Spring 2007

Reclaimed for socialism – John Burns (1858-1943)

Internationally celebrated for being one of the labour leaders in  the 1889 London Dock strike, John Burns’ subsequent career as a member of parliament has been damned by the writings of contemporary labour historians.
Accepting the cabinet rank post of President of the Local Government Board in the 1905 Liberal Government, he became classified as a “traitor to the cause of labour”. Yet, in this position of parliamentary power, he was able to guide on to the statute books, two pieces of legislation, one, crucial for the development of the trade union movement, and the second, putting the UK at the forefront of international town and country planning.
Burns became a Liberal MP at a time when capitalists and workers were jointly exploited by landowners rack-renting the use or demanding a high price of land needed for housing or manufacturing purposes.
Parliament was dominated by capitalist and landowner, with the House of Lords, with its control by a landed aristocracy and gentry, having a veto on money bills sent to them for scrutiny by the House of Commons.
To break this deadlock and get a legislative Act through both two Houses of Parliament, manufacturers – particularly small producers, needed the votes of the working class.
By 1900 most male adults had become enfranchised and given the vast numerical superiority of the working class at the ballot box, whoever obtained their support could command the lower house and exert enormous pressure on the upper one.
Henry George, an American land-reformer whose policy of taxing the land to its full value with the revenue used for social purposes, was speaking to packed audiences both in this country and America for rack-renting was common in both.
On the basis of this support some hundred local authorities had signed up to a parliamentary motion calling for the Rating of Site Values to replace the existing rating system.
Concurrently with this, was the alarm of many radicals at the growing impoverishment of large numbers of working people and the potential this had for riots and furthermore its effect on the health of a needed workforce and armed forces to maintain and extend the British Empire.

Labour Representation Committee

Until 1900, when the labour movement brought into being the Labour Representation Committee to provide the organisation and means to elect MPs, labour as a force was unorganised in a political sense. It had the Independent Labour Party formed in 1893 and a smattering of socialist sects, but working class socialists who wanted to use parliament to bring beneficial change to working people were limited to working through the Liberal or Conservative parties.
Working class members of parliament were tiny in number – particularly when MPs received no salaries or expenses. One who did make the leap, was John Burns. On the strength of his work in bringing the London Dock Strike to a successful conclusion, he was able to create a parliamentary constituency in Battersea, which elected him to Parliament in 1892, and pay him a wage of £2 a week. Prior to this, however, he had been elected to the newly founded London County Council in 1889.
In the LCC he led the campaign which ensured that council work went to contractors who observed trade union rates and conditions. Later he masterminded the creation of its own direct works department and saw to the building of dwellings for the working class.
In Parliament he concentrated on the above aims, seeking support where obtainable from radical Liberals and Tory MPs.
Thus, by the time the Labour Representation Committee took on the need to have influence in parliament – following the adverse effects of the Taff Vale agreement which allowed employers to claim damages from trade unions whose members had been on strike, he had had over 15 years of experience in Parliament. Furthermore unlike the LRC elected members who received a £4 weekly sum from a LRC fund, he continued to be paid from his Battersea constituency.
Then, of course, he was well aware that the 29 members elected for the LRC were there only because of an agreement between Ramsay MacDonald and the Liberal Chief whip for Liberals not to contest the seats that the LRC wanted to stand for.
Further, John Burns was a socialist, whereas half the LRC people elected to Parliament were not. In these circumstances, Burns decided that he could do no more good for the working class by retaining his independence from the Labour Party, which the LRC members called themselves, after their first meeting in the House of Commons.
Liberals defeated the Tories in the 1905 and 1906 elections and Burns was offered the job of presidency of the Local Government Board – a cabinet rank  position which he accepted.

Town planning

He used his position to prepare legislation of pre-eminence for the future of Britain as a modern society, a Town Planning Act which became law in 1909.
An ancient proverb has it that the “First step is 50% of the Way” and the 1909 Act proved its truth by they way it prepared for Town and Country Planning in the following years – particularly the New Town Act of the 1945 Labour Government.
This consolidated the above Act and subsequent improvements, paving the way for the UK to have 32 New Towns to deal with population overcrowding, to act as growth points for new developments, and to release pressure on land in our existing towns and cities by offering more desirable settlements for living, working, industry and commerce. Further by the act of 1947, it nationalised the use of all land within the UK. Without planning permission obtained in first instance from a local authority, no land can be used – it may be left unused, but the first act of any material kind, is forbidden without first obtaining agreement from a local council.
John Burns introduced the legislation for this – the Housing, Town Planning Act 1909 by informing Parliament that the Bill aimed in broad outline at, and hoped to secure the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified and the suburb salubrious.
That the above Act could obtain the support of the both Houses of Parliament shows two things. One, the ground swell of support, for something to be done to eradicate slum housing and deprivation of its population in the UK’s towns and cities, and secondly the fear that the growing mobilisation of the working class in its formations of trade unions, the co-operative movement, trades councils, and voting power as expressed by the growing numbers of the workers seeking reforms, would seek extra parliamentary measures, if Parliament failed to act.
Strikes had been increasing and if these could be harnessed to a revolt of the impoverished underclass, and this integrated into a single movement for change, the UK could have a “Paris Commune” on its hands.
For Burns this was a possibility, and  had  it happened his militant record would have him in the vanguard of the movement. However, the lesson he had learned from Victor Delahye, an exiled communard and member of a French Marxist group, when working with him as an engineering apprentice – that short of an overwhelming physical force, the way forward was to seek socialism through Parliament.
By this time he had had time to measure the ability of the LRC MPs to even understand problems beyond the narrow vista of trade unionism.
He saw the Bill put forward by trade union MPs and Ramsay MacDonald asking for local authorities to be made responsible for either work or providing maintenance for unemployed workers as delusory. It took no account of existing Poor-Laws which emerged out of the collapse of the Speenhamland  system, which, being designed to provide assistance to the poor when drought or personal distress afflicted people in an agricultural society, could not operate in industrial urban areas where a factory closure would not only lay off thousands of workers, but would close off the rate funding being asked to support the unemployed..

Taff Vale

It is somewhat ironic that in 1912, and after his Town Planning Act was on the statute books that the Liberal government having passed legislation for treasury funding to provide pensions and an insurance system for unemployment and sickness benefit, asked Burns to take over the Board of Trade and, with his known administrative competence, get the system working competently.
David Shackleton an MP since 1902 has been credited to the exclusion of John Burns for having Taff Vale removed from legislation, to be replaced with an Act, more beneficial to trades unions. Burns, however, was a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet and had long been a special advisor to Campbell-Bannerman the Prime Minister on trade union and labour affairs. And it was he, who along with Shackleton, who saw the prime minister on the night preceding a crucial parliamentary debate on the Taff Vale problem.
Both were powerful intellectually and personally and both were proposing the annulment of Taff Vale and its replacement with an Act, which could confer immunity from damages by trade unions involved in strike action from contesting employers.  They were jointly able to convince Campbell Bannerman to support immunity, which caused consternation in both Tory and Liberal ranks.  Credit should go to both Burns and Shackleton for this hugely beneficial Act which protected the funds of trades unions until the advent of Thatcherism.
1914 and the beginning of WW1 saw a dividing of the ranks of Labour in the Commons. Some, like Burns, Keir Hardie and MacDonald opposed the war and Burns resigned from the Cabinet in protest. Thereafter, Burns became a member of the back-bench until 1918 when he retired from politics.
In 1918 the Labour Party opened its ranks to individual membership, and large sections of Liberal Party branches switched to Labour. In the 1919 local elections, half the metropolitan borough councils were won, thus preparing the way for labour winning control of the London County Council in 1934.
Battersea would have continued to support Burns electorally had he continued to to wish it so. But the rancour within the Labour “officialdom” was deep and he therefore decided not to allow this to dominate matters where he would be involved so abandoned political life.
Still the socialist and trade unionist, he was known as the “man with the red flag” from his days marching to Trafalgar Square and being jailed for six weeks or his role in the 1889 Dock strike. As such it is time to find a place in Labour’s role of honour and respect him historically for his contribution to the struggle for socialism.

Alan Spence

Jimmy Moses – Plymouth’s first Labour MP

Introduction

Jimmy Moses was the leading figure in the Labour Party in Plymouth in the 1920s, a decade when the Party’s political support grew rapidly. He achieved several notable firsts. He was Plymouth’s first Labour mayor and became the city’s first Labour MP. His career included a less welcome distinction. He was the first Labour MP to face a parliamentary election petition calling for his election to be overturned.

Early life and trades union activities

James John Hamlyn Moses (he would usually be referred to as Jimmy during his life) was born in the Devon town of Dartmouth in August 1873. When he was fifteen he became an apprentice shipwright and in 1895 secured a job as a shipwright in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport. Devonport dockyard was the largest employer in the area and its workforce numbered several thousand when Moses began his employment there.
Moses, who was a member of the Methodist Church, was deeply religious. He became a lay preacher when he was 17 and preached in Primitive Methodist churches and chapels. He continued his lay preaching after moving to Plymouth and was a well-known preacher.
He was an active trades unionist. In 1894 he joined the shipwrights’ union, the Associated Shipwrights’ Society which became the Ship Onstructors’ and Shipwrights’ Association. He eventually became a member of the National Executive of the Ship Constructors’ and Shipwrights’ Association and remained a member of the union’s National Executive until his election as MP for Plymouth Drake in 1929.
Moses was involved in trade union demarcation disputes in the dockyard and clashed with another notable local trades unionist, Bert Medland of the engineering union branch in the Dockyard. In an autobiographical article, Medland recalled his arguments with Moses. “He had all the tricks and a wonderful phrase.” From time immemorial this has been the work of the shipwrights. The earliest mechanic in the world, Noah, was a shipwright”. Moses would even resort to tears during these heated exchanges. “I could not beat him because he would always start crying and the tears would roll down his face like five-eighth nuts.” Although they were on opposing sides in these inter-union disputes, Jimmy Moses and Bert Medland became close friends and political allies.

Jimmy Moses’ role in local politics

When he was in his early twenties, Moses began to take a serious interest in politics. In 1911, he was elected as a member of Devonport Borough Council. Devonport was a community which had come into existence to provide housing for the workforce of Devonport Dockyard and was of the three neighbouring towns – Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport. Population growth had led to the three towns combining into a single conurbation but politically they remained separate with their own councils.
Pressure for an amalgamation of the three towns grew and Jimmy Moses was one of the very few members of Devonport Council who was a strong supporter of the amalgamation of the three communities. In 1914, Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse amalgamated into the County Borough of Plymouth and Moses became a member of the new Plymouth Council.
Moses had been a member of the Liberal Party but in 1918 he joined the Labour Party. In 1921, he was elected an alderman of the Borough of Plymouth.
In the 1920s, the Labour Party made important advances in Plymouth. More Labour councillors were elected to join Jimmy Moses on Plymouth Council, including Dockyard trades unionists such as Bert Medland, William Miller, Plymouth’s first black councillor and Harry Mason.
Moses stood as a Labour Parliamentary candidate. The parliamentary reorganisation of 1918 divided Plymouth into three parliamentary constituencies – Devonport, Drake and Sutton. In the 1923 General Election, Moses was the Labour candidate in the Drake division and William Miller acted as his election agent. Although he mounted a strong electoral challenge, Moses was defeated by his Conservative opponent, Sir Arthur Shirley Benn. Moses won 11,849 votes while the victorious Conservative polled 12,345 votes, giving him a slim majority of only 496.
In the 1924 General Election, Moses contested Drake for a second time. He received 12,161 votes but Sir Arthur Shirley Benn increased his vote to 14,669, giving him a more comfortable majority of 2,508. Moses’ style of election campaigning was sometimes unorthodox. In his article, Bert Medland recalled Moses canvassing a local woman who was doing her washing. “She held up a large pair of unmentionables, and said “if you wash these I’ll vote for you!”. He washed them.
Plymouth Labour Party continued to grow in strength. In 1925, the seven Labour councillors on Plymouth Council were reinforced by six or seven more Labour representatives. In the following year, 1926, Moses became Plymouth’s first Labour mayor.
During his mayoralty, Moses first became acquainted with Albert Ballard, a wealthy philanthropist who had moved to Plymouth some years earlier. Ballard had become well-known for his charitable work for young boys from poor neighbourhoods. He provided a range of activities for boys which he funded with his own money. Ballard wanted to obtain recognition for a boys’ club which he planned to open and contacted Moses as part of his efforts to secure recognition. Moses visited the club and was favourable impressed. He attended the opening ceremony of the club, which was to be called the Ballard Institute, in may 1928.
Moses and Ballard became close friends and allies. Moses was one of the prominent Plymouth politicians who signed a letter defending Ballard when he was criticised by ministers of the Free Church in Plymouth. Ballard had been a Conservative all his life but became a fervent admirer of Moses because the latter supported Ballard’s philanthropic activities. Ballard held Sunday services at the Ballard Institute for the boys who belonged to his club and Jimmy Moses regularly preached to the boys at these services.

The election of Jimmy Moses as Plymouth’s first Labour MP

In April 1929, Jimmy Moses was adopted as the Labour candidate for the Plymouth Drake constituency and again William Miller was his election agent. Councillor Harry Mason acted as Moses’ assistant during the election campaign.
Ballard gave enthusiastic support to Moses’ election campaign. He made generous financial donations and published a letter urging all voters , irrespective of party, to support Moses. Moses’ election agent, William Miller, ordered thousands of copies of Ballard’s letter for distribution to voters in the Drake constituency.
Ballard’s support was valuable but some of his actions alarmed William Miller. Ballard decided to place an advertisement promoting Moses’ candidature in a local newspaper, the Western Morning News. Miller learned of this and was very concerned because issuing and advertisement of  this nature without the authority of the election agent contravened electoral law. Moses and Miller tried to contact Ballard and dissuade him from putting the advertisement in the newspaper. They went to his house but he was asleep and his housekeeper refused to wake him. The advertisement appeared in the Western Morning News. Ballard also tried to exploit his influence among boys who attended his club and, through them, their parents. He promised the boys rewards if Moses was successful and warned that the club might have to close if Moses was not elected.
The General Election took place on 30th May 1929. Jimmy Moses was elected MP for Drake with a majority of over 2,000 votes.

Result of General Election in Plymouth Drake in May 1929

Jimmy Moses (Labour) 16,684
Sir Arthur Shirley Benn (Conservative) 14,672
H.Pratt (Liberal) 6,700

Jimmy Moses’ victory made him Plymouth’s first Labour MP In a speech to his supporters, he said, “You have today done yourselves honour in that you have revealed your own power and sent back to a Labour Government a representative of the Drake Division, one of your own men.”

The Plymouth Drake Election petition

But Moses’ election victory was called into question by a legal challenge. On 25th June 1929 two men, Nicholas Revington and Andrew Easterbrook, submitted a parliamentary election petition which called for Moses’ election as MP for Drake to be declared null and void on the grounds of general bribery before and during the election. Parliamentary election petitions were rare and this was the first time that a Labour MP had faced one.
The most serious allegations in the Drake Election Petition were that bribery during the election was so serious that it made the election result invalid and that Albert Ballard, while acting as an agent of Moses, had been guilty of specific cases of bribery.
The case of the election petition was heard in a special court in Plymouth’s Guildhall. There were few, if any legal precedents for many of the issues raised by the election petition. The case produced great public interest. Sir Stafford Cripps, a distinguished lawyer who had recently joined the Labour Party, offered his services to Moses free of charge.
The legal case began on 17th October 1929 and lasted eight days. The judges concluded that the allegations made in the Drake election petition had not been proved and the petition had to be dismissed. Jimmy Moses was cheered by the crowd which had gathered outside the Guildhall to hear the result of the case.

Jimmy Moses’ later political career

Jimmy Moses was Drake’s MP for only a relatively short period. In October 1931, the Labour Party suffered the most disastrous General Election defeat in its history. In the 1931 election, Moses lost by over 12,000 votes to his Conservative opponent, F.E. Guest.

Result of the General Election in Plymouth Drake in October 1931

Captain F.E Guest (Conservative) 25,063

Jimmy Moses (Labour) 12,663

In the 1935 General Election, Moses again stood as the Labour candidate in Drake and polled 15,368 votes against the 21,448 cast for FE Guest, whose majority was over 6000. In 1937, Moses was adopted as the prospective Labour candidate for the Camborne Divison in Cornwall but never contested this seat. In the last years of his life, Moses suffered serious ill-health and was unable to play an active political role. In November 1945, he had to retire from Plymouth’s aldermanic bench because of his poor health.
However, before Moses died in 1946, he witnessed unprecedented electoral success for the Plymouth Labour Party. In 1945, Labour won all three of Plymouth’s parliamentary seats. The Drake constituency, which had once elected Moses as its MP, was won by his old comrade Bert Medland.
Medland’s election agent was William Miller, who had been Moses’ election agent in the 1920s. In November 1945, Labour won control of Plymouth City Council  for the first time and Harry Mason, one of Moses’ campaign team in the 1929 General Election, became leader of the Council.
Jimmy Moses died at his home in Plymouth on 28th May 1946. Bert Medland pointed out the historical and political significance of Moses’ political career.
“Jim was contemporaneous with the rise to positions of authority of a new class of the community and a widening of the basis on which government is placed.” Jimmy Moses’ election in 1929 was not just a personal victory but a major success for the Plymouth Labour Party and the working class Plymothians who supported it.

Jonathan Wood

Labour Heritage AGM  and meeting on the fight against colonialism and the independence of India

The AGM of Labour Heritage was held in the Fenner Brockway Room,  Conway Hall on Saturday 17th March.
This year the theme was the commemoration of  the 60th anniversary of Indian independence.

Stan Newens, Chair of Labour Heritage introduced the topic by saying the fight against colonialism had deep roots in the labour movement. The Levellers in the 17th Century had opposed the conquest of Ireland. Tom Paine had campaigned for American independence. In the 19th century the movement had campaigned for an end to the slave trade and the Independent Labour Party had campaigned against colonialism. The League against Imperialism was active in the 1930s, under the inspiration of Fenner Brockway.

The first speaker was Tony Benn who began by saying that Fenner Brockway had always been a source of inspiration for him. His father had been appointed Secretary of State for India by Ramsay MacDonald who was Prime Minister in the 1929/1931 Labour Government. He tried to arrange a Round Table Conference to discuss Dominion Status for Indian but  Gandhi and the Indian National Congress insisted on conditions that the Vice-Roy of India would not accept. This meeting did however take place later and Winston Churchill who was bitterly opposed to Indian independence complained that  Mr Gandhi “ a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east” was seen “striding half naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”
Gandhi was also famous for saying that he thought that British civilisation would be “a good idea”.
In the 18th century India produced 18% of the world’s manufactured goods, Britain only 1%. Within a century this position had been reversed.
Tony speak of how the campaign for Indian independence and the Left joined together in the India League.
Indian independence in 1947 was an inspiration for other colonies. It marked the end of Britain as an imperial power. The days when 20% of the world was ruled from London were gone.  The Suez crisis again confirmed this fact. The role of world imperialist has now been taken over by the United States.

The second speaker was Neelam Srivastava, a lecturer on post colonial Indian literature at Newcastle upon Tyne. She spoke of the non-violent traditions of the Gandhian movement. The tactics of the movement had included a boycott of British goods which was begun in 1905. This had been a problem for British governments. The Non-Cooperation Movement was set up in 1919 as a movement of civil disobedience against British rule. The boycott was against foreign titles, goods and schools. Gandhi promoted Indian industry including domestic home spinning. In this he was supported by Indian industrialists. He advocated boycotting British imposed taxes including the infamous salt tax. He led a march to the coast to show the British that the Indians could collect their own salt.
Gandhi opposed any violence including from supporters of Indian independence. The Non Cooperation Movement was suspended after an attack on a police station. Violence was seen as part of European imperialism. But he also disliked modernity – he saw law, politics and medicine and education as concepts imposed by imperialism  in contrast to traditional Indian civilisation.
He was against the modern state and favoured small communities. He rejected human passions and became  celebate  and a vegetarian. This assertion of cultural values was mirrored by some of the Irish nationalists in the 1930s in their campaign for home rule. By the 1940s Gandhi was seen as an eccentric  by other Indian nationalists such as Nehru who favoured a centralised state, state planning and industrialization

The third speaker was Sajid Ali Khan, a past World Affairs editor, and a former member of Chatham House. He spoke on Jinna and Subhas Chandra Bose and the role of the Indian National Army. This army comprised Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese. This had an impact during the Second World War. He believed that Gandhi alone was not responsible for Indian independence. The British could not hold India. President Roosevelt had played a role as he had wanted to see the end of the British Empire. India was now two nations – defined by a mistaken view of the past and hatred of neighbours.
The meeting was attended by a representative from the Indian High Commission and one person who addressed the meeting who had actually been in prison with Gandhi.

There was a discussion on partition and who was responsible. Tony Benn did not believe that Lord Mountbatten had wanted partition and believed that Jinnah was to blame. Neelam said that the way that the British had ruled India, encouraging citizens to register themselves as Hindus or Muslims in a way that they had not considered themselves before had created the conditions for partition.  Also there was a question of the policy of the Indian National Congress in creating a centralised state, instead of a loose federation.
There was a discussion on why there was less violence in India than in other colonies at the time of independence. One reason was the Gandhian influence. But also there were no settlers as in French Algeria. In addition  the role of the Labour Government in 1947 which had resolved to give India its independence, was very important. This had been the long standing policy of the Labour Party.

Labour Heritage members held a short AGM at the start of the afternoon. It had been an active year for Labour Heritage, holding two events in Essex and Chiswick as well as the AGM. Labour’s centenary year had been the theme for these events. It had been involved with the publication of a pamphlet on Bill Miller, written by Jonathan Wood  and two bulletins had been produced. The National Committee had met three times since the last AGM.

The following officers were elected –

Chair Stan Newens
Secretary Maureen Colledge
Treasurer John Grigg
Bulletin editor Barbara Humphries

In addition Bill Bolland, Kit Snape, Stephen Bird and Alan Spence were elected to the National Committee

REVIEW OF   REMAINING TRUE: A BIOGRAPHY OF NESS EDWARDS
By Wayne David, MP,  Caerphilly Local History Society,  2006,             £7.50

South Wales was a key area for the development of the Labour Movement in 20th century Britain.  The struggles of the miners to improve their conditions and standards of life before the First World War threw up a band of militants who were deeply influenced by Marxist and syndicalist ideas.  Some of them, who had been sent by their trade unions to Ruskin College, Oxford, played a role in the revolt there in 1909, which led to the foundation of the Central Labour College and the Plebs League, which aimed to provide a socialist education.  One of their number, Noah Ablett, was the author of a keynote pamphlet, The Miners’ Next Step, in 1912, which called for continual agitation in the mines aimed at taking the industry over under workers’ control.

Among the young miners whose outlook was shaped by these ideas was Ness Edwards (1897-1968).  After working underground and spending time in prison as an opponent of the First World War, he went on to become a Miners’ Agent who played a key part in inter-war mining trade union struggles, the Labour MP for Caerphilly (1939-68) and a Cabinet Minister in the 1945-51 Labour Government.

Wayne David, the current Labour MP for Caerphilly, has published a biography of his predecessor which traces and provides the background to his struggles,  In so doing, he has produced a valuable survey of many aspects of Labour history in South Wales and at the national level over the period of his subject’s life.

Ness Edwards was not only an active trade unionist and Labour politician.  He was also a thinker and the author of a number of books on economic and Labour history.  Although he retained, in his later life, the beliefs in public ownership and industrial democracy which he had imbibed and developed in his youth, he was never a left-winger or a Bevanite.  He was most deeply critical of the lack of democracy in Stalinist Russia and suspicious of the Communist Party.  He was, however, unhappy about Labour’s drift to the right under Hugh Gaitskell in the 1950s and resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in 1960.  He was increasingly concerned about the efforts of a small group “ … to emasculate the fundamental principles of the movement”.

As a fellow Labour MP from 1964, I got to know him a little and recognised his qualities.  I once asked him why he had never published Volume II of his History of the South Wales Miners, to be told jocularly that he would have been involved in so many libel suits that it was not advisable.

Wayne David’s biography is a valuable contribution to Labour history and to our knowledge of a man who deserves to be better known and remembered.  It provides an excellent profile of one who made an important contribution to the creation of a powerful Labour Movement and its achievements.  The book should be read by everyone who wants to understand the character of the Labour Party.  It tells a most interesting story; it is well written and for these days, at £7.50, it is cheap.

Stan Newens

“Grunwick – bravery and betrayal: a Brent Trades Union Council pamphlet”

DVD – The Grunwick Strike 1976-1978

Stand together 52 minutes
Look back at Grunwick 26 minutes

Available from Brent Trades Union Council
375 High Street
London
NW10 2JR

This pamphlet was written by Tom Durkin who was chair of the Brent Trades Council at the time of the Grunwick strike. He died in 2002. The pamphlet was written when the strike ended in 1978 and has just been republished by Brent Trades Union Council to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Grunwick strike.
At the time of its first publication it was recommended by Mahmood Ahmad, secretary of the Grunwick strike committee who said “The trades council, its officers and its members have been throughout our closest allies. This pamphlet should be read throughout the trades union movement.”
The Grunwick strike was the first dispute where a majority of strikers who were from ethnic minorities received widespread support from the labour movement. Earlier disputes in Leicester and Southall had remained marginalised. But in the 1970s the labour movement was regaining its militancy and also taking up the anti-racist cause. The trades union movement stood at 11.5 million members. This pamphlet and DVD give an impressive outline of the extent of solidarity that existed within the trades union movement at the time with thousands prepared to attend mass picketing. It also shows the lengths that employers such as George Ward at Grunwicks would go to in order to combat trades unionism. In this he had the support of the courts, the Conservative Party, the National Association for Freedom and the police. Also it shows that the trades union leadership although giving vocal support to the strikers were not prepared to support their members until the bitter end, preferring to put their hopes in court action coming down on the side of the strikers.
Grunwicks was a photograph processing factory in Brent, North London, run by an anti-union employer George Ward. Previous attempts to gain union recognition had been rejected and in August 1976 Jayaben Desai led 137 workers out on strike. They were soon all sacked. None of the workers had ever taken strike action before. They approached the local Citizens Advice Bureau and APEX – their trades union which gave the strike official recognition.
Solidarity action spread throughout the trades union movement as the strike ran and ran and Grunwick became a household name. Chemists were picketed and asked not to send photos for processing at Grunwicks. George Ward tried to get this picketing outlawed but was unsuccessful. Local postal workers, members of the UPW refused to cross picket lines and deliver post. Calls however to cut off all supplies of water and electricity to the plant were not supported by the leaders of APEX or the TUC. The postal workers also had to abandon their secondary action at the instruction of their union. However Len Murray, general secretary of the TUC attended a packed meeting in Brent.
Mass picketing began in  June 1977. There were 3,000 pickets. The police and Special Patrol Group also turned up in force and there were 84 arrests. Scenes to become familiar in the Miners strike 1984/85 began to be seen on the streets of North London in what was almost a civil war atmosphere. On the 11th July 12,000 blockaded the factory for six hours including branches of the NUM from Kent and Yorkshire. All this can be seen vividly on the DVD. In a controversial move the pickets were called off at midday and marched around the town centre in Brent allowing the strike breakers buses to go in. The author of the pamphlet blames a compromise between the strike committee and the leadership of APEX for this strategy.
ACAS recommended union recognition following a ballot in March 1977 and the TUC favoured a Court of Inquiry. The catch was – who was to be balloted – the strikers or the whole workforce. George Ward refused to allow those inside the factory to be balloted – they benefited from the industrial action by receiving pay rises which would not otherwise be forthcoming. This catch allowed the law lords to over rule the ACAS recommendation that the union should be recognised. By the end of 1977 the strikers were getting desperate. The TUC had backed off a call for essential services to the factory to be blocked and APEX wanted an end to mass picketing. This had become more bitter. On one day 8,000 pickets gathered outside the factory and in the battles that took place over 243 were injured. The Tory press turned against the strikers.
The strike carried on into 1978 and was eventually lost. But as the author of the pamphlet says it was not due to lack of solidarity or determination on behalf of the strikers. He blames the right wingers in the leadership of the trades union movement.
This pamphlet and DVD should be seen particularly by those who did not live through the 1970s. It would be an eye-opener. For those of us who did it brought back memories –both good and bad. The strike also gives a different twist to the current debate about multiculturalism – there was no doubt in those days that the strikers at Grunwick belonged in the trades union movement, regardless of their ethnic background or culture.

A new book is due to be published this September –

“Grunwick – the workers’ story” by Jack Dromey and Graham Taylor (Jack Dromey was secretary of the Brent Trades Council at the time of the strike).
Published by Central Books

Reviewed by Barbara Humphries

A worm’s eye view of the general strike 1926

On the first day of the general strike I started work as a junior clerk on the Great Western Railway at the age of 17 at 60 pounds a year. I had got the job because my father was butler to Sir Ernest Palmer, deputy chairman of GWR. It was in the Accidents and New Works Department of the Office of the Superintendent of the Line at Paddington.
There were no trade union members in the whole of that head office and having just left school I knew nothing about the strike. Having got to the office that morning I found that the clerks were expected to help the Company. A middle aged clerk and I were told to help with the shunting at Acton marshalling yard. A solitary engine was at work there forming a train of wagons. We were given a shunting pole and some brief instructions on how to use it. It was difficult to handle and as I learned later, the most dangerous job on the railway. You had to put the link on one wagon to the hook of another as the wagons were pushed together. The long heavy shunting pole with a hook on the end was used to do this. It was not easy but there was not much to do and after an hour or two we returned to the office.
We had done our required bit for the Company. Later I received a letter of thanks from the General Manager, Sir Felix Pole for my loyalty. Much later I realised that I was an unwitting scab. Fourteen years later I was chairman of the Paddington branch of the Railway Clerks Association.

Dr Peter Kingsford

Striving in the desert: Labour in Worthing

Local elections in Worthing (West Sussex) were generally non-political until 1945. However Labour candidates did stand as such at several of the inter-war local elections. In 1919 reflecting the widespread Labour activity nationally, the Party contested all seven wards in the elections to Worthing Borough Council for that year. None of the candidates were elected but in Broadwater Ward the margin of defeat was only 92 votes. Labour activity in Worthing diminished after that and in 1920 only four wards were contested, all unsuccessfully and in 1921 only one, again without success.
In 1922 Labour contested only two wards but succeeded in electing its first councillor in Worthing. Charles Barber won Broadwater Ward at his third attempt with a majority of 47. For nearly 30 years he was one of Labour’s leading figures in the town. He was re-elected in his ward in 1925 and was elected for Offington Ward in 1928 and again in 1931 (unopposed).In 1933 he was made an Alderman and became mayor of the borough in 1936/7. Charles Barber resigned from the council in November 1937 because of developments in the way that the council was being run by a caucus of the Ratepayers League. He retired from the Post Office after 46 years service in 1944 and the following year was re-elected to the Council. He filled an Aldemanic vacancy in 1948, but was voted off the Aldemanic bench the following year. He was appointed chairman of Worthing magistrates in 1954 and became a Freeman of the Borough in 1959.
During the period between 1922 and 1945 Labour had two representatives, between 1925 and 1929 and between 1933 and 1935 when in addition to Charles Barber, Thomas Cramp was elected for Victoria Ward in 1925 and for Clifton Ward in 1933.
Although some party members stood as Labour candidates in the council elections others stood as independents and were elected as such. For example, another leading Labour personality, Joseph Mason, was elected to the council for Clifton Ward from 1930 to 1945. He always stood as an independent, although he was a member of the Labour Party. He was Mayor in 1940/41, was an Alderman from 1945 to 1964 and was made a Freeman of the Borough in 1956.
In 1937 Councillor Mason made the final payment to clear the party’s mortgage on the Labour Hall in Lyndhurst Road. At the social to celebrate the clearing of the mortgage he was quoted by the local press as saying the only repayment he wanted was the return of a Labour member for Worthing and Horsham. It has never happened!
Labour reached its high water mark in Worthing in 1945 when, out of a Council of 40 members it elected three councillors in the elections of November of that year. F.G.Freeman and M.W.Gordon in Broadwater Ward and Charles Barber in Park Ward. A month later a fourth Labour councillor (Mrs Beatrice Jones) was elected in a by-election for Durrington Ward.
However, by 1950 there were no Labour councillors on Worthing Council. Since then Labour representation has been limited to short periods- between 1956 and 1958 James Dearnley represented Central Ward and between 1972 and 1976 Kathleen Goulding sat for Broadwater Ward. Subsequently Labour has come close to winning seats but not in recent years.

Terence Chapman

letters

Dear Labour Heritage
Elizabeth Dudley has provided me with your address and suggested that you may be able to assist me with enquiries into Caroline Martyn (1867 – 1895).
After her death, Caroline was described by Keir Hardie as one of the greatest women socialists of her day.
Her life was recorded in “Life and Letters of Caroline Martyn” written by her cousin, Leena Wallis and which was published by Labour Leading Publishing Department in 1898. 
My interest is in obtaining copies of any published works produced by Caroline; she was a regular contributor to contemporary labour and socialist publications.  Her politics can perhaps best be described as Christian Socialist. 
My interest stems from ownership of the property in which Caroline Martyn was born and also of the school where she was educated.  I hope to publish an anthology of biographical material for the interest/information of people connected with these buildings and who otherwise may have an interest in the history of Lincoln and women’s influence in late 19th century politics.
I look forward to hearing if you can assist or otherwise point me in the right direction.
Yours sincerely
Christopher j Hodgson
Dear Labour Heritage
As a member of the Labour Party Members in Northern Ireland Group, I am researching the 1907 Labour Party Conference which was held in Belfast in January 1907.
We believe that that was the first Annual Conference of the Labour Party and hence this year will the 100th Anniversary of this important event. We intend holding an Anniversary Dinner and later to publish a revised pamphlet about the 1907 Conference and perhaps something for the September 2007 Conference in September. The Campaign for Labour Representation in Northern Ireland produced a pamphlet in 1982 on the 75th Anniversary of the 1907 Conference which is quite interesting - we have transcribed a copy if you are interested.

Any help in the production of this 100th Anniversary pamphlet, either of relevant photographs or material, would be very much appreciated.

Thanking you

Paul F Haslam