The 2019 Working-Class Studies Association conference is underway here at the University of Kent in Canterbury!
Yesterday’s opening plenary included an engaging discussion on “Why Working-Class Studies,” involving Geoff Bright (Manchester Metropolitan University), Sweta Rajan-Rankin (University of Kent), Paul Sng (Filmmaker and Writer), Valerie Walkerdine (Cardiff University), and Discussant: Sherry Linkon (Georgetown University). We have had three sets of concurrent panels covering a diverse range of engaging projects, and the public lecture by Professor Satnam Virdee on “Race, Class and the Politics of Solidarity” is ongoing.
The WCSA, an international network of scholars, activists, and artists interested in working-class issues, offers lifetime achievement awards to those who have made significant, long-running contributions to the field of Working-Class Studies.
A musician and activist of working-class origins, Billy Bragg has released over 25 albums from 1983 to the present, including two collaborations with Wilco, setting Woody Guthrie’s unpublished song lyrics to music (Mermaid Avenue  and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II ), and with Joe Henry, Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad. Spanning the genres of folk, punk, and alt-country, Bragg’s protest songs and political activism demonstrate his alliance with working and poverty-class people and their concerns about labor, community, politics, and the environment. Examples of his activism include his participation in the mid-1980s when he played benefit gigs in coalfield towns to support the 1984-85 miner’s strike in Britain and in the Occupy Movement in London in 2011. In 2017, Bragg released his book Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. A reviewer notes that Bragg demonstrates working-class influences on culture and how “rediscovering a cohesive class consciousness could make that cultural force truly political.” His latest work, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, published in 2019, calls for a future based on liberty, equality, and accountability to overcome the current “age of rage.” Bragg continues to devote his energy to working-class struggles through benefit performances and street actions. Over the past 12 years, through the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, he has donated acoustic guitars to over 70 prisons in the UK, providing instruments for prison staff working to engage inmates in the process of rehabilitation. He comments about the power of music, “You can’t change the world through song, but you can give people a different perspective on the world.”