The original collection was donated by the Graphical, Paper and Media Sector of Unite in 2009. It focuses on workers, their struggles and their trade unions. Pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs printers, bookbinders and papermakers were being imprisoned, executed or transported to the other side of the world alongside all the other early fighters for trade union rights in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
The Marx Memorial Library - and 37a Clerkenwell Green - has been central to Clerkenwell's radical history for centuries. The building itself hosted meetings of the International Working Mens' Association and lectures by Karl Marx before providing office space for Lenin to edit the revolutionary newspaper Iskra during his London exile.
Marx Memorial Library holds numerous historical sources relating to the stories of anti-imperialist struggles for national self-determination. These sources document both the actions by peoples of oppressed and occupied countries, and international solidarity campaigns. They give a rich context to today’s discussions on decolonisation, addressing issues of national identity, globalisation, and the legacy of colonial empires.
Marx Memorial Library holds many items that tell the stories of people who have had to flee persecution or conflict in their home country and come to settle, as migrants and refugees, here in the UK. MML’s collections include material relating to political refugees – from socialist revolutionaries such as Lenin himself, expelled from Tsarist Russia, or victims of McCarthyite anti-Communist witch hunts in the USA - as well as Jewish people fleeing Nazi persecution, or Basque children escaping Franco’s Spain.
The Marx Memorial Library was founded as a library for and of the Labour Movement. It is not surprising, then, that we hold a range of printed and archival sources which give an overview of the struggle for workers' rights through trade union organisation from early formations in 19th century to the present day. They show how improved conditions have been won and engender an understanding of how working conditions have changed over time.