BULLETIN SPRING 2011
Essex Conference on labour history
The 9th Essex Conference on Labour History took place on Saturday 23rd October, at the Labour Hall in Witham and was attended by 80 people. It was chaired by John Kotz from the Essex County Labour Party, which had organized the event with Labour Heritage.
The Labour Party and socialism
The first speaker was Jim Mortimer, a former general secretary of the Labour Party, who has spoken at earlier Labour Heritage events. This time he was speaking on the Labour Party and socialism, putting this into a historical perspective. He made the point that the labour movement was broader than the Labour Party, and its roots went back much further to a whole tradition of radicalism and working class protest. This included the first political movement of the working class – the Chartist Movement, which reached its heyday in the 1830s and 1840s.
Following the decline of the Chartist Movement, there was a long period of economic prosperity in the mid 19th century, which had an impact on the labour movement. When this came to an end by the 1880s, the birth of socialism in Britain began, with the formation of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party. The ILP had been formed against the background of a bitter, defeated industrial dispute at the Manningham Mills in Bradford in the 1890s.
In 1900 the Labour Representation Committee was set up, from the trades union movement. There was debate as to whether it should be a socialist party. Keir Hardie argued that it should concentrate on representing the interests of the working class. So although socialists were in the Labour Party, it was not specifically set up as a socialist party. This was in contrast with the situation in France and Germany, which had political parties, committed to a socialist programme.
However the years 1906-1914 saw an upsurge in radical activity, across Europe, and socialists such as Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Lenin and James Connolly came to the fore. This movement was cut across by World War 1, but the end of the war saw renewed support for radical change. In 1918 the Labour Party adopted as part of its constitution, Clause 4, part 4, which committed it to a socialist programme. This had been written by Sidney and Beatrice Webb of the Fabian Society.
Minority Labour governments
Two minority Labour governments in the 1920s were to end in defeat and disaster. After the split of 1931 and the formation of a National Government, the Labour Party rebuilt, maintaining much of its membership. During the 1930s the Party campaigned against the National Government and for a socialist re-organisation of society to end poverty and unemployment. In 1945 it adopted its most radical programme, calling for public ownership of energy and transport, and control over the banks. On this programme Labour won the election with a landslide majority.
Much of Labour’s programme was carried out, including the construction of a welfare state and the National Health Service. However the pressures for the UK to support US foreign policy meant that government spending on defence continued to be high at the expense of public services.
Labour in the 1980s
Jim was general secretary of the Party in 1983, when it faced its worse election defeat in history. But he did not blame the leader Michael Foot, whom he knew personally and admired. Nor did he blame the radical 1983 election manifesto. Under the leadership of Foot, Labour had been 13 points ahead in the polls. It was when the “gang of four” split away to form the Social Democratic Party that Labour’s fortunes began to decline, as the Labour vote was split.
Michael Foot resigned as leader to be replaced by Neil Kinnock, who had started off as a left winger, then after two more election defeats he was replaced by John Smith. After John’s tragic death Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party. According to Jim, Blair was never a socialist. However under his leadership Labour had won three elections. But he had led us into two wars.
Why did Labour lose in 1931, 1983 and 2010? Jim concluded that Labour governments had always tried to run capitalism better than the Tories and in the end it had failed. Capitalism would always produce poverty and inequality and cause economic crisis and instability. So the basic questions remain as in the early years of the party – should the Labour Party be committed to socialism, and what do we mean by this?
Inevitably these questions provoked a lot of discussion, including the changing nature of the working class and the nature of capitalism in the 21st century.
A history of employment and trades union rights
Keith Ewing, President of the Institute of Employment Rights, spoke on The development of British trade unions 1945-2010 and the lessons for today. Keith, a leading academic lawyer, constantly referred to historical examples to illuminate problems we face in the present.
Keith believed the present coalition might last in office beyond one term. He outlined the contrast with the national coalition government in the 1930s which, under the influence of Keynesian ideas, encouraged the development of collective bargaining. By the end of the 1930s 86% were protected by union agreements compared with just 33% now.
He emphasised the new threat to jobs and pensions. He queried whether the coalition would need to further attack employment rights. He thought that most Tories were not concerned about the minimum wage since it was set at such a low level. Likewise the unfair dismissal ‘protection’ left by the New Labour government meant that workers couldn’t get their jobs back even if they were found to have been dismissed unfairly. There would be more tribunal hearings as a result of the Equality Act and a likely wave of redundancies as a result of the cuts. But the government could just starve the enforcement institutions of funds.
On the other hand Boris Johnson and the CBI are demanding further anti-union legislation. 5,000 firefighters were facing the threat of their contracts being terminated. The courts were going ahead in declaring strike ballots invalid on account of quite trivial irregularities which could not possibly affect the outcome. And there are moves afoot to reduce the maximum union contribution to the Labour Party to £50,000 – which would throttle the Party.
How to resist? The 1926 General Strike was a failure. A one day general strike in the 1980s was declared unlawful as a political strike. Keith suggested selective action, for instance pulling out key workers such as tax officers rather than mobilising masses of benefits officers in the DWP. We could use the law by appealing against the setting up of free schools. They are time constrained as they have to open their doors in September. He also emphasised the importance of involving non trade unionists in anti-cuts campaigns.
Michael Foot and his legacy
Stan Newens (a former Labour MP and MEP) led off on The life of Michael Foot. Michael came from a strong Liberal background in Plymouth. Working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool in 1935 and observing poverty at first hand he was converted to socialism. He became the editor of Tribune when it was set up in 1937. During these years he met most of the significant figures on the left of the Labour Party. After holidaying with Barbara Betts (later Barbara Castle) in France, he recalled the experience gave ‘peace in our time’ a different meaning. Above all he was influenced by Aneurin Bevan. In 1945 he became MP for Plymouth Devonport and was a stalwart of the left in the Parliamentary Party. He was a supporter of CND from the outset. In the 1950s the Bevanite movement as at war with the right wing leadership of the Party. There were disagreements among themselves, most significantly when Bevan repudiated unilateralism in his ‘naked into the conference room’ speech. There were rows between the two. Bevan apparently broke a Sheridan chair at Foot’s house during the course of one of these. Michael had lost his Devonport seat in 1955 and was out of Parliament till 1960, when he took over Bevan’s Ebbw Vale seat after Aneurin’s death. Stan fondly recalls Michael’s erudition and his fair and respectful treatment of friend and foe alike. Stan Newens was clearly a friend and ally to Michael over this period. They were careful not to oppose Wilson’s government too forcefully in 1964, when Labour only had a majority of three. Stan joked that he had to be careful driving home four Labour MPs after Parliamentary sessions, as the car contained Wilson’s majority! In 1966 Stan participated with Michael in setting up the Tribune group of Labour MPs.
In 1974 Michael Foot took office under the second Wilson administration for the first time. He was Employment Secretary. After Labour was defeated in 1979, Callaghan resigned as leader and Michael beat Denis Healey for the succession in 1983. His time as leader was dogged by the defection of the SDP. In 1983 after the ‘Falklands factor’ revived Thatcher’s fortunes, Labour was crushingly defeated at the polls. In Stan’s view Michael was ‘unfairly blamed’ for the defeat. In later life Michael kept his criticisms of New Labour to himself. Stan Newens summed up Michael Foot’s life as being ‘in the finest traditions of democratic socialism.’
Splits in the Liberal Party
The last speaker of the day was John Grigg, who spoke on splits within the Liberal Party from the 19th century onwards.
He said that the Liberal Party is famous for its splits. It grew out of the Whigs who were in favour of reducing the power of the Crown and increasing the power of the Parliament. They, like the Tories, were dominated by the aristocracy. After the 1832 Reform Act more of the Middle Classes entered the House of Commons as Liberals and they favoured social reform, personal liberty (but not for the working classes or women), the avoidance of war and foreign alliances (which were bad for business), and above all free trade which was good for business.
It was not until the decline and departure of the aristocrats that a commoner like William Gladstone could become leader of the Liberal Party. Gladstone won a huge victory at the 1868 election and formed the first real Liberal government. Gladstone started out as a Tory but he abandoned them over the Corn Laws. The Tories supported retaining tariffs on imported wheat which kept the price of bread high. Gladstone, a believer in free trade, opposed this policy and he and a number of other Tories formed an alliance with the Liberals and switched their allegiance to them. Free trade became the centre pillar of Liberalism. It was during his second term as prime minister in 1880 that a serious split in the Liberal Party took place and this was over Home Rule for Ireland. Ireland returned 103 MPs to Westminster and these were either mostly Liberal, apart from Ulster where they were mostly Tory. This was because the ballot was not secret and intimidation ensured that no third party got a look in. However the Ballot Act of 1872, brought in by Gladstone, made voting secret and this made the possible the emergence of an independent Irish Party
There was much agitation for Home Rule that often took an extreme form. The Nationalist MPs in Parliament caused great disruption. Parnell was the Nationalist leader and at the 1880 General Election did a deal with the Tories and urged Irish voters in England to vote Tory because they had given some kind of undertaking on Home Rule. The plan came unstuck when Gladstone’s Liberals won the election with a majority of 86 seats over the Tories. But the Irish Nationalists had the same number of seats - 86. So they were in a strong position. Whatever undertaking the Tories had given to the Nationalists was now abandoned. The troubles and demands from Ireland persisted and Gladstone eventually brought in a Home Rule bill. It was like a devolution bill, giving Ireland a parliament with much control over internal affairs. But there was a significant difference to the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments of today and that was that the Irish would no longer have MPs at Westminster. The Tories opposed the bill. There was of course the question of protestant Ulster, but also an imperialist instinct that influenced the Tories who did not want to lose Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.There were also Liberals in the Cabinet and on the back benches who were not happy with the bill and eventually Joseph Chamberlain led 93 Liberals into the opposition lobby and the bill was defeated. The dissentient Liberals were supported by the Tories in the election and they formed a separate group in the commons known as Liberal Unionists. This was eventually absorbed into the Tory Party. This is why today the official name of the Tory Party is the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Joseph Chamberlain, the leader of this breakaway was an interesting character who became dominant in the House of Commons and might well have become Prime Minister. As well as breaking up the Liberal Party in 1885 and condemning it to 19 years in opposition also managed to split the Conservatives in the 1900s over the Tariff Reform issue which led to a huge defeat for them in 1906 and knocked them out of office for 16 years. He must be the only politician in the world to have wrecked two political parties.
Second split in the Liberals
Herbert Asquith was the Liberal Prime Minister when World War 1 broke out in August 1914. Parliament was not consulted. The cabinet agreed and war was declared on behalf of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
When it became clear that the war was not going to be a quick one Asquith brought the Tories and Arthur Henderson from the Labour Party into a coalition cabinet.
Asquith and the cabinet had stood aside, letting Churchill run the war at sea and Kitchener the war on land. Asquith was a strong character but incapable of movement. His initiative had been sapped by years of good living in high society.
Lloyd George, on the other hand, was of rougher stock. To deal with a crisis in shell production and weapons supply he had been switched to the Minister for Munitions where he achieved some success. Earlier he had done a deal with the trade unions, who had declared an industrial truce for the duration of the war, over what was called ‘dilution’ which meant an agreement that women and unskilled men could be brought into the engineering shops. Later when Kitchener died at sea, Lloyd George took over as Secretary for War.
The war was not going well and Lloyd George demanded more authority as Secretary for War. Asquith resisted this and dissatisfaction grew with him as Prime Minister and in December 1916 a combination of Tories, about 80 of the 250 odd Liberal MPs and the 40 or so Labour MPs installed Lloyd George as Prime Minister.
So you had the curious situation of a Liberal, Lloyd George, as Prime Minister while Asquith remained out of office as Leader of the Liberals in Parliament. Asquith felt aggrieved at being elbowed out and behaved in a similar way that Edward Heath did after being dislodged by Margaret Thatcher. He and his Liberal Party supporters, whilst obliged to support the war effort, became an obstinate group – somewhere between an official opposition and a backbench splinter group.
Then at the 1918 General Election the Party really split when Lloyd George went to the country proclaiming that the coalition should continue in the national interest after the war. He won an overwhelming victory. 127 Liberals and 332 Conservatives were returned as Lloyd George Coalition supporters and the coalition government continued. 36 official Liberals remained in the opposition – still led by Asquith, and Labour won 57 seats – a gain of 15 since before the War.
The third split
The Coalition collapsed in 1922 and a Tory Government was returned. Labour gradually replaced the Liberal Party. Asquith continued as leader of the Liberals until 1926 when he had a stroke and Lloyd George took over, at last, as official leader of the Liberals. At the 1929 election the Liberals won 50 seats and enabled the second Labour minority government under Ramsey MacDonald to form an administration.
What happened next is that well known part of Labour Party history known as the ‘Great Betrayal’ Ramsey MacDonald negotiated with the Conservatives and the Liberals to form a National Government to deal with the huge world crisis and depression in 1931.
This of course split the Labour Party but for the Liberals it was even worse – they split into three.
When MacDonald negotiated with the Tories and The Liberals to form the National Government, Lloyd George was out of action in hospital so his deputy, Herbert Samuel did the negotiating and took the Liberals into the National Government under MacDonald. He became Home Secretary and John Simon, another prominent Liberal, became Foreign Minister. However, when the National Government proposed tariffs on imports, which was against the key plank of Liberalism, Samuel and some other Liberal ministers resigned their posts. By this time Samuel had taken over the leadership from Lloyd George. But the old leader had recovered somewhat from his illness and was furious, it is said, that although Samuel and others had resigned their posts they still supported the National Government and would not move into opposition.
So at the 1931 election there were three Liberal groups. The group led by Simon (known as the National Liberals) who, against Liberal free trade tradition, supported ‘some application of tariffs’ won 35 seats and remained in the National Government. The other group led by Samuel stood by the free trade tradition won 32 seats and eventually went into opposition. A third section, led by Lloyd George, mainly his family, that opposed the coalition won 4 seats.
By the 1935 election the National Liberals had moved closer to the Tories and won 33 seats. The surviving Liberal Party, that stood by its free trade principles, believing that unemployment was attributable to the ‘disastrous reduction in the volume of world trade’ won just 21 seats.
1945 and beyond
By the 1945 election the National Liberals had been absorbed into the Tory Party and the official Liberal Party won only 12 seats. They limped along with no more than a score of MPs for the next 50 years – not enough to have a split - until 1997 when strengthened by a group called the Social Democratic Party that had broken away from the Labour Party and now called the LibDems, they won 45 seats.
So in peace time on two occasions – in 1885 and in the 1930s - a chunk of the party has broken away to join the Tories and the 1915 war-time split involved a section joining the Tories in a coalition government.
Could it be that for a fourth time a section of the Liberals will break off and join the Tories while a minority soldiers on in opposition? The answer to that, I think, will emerge in the next two or three years.
After four excellent talks, there was half an hour for some wide-ranging discussion, on the current political situation. There was also discussion on the future of the Essex Labour History Conference, which will have its 10th anniversary next year. It was noted that what had started out as a local history event, was now more focused on national political issues.
Conference photos by Julian Ware-Lane
Labour Heritage history day in West London
Over thirty people attended a Labour Heritage event, held in the Chiswick Labour Party rooms, on Saturday 4th December.
Harold Wilson and the white heat of the technological revolution
The first speaker was David McLoughlin, treasurer of Brentford and Isleworth CLP, who has completed a masters degree in the history of science, technology and medicine. His subject was “Harold Wilson and the white heat of the scientific revolution”.
This famous speech was made to the Labour Party conference in October 1963. It was warmly applauded by delegates, but what was its significance? Did it reflect genuine vision or was it a political ploy?
Recently successful in the 1963 Labour leadership election, Harold Wilson had the task of keeping the Party together. As the left wing candidate, he had won the contest due to splits between the two right wing candidates – George Brown and James Callaghan. Labour had been out of office for 13 years. He had to impress on the conference that it could win the next general election. He also had to convince the electorate that Labour could manage the economy more effectively than the Tories.
But his interest in science and technology were genuine and this reflected a trend of opinion within British society in the 1960s, that due to lack of investment in science and technology, British industry was falling behind. This had been expressed in the Reith lectures.
Wilson’s vision however had political implications. He asserted that restrictive practices on both sides of industry would have to end. But the advance of technology would mean more leisure time for all. He was adamantly in favour of ending the 11 plus (in those days selection was carried out at the age of 11 to determine whether school students would attend secondary modern or grammar schools). This selection automatically condemned three quarters of the population to failure, if they attended a secondary modern school. He wanted expanded access to higher education. His government was to see these policies carried out, by the introduction of comprehensive education, the Robbins Report which planned for increases in higher education participation, funded by government. It also saw the creation of the Open University- the university of the air. A ministry of science was created and the government directed funds into new industries, probably saving the struggling UK computer industry.
What were the reactions to Wilson’s speech? The Labour Party was supportive, but not surprisingly the Tory press was sceptical. The Times saw it as an election gimmick, disliked the implied attack on public schools and was in denial about Britain’s industrial decline. This was not particularly a new problem – having been the workshop of the world the UK economy had been in relative decline since the end of the 19th century. The post-war years had moreover seen investment in industry. The Financial Times was more supportive and the Guardian gave the speech front page coverage, calling it a marriage of science and socialism.
“The world wants it and would welcome it. The British people want it, deserve it and urgently need it. And now, at last, the general election presents us with the exciting prospect of achieving it. The dying months of a frustrating 1964 can be transformed into the launching platform for the New Britain of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A New Britain - mobilising the resources of technology under a national plan; harnessing our national wealth in brains, our genius for scientific invention and medical discovery; reversing the decline of the thirteen wasted years; affording a new opportunity to equal, and if possible surpass, the roaring progress of other western powers while Tory Britain has moved sideways, backwards but seldom forward.”
From Labour’s 1964 Election Manifesto
William Morris and the warrior maid
Photo copyright David Cockcroft
Irene Cockroft, an independent exhibition curator who merges art and social history, spoke, attired in full Edwardian suffragette dress. She showed us her badges, such as one worn by suffragettes who had been imprisoned for the cause. She also showed us a badge from the Anti-Suffrage Society (ASS). She wondered aloud who would be stupid enough to keep such a badge. Her talk cleverly linked William Morris, resident at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith from 1878 till his death in 1896, the Arts and Crafts movement of which he was a founder member, the position of women and the suffragettes and the socialist movement in the local area.
Morris was a champion of women. In advance of his time he ensured that women were employed in his workshops. Active in the Social Democratic Federation, he was a founder of the Socialist League when it split away, and remained a member of the Hammersmith Socialist Society till he died. Five of the 13 speakers portrayed in the coach house at Kelmscott House (now the William Morris Museum) were women: Beatrice Webb, Annie Besant, his daughter May Morris and the Americans Charlotte Gillman and Lucy Parsons.
Irene explained the obstacles put in the way of women who wanted to take part in public and political life. “The status of women was akin to slavery”, she said. Outrageous injustice was their normal lot and they had no effective means of registering their protest. In farming areas landlords would rely on their tenants to vote the way they were told. The families lived in tied cottages. When the man died, there would be an incentive for the landlord to evict the family, because the wife had no vote.
Morris was active in promoting vocational education for women through training and employing his wife, daughters and female friends in arts and crafts. Training gave significant numbers of women the opportunity to meet together outside the home, and to argue the need for women to have the vote and for political reform. Many women became involved in the decorative arts via the arts and crafts movement. Arts and crafts skills allowed them to propagate their ideas and reach a wider audience. Even at work, women experienced difficulties in being taken seriously in making a living. They could get more money for their work by passing it off as that of a man.
Protest took many forms. When the census of 1911 was conducted, women who answered the door to enumerators, replied, “There are no people here, only women.” Rose Lamartine Yates was imprisoned for one month for direct action in the suffragette cause in 1909. She had an 8 month old son when she was jailed. To add insult to injury, rather than focussing on the cruelty of the courts and the establishment, Rose was lambasted for neglecting her child by being unavailable to act as mother on account of her imprisonment.
Morris saw the fight of women for the vote as part of the struggle of working class people for dignity and against the capitalist factory system. The suffragettes were portrayed as warrior maids, based on Joan of Arc.
Irene is author of “New Dawn women- women in the Arts and Crafts and suffrage movement at the dawn of the 20th century”, and co-author of “Art, theatre and women’s suffrage.”
Support for and opposition to fascism in a London suburb in 1933
The final speaker was John Grigg, of Labour Heritage. He began by saying that he believed that in 1933 the country was in a state of trauma. This was barely 15 years after the end of the First World War. Hardly a family in the land had not lost a son, a husband, a cousin or a nephew in that terrible, insane conflict. His uncle Jack survived the war but died before his time from the gas attacks at the Somme. His ex-wife’s father lost a brother
This shock from the war caused a denial that another war could happen and peace movements emerged. Much faith was placed in the League of Nations and ultimately this denial, this yearning to avoid war at all cost, led to a reluctance to stand up against Nazi Germany and to a policy of appeasement.
An additional fear felt by the established middle and upper classes was a fear of the mob. The cosy Victorian and Edwardian days for the middle classes had gone. There had been the Russian Revolution, Europe was in turmoil and in Britain there had been the 1926 General Strike. Socialism and Communism were seen as great dangers. Fascism never attained great support yet there was a time when the Fascists were very active and were seen by some as a tolerable bulwark against communism.
And there was the fear of poverty and unemployment which was real for much of the country’s working class, yet they never turned in great numbers away from the Conservative Party. There were two minority Labour Governments between the wars and the second one was destroyed by the world economic collapse and the depression that followed.
Also there was a belief that Germany had been unjustly treated after the First World War. The huge burden of reparations had crippled its economy and caused widespread poverty – and of course it was the working classes who
In those days open air public meetings attracted large crowds and the Labour Party, the Communist Party and the Fascists staged regular meetings
On 2nd June the Brentford and Chiswick Times reported that after a Fascist meeting near the “Orange Tree” pub. in Richmond attended by 200 people, the black shirts paraded down George Street to Richmond Green where fighting broke out. Arrests were made One defendant – Alfred Maurice – said the crowd felt very bitter towards the Fascist Party. ‘To any true Britisher, the King comes before any Italian or German party’ One of the fascists, Charles Bradford, gave the fascist salute before taking the oath. Sir John Archer, the chairman of the bench, dismissed the charges of threatening behaviour with a warning about future conduct.
There was further violence outside the Firestone Factory on the Great West Road when the whole factory came out on strike. The Communist Party were prominent in the strike organising pickets.. On the 13th July the ‘Fascist Union of British Workers’ turned up, not to break the strike but to offer their services in combating the disgraceful conditions of work forced upon the workforce by foreign financiers. There were clashes between fascists and communists outside the factory and the fascists were driven off.
During the whole of the summer in 1933, the Labour Party held meetings between the Old Windmill Inn and the police station on Saturday evenings, drawing crowds of two or three hundred. Since the middle of September the National Union of Fascists had held meetings on Sunday evenings in Essex Place in Chiswick. They arrived in a lorry and on motor cycles and were subjected to considerable opposition from the crowd.
Then one Sunday evening the socialist led British Anti-War Movement starting having meetings in Essex Place at the same time and outnumbered the fascists who terminated their meeting early and were never seen in Essex Place again
Hitler was inaugurated as Chancellor of Germany on January 30th 1933. Sections of the British press, such as the Daily Mail, thought this was a good thing.
The Brentford and Chiswick Times reported a meeting of the Chiswick & Brentford Rotary Club. A Mr E.A.Atkins spoke on the subject of Hitler and what he said summed up the ambivalent attitude towards fascism held by some people.
Mr Atkins said he did not wish to defend, nor was he in favour of Hitlerism but no one could thoroughly understand the current German position unless he also understood the condition of the German people before the revolution. He had visited Germany in 1932 with fifty other Rotarians and their ladies. He saw the hopelessness into which the people had fallen because of the injustice of reparations. Germany was on the verge of Russia and had she not taken proper steps, she would have become a fertile field for Communism. He added :
‘I would fight Hitlerism in this country but there are certain diseases that need the knife. I realize that there is only one solution for the German people’s difficulty – Hitlerism or any party that kept its position by force”.
“Many moderates are turning to Hitler because they realise that without the enthusiasm he stirred up many young people would have turned to Communism.” He was not excusing the German people for their “mistakes” in regard to the Jews and he implored Jewish friends not to think that because certain things had been done against their race, the whole of the Germans were a cruel people. For instance he added that Germany rotary clubs were allowed to retain their Jewish members provided the club president was satisfied they were patriotic Germans. Nazi Party members could also be members.
On the other hand the Richmond Rotary Club were addressed on 5th May by Dr Cecil Roth, at their weekly luncheon at the Greyhound Hotel on ‘The Persecution of Jews in Germany’. He said inter-marriage had been prohibited. Books by socialists and Jews burned. Businesses closed down. He said ‘There is a grave danger of a massacre on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world.’
On 28 July 1933 a letter appeared in the Brentford and Chiswick Times from P.Fullerton Bustard deploring Mr Atkins’ apologies for the outrages in Germany. 200 newspapers had been closed down and the treatment of communists and Jews was appalling.
In October at the Hampshire House Discussion Circle, a Mr Risden, in full Fascist uniform spoke on ‘The Democracy of Fascism.’ He said that most people understood democracy as meaning a free vote, but that was a mere caricature. Real freedom lay in one’s own domestic life at present hemmed in by such petty restrictions as the Defence of the Realm Act, most of which would be removed under fascism.
Under fascism, each industry would be governed by a board of employers, employees and consumers. This presupposed a large amount of authority and the necessity for experts. There would be a National Council of Government, with three members from each industry and one from each group would be the cream of organising talent of the land. While there was nothing essentially dictatorial about such a scheme, it called for leadership armed with authority.
In reply to a question, he said English and German fascism differed over one point, that of anti-Semitism, which was a thoroughly bad thing. Under fascism, women would be allowed into positions only when male unemployment was not general, for the man was essentially the breadwinner. The organisation of an opposition party would not be allowed. Co-operatives would be utilised for business purposes only, with no political activity. There would be equality of opportunity, side by side with private property.
In March 1933 a joint meeting of the local branches of the Independent Labour Party and Communist Party in Chiswick expressed its ‘solidarity with our German comrades in the fight against fascism and its development to war’ and called for the release of all German workers, the freedom of press and speech, and trades union organisation.’. It further ‘viewed with horror the relapse into barbarism exhibited by the oppression of the Jews by Hitler’s gangs in Germany.
A school trip to Nazi Germany
One of the most extraordinary reports in the Brentford and Chiswick Times was on the Chiswick School four week trip to Germany. One of boys, Geoffrey Edwards, sent regular reports that were published. They set out from Victoria Station on Friday 18th August and took 19 hours to reach a Youth Hostel near Cologne. They went on to stay with families at Bremen and then to Osnabruck where they performed the play “ Julius Caesar” and heard a short programme of music by a Hitler Youth band. The report read
“The Hitler Youth detachment marched round the school playground to the accompaniment of music and we had the fact firmly impressed upon us that that was the real nature of the Hitler Youth movement and that there was no preparation for war in their training. We frequently hear from our hosts of the injustices that their Fatherland has suffered in the last few years and of the futility of separating East Prussia from Germany. Most of the young people are very keen members of the Nazi organisations.” At Herbesthal on the border with Belgium the Belgium passport officers made them leave the train on account of our wearing Nazi badges. An English girl with another party was also forced to leave the train.
This report provided a hostile letter to the newspaper from Regina Miriam Bloch. She wrote that is was ‘….a disgrace that Britain’s children should be sent on holiday in Germany under present conditions. They can only return with false impressions of autonomous dictatorships and ideas which infringe upon the liberty and loyalty of English life. The plastic material of the child’s mind cannot be too closely protected. They might just as well spend a holiday with the Soviets next year.’
The boys’ head-teacher replied that they had met with kindness and hospitality on their extensive tour of Nazi Germany. Personal contact was the best method of promoting understanding between nations.
Regina Bloch’s replied to all this and concluded that the less our British schoolboys learn of Nazidom, that perverted form of fascism, which the Duce (Mussolini) himself deplores, and the less they display the swastika, ‘the crooked cross, the antithesis of Christianity’, the better it will be for peace and liberty in this harassed world .
Just a word about the peace movements in the Chiswick and Brentford area.
There was the British Anti-War Movement – an amalgamation of the CP, the ILP and the Socialist League that met at the Amalgamated Engineering Union Hall in the Chiswick High Road. At one of their meetings a delegate to the World Youth Congress against War in Paris reported that the German delegation of 60 crossed from Germany to France under great difficulty, hidden in lorries beneath tarpaulins. They organised a march of about 50 people to the Chiswick War Memorial.
There was the Peace Army willing to give their lives for peace by placing themselves between combatants. They had a ‘Women’s Battalion’ who would give their own lives if need be, who would rather then see the waste of their sons.
And there was the League of Nations Union who placed great faith in the League of Nations and were having their faith tested because of Japan’s withdrawal from the League and its occupation of Manchuria, and because of developments in Germany. They were involved in a major peace demonstration at the Chiswick empire that also involved the churches, the British Legion and the Scouts.
1933 was when the slide towards World War Two became steeper. Something that too many people could not bring themselves to believe.
West Fulham fights and beats the Appeasers : the 1938 West Fulham by-Election.
This election was fought entirely on the Tory Government’s foreign policy. The starting gun was fired when Cyril Cobb, the West Fulham Tory MP, died on 8th of March 1938. The players, however, had been preparing and waiting for the gun to be fired for over a year. Cyril was struck down with a fatal illness in early 1937. For most of the time until he died he was confined to his bed. In fact his doctors only allowed him to get up for a few hours a day a couple of weeks before his death. West Fulham was made aware of his illness when he informed the local Tory Party in the summer of 1937 that he would be retiring at the next election.
Cyril Cobb had been the Tory MP for West Fulham since 1918 apart from a short period in 1929/1930. Labour won West Fulham in the 1929 Labour national victory but lost it in a 1930 by-election when he won his seat back. Before the First World War he had been leader of the London County Council.
Appeasement was not then a word of abuse; it was the official language of Tory foreign policy. The policy was to placate and be nice to the fascist dictators of Germany and Italy and not intervene in the armed rebellion of General Franco against the democratically elected Spanish Government which was known as the Spanish civil war. This did not prevent Chamberlain turning a blind eye to the Italian armed forces directly fighting along-side Franco’s rebel troops. They were only volunteers after all but as Eden said shortly before he resigned as Foreign Secretary, there are eight Italian Army Generals in Spain.
In February 1938 the German Nazis took over Austria, Hitler called it annexation others called it an invasion. It was in these circumstances that the Tory Government wanted Eden to go to Rome to “appease” Mussolini. This is something that Anthony Eden would not do and he resigned on the 20th of February 1938. Two weeks later Cyril Cobb died.
East Fulham Tory women were meeting on March the 8th to listen to Mr Astor a prominent Tory speaker. He said “Because they – the Labour Party – dislike Mussolini they oppose any attempt to bring appeasement into the Mediterranean.” Two days later Labour held a meeting in West Fulham as part of Labour’s peace week where their candidate for the forthcoming by-election spoke, as did Josiah Wedgewood M.P who said “Labour would protect democracy by justice, by the League of Nations and by international force. It would ensure peace not by surrender to threats or by talks to bullies, but by dealing out justice to all”. Arthur Henderson also spoke at this meeting.
On March the 18th the Fulham Gazette reported that Fulham Labour Council had increased the rates and this was bitterly opposed by the Tories. It also reported that no writ had yet been issued for the by-election, it is being suggested the latest possible date is desired by the Tories.
The election was called a few days later for Wednesday the 6th of April. The Tory candidate was John Busby and his campaign was strongly against intervention in the Spanish civil war so as not to plunge Europe in to war: His view was that League of Nations should be an organisation of peace, not of war. Labour fought the election on a policy of standing up to the dictators not, as the government did by talking to them and by non intervention when they invaded other countries.
The Labour Party saw this election as a chance to test the public mood. To avoid war by appeasing Hitler and Mussolini, and helping Franco by not intervening in Spain or by standing up to the dictators and bullies of Europe. They allocated the local Party, a professional agent from Kennington but the local Party leadership soon took over from him. Amongst other things they issued labour poll cards to Labour promises with a short reason why it is important to give their polling number to Labour helpers at the polling station. They also issued an eve of poll leaflet. The Labour Party even had a suggested script for comrades knocking on doors on election day to get the vote out. There was no such thing as postal voting then but Labour contacted voters who had moved out of the area but were still on the register to urge them to come back to West Fulham to vote on April the 6th. Several did some retuning from as far away as the Isle of Wight and others from Birmingham
The amount of Labour MPs speaking at their election meetings was huge. They had meetings every night in the week commencing the 28th of March and the last two on the 4th and 5th of April. Most of the meetings had three MPs speaking. The meeting on the 4th had four speakers, including Attlee and on the Tuesday, the night before polling day, there were five, including Stafford Cripps and Ellen Wilkinson. These meetings were held in school halls and in one instance a public baths.
In a letter, dated 22 March 1938 to organisations affiliated to West Fulham Labour Party the local leadership wrote
“There has never been a more important by-election than this one currently taking place in West Fulham. – with fascist aggressors destroying democratic nations and threatening our own freedom this is the time for action. - The Tories will make a stupendous effort to hold this seat. The whole of their resources will be thrown in to the campaign.”
One of the Labour leaflets has survived; it is in large red type and reads:
Mr Eden Resign?
He saw that Chamberlain’s Policy
Leads to War
But With No Friends Left To Help Us!
Eden and Labour
Want To Prevent War
By a chain of peaceful nations so strong that the
Bullies of Europe dare not risk further aggression
Real not -----not Make-Believe—Peace and security.
There was also a leaflet circulating, with no indication of which organisation issued it other than “Printed and Published by St Clements Press.” The title of the leaflet was
“Where are We? Some recent statements about Foreign Policy Made by Conservatives in Parliament”
Then it quoted from Tories including Eden and Churchill attacking the policy of their own Government.
Fulham Liberals decided not to put up a candidate but together with the local League of Nations decided to ask the two candidates loaded questions on foreign policy issues. They also organised a hustings for April the 4th. This turned out to be a very lively debate indeed with a lot of audience participation.
In her election address Labour candidate, Edith Summerskill allowed herself a passage which predicted the message of Labours 1945 election campaign.
“There must be no more underfed children: No more people of any age reduced to misery by unemployment. There must be no more poverty in the midst of plenty.
The nation must control the nations land, its money, power and credit, it huge coal power and the transport industries. Food supplies must be reorganised and prices kept low. The unemployed must be properly maintained”
On election day there was a rush to the polls after 6pm even though the polls had been open since 7am and were due to close at 9pm
The result of the by-election was that Labour won by a majority of 1,421 overturning a Tory majority of over 3,500.
Edith Summerskill gave the following message to the Fulham Gazette on Thursday, the day after the election:
“West Fulham has spoken for England. Let Mr Chamberlain take the warning he must either make way for a new Government or reverse his policy”
The Daily Herald prophesied
“West Fulham is the inspiring beginning of the Great National Movement that will end by driving the National Government from office”
Edith made a triumphant entry in to the commons on Monday the 11 of April Labour members cheered and shouted, pointing their fingers at Chamberlain, ”resign resign” They had to wait 25 months for Chamberlain to resign and by then France was about to be crushed, and there was a real danger of Britain being turned into a Nazi puppet state.
On Sunday the 10th of April speaking at an anti fascist rally of 50,000 in Hyde Park she said:
“The finest thing about West Fulham was that the people stood firm and did not respond to the Government’s call for unity in the face of so called national peril. The Government tried to panic the people and appealed to them to think in terms of unity. West Fulham knew that the only unity the Government recognised was unity with the dictators and Cliveden set.”
“Does this stupid man, Chamberlain, with his Party of yes men around him, believe that Hitler and Mussolini will say “we must be kind to that country where such nice people as Neville Chamberlain and Nancy Astor live.”
Speak for Britain – a new history of the Labour Party
(Bodley Head, London, 9781847920089)
Labour history has made great strides since GDH Cole’s pioneering works were published in the 1930s. Archives have been opened that were closed to Professor Cole and new generations of historians have provided fresh insights into many old themes. A new book by Martin Pugh must be added to the list.
Professor Pugh argues that the Labour Party failed to convert the British working class to socialism. Its growth into a party of government can be attributed to the way the party skilfully adapted itself to local and regional political cultures by absorbing existing Liberal-Radical and even Tory populist elements. A good example is the way the Labour Party attracted the support of Irish communities and in doing so provided an influential Catholic element inside the Party. The trades unions, the Independent Labour Party, and the Fabians were not unimportant, but not enough in themselves to attract a majority of voters. The entry of former Liberals and even some Conservatives into its ranks not only increased party membership but the newcomers influenced what kind of party the Labour Party was to be. By 1945 the Labour Party had become, in every sense, a “national party”, it is an interesting thesis.
Martin Pugh has written several books on the role of women in politics and he skilfully works his knowledge into the history of the Labour Party, particularly in the 1920s and 1930’s, when the Conservatives, he argues, were quicker to recognise the importance of women in the electorate. He also believes that the Labour Party was slow to come to terms with the “new feminism” that emerged in the 1960s.
Pugh also points out that the Labour Party ‘s lack of interest in constitutional reform in the 1930s. Support for Home Rule for Scotland and Wales, disappeared from Labour’s programme in the 1930 as policy moved towards a more centralised British state. Growing support for “central planning” assisted this trend. The Labour Party appeared content to take over the existing machinery of state in order to implement its programme. It did not question the need for any reform of that machinery apart from a desire to tinker with the House of Lords.
Labour’s leaders do not escape Pugh’s political judgements. David Marquand in his biography of Ramsay MacDonald went some way to rehabilitating MacDonald’s reputation. Pugh takes a more critical view of Labour’s first Prime Minister, and he also argues that Clement Attlee’s reputation has been overvalued. Pugh would have preferred Herbert Morrison to have won the Labour leadership in 1935 and taken the Party to a sweeping victory in 1945. He believes that Morrison possessed a greater range of political skills than the diffident Attlee. Harold Wilson promised more than he delivered and Callaghan’s limitations were exposed in office. Pugh recognises the problems that faced Neil Kinnock when he was leader, although Kinnock was never tested in office. According to Pugh, Blair’s meteoric rise to the Labour leadership should not have surprised those who remembered the entry into the Labour Party of Liberals such as the country squire Charles Trevelyan and the wealthy Conservative landowner Oswald Mosley. Pugh speculates that if Mosley had shown more patience and greater political judgement he might have conceivably succeeded MacDonald as Labour’s leader in 1931. Incidentally, Pugh’s chapter on Blair and New Labour, is in my opinion, one of the best in the book.
This is a stimulating work. Martin Pugh is the master of his subject and his book has the merit of being very readable.
Keir Hardie :Labour’s greatest hero?
By Bob Holman, Lion Hudson (9780741913540)
Labour historians will like this new biography of Keir Hardie, written by one of his admirers. This is a very sympathetic account, describing Hardie’s life from Lanarkshire to Parliament. Born into poverty, he started work in the pits at the age of ten, and this was to shape his whole life. His commitment to the labour movement, came from a trades union perspective and he always retained his loyalty to the working class.
Holman traces Hardie’s conversion to socialism, Christianity, anti-imperialism and women’s suffrage. He discusses his relations with other socialists such as Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation (with whom he clearly did not get on!), and with women’s suffrage campaigners such as Sylvia Pankhurst.
He describes how Hardie broke with Liberalism and was to become hostile to secret deals between Labour and the Liberal Party, as favoured by Ramsay MacDonald. He refused financial assistance from Liberal sources, as from all other sources where there were strings attached. At a time when MPs were not paid, this led to significant hardship for himself and his family. He actually opposed payment of MPs on the grounds that this would attract careerists into Parliament.
When we look to a golden age of the labour movement, we sometimes have to be reminded of how tough things were for its founders. In 1880 for instance only 381,000 workers were in trades unions – the “artistocracy of labour”. Hardie was sharply critical of their representative- Henry Broadhurst. The battles of the unskilled workers at the end of the decade were to significantly change the composition of the trades union movement, as dockers, gasworkers and women workers in London’s East End took action. But the unions went into decline with the rise of unemployment and by 1895 when Hardie lost his seat in Parliament, he temporarily went into despair.
But in 1896 he was invited to the USA to speak at a rally of the American Labour Day Committee. He used the rest of his time to visit groups of workers in small-town America, urging them to form a socialist movement.
As a British labour movement figure, Hardie’s internationalism, is not so well known, but he later visited India, South Africa and Australia, where he supported the cause of colonial freedom.
He was opposed in the election to become leader of the Labour Party, by David Shackleton, winning in a second ballot by 15-14 votes. The closeness of the vote meant that he was vulnerable to criticism, for not being an effective leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He is described as disliking parliamentary procedure, being much more at home, with rallies of the working class. Of these he addressed thousands. Over a course of 20 years, he is said to have addressed meetings every night, putting across the message of socialism. In Parliament he made enemies by attacking the monarchy and trying to shame MPs by describing the extent of poverty in their midst.
He allegedly wrote around 100 pamphlets, 1,000’s of articles and two books, one of the entitled “From serfdom to socialism” – the journey of his own convictions. His most famous pamphlet was “Killing no murder” – published in 1912 after the Liberal Government had sent in troops to put down a strike by railway workers for union recognition. Four workers were shot dead – in Llanelli and Liverpool.
Holman says that previous biographers of Hardie claimed that he had few friends. He may have alienated the rich and famous but made many friends in his speaking tours, accepting hospitality whilst travelling far from home. When struck down by appendicitis in 1904, well-wishers paid for his treatment and convalescence. This was before the days of the NHS!
This book will be popular with Labour supporters. Even the price is not too exorbitant at £10.99.
Grasshoppers, stonkers and straight eights:George Massey and the Bristol Post Office workers 1930-1976
This is a collection of material edited by Dave Chapple. It includes interviews conducted by himself with post office activitst – George Massey., including one on the 1971 postal strike. It also has a rich collection of photographs and reprints of issues of the “Post:organ of the Union of Post-Office Workers” from the 1920s onwards, cartoons, leaflets and a UPW pamphlet published in 1943 calling for a 40 hour and 5 day week.
A must-read for all who interested in the history of the postal workers union. And to find out what grasshoppers, stonkers and straight-eights were.
Order from D.Chapple, 1 Blake Place, Bridgewater, TA6 5AY.
Kettling – 19th century style?
From GDH Cole “The common people”
After the 1932 Reform Act – the middle class had no use for working class demonstraters and one time radical Francis Place advised the new police force, set up under Robert Peel on how to break up London crowds which were dangerous instead of useful
“In May 1933, the National Union of the Working Classes held a meeting in an open space off Calthorpe Street, by the Gray’s Inn Road. Mr Thomas’s police now applied their new tactics: they set upon the meeting, which does not seem to have been turbulent, closed up the exits and beat it for nearly one hour. Lethal weapons were not used by the police, but the scene, by witnesses accounts, was highly disagreeable. One especially enthusiastic constable, Cully by name ,attacked a man, who struck back with a knife and killed him. The inquest was held nearly a fortnight later: so great was the resentment at the police that the jury refused to return a verdict of murder.
They disputed with the coroner nearly two hours and in the end to the satisfaction of the angry crowd outside the court-house he had to accept a verdict of justifiable homicide.”
Thank you for another interesting issue of “Labour Heritage”. The pages on Michael Foot were moving as well as informative and brought back some memories. In the context of the Plymouth Constituencies mention was made of Lucy Middleton, widow of Jim Middleton, who was elected as MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1945. When I joined Wimbledon Labour Party around 1958 Lucy was a member, rather to the right of me. She was however keen to encourage younger women party members and thus gave me the confidence to write a chapter for a book, despite having left school at 16 to do a secretarial course.. As a contribution to International Women’s Year the Labour Party decided to ask Lucy Middleton to edit a book on women’s contribution to the labour movement, (it was a long time ago and perhaps Lucy asked to do this, just not sure). Lucy, then over 80, assembled 9 young women to write the book, “Women in the Labour Movement which she edited – delaying a cataract operation in order to proof read it. As I was a member of Wimbledon Branch of the Cooperative Women’s Guild, Lucy asked me to write a chapter about Women and Cooperation. The Labour Party had agreed to pay for the book’s publication, but despite much lobbying of the General Secretary and of Joyce Gould, the Party would not finance it. Croom Helm came to the rescue and the book was published in l977 much to Lucy’s delight – and indeed the delight of the rest of us who had put a lot of work into the book.Lucy had been an active suffragette and was an inspirational role model for me particularly in the way she never allowed differences over policy to deflect her from encouraging me. The chapter led to an invitation to write the Centenary History of the Co-operative Women’s Guild. Now I am a Branch Secretary yet again, and to the right, so I hope she would be pleased with me.