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The Origins of the British Labour Party

The Origins of the British Labour Party

J. H. Stewart Reid
Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Origins of the British Labour Party
    Book Description:

    What were the social and economic forces in England that gave rise to the British Labour Party? How did the party function in its formative years? How does the British labor movement compare with its American counterpart? If American labor enters politics as a separate party, is it likely to adopt a program resembling the socialism of the British Party? Professor Reid’s detailed account of the origins and development of the British Labour Party lays the groundwork for answers to questions like these, questions that are pertinent to the social and political issues of America as well as England. Since the appearance of a body of organized labor is a phenomenon occasioned by the process of industrialization, and since that process began in Great Britain almost a century earlier than on the American continent, the student of labor politics may well ponder whether something similar to the British experience lies ahead for America. Professor Reid describes the conditions that brought about a specifically labor party, tells how it was established, and traces its first 20 years as a parliamentary party. He shows that the party began as an alliance of diverse forces having in common only the conviction that neither the Liberal nor the Conservative party would tackle such issues as housing, minimum wages, or unemployment insurance. He makes clear that, in working to achieve these short-term goals, the varied elements that made up the party finally worked out the peculiar compromise on policy and philosophy that is the basis of the British Labour Party today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6412-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-2)
  3. 1 The Condition of England Question
    (pp. 3-16)

    Any study of the part that British workingmen have played in solving their own social problems must of necessity begin long before those workingmen formed their own distinct political organization. More than three decades before the formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, the workers of England were beginning to exert an organized influence upon the direction and purpose of social thought and social legislation. This can be explained in part, of course, by the changes in their own political status brought about by the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1884. In part, too, this new influence was made...

  4. 2 Labor Organization, Old and New
    (pp. 17-29)

    The chief result of the Chartist agitation, according to Thomas Carlyle in his famous essay on it, was that it taught Englishmen a salutary lesson by forcing “all thinking men of the community to think of this vital matter” Another result was that its apparent failure caused in the ranks of labor generally a widespread distrust of the methods of Chartism. It would be wrong to assume that the “no politics” slogan ever had the same support in British labor circles that it had in America, but it was at least often heard in the years between the end of...

  5. 3 The Campaign for Independent Representation
    (pp. 30-43)

    The years of Gladstone’s second administration, from 1880 to 1885, saw developing in the labor movement a very definite dissatisfaction. During those years two separate claims were being voiced with increasing vigor: that the existing trade union organization did not speak for the laboring classes of Britain, and that its close alliance with the Liberals in fact disqualified it from ever so speaking. For if it was true that till 1884 “the English radicals who had returned Gladstone to power four years earlier, had got very little for their votes,”¹ then the workingmen voters, who at least had helped, had...

  6. 4 The Socialist Appeal
    (pp. 44-59)

    The success of the new socialism in its appeal to British workers at the end of the century depended in large measure upon the conditions just discussed: an intense interest on the part of all classes in what they called the “social question,” a powerful dissatisfaction on the part of the working people with the existing remedies for the social ills bearing so heavily upon them, and most important of all, a new sense among them of organization, solidarity, and possession of political power. It is, then, no accident of timing that during the eighties and nineties a new and...

  7. 5 The Independent Labour Party
    (pp. 60-69)

    Until 1892 and the formation of the last Gladstone administration, only a few of the leaders of organized labor in Britain had completely lost their faith in the Liberal party or their hope of securing through it the legislation they desired. Here and there, however, a working-class organization or a working-class leader was coming to the conclusion that some other savior had to be found. Naturally enough, it was the socialists among them who first took steps to provide a new political organization as that savior.

    In March 1888 the Liberal Association in the Scottish constituency of Mid-Lanark was called...

  8. 6 The Formation of the Labour Alliance
    (pp. 70-88)

    When the Independent Labour party was formed in 1893, its founders had taken what seemed to be a completely illogical step in refusing to adopt the socialist name while insisting upon a socialist programme. Ben Tillett, in speaking against the motion to give the new party the name “Socialist Labour,” gave quite bluntly the opinion of the majority present when he asserted that they should seek the support not of the revolutionary groups already in existence, but of “the solid, progressive, matter-of-fact fighting trade unions of England.”¹ Of the 101 delegates who voted, 91 agreed with him on the value...

  9. 7 The Labour Representation Committee
    (pp. 89-105)

    The body which was now to act as labor’s voice in politics represented a compromise of aims. Although its policy was at first largely determined by socialists, it still refused to identify itself formally with the cause of socialism. At the same time, although its support was from the beginning largely trade unionist, it refused to confine its activities to purely trade union matters. If there was any unity of aim or purpose in the first conference, that unity lay in the conscious desire of the majority of the delegates to achieve a means of separate and distinct labor representation...

  10. 8 The Election of 1906
    (pp. 106-114)

    In December 1905 the Balfour ministry came to an end. Faced with a steadily decreasing Commons majority and with the capture of many of his own followers by Chamberlain’s scheme of tariff reform, Balfour could still find some comfort in the apparent Liberal split over Home Rule tactics. In November Campbell-Bannerman, in a speech at Stirling, had announced a new “step-by-step” plan to reach the Home Rule goal. He was immediately and publicly attacked by Rosebery, who announced that he could not serve “under that banner.” To Balfour this must have seemed a good chance to toss the administration into...

  11. 9 The Labour Party: Its Policy and Programme
    (pp. 115-131)

    The twenty-nine members of the new Labour party in parliament in 1906¹ were faced with an obvious problem. If we accept Burke’s definition of a political party, they should have been bound together by a common agreement on one principle and a common devotion to one cause. But it is difficult to decide just what that principle or that cause was. They were certainly agreed on the necessity of legislation to reverse the Taff Vale decision—but then, so were the tradeunion members, so were the Liberal-Labour members, and so were the majority of the orthodox Liberals as well, so...

  12. 10 Labour in the House of Commons, 1906—1910
    (pp. 132-156)

    An examination of the work of the members of the new Labour party in the parliament which assembled in 1906 will serve to support two very obvious contentions. The first is that the new party was able, for a variety of reasons, to exercise an influence on legislation quite out of proportion to the size of its following in the House. The second is that the influence was strongest of all during the early sessions, then gradually diminished as session followed session and issues other than those of social reform began to emerge.

    During the years from 1906 to 1910...

  13. 11 Labour in the House of Commons, 1910–1914
    (pp. 157-175)

    The Labour party which sat in parliament after December 1910 was a vastly different organization from that which had claimed to represent labor before January of that year. Of all the changes the two elections of 1910 had made, the most obvious was the increase of the Labour party in strength. Yet that change was probably the least significant. Although the acquisition of the majority of the miners’ members increased the party’s numbers,¹ it brought into the parliamentary group no individual capable of affecting very seriously policies and attitudes. With the exception of William Abraham, the member for Rhondda, who...

  14. 12 Attacks on the Labour Alliance
    (pp. 176-192)

    During the first Liberal administration from 1906 to 1910, suspcion increased in the ranks of the Labour party that Liberalism was slowly but surely “sterilizing” the whole movement. By enlisting into the bureaucracy prominent and energetic labor leaders, and by giving remunerative posts to trade union officials, to elected Labour party members, to Fabians, and to young university men with socialist leanings, the new administration, it was charged, had succeeded in emasculating the movement which had given these men their prominence. After the elections of 1910 there was even more ground for this suspicion. When Winston Churchill went to the...

  15. 13 Revolt in the Party
    (pp. 193-204)

    The debates in the House of Commons on such issues as the National Insurance Act of 1911 and the Trade Union Act of 1913 made it plain to observers outside that in the Labour party in the House there existed a fundamental difference of opinion on objectives and tactics that augured ill for the party’s political success. The difference had long before been apparent to the party members, for there had several times been bitter argument at the annual party conferences. The single issue on which it was most clear was election tactics. People like Philip Snowden, Ben Tillett, and...

  16. 14 Labor and the War
    (pp. 205-221)

    The outbreak of war in August 1914 found the labor movemen of Great Britain just as unprepared as all other sections of British society. Until that time party conferences and trade union meetings had carefully steered away from the discussion of questions not directly concerned with the welfare of the working class at home. Even the Irish problem was usually deliberately ignored, since it seemed to be outside labor’s own special sphere of interest. Right up to the summer of 1914 the Labour party, the I.L.P., and the trade union movement, as far as any official action was concerned, remained...

  17. 15 The Socialist Basis
    (pp. 222-238)

    The last year of the war was the year in which the Labour part had to make the most important decisions of its still brief existence. In the first place, the party had to decide whether it should continue to work in coalition with the Lloyd George Liberals, and help to settle the peace as it had helped to win the war. The decision to end the electoral truce and to withdraw from the coalition was a decision that was perhaps inevitable; the significant thing was that the point at issue in 1918 between Labour and government was a question...

  18. Appendixes I Number of Members In British Trade Unions, 1892-1919
    (pp. 241-241)
  19. APPENDIX II Table Showing the Composition of the Labour Party of Great Britain, 1900-1919, Based on Membership Figures from Annual Reports
    (pp. 242-242)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-251)
  21. Index
    (pp. 252-258)