Autumn 2006

LABOUR’S CENTENARY YEAR ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO IN JULY 1906 THE LABOUR PARTY WON ITS FIRST COUNCIL SEAT IN CHISWICK

Labour is celebrating its centenary this year.  Some say the party was really founded in 1900 with the formation of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).  1906 was just the year when 29 MPs, standing as Labour candidates, were elected to Parliament and formed the first Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) independent of the Liberals.  1900 was when 65 Trade Unions, The Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation met at the Memorial Hall in London to form the LRC.  You could go back further and regard 1893 as the starting year when the ILP was formed in Bradford.
But 1906 was the culmination of years of negotiation, wrangling and arguing that marked the launch of the Labour Party as a national force.

By June 1895 a branch of the ILP was functioning in Chiswick and was advertising in the Chiswick Times its fortnightly meetings at 41, Glebe Street.  Its secretary was Mr C. Irons.  No council seats were contested until April 1905 when Tom O’Brien, a labourer who lived in Brackley Terrace, stood in Chiswick Park ward and Alfred Hillier, an engineer who lived in Devonshire Road, stood in Old Chiswick ward.  The wards were adjacent to each other and roughly covered a working class area around the Glebe estate.  They polled decent votes and O’Brien lost by 14 votes.  In 1906 Labour stood in 3 wards, Hillier losing by 13 in Old Chiswick.  O’Brien stood in Turnham Green and lost heavily – as did Bill Evans, a bricklayer of Dukes Road who stood in Grove Park.  They had not contested Chiswick Park, the most likely seat, and had stood aside to allow Edwin Stone, a grocer with Labour sympathies a free run.  Stone managed to get the support of the Ratepayers’ Association and won easily.

In July 1906 Tom O’Brien won a by-election in Chiswick Park and became Chiswick’s first Labour Councillor.  He polled 327 votes to his opponents 177 and became a thorough nuisance on the council uncovering corruption and jobbery and demanding TU Rates for the Council’s workforce.  The following year Labour won again in Chiswick Park when  William McConnell, a driller who lived in Cranbrook Road, came top of the poll  and joined O’Brien.  Labour had a group on Chiswick Council – 2 of the 18 councillors.

Meanwhile in Brentford George Haley – a self styled TU and Labour candidate – had got onto Brentford District Council at the eighth attempt in a by-election in May 1905.  He had been standing for the Council every year since 1899 and described himself as a navvy.  He spent his time on Brentford Council campaigning for better housing, TU rates of pay, Council schemes for fighting unemployment and improvements at the Council’s Isolation Hospital.  There was a move to have him adopted as the 1906 Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Brentford Division.  However Labour’s national secretary, Ramsey MacDonald, had done a secret deal with the Liberals.  In return for the Liberals allowing Labour a free run in 35 seats, Labour would not stand against the Liberals and split the vote in any other seats.  MacDonald would not support a Labour candidate in Brentford and without financial backing there was no prospect of Haley standing.  This worked well for the Liberals and they gained the Division from the Conservatives. Haley lost his Brentford District Council seat in 1908.

ILP and Labour

Over in Hounslow the first appearance of a Labour candidate was when William Lowry, a bank clerk who lived in Osterley, stood in 1908 as an ILP candidate in a Hounslow South by-election.  He lost by 303 votes to 439.   Hounslow was part of the Heston & Isleworth District Council and local elections were held every three years, each ward returning a number of Councillors.  Hounslow South was allocated 5 councillors and in 1910 Lowry became Hounslow’s first Socialist Councillor.  His running partner Arthur Norris, a bricklayer of Chapel Road, was unsuccessful.

There was a complex relationship between the ILP and the Labour Party.  The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party but held its own conferences and devised its own policies.  In some areas there were ILP branches alongside Labour Party branches.  This appears to have been the situation in Chiswick.  In Hounslow there was only an ILP branch until 1914 when the Hounslow South Labour Party was formed after Tom Goode stood as a TU and Socialist candidate in 1913.  Labour began to win seats in Heston & Isleworth after World War I.  In 1919 Ernest Beldam won Hounslow North and three more seats were won in 1920 including Labour’s first Isleworth Councillor – Sidney Bartholomew in Isleworth North.   The Isleworth Labour Party had been formed at a meeting in Haliburton Road in 1915 and by the early 1920s there was an active Labour Party branch in Heston.

     1918 was the first year when Labour put up Parliamentary candidates in this part of Middlesex.  W. Hayward stood in Brentford and Chiswick and polled 20.2% of the vote.  Labour eventually won the seat in 1945.  Hounslow, Heston and Isleworth were parts of the Twickenham seat and Labour’s first parliamentary candidate was the Rev Humphrey Chalmers who polled only 16.8% of the vote.  In 1945 the constituency was divided and Bill Williams won the Heston & Isleworth seat for Labour.

In 1906 the party, nationally and locally, was a coalition of Trade Unionists and Socialists who believed in a society based upon equality and collectivism.  The Labour Party has changed since then.  Now the emphasis is on individualism and the party is distancing itself from the Trade Union movement.  I wonder what future historians will make of New Labour and the way the party has moved away from its traditional values? 

 Sources:  Story of a Party – The Story of the Labour Movement in Heston & Isleworth.  Walter Brown. 1950, The Chiswick Times, The Chiswick Gazette, The Middlesex Chronicle

  
SUEZ AND HUNGARY : THEIR IMPACT ON LABOUR HISTORY

The year 1956 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Suez expedition and of Soviet intervention in Hungary.  These events, in many ways, transformed the political situation in Britain.  The earlier 1950s were years of decline on the left.  The General Election of 1945 had been the high point of Labour’s advance, with the Party winning a majority of 140 in Parliament.  Despite the implementation of a very radical domestic programme with the nationalisation of the basic industries, the creation of the welfare state, the establishment of the National Health Service and a massive housing programme, Labour support began to waver and in the 1950 General Election its majority fell to 6.  Although the Labour vote, over all, was still nearly a million votes more than that of the Conservatives, it dipped below them in many marginals where there was a significant middle class electorate.  In the 1951 General Election, Labour lost power in spite of winning more votes than any other party and, thereafter, Labour support continued to decline.

In the face of this decline, the Party moved to the right.  Many young people who had benefited from full employment and an improvement in working class standards turned their backs on their parents’ voting habits.  The Cold War and reports of gross infringements of human rights and democratic freedoms in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union created mass alienation from left-wing ideas.  This helped to strengthen the hand of moderates and right-wingers within the Labour Party.  Hugh Gaitskell’s election to the leadership in preference to Aneurin Bevan in 1955 reflected this trend.

This did not mean that the Labour left was dead.  The strength of the Bevanite movement was manifested in numerous ways.  The fact that the left won six out of seven of the constituency Labour Party seats on the NEC from 1952 onwards, the strength of the campaign against German rearmament, the opposition to the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation and the vigour of anti-colonialist campaigners, expressed through the Movement for Colonial Freedom, reflected the commitment of the left throughout the country.  Nonetheless, the electorate as a whole was being propelled to the right.  As this occurred and left-wingers increasingly found themselves up against a mood of antagonism or, at best, apathy, activity on the left flagged and faded.

Impact of Suez

The advent of the Suez crisis, however, dramatically changed this.  Hugh Gaitskell’s initial reluctance to condemn the steps taken by the Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, to prepare for action against President Nasser of Egypt when he nationalised the Suez Canal in response to the west’s refusal to finance the Aswan High Dam, was transformed.  This was undoubtedly influenced by the outcry from Labour back benchers and the movement outside the House.

In the first week of September, the TUC passed a resolution against the use of force to bring Nasser to heel, unless with UN backing.  The Movement for Colonial Freedom and Victory for Socialism joined together to form the Suez Emergency Committee and a campaign which received growing support began to build.

When Israeli forces invaded Egypt on 29th September and Britain and France, which were colluding with Israel, called upon the Egyptians and Israelis to withdraw ten miles from Suez, the likelihood of British intervention grew.  The Suez Emergency Committee therefore called for an anti-war rally on Sunday, 4th November.  By 1st November, the Labour Party asked to take it over – actually on behalf of the National Council of Labour, representing the TUC and the Co-operative Movement as well.

The result was – to the surprise of many participants, including the author of this article – a huge demonstration which galvanised Labour opinion throughout Britain against the Suez expedition.  News which came in immediately after, that British and French paratroops were being dropped to seize key points on the Suez Canal, escalated a sense of outrage throughout Labour ranks.

Hungary

Almost simultaneously, the Soviet leaders sent in troops to quell the Hungarian uprising, which came after an uprising in Poznan had resulted in the accession to power of Wladislaw Gomulka, a leader of dissent in Poland, and feeling in Hungary rose to boiling point against the unbending Stalinist rule of Matyas Rakosi.

The impact on opinion within the British Communist Party was devastating.  The repudiation of charges against Tito, the Twentieth Congress speech of Nikita Kruschev, the revelation that Edith Bone, a British Communist, had been imprisoned and ill-treated in a Hungarian prison, the admission by Rakosi that Laslo Rajk, a communist leader, had been executed on trumped up charges had so undermined unquestioning loyalty to the Soviet line that a large sector of the Party revolted.  Leading trade unionists, journalists, historians and other intellectuals, plus a swathe of ordinary party members, quit.

After a period of considerable instability many of these former members of the Communist Party found their way into the Labour Party alongside existing members who had been appalled by the Suez expedition.  Opponents of Suez were repelled from the Communist Party by news of Soviet intervention in Hungary.  Ex-Communists, in shock at Soviet intervention in Hungary were equally repelled by all who supported the expedition to Suez.

Impact on Labour

The result was the development of a new ferment within the Labour Party.  The advent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the first Aldermaston march in 1958 attracted huge numbers of supporters among those who had been jolted into activity by Suez and Hungary and many of these, in due course, found their way into the Labour Party.  Students, radicalised by these activities and, in many cases, influenced by journals like Universities & Left Review and the New Reasoner, which later merged to form New Left Review, were also in many cases attracted to the Labour Party.  This new wave of openings and activity also affected other sectors of the Labour Movement – particularly the trade unions.  The advent to the leadership of the Transport & General Workers’ Union of Frank Cousins was but one manifestation of this.

It all took time to mature.  Labour did not win the 1959 General Election.  It even lost seats.  It must not be forgotten that the Suez expedition did not provoke opposition alone.  There was also a wave of chauvinist feeling among some working class people, and this took some time to simmer down.  However, a new spirit was abroad in the Party which was, in essence, engendered by the events of 1956 in Suez and Hungary.  It gave a huge impulse to Labour Party activity, and the fact that Labour won the 1964 General Election and reversed the trend that had characterised political events since the late 1940s, owed more to Suez and Hungary than to any other historic factors.

Stan Newens

THE FIFTH ESSEX CONFERENCE ON LABOUR HISTORY

The fifth Essex Conference on Labour History, jointly sponsored by Labour Heritage and the County Labour Party, took place at the Labour Hall in Witham, Essex, on Saturday, 28th October, 2006.  John Kotz, who chairs the Essex Labour Party, took the chair and over sixty delegates attended.
Norman Howard, author of A New Dawn: The General Election of 1945, historian and former GLC member, spoke on the 1906 General Election.  He traced the historic steps that led to the formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 and the subsequent developments which bore fruit in the election of twenty-nine Labour MPs in 1906.  This was followed by the formation of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the adoption of a new name, ‘The Labour Party’, by the Labour representation Committee.
He brought out the special significance of 1906 in Labour Party history and its importance for the course of British political life in the twentieth century.  This was a landmark on the road to the achievement of Labour governments, which were hardly conceivable in the first years of the century.
Jim Mortimer, former General Secretary of the Labour Party, spoke on the Trades Disputes Act of 1906.  He explained how legal action taken by Taff Vale Railway Company against the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants following a strike in 1900 resulted in the award of £23,000 in damages against the trade union.  This convinced trade unionists that strikes were virtually unthinkable without a change in the law and fuelled a great political campaign.  Not only did this boost electoral support for Labour candidates; it won over the Liberals and even some Conservatives to the idea of trade union reform.
The result was that, following the 1906 General Election, the Trades Disputes Act went through the House without opposition.
Jim Mortimer described the law as exceptionally short and simple.  Not only did it exempt industrial action taken in pursuit of a trade dispute from the award of damages, it legalised picketing and solidarity action without limitation on numbers.  Following the passage of the Act, trade unions were much less restricted by the law than they are today.  The speaker regarded it as a disgrace that the present Labour Government had not restored trade union freedoms by repealing the legislation brought in by Margaret Thatcher.

National Union of Agricultural Workers

In the afternoon, Stan Newens (former Labour MP and MEP) gave an address to commemorate the centenary of the rebirth of agricultural trade unions with the foundation by George Edwards of the union which became the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW).  He began by outlining the early struggles of farm labourers in the nineteenth century in an effort to achieve emancipation from intense material and moral degradation and exploitation.  Many of the examples quoted came from Essex and he showed how the great agricultural depression of 1870-1900 ultimately destroyed Joseph Arch’s union, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union (NALU) despite the heroism of many stalwarts.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts to restore the movement, the formation of the National Agricultural & Smallholders’ Union at North Walsham by George Edwards in 1906 began the revival.  Despite successive crises, this grew into the NUAW, later the National Union of Agricultural & Allied Workers, which ultimately amalgamated with the Transport & General Workers’ Union.  The TGW had long organised some farmworkers independently and there is today a separate agricultural workers’ section under Chris Kaufman.
Chris Kaufman (General Secretary of the Agricultural Workers’ Section of the Transport & General Workers’ Union) then spoke of the improvements in farmworkers’ standards and conditions of life achieved by trade union organisation.  He referred to struggles to achieve higher pay, to abolish the tied cottage system and to tackle the contemporary problem of gang labour.  He emphasised that it was no way forward for workers to discriminate against immigrants employed on the land.  It was vital to recruit them into the Union.
At the end of the conference, Janey Buchan, former Labour MEP for Glasgow, presented Chris Kaufman with a complete run of the Rural Crusader, a small journal circulated in Essex in the years after the Second World War.  This now very rare run will ultimately be deposited in the Essex Record Office as a source for researchers delving into labour history in the county.

WEST LONDON LABOUR HISTORY DAY – “1906 AND ALL THAT”

A Labour Heritage labour history day school was held at the Labour Party Hall, Chiswick on Saturday 11th November. It was attended by over 30 people. The speakers were Jim Mortimer, John Grigg and John McDonnell,  MP for Hayes and Harlington. The theme of the day school was 1906 – Labour’s centenary.
The first speaker was Jim Mortimer. He emphasised that the campaign for labour representation went back to the Chartists in the 1830s and 1840s. This was the first political movement of the working class. The Taff Vale case covered in the report on the Essex Conference cemented support for the Labour Representation Committee as the fines imposed on the union had outraged public opinion. This was so much so that when the Liberal Government passed the Trades Dispute Act in 1906 with Labour support it was not even opposed by the Tories. The measures introduced by the Trades Dispute Act were far reaching in the rights granted to trades unions. No industrial dispute could be labelled as a conspiracy, peaceful picketing was made lawful, there was no restriction on the numbers who could picket a workplace and you could legally picket places of work other than your own. So secondary action was legal. Trades unions could no longer be sued if pursuing a legitimate trades dispute, including the pursuit of secondary action. This meant that trades unions had more rights 100 years ago than they do today in this country.
Over the forthcoming year it was vital that the Labour Party elected a leader and deputy who would represent the interests of the working class and get these rights restored.
The second speaker was John Grigg, secretary of Hammersmith Constituency Labour Party and labour historian. He spoke on 1906 in West London and the full text of the speech is given below.
The final speaker was John McDonnell MP and candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party. He said that too little had been done to celebrate Labour’s centenary and this was because New Labour did not want to acknowledge the history of the Labour Party. The concept of equality  had always united Labour Party members but was not supported by those in the New Labour establishment who supported free market capitalism.  The desire for equality had traditionally united all Labour activists even,  those trades unionists who had not aspired to the socialist transformation of society. The politicians of New Labour represented a break from that. New Labour was not part of the Labour tradition and Labour’s  aims to redistribute wealth and power to working people and their families had been abandoned. These people welcomed neo-liberalism, globalisation and attacks on trades union rights.
There was a need for Labour to get back a creed,  which could unite the party on environmentalism, trades union rights, health and above all equality. This was a debate,  which should take place in the forthcoming elections for the leader and deputy leader. This would be an opportunity to discuss all the fundamental issues that the members of the party wanted to discuss. The Party also should be a party of peace, not war.
The state of the Labour  Party in terms of lack of political discussion and declining membership was demonstrated by the audience, many of whom were delighted to have the opportunity to discuss at this Labour Heritage meeting the fundamental issues of policy and direction of the Party which no longer get discussed in meetings of the Party itself.

The full text of John Grigg’s talk on 1906 in West London

On Friday 2nd October 1908 Ramsey MacDonald, Secretary of the Labour Party  -  or the LRC, spoke at Chiswick Town Hall at a meeting organised by the Chiswick Branch of the ILP.
The meeting was chaired by Chiswick’s first Labour Cllr, Tom O’Brien, and the hall was full.   MacDonald spoke with great fervour and eloquence for over an hour.  
He said that since 29 Labour MPs had been elected in 1906 some progress had been made in parliament but there were some divisions in the party & MacDonald reminded his ‘Socialist friends that it was easy within 6 months to break down a movement that had taken 20 years to build up.’
According to MacDonald unemployment was the great issue that the Party should be addressing.    But some Labour MPs had been diverted from this cause by the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill.
“We Socialists,”  said MacDonald, “took up the position that no Ministry could solve the (education) problem unless state education was merely secular”.   Yet a section of the movement, moved by priests, had come out against the party’s stance on this issue.
As far as the Licensing Bill was concerned some members were questioning it because it could restrict the opening hours of working men’s clubs.
Was it not heart-rending that such miserable little things should threaten to split the Labour movement?
Ramsey said he could remember when the Labour movement was merely a street corner movement, pitching platforms under the most convenient lamp-post.  He had watched it grow until alliances enabled the movement to seek political power.  That alliance, said MacDonald, was made with the Trade Unions and as a result they won great victories in 1906.
MacDonald was right of course.  Without an alliance, mainly between the ILP and the Trade Unions, the LRC – which was then calling itself the Labour Party -  would not have been able to finance its candidates in 1906 and mobilise support from the working men  -  women did not have the vote  -  and working men were a significant section of the electorate. 

Alliance with the Liberal Party

But he was only half right.  The alliance between the TUs and the ILP enabled the party to put up candidates but it was another, partly secret, alliance that enabled 29 of those candidates to win  -   and that alliance was an agreement forged by MacDonald with the Liberal Party.
In return for Labour not contesting many seats around the country the Liberals stood down in about 50 seats or only contested one vacancy in some of those divisions that returned two members to parliament. 
The Liberals were of course worried that Labour candidates would split the anti-Conservative vote and allow the Tories to win seats they expected, the Liberals to gain.  It was a good deal for the Liberals who expected to receive support from any Labour MPs in parliament because many working Trade Unionists were Liberals and a few dozen were standing for parliament under the Liberal banner.
This agreement had repercussions in West London and South Middlesex and that’s what I want to deal with next.
In our part of Middlesex there were three divisions -  Brentford that covered Brentford and Hounslow.     Ealing that covered Ealing, Acton and Chiswick.   And Uxbridge that covered a huge area from Shepperton to Harefield.  The only other seats in Middlesex, which I’m not going to deal with, were Enfield, Harrow, Hornsey and Tottenham.   I’m also going to deal with Hammersmith because of the special situation that developed there – and partly because I’m secretary of the Hammersmith CLP which means it’s very important.

George Hailey in Brentford

On 25th August 1905 the Chiswick Gazette printed an extract from the ‘Labour Record’ that named George Haley as the candidate for the Brentford division and it gave a write up of him.
He was born in a workhouse & never knew his parents.  Went to the Mitcham Poor Law Schools and the Central London Schools at Hanwell.  In 1874 when he was 14 he was working at a school – his hours were from 6am to 11pm and he slept in a stable loft.  When he was 20 he went to sea in a fishing smack & in 1881 was working at a coal wharf in Ealing.   Then he worked on the Severn tunnel, worked in Barry docks and settled in Penarth working as a coster monger.  He started agitating and was hunted by the police.  In 1889 he was back in Ealing organising the unemployed and earning a living as a coster monger, selling fruit & veg from a horse drawn barrow.  The police still bothered him and he spent time in Wandsworth prison.  When he came out his horse had been stolen and he took up navvying.  He stood for the Brentford DC 8 times before winning in a by-election in 1905.  He caused havoc on the local Council attacking landlords, demanding TU rates for council workers, campaigning against conditions in the Brentford Isolation Hospital.   He had a very loud voice and one Council meeting had to be suspended because he was drunk and he insisted on speaking on every item on the agenda.
support not desirable’
The Brentford division was not on the list that MacDonald had agreed with the Liberals and without financial support, which came from the Unions,  there was no way that Haley could stand in Brentford.
So the 1906 election in Brentford was fought between the Conservatives and the Liberals and Dr Vickerman Rutherford gained it for the Liberals.   Dr Rutherford was quite an enlightened MP and spoke up for Irish and Indian  independence and supported workers rights.  He lost the Brentford seat in 1910.  He switched to the Labour Party and stood twice in Sunderland in 1920 & 1922 but never got back into Parliament.  He died in 1932.

Ealing and Uxbridge

I’ll just deal with Ealing for a while.   Lord George Hamilton had been the Conservative MP for the area covering Ealing since 1868  -  38 years.  An aristocrat who had served in the army,  so he was at one time First Lord of the Admiralty.  He had also been Secretary of State for India although he had never been – and never went – to India.  The great issue at the 1906 election was free trade v protectionist.   The Conservative Party got in a muddle but proposed trade protectionism in an uncertain form.  Lord George Hamilton favoured free trade and was in effect deselected by the Ealing Division Conservative Association.  It was a safe Conservative seat and although there were ILP branches in Chiswick, Acton and Ealing  there is little evidence that Labour seriously thought of putting up a candidate.   Herbert Nield held the seat for the Conservatives and Lord George Hamilton wrote his memoirs.
The Uxbridge seat covered over 100 square miles of mainly agricultural land in West Middlesex and was a very safe Conservative seat  -  They polled about 70% of the vote and were unopposed in 1895 and 1900.  No prospect of course of a Labour candidate there, but it is a measure of the Liberals success that in 1906 they came with 146 votes of unseating the sitting Conservative -  Sir F D  Dixon-Hartland, Baronet.

Finally a word about Hammersmith

It was one of the 58 London Borough seats.   Labour put up official candidates in only two of the seats.  The Liberals stood down in Woolwich and Will Crooks won for Labour.  In Deptford Charles Bowerman won, but there was a Liberal standing who polled only 6% of the vote.  My guess is that Deptford was a part of the MacDonald agreement and the Liberal was a rogue candidate because they usually polled over 40% of the vote there.  
Men standing as Liberal/Labour candidates stood in 3 other seats and that had been a practise for a number of General Elections.
The odd one out in all this is George Belt who stood in Hammersmith as an Independent Labour candidate.
The evidence indicates that the local Labour Party or the local LRC chose George Belt, a dockers’ union organiser,  to stand as early as 1903.  How they did this is not recorded.   Subsequently the Liberals approached the Labour Party in Hammersmith to ask them if the Labour Party had a candidate they wished to submit for consideration by the local Liberals Executive. Their idea being that a candidate with the label Lib/Lab was a possibility.  A Lib/Lab had stood in Hammersmith in 1892 and 1895 although the Conservatives always won comfortably.  Labour replied saying they already had a candidate and they would be glad of Liberal support.  And what ‘The Times’ described as ‘a very petty quarrel’ between Labour and the Liberals was the result.
Hammersmith was not on MacDonald’s list and George Belt did not receive any help from HQ and he didn’t appear on the LRC official list.  Never the less he stood and managed to split the vote which allowed the Tories to hold the seat.  He polled 885 votes which was 8.4% of the poll.  The Tory majority was 549.   Understandably the Liberals were not happy.
It was assumed, of course, that without financial help from HQ George Belt would not be able to stand.  But the Hammersmith Labour Party got the money from somewhere.  The Liberals suggested he took ‘Tory Gold’ and got money from the Conservatives to split the vote.  Somebody representing the Liberals called on the landlord of the Labour Rooms in the Grove – presumably Hammersmith Grove in Shepherds Bush – and offered 10/- a week more rent.  The Liberals announced that the Rev. Ernest Kirtlan of Askew Road Church was to speak at a Liberal meeting when he had never agreed to do so.    --   Even today we are still having trouble with the Liberals in Askew Ward where I live and we only managed to hold on in May by 30 odd votes.  100 years after George Belt stood in 1906.

Countess of Warwick

So where did the Hammersmith Labour Party get the money from to hire rooms and print leaflets?   A clue might be in a Newspaper report that said George Belt had only two vehicles at his disposal on polling day and one of those was lent by the Countess of Warwick. 
I’ve got to tell this story about the Countess of Warwick.    Prince of Wales’ mistress.  Immensely rich.  Ball & Banquet.  The Clarion and Blatchford.  Became fervent Socialist.   Stood against Anthony Eden in the 1920s in Warwick.
So my guess is that the money might have come from the Countess of Warwick.
Sir Edward Bull the Conservative won the seat, benefiting from the split vote.  But we owe him something because he kept a scrap book that is now in the Hammersmith Library Archives in Talgarth Road and in the scrap book is one of George Belt’s leaflets. 

Also in the Archives are copies of the North Hammersmith Sentinel – the organ of the North Hammersmith Divisional Labour Party that was published from Dec 1927 to Dec 1931.   The December 1930 edition announces the death of George Belt at the age of 60 and from the obituary we learn that later he was a Labour member of the LCC and stood as Labour candidate in the Hartlepools in the 1920s  -  where he split the vote again and almost let the Tory in.  The Liberals managed to win the seat.
He was described as a big burly figure, warm hearted and chivalrous.  One of the finest open air speakers in the country who did splendid work on the Clarion and Daily Herald vans in backward parts of the country.

 

So that’s the story of 1906 in the Western London area.  Labour didn’t win a seat in West Middlesex until 1945 – although we came close on few occasions.  But in 1930 Labour was holding both the Hammersmith seats

THE WORKERS’ WAR : new website launched

On March 13, 2006, Tony Benn spoke at an event in Congress House to launch an online exhibition of documents, posters and photos showing the contribution made by the tireless workers of the Home Front during the Second World War.

The new website was created by the TUC Library Collections at London Metropolitan University in partnership with the TUC and the National Pensioner’s Convention and can be found at www.unionhistory.info/workerswar . It is supported by the Big Lottery Fund and is one of a series of national activities to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It illustrates and archives the experiences of working men and women as firefighters and rescue workers, miners and factory workers, and the importance of the trade union movement throughout this time, as well as the impact on women’s lives and the difficulties of the post-war reconstruction period. It reproduces many documents relating to the role of the Labour Party in wartime, the 1945 General Election and the Labour Government’s reconstruction plans.

As well as hundreds of digitised photographs, posters and documents from the TUC Collections, the website contains dozens of oral history interviews with former Home Front workers, documenting their experiences and reminiscences. Audio clips from each of the interviews are accessible on the site along with a fully searchable transcript. Teachers’ notes are provided to guide use of this new resource in the classroom.

Veterans of the Home Front are now being invited to add their memories to the website on the 'Share your story' page. It is hoped that young people will encourage and assist older family members and friends with this part of the project.

THE WORKERS’ WAR : HOME FRONT RECALLED at www.unionhistory.info/workerswar

Christine Coates, Librarian TUC Collections...
c.coates@londonmet.ac.uk

HAYES PEOPLES HISTORY WEB BLOG LAUNCHED BY MICHAEL WALKER

http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.com/

Some extracts

No Fascism in Southall (1936)

In late October 1936 fascists in Southall organised a rally in Southall park. A counter demonstration was organised under the banner "No fascism for Southall" and a conference was called to oppose fascism in Southall the secretaries being Mr D. Romney and Mr J. Ross

The Squatters Movement for Housing 1946

In 1946 the shortage of housing had become critical, the Communist Party took a leading role in encouraging a massive “Squatters” movement.
This was a campaign where people without homes or in poor accommodation simply took over empty buildings.
In September 1946 Yiewsley Labour Councillors D.J. Davies and George Pemberton helped local families occupy Providence Road Nursery.
Meanwhile in Uxbridge leading Communist Dickie Bond along with fellow communists Glitz and Newman helped families occupy Coaxden hall.
(flats in Ickenham were also squatted). 

THE GENERAL STRIKE – 80 YEARS ON

This remarkable event has been marked by the publication of at least one new book on the subject and the last edition of Labour Heritage bulletin carried a shortened transcript of a speech by local historian Dr Jonathan Oates on the “General strike in Ealing”. Having come across the two newspapers which were published during the nine days of the strike – the British Worker published by the TUC and the British Gazette published by the Government and edited by Winston Churchill, it is interesting to get some picture at a national level.

A failure?

The General Strike was described as a failure – even on May 4th 1926, one day into the strike, Beatrice Webb was quoted as saying – “For the British trades union movement I see a day of terrible disillusionment. The failure of the General Strike of 1926 will be one of the most significant landmarks in the history of the British working class”. The strike ended in defeat for the miners and thousands of workers who returned to work (or not in some cases) on the employers’ terms.
But on May 5th the British Worker reported a “wonderful response to the call” – “the workers response has exceded all expectations. The first day of the great General Strike is over. They have maintained their determination and unity to the whole world. They have resolved that the attempt of the mine owners to starve three million men, women and children into submission shall not succeed.
All the essential industries and transport services have been brought to a standstill. The only exception is that the distribution of milk and food has been permitted to continue. The TUC General Council is not making war on the people. It is anxious that the ordinary members of the public shall not be penalised by the unpatriotic conduct of the mine owners and the government.”
On the 9th May one reported in Manchester claimed “The situation is splendid – it is like a deserted city. Usually the streets are thronged with lorries and the procession of trams is continuous”. Now there is not a tram and lorries are very rare. I walked three miles this morning and saw only three.” (all lorries ran with trades union permits if carrying essential supplies).
Even the British Gazette which had been reporting every instant of volunteers succeeding in moving trains and buses had to say on May 12th “.. there is as yet little sign of a general collapse of the strike, and the TUC is believed to be making efforts to call out certain trades still at work.”
Anne Perkins in her book “A very British strike” obtained information from the Great Western Railway that only 3% of train drivers returned to work before the end of the strike and although 4,000 trains were running by day 12 this was only 10% of the normal total. GWR reported that of the 15,000 volunteers who had turned up to drive trains or staff signal boxes, only 5,000 could be used at all and often this had been at a cost – trains stuck in deep tunnels and damage to signal boxes would take two years to repair.

A constitutional crisis

However the British Gazette and the British Worker both seeing the strike as successful in terms of support, have a different political outlook. For the British Worker this was a strike to support the miners and obtain subsidies for the industry which would prevent wage cuts and longer hours. “The trade unions are fighting for one thing – to protect the miners’ standard of life” “There is no constitutional crisis”. The British Gazette on the other hand reported that “constitutional government is under attack”. It accused the TUC of subjecting the population to famine, in an organised attempt to starve the nation.  (In fact the TUC had pledged not to interfere with food distribution and its offer to assist in the distribution of food had been rejected by the government, presumably as it seemed too much like “dual power”. This however was being carried out locally. The armoured escort for lorries bringing food  out of the London docks was more for propaganda than for real. 
The Daily Mail before its print staff walked out asserted that “A general strike is not an industrial dispute. It is a revolutionary movement intended to inflict suffering upon the great mass of innocent persons in the community and thereby to put forcible constraint upon the government”.

Victimisation

The strike was called off unconditionally without any guarantees over victimisation. Even though there were more people on strike on day nine of the strike than at the beginning. It seems that some in the leadership of the labour movement saw the strike as threatening as did the Conservative Government. Or more so. Baldwin by offering to set up a commission to look into the mines and granting a temporary government subsidy on Red Friday was accused by Ramsay Macdonald of pandering to Bolshevism. Jimmy Thomas of the NUR was reported to have said that he had never been in favour of the strike and “God help the country if the government does not win”. There was a general anti-communist witch hunt and members of the Communist Party were arrested and imprisoned during the strike on charges of incitement to mutiny. This was allegedly in one instance for announcing that troops based in Aldershot had refused to be moved to a mining area.
The British Worker announced the end of the strike by saying –
“The General Council called off the General Strike in confidence that the Prime Minister meant what he said when he asked for resumption of negotiations towards an honourable peace. Peace depends upon employers abstaining from attempts at victimisation.” Shortly afterwards it had to report that Mr Baldwin’s sacred promise “to forget all recrimination” had not been heeded and that “railwaymen, transport workers and  many other grades of trades unionists are now being told that they may only resume work upon accepting reduced rates of wages.” By the autumn 25% of NUR members were still waiting to be taken back.

Today

This year’s one day strike by public sector workers over pension reform has been described as the largest strike movement since 1926. Clearly its impact and political implications were not quite the same. However it is interesting to note that many of those involved in this strike action would not have been members of the TUC in 1926. Local authority workers were not organised in trades unions. Some may even have volunteered to strike break.
The other observation is that the 1926 general strike would have been illegal under the existing industrial relations laws. In 1927 the Conservative Government outlawed solidarity strikes. This legislation was repealed by the 1945 Labour Government. However the anti-trades union legislation of the Thatcher years has not been repealed by the current Labour Government.

Barbara Humphries

 Review of Bill Miller – black Labour Party activist in Plymouth by Jonathan Wood.

Dr Wood has achieved the near impossible – an enormous amount of information in an easy to read style, told in relatively few pages in such a way that no major point has been neglected. His subject was a truly outstanding working class hero the grandson of a slave born in Stonehouse, who, before he was sixty, had effectively rebuilt and expanded his native city. A practical idealist, he had focussed on his version from early days. After reaching the rank of warrant officer in the  RFC in World War 1 , he returned to Devonport Dockyard to become an active trades unionist (president of Devon and Cornwall ETU) and election agent to Plymouth’s first Labour MP Jimmy Moses, of Drake division in 1929. The author, a former secretary of Labour Heritage, vividly captures the issues, having lived most of his life in the Efford area; this is shown in Miller’s involvement with the Civil Defence Wardens Service from 1938 onwards after years of expressing alarm at the lack of air raid precautions. Having been on the receiving end of the country’s most devastating attacks in spring 1941, Plymouth’s population was reduced by 45% which resulted in his being arrested for organising the evacuation of women and children on “an unauthorised basis” - following his reprimand  “official” exodus was ordered, days later.
Jonathan portrays his subject’s finest years as immediately post 1945.Having again been agent to a successful parliamentary candidate at Drake, Bert Medland, he became chair of the city’s Housing Committee in November 1945. He showed a genius for organisation, getting dockyard workers seconded to build housing and refusing the Lord Mayoralty in 1947 to stay at the helm of this essential project. On average four new homes were built every single day (including weekends and bank holidays) for nearly five years and he was awarded the BEM, OBE, and CBE in successive New Years Honours lists from 1946. Becoming chair of the National Housing and Joint Planning Council in 1959 and a close personal friend of Nye Bevan for many years, his success could be formularised as building houses plus means making homes and transforming peoples’ lives. His own words that that it was “something worth paying for” sums up this ethos succinctly.
After he died in 1970 his son Claude, entered elective politics eleven years later at tge age of 66, and becoming Lord Mayor of Plymouth in 2004 at the age of 89, mad e a much honoured name even more revered. Jonathan’s excellent booklet throws much insight into the political history of Plymouth showing that determination, effort and hard work can triumph in unlikely circumstances and gives s superb picture of socialism at the Celtic fringe.

Reviewed by Bill Bolland, committee member, Labour Heritage.

“Bill Miller – black Labour Party activist in Plymouth” is published by History and Social Action Publications. 09548944324
£3 (plus 37p postage for  single copy. Order from HSAP, 18 Ridge Rd, CR4 2ET. Cheques payable to Sean Creighton. Or e-mail your order to sean.Creighton@btinternet.com

Book Review.  Fightback! By Dianne Hayter.

This book is a gift for Labour historians, and traces in great detail the years of conflict in the Labour Party from its election defeat in 1979 to the rewriting of clause 4 in 1995.
The struggle was not just about differences over Europe and Defence but also a battle for control of the party. 
After the shock of Thatcher’s victory in 1979 many party activists felt the Labour Governments of the 60s and 70s had betrayed them and they turned towards the Bennite left and demanded that party policies be determined by the party conference rather than the Parliamentary Labour Party.  The right’s major problem was the distance that had opened up between the PLP and the party activists.
Dianne Hayter takes us through the episodes of the struggle beginning with Michael Foot’s 1980 victory over Dennis Healy for the leadership (when three MPs, Tom Ellis, Neville Sandelson and Jeffery Thomas, subsequent defectors to the SDP, voted for Foot ‘to hasten the party’s demise’.)  In 1981 came a deputy leadership struggle when Healy defeated Benn by the narrowest of margins.  Then came Kinnock’s leadership victory in 1983 followed by the work he did in ‘modernising’ the party.  The book deals with the infiltration by Militant and their eventual expulsion from the party, how One Member One Vote (OMOV) was achieved against opposition from the left, the defection of MPs and members to the SDP, and how Trade Union leaders, fearful that the Labour Party was in terminal decline, quietly backed Kinnock’s reforms.    The Trade Unions supported the reduction of their own influence at conference, supported the restructuring of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the expulsion of Militant and the selection of parliamentary candidates and the Party leadership by OMOV.  Finally Clause 4 was rewritten and this was seen by many as an abandonment of basic Labour Party principles.

This is a wonderful book for those of us who anxiously witnessed the events.  Labour’s defeat in 1979 was partly a consequence of the inevitable discontentment that arises after one party has been in government for a decade.  The vital factor, however, was the ‘winter of discontent’, which in the electorate’s mind portrayed the Trade Unions as mindlessly pursuing self-interest and resisting change.  This was followed by a period when left wing socialist views became quite fashionable in the Labour Party.  Unfortunately it was not a fashion followed by the majority of the population.  Then came the internal splits that always damage a political party’s appeal.
Dianne’s book tells us it was the trade unions support for party reform that made Labour electable.   (Perhaps they will come to our rescue again)
The book’s length is considerably reduced by Labour’s love of initials, Scarcely a page goes by without PLP, CLP, AUEW, OMOV and many others appearing.  Fortunately there is a guide on page xi listing 27 sets of initials from ACTT to USDAW.   

Reviewed by John Grigg

Letters

Michael Leahy’s idea that during the Second World War people had a tendency to let their hair down and enjoy life, while there was the opportunity, but all this ended in 1945, is nonsense.
Although people made the best of things while the war lasted, it was no fun being bombed, living in deteriorating housing conditions because no houses were being built, being evacuated, or serving in the armed forces away from home, being killed or wounded or made prisoners of war. Again it was no fun coping with the shortages of goods that had been available pre-war, the blackout, working long hours and spending leisure time fire-watching, in the Home Guard or scrounging for fuel.
The huge rejoicing which marked VE and VJ days and the 1945 Labour victory was not a façade, and the steady improvement in conditions that followed was quite genuine. The winter of 1947, it is quite true, was very miserable, but it was not permanent. It is true that there was rationing, but many people’s diet was healthier then than now. There was full employment, rising standards of living and the provisions of the welfare state which had not existed previously.
The foundations for “never having had it so good” were laid by the 1945-51 Labour Government, despite its reactionary foreign policy. The contrast between the situation in Britain after World War 11 and World War 1 left those who lived through both periods in no doubt that the later period was infinitely better.
On the issue of the introduction of apartheid by the Malan Government in South Africa in 1948, no one would pretend that appalling discrimination did not exist previously. There is however, no question but that the advent to power of Malan represented a huge setback to those striving to achieve race equality.

Yours sincerely

Stan Newens

With respect, there is a small error on P7 of Labour Heritage.   Eddisbury was won for Common Wealth in the 1943 by-election by Warrant Officer (not Wing Commander) John Loverseed (not Lovesend) with a majority of 486 over the LibNats. He joined the Labour Party in 1944 and unsuccesfully fought the seat at the 1945 general election.  However, he was expelled two days after the poll.  I can't remember the reason.  The LibNats regained the seat in 1945 with a majority of 7,902    

Roy Roebuck