Labour’s Early Days
By Lord Shepherd
Originally published by the N.C.L.C. in 1950
by MORGAN PHILLIPS(Secretary,The Labour Party)
HISTORY is largely a matter of perspective. Sometimes it portrays more of the historian than it does of the factual record.
Viewpoints on the story of the birth and growth of the Labour Movement have, of course, influenced the many biographical and other histories already published. This little work of Lord Shepherd-our former National Agent-is particularly valuable because throughout it takes a new vantage point and lays a new emphasis on the impact of events upon the gradual formation of the Party we know today.
For instance, the Suffragette movement is discussed, but solely in relation to its influence-and it had an influence-on Party growth.
From early beginnings Lord Shepherd passes to the first Annual Conference in 1901, attended by 82 delegates representing less than half-a-million people. And from there we follow the details of growth up to 1918 when the new Constitution was adopted and the Party took on its present shape.
His years of service with the Party are a very ample qualification for the authorship of "Labour's Early Days." I find it most interesting reading and commend it to our members.
LABOUR'S EARLY DAYS
By LORD SHEPHERD
The House of Lords exists and participates in the business of the nation; members of the Labour Movement have therefore to face the necessity of taking seats in it. Some readers may not recognise under his new title, our old friend, George Shepherd, for so many years the genial and highly effective National Agent of the Labour Party, and always a welcome lecturer at N.C.L.C. summer schools.
I.- BIRTH OF THE PARTY.
NEARLY twelve millions of people in 1945 knew the Labour Party sufficiently well to elect it with a majority to form an independent Labour Government. Hundreds of thousands of people know the Labour Party of today intimately, even though a large proportion of them have secured their knowledge by practice rather than by study. Very few people, however, remember, or have much knowledge of the Labour Party's early days and the factors that brought it into existence. This book with no pretence of being a history of the Party, is written to tell them of the most interesting features of that important period during which the Party took shape.
Students of Industrial History know something of the Industrial Revolution; its effects, good and ill, upon the working-classes; the early struggles of the Trade Union Movement, and the support given by the workers to middle-class leaders to secure electoral reform. Although a good deal has been written about those events, it has not been overdone, and there is now an urgent need for a history linked up with the working class activities of our own times. In such a history, the early defeats, which when read alone tend to discourage, would lead on to Labour's achievement of power in 1945.
The middle classes, in the Reform Act, 1832, secured the first fruits of Nineteenth Century political agitation, but their working-class supporters, who could ill-afford the sacrifices they made, had to wait until 1868 and 1884 for their enfranchisement in the towns and the counties respectively. Afterwards, the Trade Unions, still influenced by their old associations with the Radical reformers, made their earliest attempts to secure working-class representation by arrangement with the Liberal Party, and it was not until the year 1909 that the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, the last of the big Unions to do so, broke away from the old traditions and entered into affiliation with the Labour Party for complete independence in politics. This latter fact is, in itself, proof of the danger always existing in the establishment of political friendships between organisations having incompatible political aspirations. The influences and the effects of the combination last too long.
Notwithstanding the tendency of the Trade Unions to secure representation in Parliament as the poor relations of the Liberal Party, there came into existence during the Eighties two socialist organisations which had, and one of them continues to have, great influence on working-class opinion. They were the Social Democratic Federation, with the full doctrine of Karl Marx, and the Fabian Society, which sought, by permeation, to influence the Liberal Party into a more generous mood, and to provide, on the other hand, programmes for the Trade Unions which the Liberal Party might be persuaded to accept. In 1893, however, the Independent Labour Party pledged to Socialist principles and bitterly critical of the Liberal Party, took its rise at Bradford. Its chief aim was to lead the organised workers to complete independence by the creation of a Working-class Party, both in and out of Parliament. The I.L.P. soon captured the imagination of most of the active spirits in the Trade Union Movement, and as a result, for a number of years resolutions in favour of independent political action appeared on the agenda of the Trades Union Congress.
Eventually, at the Trades Union Congress of 1899, the following Resolution was adopted by a narrow vote of 546,000 to 434,000:-
"That this Congress, having regard to its decisions in former years and with a view to securing a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons, hereby instructs the Parliamentary Committee to invite the co-operation of all the co-operative, socialistic, trade union and other working organisations to jointly co-operate on lines mutually agreed upon, in convening a special congress of representatives from such of the above-named organisations as may be willing to take part to devise ways and means for securing the return of an increased number of Labour Members to the next Parliament."
The vote notwithstanding, the sentiment in the Congress was strikingly in favour of the motion, only two speakers taking the floor against.
The administrative authority of the Trades Union Congress at the time was vested in a Parliamentary Committee. The title should be fixed well in mind, because it is indicative of the political aspirations of the Trade Unions associated with Congress. It would be a mistake to assume that the Trade Unions had no political outlook or sphere of political activity prior to the establishment of the Labour Party. They clearly had, but the idea behind the Parliamentary Committee was that the work should be undertaken, not on the green benches at Westminster, but in the lobbies of the House of Commons. The work of the Committee during the year under review covered such matters as the Shops (seats) Bill, Old Age Pensions, Half-Timers' Bill, Amendment to Compensation Act, Miners' Eight-hour Bill, Couplings Bill, Workmen's Cheap Trains Bill, Boilers Inspection and Registration Bill, Bakehouses (Hours) Bill, Merchandise Marks Amendment Bill, Early Closing (Shops) Bill, Steam Engines and Boilers (Persons in Charge) Bill, Truck Amendment Bill, Watermen's Bill, Anchors, Chains and Cables Bill, and a number of other questions, including Electoral Reform, Taxation of Ground Values, Banking of Trade Union Funds, Sweating in the Public Service, the Two-Cart System,
Gold and Silver Licenses, Amendment to Factory Act, Victimising of Railway Servants, etc.
The Parliamentary Committee, as directed by Congress, convened a special Conference on Labour Representation in the Memorial Hall, London, on 27th and 28th February, 1900. There assembled one hundred and twenty-nine delegates, appointed by 69 Organisations, with a total membership of 568,177, to consider an agenda drawn up by selected representatives from various bodies, namely, Messrs. Sam Woods, M.P., W.C.Steadman, M.P., Will Thorne, C.W.Bowerman and Richard Bell representing the Parliamentary Committee. Messrs. Keir Hardie and J. Ramsay MacDonald, the Independent Labour Party; Messrs. R. H. Taylor and H. Quelch, the Social Democratic Federation, and Messrs. E.R.Pease and George Bernard Shaw, the Fabian Society.
There is no published report of the discussions of this committee, but it can be inferred from its composition that the agenda which emerged was an attempt to secure the greatest common agreement possible, and that may account for the tentative and very timid nature of the items which were included. There were amongst the Committee Liberal-Labour men, Marxist doctrinaires, permeaters and political independence men. That such a committee actually got down to writing out an agenda is one of the most surprising things in the Labour Party's
The first Resolution submitted to the Conference read as follows:
"That this Conference is in favour of the working-classes being represented in the House of Commons by members of the working classes as being the most likely to be sympathetic with the aims and demands of the Labour Movement."
It will be noted that the resolution is merely an expression of opinion in favour of the working-class being represented in Parliament by members of the working-class themselves. It is inconceivable that anything less ambitious could have been put forward for discussion. Clearly, it was an attempt to keep men of incompatible views in something like marching order. The resolution was anything but a brave attempt to provide a basis of co-operation for a great new world. However, subject to an amendment moved by the Engineers, to add "whose candidatures are promoted by one or another of the organised Movements represented by the Constitution, which this Conference is due to frame, was carried by the Conference by 102 votes to 3.
The principal discussion of the Conference centred round the following resolution:
"In favour of establishing a distinct Labour Group in Parliament, who should have their own Whips and agree upon their policy which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any Party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interest of Labour and be equally ready to associate themselves with any Party in opposing measures having an opposite tendency."
The resolution was challenged by alternative resolutions from the extreme right and the extreme left. The Social Democratic Federation, for instance, moved a resolution in favour of a Parliamentary Group separate from the Capitalist Parties and having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and empowered the Parliamentary Group to formulate its own policy for practical legislative measures in the interests of Labour. The resolution surprisingly enough whilst proposing cooperation with other Parties in support of, or in opposition to, any measure before Parliament, nevertheless bound the Group to recognise the full implications of the class war.
The Shipwrights, on the other hand, proposed that the Labour Group should have a platform of four or five planks, embracing questions upon which the vast majority of the workers could unite, but that, outside of those questions, the members of the Parliamentary Group should be left entirely free on purely political questions.
It soon became clear that the original resolution could not secure unanimity, and it was certainly obvious from the beginning that the motions of the Social Democratic Federation and the Shipwrights could not secure a majority, so it was left to the Independent Labour Party, through Keir Hardie, to put forward an amendment to the original resolution by the addition of the words "and further, members of the Labour Group shall not oppose any candidates whose candidature is being promoted in terms of Resolution (1)." After some debate, Mr. Hardie's amended resolution was eventually carried unanimously and thus provided for the establishment of the first Parliamentary Labour Party. Few people in 1945 would boggle at the terms of the Social Democratic Federation's resolution, but in 1900, political conditions in the Labour Movement, being what they were, one might as well have asked for the moon.
The Committee of the Conference proposed that the business of the Conference, and that of any subsequent Conference, should be reported annually to the Trades Union Congress, and to the annual meetings of the national societies connected with the Committee. The effect of the proposal was to make the Labour Representation Committee not an independent political Party, but an organisation subsidiary or ancillary to the Trades Union Congress. Although objection to this procedure was entered by G. N. Barnes of the Engineers, the proposal was accepted by the Conference, but it did not continue in operation very long. The development of propaganda and the extension of electoral activities rapidly gave to the LRC. a status of its own.
One other resolution of the first Conference calls for some notice. The Railwaymen proposed that Trades Councils should be invited to send delegates to the next Conference on the basis of one delegate for every twentyfive thousand members affiliated to each Council at the date of its annual meeting, and on payment of an affiliation fee of five pounds for each twenty-five thousand members or part thereof. The resolution was met with a motion for the previous question, but it failed to carry, as only seven delegates voted in favour. The resolution, however, was amended to include Co-operative Societies, and ultimately received the blessings of Conference by two hundred and eighteen thousand to one hundred and ninety-one thousand.
To-day it is difficult to appreciate the attitude of the minority in the discussion which took place. One may wonder how Labour's representation was to be secured in Parliament if there existed no electoral machinery to carry the candidates to victory in the constituencies. The time had not yet arrived for the establishment of Constituency Labour Parties as we now know them,
and the first Conference had no alternative against all objections but to seek the assistance of the Trades Councils for the purpose of organising the electorate.
Much of the Conference business was transacted in a happy-go-lucky way and, to those experienced in the mass conferences of recent years, the lack of ordered procedure showed little promise of future stability. This was especially the case in the appointment of the Secretary of the L.R.C. John Ward of the Navvies, enquired whether Mr. Woods, then acting as Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress, would undertake the work. This was found to be impossible, because Mr. Woods' Trade Union had not sent representatives to the Conference, and the Conference remembered that Mr. Woods was a Liberal Member of Parliament. Mr. Brocklehurst, of the Independent Labour Party, suggested that two secretaries should be appointed, but met with no support. John Hodge of the Steel Smelters then moved that Mr. Brocklehurst himself should act as Secretary, pro tern, but Mr. Brocklehurst declined the honour and nominated J. Ramsay MacDonald, who being elected unanimously, accepted the office.
The selection of Mr. MacDonald, casual as it seemed, was perhaps the most important decision taken by the Conference. One will agree that the actions of Mr. MacDonald in the crisis of 1931 were to be condemned, but perhaps no other man could have brought such influence and power to the Secretaryship of the L.R.C. as did Mr. MacDonald in the early years. His very presence, his splendid voice and his grasp of affairs, coupled with ability of the highest order, lent to the Labour Party a leadership and direction which attracted quite apart from the active spirits within the Movement, millions of citizens to support of the Party's Programme. Not many people appreciate even now the importance of the decision, informal as it was, which appointed Mr. MacDonald to such a post at such a time.
The first Conference of one hundred and twenty-nine delegates was rich in strong personalities. Amongst the delegates were the enlightened leaders of the Trade Union Movement, whose battles on the industrial field had given them character only noticeable in men who have been through bitter struggles. No less than twenty-six of the delegates were afterwards to reach Westminster and of these men, Ramsay MacDonald became Labour's first Prime Minister; Philip Snowden Labour's first Chancellor of the Exchequer; G. N. Barnes a Member of the War Cabinet, 1914-18; John Hodge the first Minister of Labour on the creation of that Office; F. W. Jowett, the Minister of Works, and J. R Clynes became Home Secretary.
James Keir Hardie and Richard Bell of the A.S.R.S. entered Parliament almost immediately, and Hardie became not only the pioneer leader of Working-class Independence in the country, but after 1906 acted as Leader of the Labour Party in Parliament.
W. C. Steadman, who presided over the Conference, and at the time sat in Parliament as a Liberal-Labour M.P., was Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, but he was not to join the Parliamentary Party. John Burns, then in the House of Commons, was to become the first working man to enter a British Cabinet as a Liberal, and Richard Bell, the cause of much early trouble in Labour's political ranks, ceased quite early to be recognised as a Labour Member of Parliament.
Amongst others who achieved prominence in the public eye in later years were C. W. Bowerman, the future Secretary of the T.U.C.; James Sexton of the Liverpool Dockers; Ben Tillett also of the Dockers; Will Thorne and Pete Curran of the Gasworkers and Alec Wilkie, who united a multitude of local Shipwright Societies into a powerful Trade Union.
II - THE FIRST CONFERENCE.
THE Labour Representation Committee, elected in February, 1900, had hardly got into its stride before it was confronted with the khaki General Election of the same year. The Committee was ill-prepared for the contest, and, as the Trade Unions were backward in selecting their nominees, a national challenge to the old political parties could not be made.
The Committee decided that it could support only those candidates run by affiliated Labour Organisations and that, whilst it would be no bar to a candidate that he was receiving the support of either of the non-Labour political parties, it was clearly understood that his candidature was not to be promoted by either of them, and that he would accept the conditions laid down by the London Conference.
At the risk of becoming tedious, this second chapter ought to set on record the constituencies contested, and the candidates approved by the Labour Representation Committee. They were:-
Derby, Richard Bell.
Merthyr, J. Keir Hardie.
Gower, John Hodge.
Sunderland, A. Wilkie.
West Ham, Will Thorne.
Blackburn, Philip Snowden.
Bradford, Fred Jowett.
Halifax, James Parker.
Leicester, Ramsay MacDonald.
Manchester, S.W., F. Brocklehurst.
Preston, J. Keir Hardie.
Bow & Bromley, George Lansbury.
Ashton, J. Johnson.
Leeds (East), W.P. Byles.
Rochdale, A. Clarke.
It will be noted that Hardie was nominated for two constituencies-a privilege which no longer exists. Two of the candidates were returned, namely, the protagonists respectively of political dependence and political independence, Richard Bell (Derby) and J.Keir Hardie (Merthyr), but most of the candidates polled remarkably well, with a total Labour poll of 62,698, out of an aggregate poll in the constituencies named of 177,000. When the war-time circumstances under which the Election was contested are remembered, and the fact that no local organisation existed anywhere is allowed for, the results were very satisfactory.
In this election the Labour Representation Committee issued the first of a long series of election manifestoes, but its total national expenditure on the election amounted to no more than £33. This very trifling sum was looked upon as exceptional, and in the Committee's report to the first Annual Conference, lest the delegates should think there had been extravagance, the expenditure was referred to in an apologetic note. The modem conception of an electoral campaign, with all its far-reaching paraphernalia, had not been thought of at the turn of the century.
Richard Bell and Keir Hardie were not the only working-class representatives sent to the 1900 Parliament. There had been elected, chiefly by individual Trade Union enterprise, nine other working-class Members. They did not, however, owe allegiance to the Labour Representation Committee and, although the relations of the nine with Bell and Hardie were, in the main, cordial, the nine did not accept the whips of the organised movement.
It will be useful at this stage to give some particulars 'of past Parliamentary Representation. In the Parliament of 1874, following the first General Election subsequent to the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to working-men in the Boroughs, Thomas Burt and Alex. MacDonald, both miners, were returned. In 1880, they received an additional representative in Henry Broadhurst. Following the enfranchisement of working-men in the counties in 1884, the number of working-class representatives in the House of Commons gained headway, but not strikingly, for at subsequent General Elections their numbers were respectively:
1885, 11; 1886, 9; 1892, 15; 1895, 12; 1900,9.
The figures are important because they indicate the fallacy of the view then strongly held that the chief hope of working-class representation depended on seeking accommodation, either by agreement or force, with other political parties. They indeed furnished the principal item of propaganda for the advocates of political independence which led up to the Trades Union Congress decision to convene the London Conference in 1900.
The first Annual Conference of the Labour Representation Committee took place in Manchester in 1901. The Committee reported actual affiliations as follows:-
Trade Union 339,577
Trades Council 94,000
Fabian Society, 861
Indep. Labour Party 13,000
Social Democratic Fedn 9,000
The Co-operative Movement had again decided not to join in the attempt to build up an independent political party and was therefore unrepresented. There were 82 delegates at the Conference, a number now often exceeded by the Miners' own delegation.
Members of Parliament received no payment from the State at this time, and the maintenance of Labour Members gave rise to much discussion. The Fabian Society at this Conference moved a resolution in the following terms:-
"That the Conference expresses general approval of a scheme for a Labour Members' Maintenance Guarantee Fund, as 'framed by the Fabian Society, and instructs the Executive Committee officially to assist in its formation by all suitable means."
The Independent Labour Party moved an amendment, to delete the words after "Fund" and to add "but considers the time is not ripe for the Executive Committee to assist in its formation." The amendment, after debate, was carried by 227 votes to 106. The Social Democratic Federation then attempted to secure the establishment of a special Sub-committee to arrange the details of a scheme of maintenance, but this resolution met with the previous question and was ruled out. However, the subject was of too much importance to be finally shelved in that way and in the following year at Birmingham the Executive Committee were instructed to prepare a plan for submission to the Newcastle Conference in 1903, where approval was given for the establishment of a Maintenance Fund. The Fund was provided by a levy of Id per member on national organisations and, after the Fund had accumulated a sum of £2500, payments were made not exceeding £200 per annum, to each M.P. whose organisation had contributed its share. The Fund was something more than payment of relief to Members of Parliament then in the House. Its principal effect was to extend the choice of parliamentary candidates by bringing to selection conferences men of merit, irrespective of their own wealth or that of their promoting organisations. It had an equalising result consonant with the principles of a Party forming the spearhead of Democracy.
The Independent Labour Party was especially active in the first annual Conference, and it there commenced the work of converting the Movement to a socialist programme, and brought its big propaganda guns into play. Philip Snowden introduced a resolution on Municipal Trading, John Penny a resolution on Electoral Reform, Joseph Burgess a resolution on Imperialism, and all were carried unanimously. The big discussion of the Conference took place, however, on another I.L.P. resolution, headed "Collectivism," moved by Bruce Glasier. It read:-
"This Congress of representatives of organised Labour, recognising that the inevitable tendency of privately-owned capital is towards combination in monopolies known as Trusts, is of opinion that the ownership and control of such vast aggregations of capital by private individuals are disastrous to the welfare of the consuming public, inimical to the social and political freedom of the people, and especially injurious to the industrial liberty and economic condition of the workers, must be to transfer all such private monopolies to public control as steps towards the creation of an Industrial Commonwealth founded upon the common ownership and control of land and capital and the substitution of co-operative production for use in place of the present method of competitive production for profit."
To this, the S.D.F. moved an amendment to add;
"And this Congress further declares that no candidate for Parliament should receive the support of the Labour Representation Committee who is not pledged to the above principles and to the recognition of the class war as the basis of working-class political action."
Although the only outright opponents amongst the speakers were John Ward of the Navvies and James Sexton of the Dockers, the tender digestive system of the Conference would accept neither resolution nor amendment, and adopted the previous question. The decision was accepted by the I.L.P. with patience and a waiting policy, whilst the S.D.F. characteristically withdrew its affiliation from the Labour Representation Committee soon afterwards. In the light of what happened later, the I.L.P. thus proved itself the more practical party of the two, and went on to make further history .
III.-THE FIRST BIG VICTORY.
DURING the first years of the Labour Representation Committee, the federal conception of its functions persisted, despite an urge from Left Wing sources to the contrary. Annual Conferences were prepared to pass single resolutions on one subject or another, but they steadily refused to be drawn into a declaration of ultimate objects, or into the drafting of a programme. The more moderate elements took the line that, as the Trades Union Congress had passed many resolutions during its long period of existence, there appeared to be no necessity for the Labour Representation Committee to do other than string them together as occasion demanded. The Independent Labour Party, for its part, continued its almost Fabian method of conversion from within, whilst the S.D.F., though it had withdrawn from the L.R.C., persisted in seeking a declaration on ultimate objects through its members who were appointed to represent other affiliated organisations at the Conference.
Ultimately in 1905, due to the persistence of the S.D.F. from without, the following motion was adopted and carried without discussion;
"The Annual Conference of the L.R.C. hereby declares that its ultimate object shall be the obtaining for the workers the full results of their labour by the overthrow of the present competitive system of Capitalism and the institution of a system of public ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange."
No one can now explain why the L.R.C. after strenuously opposing similar resolutions during the years, allowed the motion, pledging it to a Socialist basis, to go through as if unnoticed. Despite the character of the resolution it would be wrong to insist that the Labour Party has been Socialist from 1905. Indeed, until the year 1918, Left criticism continued to be levelled on platforms and in the Press against both the L.R.C. and, as it subsequently became, the Labour Party as a Liberal-Labour organisation.
Even the 1905 Conference continued the policy of declining to adopt a public programme, and following the important General Election of 1906, repeated its decision.
Notwithstanding this reluctance to formulate policy, the electors were left in no doubt as to the ultimate course to be followed politically by the organised workers. The Independent Labour Party grew strong both in numbers and in influence; its propaganda developed an intensity greater than ever, and workingclass electors were consistently drawn into the pursuit of political power. The National Executive Committee of the L.R.C., strangely enough, after what has been said above, took steps in January, 1905, to hold Conferences to consider the subjects of Unemployment, and the Feeding of School Children. These conferences, in fact, preceded the Annual Conference, and were held in the same town. It can be claimed, therefore, with every justification, that these conferences formulated the first public policy as distinct from a programme to be put forward by the Movement as a whole. Because of the approach of the General Election of 1906, the discussions attracted a good deal of public attention, and the resolutions passed on Unemployment certainly had their influence upon the results.
The first resolution declared:-
(a) That unemployment; is not caused by scarcity of land, of capital, of national wealth, or by incapacity to consume.
(b) That unemployment prevails in Protectionist and Free Trade countries alike.
(c) That the presence of aliens in Britain is not a cause of unemployment amongst British workers.
(d) That unemployment on the contrary is due to the existence of monopoly, and the burdens which the non-producing sections impose on the industrious classes, together with the lack of such an organisation of industry as will prevent alternate periods of overwork and unemployment.
Members of Parliament, in a second resolution, were urged to secure fuller powers for the Local Authorities to acquire and use land; to reorganise local administrative machinery for dealing with poverty and unemployment; to bring pressure on the Government to put the recommendations of the Afforestation Committee into effect; to ensure that the Board of Trade should undertake the reclamation of foreshores and to create a Labour Ministry.
David Shackleton moved a third resolution which is worthy of notice, in view of the late Coalition Government's White Paper on Full Employment. Shackleton's resolution declared that Local Authorities should execute public work at times when the labour market is depressed, and should, in consequence, schedule improvements, housing schemes, etc., with a view to putting them in hand immediately; and, wherever possible should employ direct labour, to be given standard Trade Union rates and conditions.
The above proposals are of very great interest. Although forty years have passed, bringing with them far greater knowledge of world economics than then existed, there is nothing to withdraw from the above pronouncements, although there may be much to add.
To Keir Hardie we owe Labour's first agitation against the prevailing unemployment. In Parliament, and in the country, he had awakened the public conscience, and, poor and weak as the Unemployed Workmen's Act of 1905 now appears, its place upon the Statute Book is a great tribute to the memory of a man who felt deeply and spared himself no effort in the cause of the unemployed.
The present writer, now a Labour Peer, has a vivid recollection of being taken by Keir Hardie into the House of Lords for the second reading of the Bill. There was a poor attendance of Peers, and at the Bar the only Members of the House of Commons showing any interest were John Burns, Arthur Henderson, Will Crooks and Hardie. The only strangers were Frank Smith (Keir Hardie's secretary) and myself. Will Crooks indulged in a running commentary on the debate which was a joy to listen to, and especially so during the speech of the Marquis of Aylsbury, whose voice provided Crooks with a splendid target for his robust wit.
One other subject influenced the Labour Representation Committee and its supporters between the Election of 1900 and 1906. The Taff Vale Railway Company, feeling aggrieved at a strike supported by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, sued the Society in the Courts and was awarded heavy damages. This decision was of serious consequence to the Trade Unions and severely curbed their actions. The award was attacked in Parliament and on platforms throughout the country, and many Trade Unions not hitherto moved to political action for social reform, were so outraged that they joined the L.R.C. for the first time, bringing its affiliated membership to more than one million. The Railway Company, like many other victors before it, enjoyed a brief period of exaltation, little understanding that in its hour of triumph it had forced the organised Working-Class Movement to seek redress through Parliamentary action and had helped it to make up its mind to secure political power to take over whole industries in the name of the nation.
The General Election of 1906 brought results that startled the whole world. Fifty Candidates had been officially nominated and approved by the Labour Representation Committee. Unlike their forerunners of 1900, these Candidates were no scratch nominees. They had been duly and officially promoted by affiliated organisations and selected by Constituency Organisations of various kinds in time to make preparations for the fight. Twenty-nine of the Candidates were returned victoriously to Parliament, and on the green benches the new members not only looked like a real Parliamentary Party, but in fact acted as one. The House of Commons, remembering the four lone figures representing Independent Labour in the old Parliament, were greatly impressed by Labour's new strength.
A glance to-day at a photograph of the first Parliamentary Labour Party comes as a shock to one like myself who knew the members. The well-known faces and the recollections of Socialist rejoicing for a victory truly gained, cause one to live through the election again as if it were yesterday. But, alas! time has taken its dread toll. Not a single Labour Member of the 1906 Parliament figured in the 1945 Parliamentary majority of 393.
When the new Parliamentary Party met, Keir Hardie was chosen as leader, and with George H. Roberts and F. W. Jowett working as his Parliamentary Secretaries, the Parliamentary Party under his chairmanship took its work very seriously indeed, and established what is now a feature of the present majority in Parliament, a system of Standing Committees. They were four in number:-
I. Municipal Committee.
II. Government Workers' Committee.
III. Estimates' Committee.
IV. Government Contracts' Committee.
During the Session, however, special Sub-Committees of the Party were appointed to deal with the Notification of Accidents Bill, the Workmen's Compensation Bill, The Trade Disputes Bill, the Education Bill, Provision of Meals for School Children Bill and Railway Rates.
At the Annual Party Conference in 1906, the Parliamentary Party submitted the first of the Parliamentary Reports which have been such a feature of Annual Party Conferences ever since. The historical importance of the procedure thus established lies in the constitutional status acquired by the Parliamentary Party to the Annual Party Conference. The Parliamentary Party, having direct access to the Conference, is not now, and has never been subject to the direction of the National Executive Committee, as Mr. Attlee made plain to Mr. Churchill at the recent General Election.
It was at this Conference also that a decision was taken to drop the name "Labour Representation Committee" and to adopt the name "Labour Party." Many socialists have, during the years, challenged the use of the latter name, preferring, as they have professed, the name Socialist Party. Wisdom, however, has quite frequently come to the aid of the political workers' movement in moments of doubt and the title "Labour Party" has been retained without difficulty.
No better title could have been chosen to convey to the working classes a sense of their ownership of a political party. A working man may be a Conservative, a Liberal or a Socialist, but he will always look upon those words as something additional, as something that can be discarded at will. But to be a Labour man is another matter altogether. A working man is a Labour man inevitably, and he naturally belongs to the Labour Party. He may disagree with its policy at times, but he is not tempted to leave the Party because he is a vital part of its organisation.
IV-ORGANISING THE PARTY
SINCE 1929 the selection of Parliamentary Labour Candidates has been governed by an elaborate form of procedure, involving the National Executive Committee, Affiliated Organisations, Constituency Parties and Individual Members. Administratively, the procedure has been supervised by the National Agent's Department and its Staff of District Organisers, who, from day to day, are in close touch with every section of the Party. In its turn the National Agent's Department and its District Organisers are controlled in general by the National Executive Committee, and in detail by the Elections' Sub-Committee of that body. The National Agent acts as Secretary to the Sub-Committee.
A Parliamentary Labour Candidate must be an individual member of the Party; if eligible, he "must be a member of a Trade Union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress or recognised by the Congress as a bona fide Trade Union; accept and conform to the Constitution, Programme, Principles and Policy of the Party, and undertake to accept and act in harmony with the Standing Orders of the Parliamentary Party; not to be a member of a Political Party or Organisation ancillary or subsidiary thereto declared by the Annual Party Conference, or by the National Executive Committee in pursuance of Conference decisions to be ineligible for affiliation to the Labour Party; in an election he must designate himself as a Labour Candidate only, and give prominence in his election address and in his campaign to the issues for that election as defined in the Party Manifesto; his promoting Organisation must accept financial responsibility for his candidature.
The regulations which surround the selection of a Parliamentary Candidate, or which make provision for his future political behaviour, have grown up with the Party itself, and some of them have their origin in the early years of Party activity. All of them have found their way into the Party's Constitution to meet circumstances which called for the attention of the Annual Party Conferences or of the National Executive Committee.
In previous chapters mention has been made of the Resolutions submitted to the preliminary Conference in 1900 which gave life to the Labour Representation Committee. So tentative were the steps taken at the beginning that no provision was made for a written Constitution. and it was not until 1903, after a number of difficulties had arisen in the promotion and selection of Parliamentary Candidates, that the first attempts at Constitution-making were made.
In 1901 the Executive Committee had to warn the Annual Party Conference that it could support only the Candidates run by affiliated Labour Organisations, and that while it would be no bar to a Candidate that he would receive the support of either of the non Labour political Parties, it must be clearly understood that his candidature was not promoted by either of them. and that he accepted the conditions of the second resolution of the London Conference. In 1902 there were considerable difficulties experienced in a by-election at Dewsbury. caused by attempts to select a representative Candidate on behalf of the whole Labour Movement in the absence of any rule governing the procedure.
By 1903 the mind of the Executive on the need for a written Constitution had been made up, but so careful was the Committee not to disturb affiliated organisations too much that, in presenting the first draft, it did no more than paraphrase the original basic Resolutions. The Committee did, however, indicate its fear that the draft was weak in many respects and it did invite the Annual Conference to strengthen the draft by amendment.
As there had been one or two incidents during the preceding twelve months which excited a good deal of interest, affiliated organisations needed no second invitation to send in amendments. Those incidents were, in fact, a challenge to the independence of the Party, and they could not be ignored. In particular, the case of the Fawcett Association, and its leading member, W.E. Clery, attracted most attention. The Association, now merged into the Union of Post Office Workers, had, in accordance with the original resolutions and the ruling of the National Executive Committee, decided to promote the candidature of W. E. Clery, and to undertake responsibility for his election expenses. Clery, however, allowed himself to be selected as a Liberal Candidate by the Deptford Liberal Association, believing that, as the Labour Representation Committee was a Federal body merely interested in sending working men to Parliament, the Committee could not object, even though a working-class representative had been selected by one of the capitalist parties. The Fawcett Association in its turn reported Clery's selection to the National Executive Committee and asked for the endorsement of Clery's candidature by the Labour Representation Committee. The National Executive Committee argued the matter with the Fawcett Association, but, notwithstanding its own warning to the 1901 Conference, finally came to a decision that it had no authority to refuse endorsement. In giving endorsement, however, it decided to inform the next Conference of the facts, and to advise that body not to allow Clery's case to become a precedent.
The Gas Workers promptly submitted a Motion on the Party's independent position, and after some amendment, it was adopted and became part of the Constitution in the following form:-
"To secure, by united action, the election to Parliament of Candidates promoted, in the first instance. by an Affiliated Society or Societies in the Constituency, who undertake to form or join a distinct group in Parliament, with its own Whips and its own policy on Labour questions, to abstain strictly from identifying themselves with or promoting the interests of any section of the Liberal or Conservative Parties, and not to oppose any other candidate recognised by this Committee. All such candidates shall pledge themselves to accept this Constitution, to abide by the decisions of the Group in carrying out the aims of this Constitution, and to appear before their Constituencies under the title of Labour Candidates only."
The debate on the Resolution was a notable one, the principal protagonists being John Ward for his Liberal-Labour supporters and Keir Hardie for the Labour Independents. John Ward urged that the Labour Party should follow the lead of the Irish Nationalist Party under Parnell. "Everybody knows," said Ward, "that Parnell always kept himself absolutely clear of any such resolution as that under discussion. Parnell always supported Liberals and Tories as the occasion demanded. The resolution under discussion would not allow them to take such action as Parnell did so successfully in his time. They would strangle themselves if they passed such resolutions, as they would absolutely choke the Movement in its inception."
Keir Hardie had a longer vision, and he dealt with Ward in a trenchant fashion. In his reply, he said "they were advised to use any weapon, honourable or dishonourable, in order to win seats in the House of Commons." It was not true to say that they were justified in doing anything to win a seat. There was but one weapon which would stand the test of time and prove effective-adhesion to honest principle. Any departure from that would ruin their Labour Movement.
They all-Liberal, Tory and Socialists alike-rejoiced at the magnificent Conference got together in that hall. What was the principle that enabled them all to come together and discuss this matter?-INDEPENDENCE. If they, the Socialists, had insisted that all should be Socialists, there would be no such gathering. Had the Liberals insisted that all should be Liberals, they would have had a like result. They had fixed upon a common denominator, that "when acting in the House of Commons, they should be neither Socialists, Liberals nor Tories, but a Labour Party."
On examination, the constitutional clause quoted above will be found largely to cover Parliamentary Candidates of the present day. A Candidate now, on completing his Nomination Paper for a Selection Conference, signs his name to the following words: "I accept nomination as above, and, if selected, will accept the stipulations relating to candidatures as set out in the Labour Party Constitution and Rules." He does so without any conscientious objection, because, although some Labour Party people desire to establish friendly relations with splinter organisations, no member of the Labour Party now questions the essential need for independence vis-a-vis the Liberal and Conservative Parties. In those early days, however, the pledge caused immediate repercussions and, as will be shown in a later chapter, it strongly influenced the Judges acting in the Osborne Case.
In 1904, Richard Bell of the Railwaymen having declined to give the required pledge, took provocative action which led to his elimination from Labour Party politics, and to a fuller endorsement by the Party of the Constitutional clause. In the Norwich by-election of that year, George H. Roberts of the Typographical Association had been nominated by the Labour forces in the City. A request was sent by the Labour Agent to Bell, through the local branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, inviting him to speak in support of Roberts' candidature. Although Bell had .been associated with the creation of the Labour Representation Committee-he was its first Treasurer and despite the fact that he was the General Secretary of one of its strongest affiliated organisations, he wrote a reply to his Norwich Branch regretting the intervention of the Labour Candidate and expressing an opinion favourable to the Liberal nominee. This letter found its way into the Press from the London end, and Bell was charged with having been responsible for the leak. Whether the charge was true or not, may never be known, but it is a fact that, on the successful return of the Liberal candidate, Bell sent him a letter of congratulation.
The Labour Representation Committee communicated the circumstances to Bell's Trade Union, and requested it to take action. Unfortunately, although the Union refrained from appointing Bell to future Conferences of the L.R.C., it continued to allow Bell, its General Secretary, to go his own way politically, whilst keeping itself in active touch with the Labour Representation Committee. In the 1906 Parliament, the Union subsequently found itself in an embarrassing situation, when its two Labour M.P.s, Hudson and Wardle, moved an amendment to a trifling resolution on Railway conditions moved by Bell.
As was to be expected, the introduction of the Candidates' pledge proved an acid test for the Liberal-Labour element in the Party. A majority, faced with the personal decision involved, swallowed the pledge and committed themselves to Labour independence. A minority, however, which included W.C. Steadman and John Ward, refused to take the pledge, and in consequence had their endorsements withdrawn by the L.R.C. All the duly-nominated candidates at the succeeding General Election were pledge-bound under the Party Constitution, and those who succeeded in winning entry into Parliament lived up to their pledge.
Members of the Labour Party cannot resist the temptation of Constitution-mongering, and at every Conference, until 1928, the agenda was never free from some motion for a change. The Party, however, by 1928 had had enough annual constitutional reviews, and in the redrafted Constitution of that year included a clause restricting proposed amendments to the Constitution to every third Conference.
Before closing this chapter, it may be useful to mention two further constitutional changes made in the early days. In 1906 the clause set out above was amended to bind Candidates to abstain strictly from identifying themselves with or promoting the interests of any Party not eligible for affiliation. The initiative was taken by the Belfast Trades Council who were anxious to deal with their own brand of political Parties, but the real effect was to bar association with any political Party unrecognised by the Labour Party as an affiliated organisation.
In 1908, at Hull, the National Executive Committee proposed an addition to the Party Constitution to govern the constitution of Selection Conferences. Although Trades Councils and Local Labour Representation Committees were eligible for affiliation, these bodies had not been provided at that time with local rules, consequently a good deal of difficulty arose out of the local Conferences convened for the selection of Parliamentary Candidates. The recommendation of the National Executive Committee was in the following terms:-
"That all branches of affiliated organisations within a Constituency or Divided Borough covered by a proposal to run a Labour Candidate must be invited to send delegates to the Conference and that the local organisation responsible for calling the Conference may, if it thinks fit, invite representatives from branches of organisations not affiliated but eligible for affiliation."
The above clause continued in operation for many years and was only superseded by the adoption of model rules for Constituency Parties approved by the Annual Party Conference in 1918.
The Hull Conference of 1908 discussed the appointment of a National Agent to conduct the electoral activities of the Party. There was a big debate, which centred round a demand for local autonomy by many Organisations. It was feared that having a National Agent working under the direction of the National Executive Committee would lead to over-centralisation. The question had been submitted by the previous Conference to the National Executive Committee for investigation, but the Committee, although reporting on its discussions, refrained from making a recommendation. The Hull Conference ultimately carried, by a narrow majority, a proposal to appoint a National Agent. There is no evidence, either in the debate or in the Executive Committee's report, that any delegate, except Arthur Henderson, had any conception of the importance of the office thus created. Henderson's early political activities had been in the Liberal Party, for which Organisation he had acted as a Constituency Agent. The Office of National Agent has been in existence for forty-one years, and during that period four persons only have occupied the post, namely, Arthur Peters, formerly of the Liberal Party, but who later became Labour Agent for Barrow-in-Furness; Egerton P. Wake, whose early life had been spent in Labour circles at Chatham, but who followed Peters as Labour Agent at Barrow; myself, whose political associations need no description at this juncture, and R. T. Windle, the present holder of this important office.
V-ATTACKS BY THE LAW
THE repeal in 1946 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, was a matter of great moment to the Labour Movement, It restored to the Trade Unions much of their former industrial independence, and gave to certain Unions the right the 1927 Act denied them, of linking up with the Trades Union Congress. The repeal also deleted from the Statute Book those restrictions which Mr. Churchill, in a moment of triumph, and in the interests of the Tory Party, fastened round the Labour Party and its' affiliated Organisations.
Before writing of the changes to be expected, I will remind readers of the early attempts reactionaries made through the Courts to defeat the Labour Party by sapping its strength at the source.
From the enfranchisement of working men in the towns in 1868, Trade Unions had engaged in political activities, and had nominated members at Parliamentary and Local Government elections with varying degrees of success. Until 1906, feeling perhaps that they were sufficiently strong in the political field to prevent the election of working-class candidates in great numbers, political opponents took no advantage of the law, but with the growth of the Labour Representation Committee, and the approach of the General Election in 1906, the Courts were brought in to assist in the defeat of the rising political force.
In the beginning action was taken against those Trade Unions which had become active in politics without first going through the formality of securing authority through the adoption of appropriate rules. So awkward did the situation become that the Labour Representation Committee in 1905 circulated to the Trade Unions a Model Rule, sanctioned by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, and urged its adoption. The Model Rule read as follows;
"The object of this Society is to regulate relations between workmen and employers and between workmen and workmen in the trade; to relieve its members when unemployed; to create benefits for sickness, accident, or superannuation; to bury its dead; and to these ends it adopts the following methods:
(a) The establishment of a fund or funds;
(b) The giving of legal assistance in connection with all or any of the above objects within the limits allowed by law;
(c) The securing, or assisting in securing, of legislation for the protection of its trade interests and for the general and material welfare of its members;
(d) The adoption of any other legal method which may be decided to be advisable in the general interests of the members as declared by a majority voting by ballot.
For the purpose of promoting these objects and of making these methods effective, the Society may aid and join with other trades or other Societies, or Federation of Societies, having for their object or one of them the promotion of the interests of workmen within the scope of the Trade Union Acts."
It will be noticed that no reference is made to the Labour Party in the Model Rule, nor is there any mention of the promotion of Parliamentary Candidates, but the wording is so wide and general in character that it gave elbow room and sufficient authority to join the Labour Party and to engage actively in politics.
The adoption of the Model Rule, however, only brought a brief period of quiet filled with uneasy expectation. Big business is not in the habit of pulling its punches when intent on a kill, and the resumption of its attack later is not a matter for surprise because the work of the Labour Party in Parliament, despite its small numbers, offered a daily challenge to employers and a rallying point for their employees.
In 1909 the half feared and the fully expected bombshell fell. A man named Osborne, a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, sought an injunction to restrain the Union from levying its members to support the Labour Party, the main ground being that the statutory objects laid down in the Trade Union Act, 1876, did not give Trade Unions authority to engage in political action. Those objects were in the following terms:
"The regulation of the relations between workmen and master, or between workmen and workmen, or between masters and masters, of the imposing of restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and also the provision of benefits to members."
Mr. Justice Neville, who presided over the Court, appeared to have the opinion that the statutory objects did not prevent the adoption of other objects, and he finally refused the injunction, whereupon Osborne took the case to the Court of Appeal where the decision in the lower Court was reversed. It mattered not to the Appeal Judges that Unions had been active politically for forty years, or that many members of Trade Unions, through that period, had been elected to and had been active in Parliament. To the Court of Appeal the statutory objects limited Trade Unions to industrial action, and therefore any form of political action became ultra vires.
The Labour Movement was now aroused to a pitch of high fury because the decision of the Court of Appeal, if maintained, would actually prevent Trade Unions sending members to lobby Members of Parliament at Westminster, and branches of Trade Unions would no longer be able to participate in the work of Trades Councils and similar bodies. It was at once decided with unanimity that the case be taken to the House of Lords in the hope of a more reasoned judgment in that Chamber. The case was finally decided in December, 1909, and to the intense disgust of the Trade Unions the decision of the Court of Appeal was upheld. In the three Courts no less than nine Judges had to decide for and against the following Trade Union Claim:-
"That political action comes within the meaning of the Trade Union Acts and is, therefore, not ultra vires."
Two Judges only answered in the affirmative, six Judges answered in the negative, and one Judge was neutral.
Following the House of Lords judgment which, by the way, involved the Movement in costs exceeding £4,000, the Labour Party had to decide what action had to be taken to free the Trade Unions therefrom. Indeed quick action became imperative because more than a score of affiliated Trade Unions were taken through the Courts and had injunctions forced upon them following the House of Lords judgment. The National Executive Committee gave the necessary lead in two directions. It proposed first, a modification of the Constitution of the Labour Party, and second, to secure the passage through Parliament of a new Act granting Trade Unions their proper and necessary political rights.
The alteration to the Party's Constitution was submitted to the Annual Party Conference at Leicester in 1911 -my first Conference by the way. There had been great play in the Courts about pledge-bound members of Parliament, and the Leaders felt that if Parliament had to be won over to new legislation, M.P.s had to be freed from any noticeable obligation to an outside body. There were heated discussions and the Executive Committee's proposals were only adopted after a great struggle. Hitherto Parliamentary Candidates had been obliged to sign the following undertaking:-
"Candidates and Members must accept this Constitution; agree to abide by the decisions of the Parliamentary Party in carrying out the aims of this Constitution; appear before their constituencies under the title of Labour Candidates only; abstain strictly from identifying themselves with or promoting the interests of any Parliamentary Party not affiliated, or its Candidates; and they must not oppose any Candidate recognised by the National Executive of the Party."
Following the Leicester Conference decision, no signature by a Parliamentary Candidate became necessary and the amended rule read as follows :-
"Candidates and Members must maintain this Constitution j appear before their constituencies under the title of Labour Candidates only; abstain strictly from identifying themselves with or promoting the interests of any other Party and accept the responsibilities established by Parliamentary practice."
The attack on the proposed change was led by Bruce Glasier in a closely reasoned and penetrating speech. He was replied to by Ramsay MacDonald, in a speech delivered with great debating power. Hardie then followed, supporting Bruce Glasier's attack, and Arthur Henderson replied on behalf of the platform. The opposition to the proposed change was delivered from the angle that it was unwise to bow the knee to the Bench, and that Parliament would be much more likely to listen to a fighting Party than one that trimmed its sails.
Despite the partial dependence of the Government on Labour votes, it was not until 1913 that the reversal of the Osborne judgment was secured by Act of Parliament. Although the new Act did not give the Labour Movement all that had been demanded, it nevertheless, largely clarified the Trade Union position in the political field. To the statutory industrial objects of Trade Unions were added specific political objects, Unions could under the new Act spend money:-
(a) On the payment of any expenses incurred either directly or indirectly by a candidate or prospective candidate for election to Parliament or to any public office, before, during, or after the election in connection with his candidature or election; or
(b) on the holding of any meeting or the distribution of any literature or documents in support of any such candidate or prospective candidate; or
(c) on the maintenance of any person who is a member of Parliament or who holds a public office; or
(d) in connection with the registration of electors or the selection of a candidate for Parliament or any public office; or
(e) on the holding of political meetings of any kind, or on the distribution of political literature or political documents of any kind, unless the main purpose of the meetings or of the distribution of the literature or documents is the furtherance of statutory objects within the meaning of this Act.
The Act made it clear that the statutory political objects named were without prejudice to the furtherance of any other political objects.
It also enabled a Trade Union to establish a political fund raised by means either of a political levy on its members, or, by the transfer of money from other Union funds as might be determined. Members of Trade Unions who objected to political action could either claim exemption from the payment of the political levy, or, could claim to have their contribution cards credited with the equivalent of their share of monies transferred from other funds to the political fund. It was the business of the Unions to make this privilege known.
The repeal of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, has thrown the Trade Union Movement back on to the Trade Union Act, 1913, and Trade Unionists now know what that really means in administrative action within the Unions. There is now much more money for their political funds to expend on political propaganda; and on the promotion of Candidates for Parliamentary and Local Government Elections, to say nothing of the political education of Trade Union members. Obviously the Repeal is going to make a great deal of difference to the Labour Party. In the year following the passing of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, because of the substitution of "contracting-in" for "contracting-out," the affiliated membership of the Labour Party fell by more than one million. The affiliated membership of the Party has and will be greatly strengthened as the Unions will be able to affiliate on a membership almost as big as that on which they affiliate to the Trades Union Congress. The total affiliated membership of the two bodies will not be the same exactly because, apart from those members who "contract-out," a number of Unions affiliated to the T.U.C. are not yet affiliated to the Labour Party.
IN winning a Parliamentary majority for the first time in 1945, the Labour Party had actually spent forty-six active years in the necessary preparatory work. In the life of the nation that period of time is of little consequence and future historians may not, therefore, dwell upon what must appear to people who joined the Party at the beginning, as a pretty long process consuming as it has done practically the whole of their working lives.
It has been said by Sidney Webb that in Britain a new idea with merit in it normally takes a period of twenty-five years to reach fulfilment; which is another way of saying that those responsible for new ideas must not expect the generation to which they are addressed to accept them too readily. If innovators are wise they will lay their plans for the conversion of the young who, in the course of time, will reach political maturity without too many of the prejudices of their parents. But, if twenty-five years be the normal period of propaganda required, how comes it then that the Labour Party idea, which has never lacked devoted followers, has taken twice the normal period to reach a Parliamentary majority?
The answer is to be found to some extent in the restricted franchises of the first two decades of the present century. During those years, as it seems now, the electoral basis for achieving a Labour Government simply did not exist because the small electorate was over weighted by the rich, by the middle class and by the more elderly members of the working class. A glance at the elections following the extension of the Franchise in 1918, and following subsequent extensions since, shows that Labour's increased votes and representation in Parliament have coincided with them.
A few facts about the electorate as late as 1915 present a picture of some importance in assessing the Labour Party's earlier efforts to acquire political recognition. In that year the total electorate, including the whole of Ireland, amounted to no more than 8,450,924 men as against the thirty-three millions of men and women appearing on the May Register of 1945. An analysis of the 1915 electorate gives the following divisions:-
(a) The Ownership Franchise, i.e., Freeholders, Copyholders and Leaseholders-644,11O men.
(b) The Occupation Franchise, i.e., Occupiers of land or premises of the annual value of £10; Householders; Service Occupiers- 7,162,491 men.
(c) Lodgers occupying unfurnished rooms of the annual value of £10 -444,656 men. (d) Freemen -54,919 men.
(e) University Electors-51,471 men.
All women and most of the young men being excluded, the comparatively slow progress of the Party until the 1920's is understandable, and, despite the setback of 1931, the later progress due to a more effective response to Labour's propaganda from the younger people is recognisable.
Curiously enough, if we are to judge by Annual Reports and Conference discussions, the Labour Party appeared to take no real interest in Electoral Reform until the outbreak of the first European War. It is true that in the 1909-10 Conferences, motions inspired by Arthur Henderson, found their way to the Conference Agenda, but, judging by the space given to the discussions in the reports, the interest was lukewarm. Certainly the Party as a whole did not appreciate that the franchise laws of the day were heavily weighted against Labour's advance.
Henderson's Electoral proposals were as follows:
(1) The enfranchisement of all adults, male and female.
(2) The shortest possible qualifying period for registration by duly authorised registration officers.
(3) The payment of Returning Officers' expenses and of Members of Parliament from the National Exchequer.
(4) The holding of all Parliamentary Elections on one and the same day, and the exercise of one vote only by each elector.
(5) The strengthening of the Corrupt Practices Acts in order to secure their application with greater stringency and to prevent extraneous organisations incurring expenses not accounted for in the official returns.
(6) The prevention of the election of members by a minority of votes.
Although much progress has been made since the above programme was introduced to the Annual Party Conference, much remains to be completed. Fortunately, two Departmental Committees have recently reviewed the registration of electors and the general electoral laws, and their findings have in the main now received Parliamentary enactment.
The attention of readers is particularly directed to No. 6, "The prevention of the election of members by a minority of votes." Subsequent Annual Party Conferences debated Proportional Representation, the Alternative Vote and the Second Ballot as a means to that end but all were finally turned down at Glasgow in 1914. Recurring attempts to interest the Party in Proportional Representation have met with a similar fate, but in 1930 the Labour Minority Government of the period reached agreement with the Liberal Opposition, as a price for its support in Lobbies, in favour of the Alternative Vote. Fortunately the Bill never reached the Statute Book, and Labour's advance to political ascendancy has not been hamstrung by the inter-party electoral arrangements to which, inevitably, that system, had it been carried, would have given rise.
Notwithstanding what has been said above, discussions on the Franchise frequently arose out of the militant campaigns of the Suffragettes. From 1904 until 1908 there were annual debates on proposals to extend votes to women on the same terms as they were given to men. The opposition came from the supporters of Adult Suffrage, chiefly because in their opinion the demands of the women would merely enfranchise the well-to-do. Apart from the Annual Conference of 1906 when women advocates nearly carried the day by 432 votes to 435, Annual Conferences voted by large majorities in favour of Adult Suffrage, and with this they appear to have been content. Not even the eloquence of Keir Hardie, who in 1907 pleaded for the enfranchisement of women, and who believed that one and three-quarter million working women would receive the vote as against a quarter of a million well-to-do women, could alter the decision of Conference. All or nothing seems to have been the motto of the day.
The two Parliaments elected in 1910 gave rise to many difficulties in the Parliamentary Labour Party and in the Movement generally. The Liberal Party, which in 1906 had the largest majority of modern times suffered losses in both general elections. It had to rely either on the strength of the Irish Nationalist Party or on that .of the Labour Party, or both, to maintain its legislation against the Tory attack in both Houses and to fulfil its pledges to Ireland. The Labour Party, desiring to clear the Irish demands out of the way, had its own reason for continuing the Liberal Government in office. It desired to secure an amendment to the Trade Union laws, which was eventually carried out in 1913. Moreover, the Parliament Act, which was an attempt to destroy the absolute veto of the House of Lords, actually seriously modified the relationship of Parties in co-operation, however loosely, one to another. As Ramsay MacDonald pointed out in a famous debate on Parliamentary Policy in 1914 at Glasgow, an agreement of Parties to support a Home Rule Bill likely to meet with obstruction in the House of Lords really meant an agreement to cover three Parliamentary Sessions instead of one. Consequently a Party bound in that way had less Parliamentary freedom than it once had.
That situation should be remembered in assessing the merits of the pressure of the Women's Social and Political Union* (* The militant organisation of the Women's Suffrage Movement.-ED.) upon the Labour Party and the interruptions which took place at meetings addressed by Labour Members of Parliament, and more especially the meetings of the men who had been most prominent in their advocacy of women's enfranchisement. This pressure upon the Labour Party, coinciding as it did with deeds of violence in all parts of the country, sought to compel the Labour Party to vote against the Liberal Government on every issue unless the Government were prepared to grant the vote to women. This the Party declined to do.
In 1912, George Lansbury, then Labour Member for Bow and Bromley, gave himself completely to the women's cause. To force the hands of the Party he resigned his seat in Parliament to obtain a verdict in favour of the women's case. Naturally this dramatic action, taken without any consultation with his Parliamentary colleagues, caused enormous embarrassment, especially as he issued circulars to affiliated organisations calling upon them for support. During the by-election the National Executive Committee met to discuss his action and decided that he should not receive either the collective or the individual support of the Labour Party. Mr. Lansbury, who had formerly held the seat by a majority of 863; lost it by 751.
The Labour Party continued to support Adult Suffrage, but in 1911 the Annual Party Conference on the motion of Arthur Henderson requested the Labour Party in Parliament to make it clear that no Bill would be acceptable to the Labour and Socialist Movement which did not include women. The resolution met with bitter opposition from the miners led by Robert Smillie. They took the view that it would be politically silly to vote against Manhood Suffrage, if it could be obtained, merely because the Government of the day refused to grant the franchise to women. Eventually, the resolution was adopted by 919,000 to 686,000. The same battle was resumed at a later conference when a similar case against the Henderson position was made by Stephen Walsh.
The precise troubles just mentioned ceased on the outbreak of the Great War. The dimensions of that struggle gradually absorbed the whole nation, excepting those who supported the outlook of the Independent Labour Party. Political passions died down and, under the influence of an electoral truce and the cessation of the campaign hitherto conducted by the militant women "suffragettes," electoral reform appeared of minor importance. Not until the appointment of a Speaker's Conference in 1916 to consider redistribution, the franchise and other matters germane thereto, was interest again aroused. Labour's representatives at the Speaker's Conference were G. J. Wardle, M.P. for Stockport; Frank W. Goldstone, M.P. for Sunderland, and Stephen Walsh, M.P. for Ince.
The Annual Party Conference in January, 1917, took cognizance of the Speaker's Conference, and in a resolution demanded the following reforms:
"(i) That this Conference declares that the War has made obsolete all our past system of enfranchisement and registration;
(ii) That the only solution of the difficulties that have arisen is adult suffrage, including women;
(iii) That registration should be so conducted that every properly qualified person should have the opportunity to vote at elections, and that this entails both a short period of qualification and continuous registration;
(iv) That the soldiers and munition workers should not only have the right of voting conferred upon them, but that arrangements should be made by which that right can be exercised, including the provision of facilities for all candidates to put their views fairly before these electors; and that as far as possible similar arrangements should be made for the convenience of other electors necessarily absent from their constituencies;
(v) That redistribution of electorates should take place at once.
(vi) That no election conducted on the present register, or before the above changes have been made, can return a Parliament which represents the nation."
Ultimately the Speaker's Conference reported to the Prime Minister in a series of resolutions, and the National Executive Committee held a joint conference with the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress when; though reiterating their former demands, the two bodies expressed the opinion that the Parliamentary Labour Party should support as a minimum the resolutions put forward, provided that the enfranchisement of women, including women wage-earners and widows, is agreed. The Annual Conference, which met in January, 1918, passed a resolution accepting the new Bill which followed, as a compromise only, and went on to demand further reforms which need not be mentioned here because they belong to a later period.
The Representation of the People Act, 1918, altered the franchises considerably. Men became qualified as electors on attaining the age of 21 (a) if on the qualifying date they had been resident in a Constituency for a period of six months; (b) or if on the qualifying date they had been in occupation of business premises of the annual value of £10 for six months; (c) or if they were graduates of a University. Women were granted the franchise if they had attained the age of thirty years and (a) if they were entitled to be registered as Local Government electors in respect of the occupation of land or premises (not being a dwelling house) of a yearly value of not less than £5, or of a dwelling house, or as the wife of a husband entitled to be so registered. A woman on attaining the age of thirty years also became entitled under certain conditions to registration in a University Constituency.
The extension of the franchise, even though not amounting to adult suffrage increased the electorate enormously. No less than 21,370,316 men and women had their names included in the register upon which the 1918 General Election took place. The importance of that increased electoral register did not show itself completely in the new House of Commons, but the total vote given to a much larger number of Labour Candidates rose from 370,802 in December, 1910, to 2,244,945 in 1918. The results would have been much greater if it had not been for the division in Labour's ranks over the war issue. Indeed, because of that issue the Parliamentary Labour Party lost some of its front rank members including Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, and a substantial number of seats.
It will be for a future history of the Labour Party to take the electoral story further, but sufficient has been said to indicate that, whilst a Labour Government under the old franchise might have been a forlorn hope, the developments of 1918 paved the way to a nation-wide constituency in which the Youth of the country, uncommitted to past prejudices, looked forward earnestly to political developments which it passionately felt would make for freedom and the abolition of poverty.
VII-THE. STRUGGLE FOR UNITY
THE Labour Movement, growing as it has done from small beginnings and without plan, finds itself cluttered up with conflicting organisations which, from time to time, give birth to clashes, both private and public. The various types of operating machinery have created vested interests which are as difficult to get rid of as the ramshackle system of Government which we are pleased to refer to as the British Constitution. Men have become so attached to the associations they have formed during the years, that they are prepared to fight for their retention even to the last ditch. In this chapter, therefore, it is proposed to refer to earlier attempts to secure some unifying agency to enable the Movement to speak as often as possible with one voice.
In February, 1906, at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, a meeting took place between the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress, the Management Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions and the National Executive Committee of the Labour Representation Committee, at which it was decided to form a National Labour Advisory Board. As an outcome of the meeting, an Agreement was reached in the following terms:-
I. All candidates adopted by the Labour Representation Committee under its constitution shall receive the loyal and hearty support of all sections of the Labour Party.
II. All Labour and Trade Union candidates approved by the Parliamentary Committee, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Trades Union Congress, shall receive the support of the L.R.C. in so far as its constitution allows, and in the same manner as Mr. T. Richards, in West Monmouth.
III. Members of the Labour Representation Committee shall not be considered disloyal in refusing to support any Labour candidate adopted on any party platform except that of Labour, and, further, that the candidates approved by the committees represented here to-day shall offer no opposition to each other.
IV. That the Labour Representation Committee make it clear that their national constitution does not require abstention on the part of electors in constituencies where no Labour candidate is running.
The reference to Mr. Richards in paragraph 2, covers a decision of the South Wales Miners' Federation. This union, although not affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee, had decided to run its Parliamentary Candidates as Labour Candidates only, and on the understanding that its M.P.s should work in conjunction with the Parliamentary Labour Party. Paragraph 4 arises out of the Labour Representation Committee's declaration of independence, both in respect to its Parliamentary Candidatures and the Parliamentary Labour Party. The paragraph may cause some surprise, but it should be said that it has governed the action of the Labour Party ever since. In the absence of a Labour Candidate in any election, the Party gives no direction to its membership or to its followers as to the way in which their votes should be cast.
Later in the year, a further Agreement was reached in these terms:-
I. That in our opinion every effort should be made by the three Committees to prevent overlapping.
II. That with this in view, we recommend that on all matters relating to political resolutions, political policy and action in Parliament, the three Secretaries should more frequently confer together. We further consider it would be advisable when practicable, that the offices of the three organisations should be in the same building.
The National Labour Advisory Board functioned for a period. It served a useful purpose, although the partnership established had uneasy moments because of differing customs and the different relationships existing between the committees and their respective affiliated organisations.
A proposal was made during 1907 for the establishment of headquarters to provide office accommodation for the three national committees. The purpose, however, was not achieved, because the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress saw no useful purpose to be gained by bringing the headquarters of the three committees under one roof.
In 1907 also, attempts were made to prevent overlapping in the functions and activities of the three committees, it being felt that industrial matters should be the prerogative of the Parliamentary Committee, banking operations should be the concern of the Management Committee of the General Federation, and political affairs should be the responsibility of the Labour Party. The Joint Board, as the Advisory Committee became known, had to report that, having considered the question of overlapping, they had not yet been able to agree upon any plan to prevent it.
In 1908, the Joint Board was vested with other responsibilities. Much controversy had arisen out of the acceptance into affiliation by one or other of the national committees, of trade unions not recognised by the others. Frequently these trade unions were of a breakaway character, and their existence naturally gave rise to bitterness. Additionally, there had been political difficulties arising out of independent pronouncements from the several national committees. A new constitution was, therefore, approved, including the following items:-
The Joint Board shall be the body to determine, on the application of one of its constituent bodies, the bona fides of any Trade Union affiliated, or applying for affiliation, to any of the constituent organisations.
The Joint Board shall consider and report as to whether new Societies connected with trades already covered by existing organisations shall be encouraged or otherwise.
The Joint Board shall consider and decide references made to it by anyone of its constituent bodies regarding questions affecting them jointly, or about which some doubt or difference may have arisen as to which body they properly belong to.
The Joint Board shall consider and agree upon joint political or other action when such is deemed to be advantageous or necessary and is agreed to by the constituent bodies.
The Joint Board may, in cases of trade disputes, with the concurrence of the Executive of the union or unions affected, and on the application of the constituent body affected, use its influence to bring about a settlement.
Much water has flowed under bridges since 1908. Today the General Federation of Trade Unions has no political interests, and takes no part with the Labour Party or the Trades Union Congress in national decisions. It has been easy, therefore, under the modern constitutions of the T.U.C. and the Labour Party to deal with the status of trade unions. In fact, the responsibility for deciding whether a trade union is a bona fide organisation or not is now vested in the T.U.C., and every application from a trade union for affiliation to the modern Labour Party is dependent on whether the union is affiliated to the T.U.C. or is recognised by its General Council as a bona fide trade union organisation. The co-ordinating body of the movement is now the National Council of Labour.
At the 1910 Conference of the Labour Party, a resolution was moved by the St. Helens Trades Council in favour of the fusion of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. An amendment to the resolution was submitted by the Gas Workers' Union to include the General Federation of Trade Unions. The motion and the amendment, after debate, were referred to the National Executive Committee for consideration and report.
In 1911, acting on both resolution and amendment, the National Executive Committee adopted three resolutions for submission to the Joint Board in the following terms:-
"That the present practice of three Annual Conferences held at separate times of the year is expensive, leads to much waste of effort and to divergence of policy, and the amalgamation of the national bodies, without delay, should be aimed at."
"That a scheme for a central building in Westminster, to be used by the Labour Movement, should be prepared."
"That a Committee be appointed to consider ways and means for the above proposals, and to report to a joint meeting of the three Executives within the next three months, with a view to its submission to the three national conferences."
The Joint Board afterwards decided that until these resolutions had been placed before the national Conferences, they could not be carried further. The resolutions were subsequently accepted by the Congress, the Labour Party Conference and the Annual Council of the General Federation. Unfortunately, in 1912, before the decisions could be implemented, the Trades Union Congress decided in favour of the elimination of the General Federation of Trade Unions from joint activities and thus placed the Joint Board, which included the General Federation, in an embarrassing situation, and at the subsequent meeting of the Annual Council of the Federation, it withdrew its support from the proposed amalgamation. Further, at the Newport Trades Union Congress, in a mistaken attempt to expedite matters, a proposal was put forward by the Boilermakers' Society in support of unification and was heavily defeated. These two decisions brought to a close the first real attempt to unify the Trade Union and political movements into one national organisation. Not only were the times unripe for such a development, but as is so often the case, the supporters of a desirable change lacked discretion in their anxiety to move quickly.
The Joint Board continued in existence for some time afterwards, but in 1915, following an attack on the General Federation of Trade Unions by Robert Smillie, who led the Miners, changes were made which, however, relate to a later period of Party history, and cannot be dealt with here.
One other attempt at co-ordination ought to be mentioned to the credit of the early days. The Cooperative Union, which with its constituent bodies had steadfastly refused to affiliate to the L.R.C., or to the Party, made overtures in 1912 for the establishment of a joint Committee in the mutual interests of both Movements. Eventually in 1913 the following Resolution was agreed to:-
"That this, Joint Conference of representatives of the Cooperative Union, the Trades Union Congress Parliamentary Committee, and the National Labour Party, is of opinion in order to assist in the promotion of the social and economic conditions of the people, it is advisable that there should be closer mutual effort-educational and practical-between the three sections represented at the Conference."
The objects of the United Co-operative and Labour Board which emerged, included (a) the promotion of a better understanding, (b) the carrying out of a joint programme for education, (c) the preparation and distribution of suitable literature to influence officials of the Labour Movement to take a more decided and active interest in Co-operation, (d) to influence friendly and cordial relationships between all branches of the Co-operative Movement and their employees, (e) to secure the practical exploitation of surplus capital for the promotion and development of Co-operative enterprise, (f) to examine the facilities for banking now offered by the Co-operative Movement, (g) to consider how far it was desirable and possible to ensure the unrestricted distribution of food supplies or the payment of benefit during important Trade Disputes, (h) to organise special conferences to influence public opinion in support of questions affecting the social life of the people, (i) to secure an exchange of fraternal greetings at annual conferences.
Unfortunately, when the Constitution of the Board was submitted to the Co-operative Congress at Aberdeen, the proposed Board was turned down by the following resolution:-
"That this Congress, while approving concerted action with Trade Unions and other organised bodies for raising the status of Labour, cannot sanction union with the political Labour Party, and that the Central Board be instructed strictly to maintain the neutrality of the movement in respect of party politics, so that political dissension may be avoided."
Years were to elapse before further attempts were made to secure co-ordination between Co-operatives, Trade Unions and Labour Party Organisations, but in 1917, at the Swansea Co-operative Congress, a decision was reached to enter the political arena. This naturally led to further discussions between the three Movements to avoid unnecessary friction in the constituencies. and many years later to the establishment of the National Council of Labour, embracing the trading, the industrial and the political wings of the Labour Movement.