The Workers City group, Glasgow 1990: In What Sense, if any, an image of the future?

Discussion and film screenings with Leigh French & Neil Gray of the Strickland Distribution the 29th of January, 18.30
Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh
17 W Montgomery Place EH7 5HA
“The Workers City group point towards the future. It is of groups like ours the future will be made.” (Farquhar McLay, The Reckoning, 1990)

During the Glasgow-held year of European City of Culture 1990, the Workers City group provided the first and arguably most striking antagonistic collective response to the now ubiquitous ‘Culture Year’ city phenomenon. Notably, Glasgow was the first old industrial city to host the event and the first to explicitly tie it to urban regeneration policy. For their efforts, the group (comprised of long-term political activists, writers, younger artists and other figures from the cultural, political and literary scenes in Glasgow) were detested by the Left as much as the Right, as various members have affirmed.

Starting out from Farquhar McLay’s assertion above (as editor of the Workers City volumes) this point of provocation will provide an opening for French/Gray’s presentation, followed by two short film screenings and discussion. In looking at the Workers City group’s praxis, achievements and possible limitations, this event intends to re-examine the relevance of the group’s position towards the ‘Culture Year’ in light of the subsequent transfer of ‘cultural regeneration’ and ‘creative class’ policy scripts globally.

French/Gray’s reflexive reading will draw on their own engagements through Variant magazine with Glasgow’s cultural, social and economic conditions, in combination with their recent research (alongside Anna McLauchlan) through Strickland Distribution’s online archiving of the Workers City volumes – Workers City: The Real Glasgow Stands Up (1988) and The Reckoning: Beyond the Culture City Rip Off (1990) – as well as the group’s scabrous newssheet The Glasgow Keelie, all now publicly available at:

French/Gray will suggest that the name Workers City itself is somewhat paradoxical given the group’s interest in political activity outside the formal workplace, and their recognition of the political implications of mass unemployment and precarity: a reckoning well in advance of the traditional Left in Glasgow. This position will be explored by examining the composition of the group, their actual positions and practices, their critique of the Left in Glasgow, and their incipient politics of space and social reproduction, alongside other interwoven concerns such as:

• The re-activation of history and histories from below
• Working class articulation
• Problems of nostalgia and claims to authenticity
• Workerism and anti-workerism
• Class re-composition
• Glasgow’s proto-typical neoliberal urban policy model and the material basis of its alleged art ‘miracle’
• Questions relating to the independence referendum and the kinds of institutional aggregation that are emerging with the foregrounding of national sentiment

The two films to be screened investigate Glasgow’s post-war urban re-development from the perspective of residents in the notorious peripheral housing schemes of Easterhouse and Drumchapel. These films provide a concrete context for the Workers City critique of the Culture Year, producing and documenting articulate forms of working class antagonism to abstract master-planning, paternalistic state mediation, alienation and poverty:

Whose Town is it Anyway? Easterhouse: People and Power, T Freeth, 1984, 30 mins. Shows a working class community after 25 years on the receiving end of Labour Party urban policy. The film includes interviews with local activists, a meeting in a pub, workers with ‘The Voice’ community newspaper, and a discussion with unemployed young people. It lucidly conveys their articulate sense of anger and their attempts to self-organise following the failure of the authorities to deal with the housing and social needs of their area.

Drumchapel: The Frustration Game, De-Classed Elements, 1989, 22 mins. An absolutely devastating portrayal of Labour Party duplicity and chronic housing and social conditions. It provides a withering critique of mediating pseudo-‘community’ initiatives which have since become the norm, often defended by the Left. It resonates profoundly in the current ‘Big Society’ era. Possibly the angriest film ever made on a housing scheme in the UK.

Find ACE:

A Future at Our Backs! Autonomy on Film

A Future at Our Backs! Autonomy on Film

Transmission Gallery: 7pm, Wednesdays – December 5th, 12th and January 9th, 16th

Following a series of readings, films, and co-research enquiries by the Strickland Distribution in the area of autonomy, this film block charts the relation between production (the workplace) and social reproduction (the home, the community, schools, etc) in 1970s Italy. The films index a theoretical and practical break from the role of the male factory ‘worker’ and the domestic role of ‘the housewife’ in the sexual division of labour. In doing so they suggest the means by which social reproduction and work might be reconceptualised to take into account relations of care and forms of value production that are non-economic.

For Michael Hardt, Italy in the 1970s presents us with a model because it constituted a kind of laboratory for experimental thinking and living that can help us conceive of new modes of collective being in our own times. Likewise, Manuela Pellarin’s The Suspended Years suggests a period of intense experimentation in the 1970s that can, “perhaps be seen as ‘suspended’ in time and space, separate from what came before and after, waiting for something new ahead, but not yet in focus or determined… perhaps”.

From the factory to the social factory – where are we now? Is the future behind our backs?

The films will be preceded by a brief introduction, and followed by an open, informal discussion. Optional additional readings can be found below.

All films start at 7pm.

Publicity Flyer

Publicity Poster


Week 1 – 05.12.12, 7pm:

The Working Class Goes to Heaven (La classe operaia va in paradiso)

Elio Petri, 1971, Italy, 125 min.

The Working Class Goes to Heaven depicts a worker’s realisation of his own condition as a ‘tool’ in the process of production. In Italy at this time, one who worked hard and pushed up quotas for everyone was known as a ‘ruffian’. This film viscerally examines the conflicts between productivity and ‘the refusal of work’; the machine and the body; production and reproduction; order and desire.

I was a piecework laborer, I followed the politics of union, I worked for productivity, I increased output, and now what have I become? I’ve become a beast, a machine, a nut, a screw, a transmission belt, a pump!

‘1962-1973: Worker and Student Struggles in Italy’, Sam Lowry,  here

‘Italy 1960-1970s: Reading Guide’, Libcom, here

Week 2 – 12.12.12, 7pm:

The Suspended Years: Movements and Political Journeys in Porto Marghera

Manuela Pellarin, 2009, 49 min.

Based on testimonies with militant workers, The Suspended Years charts the intense series of workers’ struggles which took place in and around the chemical production plants of Porto Marghera in north eastern Italy from the mid-1960s until the late 1970s.

The workers were emblematic figures in the whole experience of ‘workers autonomy’ in this period, expressing a widespread ‘refusal of work’ on a collective basis. The movement began in the factories but rapidly spread far beyond the factory walls to encompass and question the whole of social life under capitalism.

‘The Refusal of Work – Workers Committee of Porto Marghera’, here

‘Port Marghera, The Last Firebrands’, booklet here

Film made by members of Mouvement Communiste


Week 3 – 09.01.13, 7pm: School Without End (Scuola Senza Fine)

(With an introduction by Marina Vishmidt)

Adriana Monti et al, Italy, 1983, 40 min.

School Without End follows a group of housewives who had undertaken the ‘150 hours’ course – a contractual improvement gained by Italian workers in the 1970s whereby employers had to pay for 150 hours of learning activities every three years by employees – then continued their education independently with seminars on literature, the body, and the image among other things.

Watching the project develop was like uncorking a champagne bottle. The women’s writing matured and began to flow and sparkle […] science, philosophy, and linguistic analysis (visual, written, and body languages), filled page after page of their writing pads and exercise books, with personal reflections on culture, themselves, their families, nature, and feelings

‘Introduction to the Script of the Film’, Adriana Monti, here

‘150 hours’ and the ‘Free University of Women: Reflections on the Conditions for a Feminist Politics of Knowledge’, Paolo Melchiori, here

See also,

‘Human Strike Within the Field of Libidinal Economy’, Claire Fontaine, here

‘The City in the Female Gender’, Lia Megale, here

Week 4 – 16.01.13, 7pm: We Want Roses Too (Vogliamo Anche La Rose)

(With an introduction by Maud Bracke)

Alina Marazzi, Italy, 2007, 84 minutes

Through archive material We Want Roses Too portrays the change brought on by the sexual revolution and the feminist movement in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s. The film revisits these times from a female point of view, through the diaries of three women.

In this film, I chose to examine the history of women in Italy from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s in order to relate it to our current present so charged with conflicts and contradictions; I did this with the intention of offering food for thought on issues that remain partially unsolved, or are even radically challenged today”.

Film website, here

‘Manifesto’, Rivolta femminile, here

‘Let’s spit on Hegel’, Carla Lonzi, extract here

See also,

The Commoner, ‘Care Work and the Commons’, Special issue No.15, Dec 2012, here

‘Women’s Identity. Sex and Gender in Contemporary Italian Feminism’, Yasmine Ergas, here

‘The Modern Women’s Movement in Italy’, Bianca Beccalli, (requires access), here

‘The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community’, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, here


Book Launch – All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History From Below









Book Launch, Film Screening and Discussion

(Refreshments provided)

Saturday 24th November 2012

Transmission Gallery, 28 King Street, Glasgow, G1 5QP

The book All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History From Below began as a discussion between two friends,  Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts, about the politics of writing history. Neither are trained historians. They have assembled a critical and necessarily partial picture of the practice of ‘history from below’: historiographical tendencies which sought to uncover the agency of ‘ordinary people’ in challenging capitalism and developing different forms of social organisation. All Knees and Elbows surveys the work of a number of British and international left historians and groups, including Silvia Federici, History Workshop, Eric Hobsbawm, C.L.R James, Peter Linebaugh, Sheila Rowbotham, Jacques Rancière and E.P. Thompson.

“The completed study is not intended to be comprehensive. We’ve veered towards the subjects, areas and materials which interest us. These include questions of sources and their uses, working class education and self-education, welfare and the wage, language, historical authenticity and literary inventiveness, and contemporary political instrumentalisations of radical history. The book attests to the importance of reading history critically against the present.”

Film Screening & Introduction – 4.00pm

The Luddites (53 mins) is a film directed by Richard Broad for Thames TV in 1988 as if it were a contemporary documentary. The Luddites were a social movement of textile artisans from around Northern England and the Midlands, who banded together in 1812 in secret societies and destroyed the machines which were putting them out of work.

Discussion – 5.30-6.30pm

A discussion of The Luddites led by authors Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts informed by some of the All Knees and Elbows themes, including: The definition and redefinition of the working class in History from Below • Critical re-examination of ruptures in the social relation • Techniques developed within struggles to control and convey their own history • Struggles over the marketisation of research • Critical struggles over authenticity • The market for working class memoirs and hardship porn • Determinism and/ or the potential for action.

Book launch – 7.00pm

Authors Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts will give a short introduction to their new book All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History From Below critically appraising tendencies and debates in history from below.

A sample chapter is available here: Members_Unlimited

Copies of the book are available in shop and to purchase online at AK Press and Word Power Books.

Publicity Flyer

Visit online bibliography


Stefan Szczelkun, Access and Repulsion, Mute, 25th June, 2013

Dave Featherstone, Reclaiming the Past, Red Pepper, Issue 91, Aug/Sep 2013


Austerity Urbanism: A Walk Through the Fictional City

As part of a series of projects for Transmission Gallery, The Strickland Distribution is hosting a public walk on Saturday 15th September to investigate contemporary forms of cultural (de)generation. Led by writer & researcher Neil Gray, with contributions from housing & community groups; activists & artists, the walk will take a circular route beginning and ending at the Speirs Wharf canalside ‘cultural quarter’, via the post-industrial and brown-field landscapes of North-West Glasgow.

The writer, Iain Sinclair once said of regeneration that “any puddle will do”, referring to the frequency of waterside regeneration in the UK – no matter how bitter the climate or inauspicious the view.

The canalside Masterplan for the cultural quarter is a neoliberal mixture of soft policy options borrowing from Charles Landry’s ‘creative city’, Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’, Andres Duany’s ‘new urbanism’, and so-called ‘smart growth’ principles. The masterplan is specifically framed in the language of austerity, admitting the partial, fragmentary nature of the regeneration approach in a time of economic crisis.

While apparently less bullish than other large-scale gentrification projects in Glasgow, ultimately ‘smart growth’ is about the extraction of value from land and property, and the increase of a socio-spatial tax base, making the ‘new urbanism’ a strategy for the few at the expense of the many despite its green pretensions and community participation rhetoric.

The new urbanism is a separate, privileged spatial project with limited boundaries. This walk will cross those boundaries exploring the wider spatial relations of the area, revealing the planning blight and social contradictions that are a direct result of an underlying ideology of growth which the new urbanism not only leaves unchallenged but actively supports.

The walk will critically illuminate the ‘arts-led property strategy’; the rent-gap and blight; the continuing crisis in housing, and the commodification of social spaces. Rather than present gentrification as an inevitable process, the walk will explore the possibility that capitalism is increasingly unable to reproduce the most basic conditions of everyday life for a majority of the population, deferring a crisis of productivity to a crisis of urbanism. This walk in the fictional city will examine urban reality against the urban myths of city boosters.

The walk is proposed as an investigative history from below: a critical exploration of gentrification in the context of austerity urbanism. City boosters and planners promote top-down solutions to urban crisis, yet radical social change can only ever come from broad-based pressure from below. This walk aims to provide the means for collaborative exchange, instigating & sustaining wider solidarity & activity between anti-gentrification researchers, activists, community groups & artists. We welcome all those with such an interest.

Saturday, 15th September, (1-5pm): Meet outside Cowcaddens subway entrance at 1pm. Please bring appropriate footwear and clothing. The ground will occasionally be rough.                                                           

Knowledge is Never Neutral: A Series of Strickland Projects with Transmission Gallery

The Strickland Distribution, September 2012 – June 2013 with/at Transmission Gallery

knowledge is never neutral is a series of projects organised by The Strickland Distribution taking place from September 2012 to June 2013 within and outside the gallery space. Taken together, these projects set out to explore the circumstances that surround cultural and knowledge production. We look to situate this production within a wider set of social and historical relations, and to reflect on our practices across these relations. We invite you to join us in these processes.

Creating spaces for participatory dialogue – for listening and being listened to – the projects include a public walk, co-research inquiry, facilitated workshops, film screenings, reading and discussion groups, publication launches and the ongoing documentation and reconsideration of outcomes deriving from these projects.

knowledge is never neutral seeks to foreground histories-from-below, collective learning, and constitutive forms of collaborative practice. In doing so, we explore existing spaces of learning and research for their potential for liberatory education and research praxis. By means of renewed circulation, we will explore the relevance and potential of recent histories of radical forms of (non)-institutionalised inquiry and communication for our contemporary situation. We aim to develop a practice of dialogue and co-research across different constituencies of political struggle, and to forge social relations and links for future practice.

At a time where we are again made aware of the contestation over how to narrate the (recent) past – of attempts to erase particular histories and knowledge and to ‘rewrite’ official archives and ways of remembering – we support the necessity to learn from and engage with past struggles here and elsewhere, asking: What and how can we learn from these?

In the specific lexicon of artist-run/ artist-led/ self-organised practice, this also calls on us to explore the implications for a diversity of cultural expression, and group autonomy through freedom of association and communication. Seeking to explore the potential for present-day translations of ‘co-research’ and politically committed inquiries, we are asking: What kinds of methodologies can, today, produce emancipatory knowledge?

The projects will often involve a collective exploration of position taking and position making both within and beyond the arts. This approach acknowledges that contradictions and irresolvable tensions can, often structurally, exist and endure, and that they are themselves a potent focus for study. This exploration will enable (self)-reflection on the production and circulation of knowledge, emphasising the contingent nature of artistic thought, practice and representation within a broader set of power-filled dynamics.

knowledge is never neutral includes:

A public walk/discussion incorporating Glasgow’s proposed new ‘cultural quarter’ and canal development, combining critical practices of urban geography with collective urban exploration.

A series of screenings/ readings/ discussions of ‘Autonomous’ films which explore the meaning and diversity of the movement from the mid-1960s onwards.

A series of readings/ discussions on contemporary possibilities for co-research and DIY-inquiry, leading to a co-research project which investigates the conditions of cultural labour. [go to co-research page]

Publication launches and workshops to explore histories-from-below: an approach that attends to subjects, forms of agency, struggles and areas often omitted from official historical studies.

A series of workshops exploring curatorial practices elsewhere in Europe which have undertaken critical appraisals of ‘competitive cultural nationalism’, especially countries similarly undergoing nationalist assertions of identity.

The Strickland Distribution is an artist-run group supporting the development of independent research in art-related and non-institutional practices. Art-related includes research forms that directly implement artistic practice as a means of research method. Non-institutional includes forms of grass-roots histories, social enquiries and projects developed outside of academic frameworks and by groups and individuals normally excluded from such environments. The Strickland Distribution operates in the public sphere, seeking to stimulate and contribute to public education, discourse and debate around the topics and themes addressed through its projects.

Key dates

15 September 2012 Austerity Urbanism: A Walk Through the Fictional City – public walk
16, 23 October; 6, 13 November 2012 Co-research: Subjectivities and Conditions of Culture as Labour. Part 1. A series of discussions based on readings
5, 12 December 2012; 9, 16 January 2013 Autonomy screening events
24 November 2012 All Knees and Elbows public event and launch
27 November 2012 until end of February 2013 Co-research project: Subjectivities and Conditions of Culture as Labour. Part 2. Co-research inquiry
26 February 2013 An Economy of Appearances, Part 1: Workshop, Discussion, Launch
9 March 2013 Co-research: Part 3. Political Positioning Beyond the Institution? Public Workshop
30 March 2013 Competitive cultural nationalism workshop
31 May 2013 An Economy of Appearances, Part 2: Workshop, Discussion, Launch

For further information, or

Autonomia: A Reading Group

The group will run on four consecutive Tuesdays, 7-9 throughout October and early November. Tuesdays, 11th October, 18th October, 25th October and 1st November.

Venue: Transmission Gallery, 28 King Street, Glasgow, Scotland, G1 5QP


Week 1, Tuesday 11th October, 20011, 7.00-9.00pm

Maurizio Lazzarato, Immaterial Labour. In, Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, eds, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, Theory Out of Bound Series, Minnesota Press, 1996.

Week 1_Immaterial Labour_Lazzarato 

Week 2, Tuesday 18th October, 2011, 7.00-9.00pm

Paolo Virno, Ten Theses on the Multitude and Post-Fordist Capitalism. In, Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series, 2004

Week 2_Ten Theses On The Multitude_Virno_LibCom

Week 3, Tuesday 25th October, 2011, 7.00-9.00pm

Wu Ming Foundation, Fetishism of Digital Commodities and Hidden Exploitation: The Cases of Amazon and Apple,  Wu Ming Foundation blog, 2011

Week 3_Digital Commodities_Wu Ming Foundation

Week 4, Tuesday 1st November, 2011, 7.00-9.00pm

Sylvia Fedrici, Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, The Commoner Journal, 2011

Week 4_Feminism And the Politics of the Commons_Federici 


‘Bifo’ Berardi, Anatomy of Autonomy, In, Italy: Autonomia. Post-political politics.Ed. Sylvere Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, Semiotext, 1980, pp.148-170

Karl Marx , Fragment on Machines, Grundrisse, pp.690-712:

Next victim please or how to be a human being

Next victim please or how to be a human being

Saturday 12th February 2011
CCA, 2pm-4pm


The Interview / Die Bewerbung
(1997, 58min, subtitles: English)

Harun Farocki’s The Interview fixes a wry, critical gaze on interview training courses for the unemployed. The objective is to teach them how to put ‘the soul at work’ (Berardi). Farocki’s typically lucid film gains a crucial insight into the involuted processes through which potential employees make themselves ‘labour-ready’, examining how interview training scenarios teach people how to ‘correctly’ think and feel, and how the subject is disciplined for the realm of work.

“In the summer of 1996, we filmed application training courses in which one learns how to apply for a job. School drop-outs, university graduates, people who have been retained, the long-term unemployed, recovered drug addicts, and mid-level managers – all of them are supposed to learn how to market and sell themselves, a skill to which the term ‘self management’ is applied. The self is perhaps nothing more than a metaphysical hook from which to hand a social identity. It was Kafka who likened being accepted to a job to entering the Kingdom of Heaven; the paths leading to both are completely uncertain. Today one speaks of getting a job with the greatest obsequiousness, but without any grand expectations.” Harun Farocki


The Strickland Distribution will screen Farocki’s The Interview and facilitate a discussion of the film afterwards in relation to labour and welfare. The search for a new social subject in the neo-liberal age has led to a series of new terms to designate labour: ‘affective’, ‘immaterial’, ‘precarious’, ‘cognitive’, ‘non-productive’, ‘creative’, ‘playbour’, ‘the knowledge economy’. In the context of a low-wage economy and the most severe welfare cuts since the post-war consensus, The Strickland Distribution want to open up these categories to critical discussion through a close reading of The Interview.

The Strickland Distribution is an artist-run group supporting the development of innovative and independent research in art-related and non-institutional practices. Art-related includes research forms that directly implement artistic practice as a means of research method. Non-institutional includes forms of grass-roots histories, social enquiries and projects developed outside of academic frameworks and by groups and individuals normally excluded from such environments. The research will be developed through commissioning of new projects, dissemination in publications, exhibitions and events, networking to build links between groups and practitioners internationally, and evaluation through public discussion and peer review. The Strickland Distribution will operate in the public sphere and seek to stimulate and contribute to public education, discourse and debate around the topics and themes addressed through its projects.

free but ticketed, available from CCA Box Office : 0141 352 4900

Comparison via a Third / Harun Farocki
Wednesday 16 February – Thursday 3 March 2011
11:00am – 6:00pm: FREE
Venue: CCA 1 / CCA 2 / CCA 3
Ages: all

More info:

Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA)
350 Sauchiehall Street
Glasgow G2 3JD 


Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki – Benedict Seymour, MetaMute

‘The Flexible Personality’, Brian Holmes, 2002.

The Precarious Reader, Mute magazine, Vol 2, 2005.

Proposal for an inquiry in Call Centers – Kolinko
hotlines – call centre | inquiry | communism

Beyond Aspiration: Young People and decent work in the de-industrialised city
Discussion paper, June 2009, Andrew Cumbers, Gesa Helms and Marilyn Keenan

To Banker, from Bankies
Incapacity Benefit: Myth and Realities
Chik Collins, with Janice Dickson & Mary Collins (Clydebank Independent Resource Centre)

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