may have been written by C.L.R. James, who had written an extensive essay on a related theme several weeks earlier. It should be noted that despite the use of the masculine pronoun throughout the article, the Correspondence group were quite sensitive to questions of gender. Thanks to Scott McLemee for providing this material.


Picket lines, wages and hours, union bureaucrats and even the union meetings do not command the lively interest of the workers that they held in the past. Yet from the stories that we get every day from the shops, we can see a new form of struggle emerging. It never seems to be carried to its complete end, yet its existence is continuous. The real essence of this struggle and its ultimate goal is: a better life, a new society, the emergence of the individual as a human being. Each scrap with the boss, each manifestation of discontent with things as they are, all tend to smash down the old and help the new to emerge. This struggle is not the old one. This is the struggle to establish here and now a new culture, a workers culture.

Culture for the American workers does not necessarily mean attending lectures, visiting museums, reading or writing books. For him it is a way of life, his relations with his fellow humans on the job, his relations with his neighbors, the kind of house he lives in, what he does in his spare time, the movies he sees, the things he likes or dislikes, this is his culture.

It is this that we must be extremely sensitive to. We must watch with an eagle eye every change or indication of the things that these changes reflect. It is these things that must fill our consciousness and the pages of the paper.

 From earliest time man has chosen various forms to express his feelings, the ideas that motivate his life and express his desires. The cave man scratched these things on his cave wall with stone

implements; later, others expressed themselves in their architecture. The middle ages found feudal lords gathering around themselves artisans, craftsmen, and artists to give expression to their idea of culture. Today things are different. If we fail to recognize that difference then it will be impossible to give expression to it.

We know the vital force of our society to be the working class. We must observe the forms that this class uses in expressing itself. In the shop it may be marked by an aggressive attitude toward the boss, by the attitude of the worker toward his machine, the men around him. His activities outside the shop are a vital part of the same. This is the expression of the things he feels, his own attempt to build for himself and his family the kind of life he wants to lead. It is those things that constitute his culture. The things he does to his home in the way of decoration and conveniences, his car, TV, his friends, amusements, sports, the places he goes, and the things he does are all expression of what he want out of life.

No one compels him to do any of these things as a boss in the shop compels him to bend over his machine. These things are his free expression of his ideas and desires as much as if he were to sit down and write about them, a thing he rarely does. We must see it, put it in the paper. It is his culture.


Martin Glaberman Archive