Account For The Emergence Of The Labour

Party And Discuss Its Fluctuating Fortunes Upto 1914 Essay, Research Paper It is an oversimplification to talk about the rise of the Labour Party as if it were a single homogeneous body. In fact it was an amalgamtion of three different socialist groups – the Social Democrat Federation, the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party – with some trade unions.

Party And Discuss Its Fluctuating Fortunes Upto 1914 Essay, Research Paper

It is an oversimplification to talk about the rise of the Labour Party as if it were a single homogeneous body. In fact it was an amalgamtion of three different socialist groups – the Social Democrat Federation, the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party – with some trade unions. Although these groups were all described as socialist, their aims and methods were not always the same; the word ’socialist’ meant different things to different people. `Basically the origins of the party lay in the poor social conditions and the poverty of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. At least 30 per cent of the working class were living close to starvation level, the agricultural and industrial depressions worsened the situation, bringing unemployment and irregular employment. Often wages were so low that families were living in dire poverty even when the breadwinner was in full-time employment. Many people were becoming disturbed at the striking contrast between this poverty and the comfortable existence enjoyed by the upper and middle classes. `”Progress and Poverty”, a book by an American economist, Henry George (published in Britain in 1881) focused attention on the tremendous contrasts of wealth and poverty. George blamed the problems on the greed of the landowners, and advocated a massive land tax as the cure for all ills. In a time of severe agricultural depression, the book was bound to have an impact both on middle-class intellectuals and on the working classes. Thanks to the spread of education following Forster’s Education Act (1870), working people could read George’s book and socialist propaganda, such as Robert Blatchford’s influential newspaper, “The Clarion.” `There was growing impatience among Radicals with Gladstone’s Second Minstry (1880-5) which virtually ingnored their suggestions for social reform. This was, to say the least, ill-advised, since many workers had received the vote thanks to the 1867 Reform Act, and Gladstone himself had extended the franchise to include many more in 1884. `Also in 1884, two important socialist groups were formed: the Social Democratic Federation was set up by an old-Etonian, H.M.Hyndman, and also included John Burns and Tom Mann. Advocating violent revolution to overthrow the capitalist system, they achieved `publicity by organising protest marches and demonstrations. The most famous one, held in Trafalgar Square in 1887, was broken up by police and is remembered as Bloody Sunday because of the violence on both sides. `The Fabian Society was a group of middle-class intellectuals which included Sydney and Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw. They believed that land and industrial capital should be owned by the community, but unlike the SDF thay did not believe in violence. They took their name from Fabius, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal by waiting patiently and avoiding battle, knowing that time was on his side. The Fabians believed that society would gradually change from capitalism to socialism and their function was to persuade the political parties to accept socialism. At first they preferred this policy of ‘gradual permeation’ to creating a separate Labour party, but they changed their minds when it became clear that the Liberals and Conservatives were not impressed by their ideas. `In 1888 James Keir Hardie, secretary of the Scottish Miners’ Federation, formed the Scottish Labour Party, because he was disgusted with the complacency and ineffectiveness of the Liberal Party. He became the first Labour MP in 1892 for West Ham South and `soon played a crucial role in the formation of the Labour Party. He was convinced that the needs of working people could only be attended to by a Labour group completely independent of other parties. A slump in the Yorkshire woollen industry in the early 1890s gave Hardie and his associate John Burgess, who ran a newspaper called “>The Workman’s Times”>, a chance to form a new party. The whole woollen area, racked by unemployment and wage reductions, was bristling with Labour clus – 23 of them in Bradford alone. Hardie organised a conference in Bradford in 1893 which resulted in the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Its ultimate aim was the collective ownership of the means of production, but its priorities were vital social reforms. The ILP was a working class and very much a northern organisation; Hardie wanted the Labour Party to be a national body with middle-class support, and the final step towards this goal came in 1900. `The trade unions gradually moved towards the idea of a Labour Party, following incidents such as the great engineering lock-out of 1897-8 and the Lyons ‘V ‘Wilkins case of 1899, whereby the Appeal Court decided to limit the right of a union to picket. It was a vague judgement, but it could be interpreted as reversing the 1876 Trade Union Act. Events like these prompted the TUC to propose a meeting with the socialist groups; representatives of some unions, SDF, Fabians and ILP attended the meeting at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London in February 1900 and decided to form a distinct Labour group in parliament. The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) was appointed to organise their election campaign, and James Ramsay Macdonald, later to become the first Labour Prime Minister, was its unpaid secretary. This is usually taken as the beginning of the Labour Party. Its aim was simply to represent working class interests in parliament; about socialism it was very vague. `The setting up of the LRC in 1900 caused no great stir at the time, and there were few who regarded it as more than another pressure group aiming to strengthen the labour cause. Keir Hardie himself thought of it in this way, and as late as 1905 he hoped that in time it might become an ‘influence second in importance only to that of the Irish National Party’. At the time when it was founded, the socialist journal “>the Clarion<-” appears to have been rather more optimistic about its future, but even then its tone was cautious: `At last there is a United Labour Party, or perhaps it would be safer to say, a little cloud, no bigger then a man’s hand, which may grow into a United Labour Party. `This caution was justified, for the LRC certainly got off to a slow start. It had little time to make preparations for the 1900 General Election, and of its 15 candidates, only two were elected – Keir Hardie and Richard Bell, general secretary of the Railway Servants Union. It was almost impossible to create a new parliamentary party of only two members, especially as Bell was no socialist and was more of a Liberal than anything else. Further, the LRC was short of funds. Less than a dozen unions affiliated to it, representing only about 350, 000 members out of a total trade union membership of two million or so. `In the early days it appeared that the LRC might well disappear altogether from the political scene. It was saved from this fate by a famous legal decision, and by a political bargain made with the Liberals. The legal decision resulted from a strike on the Taff Vale Railway in South Wales supported by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. Although the strike was settled quite quickly in 1900, the railway company brought an action against the union itself for unlawful picketing, rather then against the individual pickets, something that had not been done before. The case went from the High Court to the Court of Appeal, and finally to the House of Lords, who found in favour of the company. Since the union had now been declared responsible for the actions of its members, the railway company went on to sue the union for all its losses arising from the strike, and in December, 1902 was awarded `£23, 000 damages together with the costs of the action – about £42, 000 in all. `The Taff Vale Railway case caused great concern among the trade unions because it now appeared that whenever a trade union supported a strike, it might be made liable for all the losses incurred by the employer. The consequence was a very distinct increase in the support for the LRC as a means of getting an Act passed to reverse the Taff Vale judgement. By January 1903 affiliations had so increased that the membership affiliated to the LRC had gone up to 850, 000. Thus, as the historian R.C.K.Ensor put it,a sudden wind filled the sails of the LRC and blew hard in its favour till the general election of 1906. `The other favourable influence assisting the LRC relates to that election. In 1903 Ramsay MacDonald entered into a secret electoral pact with Herbert Gladstone, acting on behalf of the Liberal Party. By this pact it was agreed that the LRC would support t `he next Liberal government on condition that LRC candidates were unopposed by the Liberal Party in some 30 constituencies. The advantages of this agreement for the Liberals were that they would save the cost of putting up a candidate in the constituencies concerned, and also avoid splitting the anti-Conservative vote. From the LRC point of view, the pact was obviously advantageous in giving them a good chance of winning most of the 30 seats. Secrecy was necessary, however, since conservative-minded Liberals would certainly object to any kind of deal with the LRC, while many LRC supporters were strongly opposed to any kind of a return to a Lib-Lab alliance `By the time this pact was signed in August 1903 the LRC had already picked up a further three seats in by-elections, so that the future was looking much more promising. Between August, 1903 and the end of 1905 the LRC, the Liberal Party, and the eight Lib- `Labs all drew more closely together. In December, 1905 the Conservative government resigned. In the General Election that followed in January, 1906 there was little to choose between the election manifesto of the Liberal Party and that of the LRC. The General Election brought a landslide victory for the Liberals who gained 377 seats in all, with a majority of 82 over all other parties. Labour ran 50 candidates, 30 of whom were not opposed by Liberals. 29 were successful, and when they took their seats in Parliament they decided to call themselves simply the Labour Party. `At first Labour had some success in Parliament. The Trades Disputes Act of 1906 which dealt with the Taff Vale decision, was based on the Labour Party’s own bill, and they were able to add small improvements to the Workmen’s Compensation Act and to the Schools Meals and Medical Inspections Act. However, after 1907 thay had run out of ideas and simply accepted the Liberal reforms. `In 1909 the party was damaged financially by the Osbourne Judgement. The Osbourne case was the result of a branch secretary of the Railway Servants Union bringing an action against his own union to stop it from imposing the compulsory political levy. Osbourne objected to his union using part of member, subscriptions to finance a political party (i.e. the Labour Party), and the House of Lords ruled in his favour. The judgement dealt a severe blow at Labour Party finances, and in particular at the subsidies given by the unions to Labour MPs. No salaries were paid to MPs at this time, and several Labour MPs now found themselves in financial difficulties. Labour Party funds were further strained by the fact that there were two general elections in 1910. In January Labour won 40 seats which increased to 42 in December. However, only two of these had defeated Liberal candidates; the other 40 were successful because of the continuing electoral pact. `By 1914 the Labour Party, though making progress in local council elections, had failed to break away from its dependence on the Liberals; convinced socialists were disappointed with Labour’s showing, particularly when MacDonald claimed in 1911 that the party was ‘not socialist’, but was a federation organised for ‘immediate political work’. It was to be the First World War and the disintegration of the Liberals that gave Labour its chance to develop as a major party. `Bibliography ` ` `<:#284,9360>Aikin K.W.W. The Last Years of Liberal England 1900-14 `<:#284,9360>Cole & Postgate The Common People `<:#284,9360>Feuchtwanger Democracy and Empire `<:#284,9360>Hopkins E. A Social History of the English Working Classes `<:#284,9360>Lowe N. Mastering Modern British History

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