Spring 2008

The Witham Labour League of Youth 1948-1956

On the face of it, Witham, a small rural town in mid-Essex was, in  the late 1940s, a most unlikely location in which one would expect to find a lively branch of the Labour League of Youth: but as illustrated in the photos in the Winter 2007 edition of the Labour Heritage bulletin,  most certainly, it was.
Perhaps, though, it may not have been as unexpected when seen in the context of the town’s labour history and certain features of the community which are worthy of note.
First of all there was a labour history there going back to the early 1900s. Secondly, the Crittall Metal Window Manufacturing Company had been established, in the early 1920s, in various parts of the Maldon parliamentary constituency and one of the four factories was situated in Witham in the geographical  centre of that division. ( In the 1923 General Election, Val Crittall – later Lord Braintree- had won the seat for Labour). There were also two other factors which contributed to a Labour presence in the town. One was the busy railway junction and a strong  union membership of the National Union of Railwaymen, and significantly, the Co-Op was “big in the town”. So, all of that, together with the presence of an active local Labour Party branch, sets down the background to the emergence of a youth section.
It is also relevant to point out that the political climate, at that time, was at a almost polemic stage. A Labour Government was in power, the MP for the division was Tom Driberg, and unlike the contemporary political scene, there was no ambiguity : both sides of the political fence knew exactly what their opponents stood for.
How did the Labour League of Youth branch come into being? Here I simply must introduce a personal note, not to claim undue credit, but simply because it is a fact that the idea of the need for a youth section in Witham did originate with me and it came about as follows. I had been born and bred in Witham and had cut my teeth on radicalism within my family. It was not surprising therefore that , after being demobbed from the RAF in 1946 – six years of service which reinforced my socialist outlook – one of the first things I did, together with my wife Ethel, was to join the Labour Party. There were two observations that prompted the seeds of thought that led to the proposition to involve young people – and I have to admit that at that time I had not become aware of the existence of the Labour League of Youth. These were that there were a significant number of Party members,  who whilst not yet old, were at an age where they would not be able to go on forever. Secondly the social activities of the local Young Conservatives and the Young Farmers – one and the same thing actually – were being publicised in the local press and we  needed to counter that.
It began by meeting with a few friends to discuss the possibility of forming a youth section and to pool opinions on the form it should take and the ways in which it should function. (Obviously, had we known about the existence of the Labour League of Youth, we would have had a pattern to follow; although, as it turned out, I think that by starting as we did, and developing our activities as we did, we later enjoyed elements of activity which generated a greater and more varied programme.)

“Not just another youth club”

We all agreed that, whilst it could not be just another youth club – and that by its nature there  would have to be a political and “serious” side to it, there must be a sufficient input of “fun and games” especially for those at the younger section of the age range. We also agreed that the more serious elements should be educational and cultural rather than doctrinal.
This could be epitomised by inducing the essentials of democracy by having a policy of electing all officers and through a policy of discussion and voting on all activity proposals unless special powers were granted by the members to the Executive Ccommittee to act on the members’ behalf. And so a great deal of thought went into those exploratory gatherings, together with ideas to put forward for future activities: the blessing of the local party and the Constituency Labour Party were sought and given and the inaugural meeting was held on February 12th 1948 – co-inciding with the year of the introduction of Labour’s greatest ever achievement, the National Health Service.
The venue for the meeting was provided by the landlord of the White Horse pub, Mr Don Stonehold, a leftwing socialist, by renting at a nominal fee, the out-house club room in the pub yard and Don provided a “special service” of provision for crisps and soft drinks for all the time the youth section was in existence. He was a great supporter of our mission.
The inaugural meeting did not get us off to a promising start as there were eight of us only in attendance and that included my wife and I. The others present were Fred Poulter, Ann Stearns, Arthur Burke, Pat Pounds, Mary Bull and June Willsher.
If I remember correctly we decided to defer the election of officers in the hope that the next meeting would be more adequately attended. It was doubled in fact and so we had to take off!
The election of officers went ahead and resulted as follows –

Chairman – Fred Poulter 25 (amiable and a very strong trades unionist)
Vice-chairman- Arthur Burke, 17 (much respected by his peers)
Treasurer- Ann Stearns, 20 ( competent and dedicated)
Secretary- Ted Mawdesley, 27

We held those posts for the next four years and consequently, the young members appreciated the lead which we were able to give because of our shared enthusiasm.
An Executive Committee of six was elected all of whom, with the exception of my wife, Ethel were young teenagers. And they also continued in office for several years.
Looking back now, over nearly sixty years, I can only marvel at what was accomplished at the range and diversity of the activities promoted. A lady now in her seventies, Margaret Bonsor – nee Sims- who was a teenager member, said to me recently, “It was great. I recall the fun we had and all of it made for ourselves. We did not expect anyone else to lay it on for us.”
Yes indeed, fun and laughter was very much a part of what we did – and why not? - but it was more than that because in various ways the enjoyment was interlaced with, and through, the more serious aspects of our programme – a growing awareness of political issues. Most of the youngsters were the sons and daughters of Labour supporting parents; but the political family background needed to be further defined, and for most or the members I think we did achieve that particular aim.
In 1999, I arranged a reunion of the Witham Labour League of Youth and over twenty ex-members turned up for it. It was a wonderful day of nostalgia and for reminiscences, but what was really pleasing was to learn that, with one exception only, support for Labour, at least then, had continued into adulthood. It was good to know also that some of those young folk had gone on to active membership of the Party in various ways and the trades union movement.
Appreciating, as I do, the limited space available in the Labour Heritage Bulletin, I cannot write on every detail of the “Club” as the young members insisted on calling the Witham Labour League of Youth, but I feel it is pertinent to at least present it in outline.


The membership age ranged from 16 to 30, the latter to accommodate the “old uns” such as myself. Membership cards were obligatory and LLY badges optional. There was a joining fee of one shilling in old currency and then tuppence a week when attending the weekly meetings. A raffle was held every week, prizes donated in turn by the members. In addition members could pay into a fund for coach outings. The credit balance was always modest, but sufficient to cover possible losses on coach outings, social events costs and to make small donations to cancer research.
The members were divided into two teams – “Attlee” and “Morrison” and they competed not only at games and sport, but also debating prowess – public speaking skills and the like. Points were accumulated over twelve months and cups were donated by well-wishers and awarded to the winning team and to all individuals. This idea of competing for points worked wonderfully as it encouraged participation.
As for the programme of events, there is only room to list examples from the catalogue of so any items of activity. At the “Club” darts, table tennis, “balloon tennis”, beetle drives, board games including chess, quizzes, discussions, music evenings, visiting speakers, mock parliaments, mock trials and versions of BBC radio games were held.
Beyond the “Club Room”  there was energetic participation in local and national elections, cycling , rambling, coach outings to seaside resorts and to London, including of course to the Houses of Parliament and to shows. Also, there were socials and dances at the Public and Co-op Hall and  joint events with other LLY branches in metropolitan Essex. Delegates were sent to the LLY Essex Federation and to the National Conference at Filey. Contact was also made with the LLY branch at Bargoed in South Wales.
We held our own summer sports day, our “Olympics” and participated fully in the town’s Annual Youth Week.
We helped in the formation of other branches of the LLY in the Maldon constituency and at the same time our own membership had grown to sixty plus. Maximum publicity was sought for everything we did and we achieved generous local press coverage.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the “Club” did impact on the local political scene and we did receive many complimentary messages. Tom Driberg became our honorary  president and was very supportive.
From all that I think that something rather special emerges in the history of the Labour League of Youth. There were so many young people who contributed so much to that success and I wish only that I could name them all, but I salute them all  and treasure the memories.
One final recollection which will stay with me always and that is from Tom Driberg’s victories at the General Elections of 1950 and 1951 when our members had the honour of pulling Tom’s top car into Witham to be greeted by cheering crowds. Those were indeed the days!

By Ted Mawdsley

Ted Mawdsley was a councillor on Witham Urban District Council  and Labour agent for the Maldon CLP for eight years.

With the Railway Clerks’ Association during World War II
On the outbreak of war in 1939, I was transferred at the age of thirty from the General Manager’s Office of the Great Western Railway, that had been evacuated to Beenham Grange in Berkshire, to the Office of the Superintendent of the Line.  This was because my membership of the Communist Party had become known.
The Beenham Grange unit was responsible for monitoring any bomb damage on the line, twenty four hours a day. At this early stage of the war the Communist Party opposed the war on the grounds that it was an imperialist one. When I went out to support one of its rallies, I was seen by a clerk who reported me to the Superintendent. I was ordered to leave the unit and go to one of the offices evacuated to Aldermaston in Berkshire. This office was the Publicity Department where I had worked years earlier, but now had no work in wartime. So I sat with three other clerks with nothing to do, at a trestle table in one of the Aldermaston sheds.
At this point I joined the Railway Clerks Association (RCA) to protect my situation and also because it was the party line.  I was the first RCA member in all the offices I had been in. When the chief clerk asked me if I was a member, I asked him if there was any objection and he had to say no.  I was put in touch with two other party members in the RCA.  Fred Tonge was in the Chief Accountant’s office in the shed next to mine, Ben Wellman was in the Chief Goods Manager’s office evacuated to a manor house near Newbury. 
In 1941 when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the party line changed to one of helping the war effort. We contested the election of officers of the RCA Paddington branch, which had a thousand members.  The branch had been very quiet for years, with the same officers keeping it so.  In the event, we swept the board, Fred as secretary, Ben as treasurer, and me as chairman.
The branch had shown it wanted a change. What kind of change, in step with the party line, should we offer? The first thing to do was to issue a monthly Branch Newsletter.  This was unprecedented, but anything was possible in wartime and it was generally welcomed.  I wrote a column signed Antaeus, the giant who retained his strength while he kept his feet on the ground.  But the main purpose was to push the party line in general and give news of what other trade unions were doing to support the war effort, notably the National Union of Railwaymen and the Amalgamated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, where there were many party members.

Discontent at Aldermaston

We knew that there was a good deal of discontent amongst the hundreds of clerks  in the Aldermaston sheds, uprooted from pleasant offices and their comfortable routines of suburbia to be brought from Paddington by early morning trains to sit at trestle tables in bare sheds at Aldermaston.  There were two main issues in the air.  After the good hot meals in the Paddington Dining Club, there was the canteen with its inferior grub, and there were the unduly early trains.  We decided to present these as deterrents to morale and the war effort, and we called a general meeting in one of the sheds.
It was after dinner and the shed was full; news of this had got through to the General Manger’s office in Beenham Grange nearby and so my old chief, Head of the Staff Department there, a strange man feared and disliked by all, one Mr Bygraves, turned up at the meetin and sat at a place reserved for him. 
As I spoke, making the case, he made notes and then replied briefly, promising that the issues would be looked into.  He left without acknowledging me, although I had once worked in his office - but now we were in opposite camps.  Before long, the train times were altered and the canteen did improve.  This unprecedented event caused some dismay at RCA Head Office.  Militancy at Paddington was one thing, while unwelcome, but would it be followed elsewhere?  We established, for the first time, links with other Labour bodies and I became a delegate to the Reading Trades Council and to the powerful left wing London Trades Council. 
When, in the following year, Ben Wellman and I attended the Annual Conference of the Union at Blackpool, we found that we had made some impact on Head Office.  During his speech, the chairman made a sarcastic reference to the rising tide from Paddington. When my turn came, I could not resist saying that the chairman should be aware of the sad experience of King Canute with the sea waves.  Soon after, Ben and I were called up into the forces and Fred Tonge was left alone to carry the red flag at Aldermaston till the end of the war.

Peter Kingsford.
January 1st 2008

 Peter Kingsford, a long standing member of Labour Heritage, was born in November 1908 in Battersea and attended an elementary school before gaining an LCC scholarship to Christs Hospital in Horsham.  On leaving school he took a job as a clerk with the Great Western Railway through his father who was a butler to the GWR’s deputy chairman.  While working for the railway he joined the Communist Party and he studied in the evenings at the LSE to obtain a B.Sc (Com).  During the war he served in India and Malaya in the Education Corps attaining the rank of major.   After the war he taught history at South West Essex Technical College, and he joined the Labour Party and became chairman of the Epping Labour Party in 1948.  Later he moved to Hatfield when he was appointed Registrar and Head of Social Studies at Hatfield College and he was a councillor on the Hatfield Rural District Council for a short while.  He was also an active member of CND.  He retired in 1973.
He has written six books, one based on PHD research into railwaymen in the 19th century entitled ‘Victorian Railwaymen’.   Another book is on the hunger marches in Britain and his last book ‘Without a Shot in Anger’, an account of his experiences in India and Malaya in the Education Corps, was published in 2002.   Peter Kingsford is a Quaker and lives in Hertfordshire.     

Ruth Frow

Ruth Frow, who died aged 86 on 11th January, 2008, was the co-founder with her late husband, Eddie (Edmund) Frow, of the magnificent Working Class Movement Library in Manchester.  Born Ruth Engel in 1922, the daughter of a Jewish concert pianist and a Catholic mother, who converted to Judaism, she grew up in St. John’s Wood and, later, Mill Hill in comfortable middle class conditions.  She attended Downhurst private school in Hendon and only came into close contact with left-wing ideas as a nurse and subsequently a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force, during the Second World War.  Her brother, who perhaps more accurately reflected their background, eventually became a Conservative councillor in Bishop’s Stortford.
Ruth met her first husband, Denis Haines, in the RAF and they both participated in a successful campaign to elect a Labour MP for Dover in the 1945 General Election.  Shortly afterwards, however, she and her husband decided to join the Communist Party of Great Britain.
After training as a teacher, she taught in London and Manchester and became active in the National Union of Teachers and the peace movement.  In 1953, when her marriage had broken down, she met Eddie Frow at a Communist Party Summer School.  He was a leading Manchester trade unionist, based in the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who had been active in the Communist Party since 1924 and had served five months in prison for his part in an unemployed workers’ demonstration in 1931.

Origins of the Working Class Movement Library

Ruth and Eddie soon discovered that they were not only political co-thinkers.  They shared a fervent interest in the history of the working class movement and the collection of relevant books.  After seeing Ruth’s library, Eddie declared that their books were complementary and they began a joint collection.  Eddie’s first marriage had also broken down, and they eventually married in 1960.
Well before this, however, they began touring Britain together in quest of bookshops and books.  At first, they travelled in a Ford van and camped in a tent, but later they graduated to a caravan.  Ten volumes of State Trials at 5 shillings a volume, the Speeches of John Wilkes 1777, the History of the Private and Political Life of Henry Hunt Esquire by Robert Huish are examples of the gems they bought.  Eddie, who would climb a ladder to inspect the loftier shelves in bookshops, nearly fell off in his excitement when, after a long search, he discovered Gammage’s History of the Chartist Movement (1889) in Newcastle on one of their trips.
The Frows were not, however, content to be mere collectors.  In addition to spending their leisure – and, in Eddie’s case, as an AEU official, his working time – on political and trade union activity, they opened up their home to students and others wishing to consult their books.  They also went into publishing and produced dozens of books and pamphlets on working class history – many of which they wrote themselves, on the basis of their own research.
Chartism in Salford, The International Working Men’s Association and the Movement in Manchester, William Morris in Manchester and Salford, The General Strike in Salford in 1911, Class Conflict and Collaboration at Metro-Vicks, The Communist Party in Manchester and Salford in 1920-1926, are among the works they produced on their home district.  Many of their publications, however, covered struggles further afield.
In addition, they participated in the work of the Eccles & District Local History Society and the Lancashire Federation of Local History Societies.  They were also deeply interested in literature and produced an anthology of excerpts ranging over many centuries: Radical and Red Poets and Poetry.
After Eddie retired, at the age of 65, on a state pension (being three months off the ten years qualifying period for an AEU full-time official’s pension), Ruth continued working as a teacher, which added to their income.  She had become the Deputy Head of a comprehensive school.
Recognising that their home at 111 King’s Road, Old Trafford, was inadequate to house 10,000 books, plus posters, leaflets and mementoes of working class struggles, they co-operated with friends to establish a Trust to take over and manage the collection.  This led to the creation of the Manchester Working Class Movement Library in 1969 in a building under municipal control.  Funds were raised to develop this and Ruth Frow, like Eddie, who had died in 1997, spent her later years working for the Trust.  She attended her last meeting on 9th January, 2008, before driving herself home.  She suffered a stroke and died two days later.
The Library is a fitting memorial to a totally dedicated couple who devoted their lives to the socialist movement and the preservation of it history.  The death of Ruth Frow is a great loss but her name, along with that of her husband Eddie, will be long remembered for what they achieved.

Stan Newens

Labour Heritage AGM

The Annual General Meeting of Labour Heritage was held on Saturday 15th March at the Friends’ Meeting House in the Euston Road. It was attended by over 50 people.
The meeting heard four speakers on two different subjects – Robert Owen and the founding of the National Health Service, both of which have anniversaries this year.

Robert Owen

This year is the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Owen, who died in 1858. Stephen Yeo and Stan Newens spoke about different aspects of his life and legacy.
Stephen Yeo is a history professor and currently chairs the Co-operative College Archives Committee. He described how Robert Owen left home at the age of ten and by nineteen had set himself up as a cotton manufacturer in Manchester. He acquired his wealth through marriage and later founded the New Lanark community as a model of how a mill and town should be run. (this is well worth a visit).
He travelled to Indiana where he joined New Harmony, another model community. On his return to England in 1829 he became known as the founding father of socialism. Socialism was seen in those days as the opposite not of capitalism but of individualism which was the current thinking of the time. His philosophy made him reject units like the state and above all the family which he saw as the source of selfishness.
Owen inspired activists with his ideals and the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, with over one million members, was influenced by his idea of community and belonging to one big union. One of the early labour exchanges which it supported to cut out the middle man was opened in the Grays Inn Road. Many of the Rochdale pioneers who founded the Co-operative Movement in 1844 were inspired by the ideas of Robert Owen. His movement was often written off as a failure but that was not true. Defeated by superior forces maybe, but the ideals would live on. Owen regarded himself as ahead of his time.
Owen was also associated with the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. This 19th century organisation, the first to use the term “social science” with the emphasis on social, saw itself in opposition to the “dismal science” – that of political economy!
The legacy of the ideas of Robert Owen have lived on in the Co-operative Movement, the anti-poverty movement (Owen was the first to see that poverty could be abolished), the mutual societies like building societies - before they converted to being banks and then into trouble like the Northern Rock, and also the friendly societies which ran many hospitals before the founding of the NHS.

Influence of Owen

Stan Newens also talked about the early life of Robert Owen and how he had been influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. After he founded New Lanark which employed 500 workers he had tried to convert the establishment to his new view of society. This included the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and the Czar of Russia and other European monarchs who were invited to New Larnark. He tried to persuade them to found model villages like New Lanark. The ruling echelons however did not take to his ideas but they were taken up by radicals and trades unionists at the time. William Lovett, founder of the Moral Force wing of Chartism was an Owenite. Even before the Rochdale Pioneers, co-operative societies were set up. Owen saw co-operative societies as the means to working class empowerment rather than political reform of the state. The vote he thought, was a waste of time and the fact that the 1832 Reform Act left the working class disenfranchised, enforced this view.
Robert Owen died at the age of 87. His ideas live on in the co-operative movement and the movement for workers control. He pioneered not only utopian socialism but also secularism and internationalism. His books and pamphlets have been translated into many different languages, including Japanese and have been read all over the world.

Foundation of the National Health Service

This year will be the 60th anniversary of the NHS – founded in 1948 by the Minister for Health in the 1945 Labour Government, Aneurin Bevan.
The first speaker on this topic was John McNichol, a visiting professor in the Social Policy Department at the LSE. John gave a picture of what the health service was like before 1945. Only people in work were covered by national health insurance and this excluded most women and children as in the 1930s only one in ten women was in paid employment. After the NHS was set up there was a surge in medical treatment for women, children and geriatric medicine. The provision of healthcare was patchy. There were the top teaching hospitals, which attracted specialist doctors. Local hospitals were funded by friendly associations. The Poor Laws still provided health care for the very poor. Doctors received fees, which could be up to £300 a day. This was in an age where the average wage was £3 per week.
Between 1946-1948 Bevan faced opposition from the medical profession on the issue of private medicine. Could it have been made illegal? Well, it has been in Canada! Would it wither away? In 1948 out of a population of 46 million, only 120,000 were covered by private insurance. The private health providers merged into one organisation – BUPA. Private hospitals remained but were seen to be inefficient – with 50% occupancy compared to 83% in an NHS hospital. That was the outcome of allowing patient choice.
In the 1960s and 1970s organisations like the Institute for Economic Affairs campaigned for choice in healthcare, but it became known that private hospitals could only cope with minor procedures. The 1970s saw the phasing out of pay-beds in NHS hospitals under a Labour Government but this policy was reversed when the Tories were elected in 1979. Due to the popularity of the NHS even rabid  privatiser – Margaret Thatcher – was heard to have said “The NHS is safe in our hands”. Privatisation however went ahead within the service of cleaning and catering for example. 1990s saw the start of the “health service reforms” and the internal market giving NHS hospitals the tight to opt out and become foundation hospitals. This process was being reversed when Labour got elected in 1997, when Frank Dobson was Minister for Health but after his departure this ceased to be the case. By this time 12% of the population had private health insurance. This figure however came to a halt after 1997.
In 2002 money was poured into the NHS by the Labour Government but with little guarantee of productivity. Under the cloak of “choice”, private companies, including those from the US began to get their hands on sections of the health service. More recent reforms such as the proposal to set up polyclinics would make sections of the NHS ripe for the acquisition by private health care providers some of whom are companies associated with the US occupation of Iraq such as Halliburton.

Nye Bevan and the British Medical Association

The second speaker, John Grigg of Labour Heritage, spoke about the battle between Nye Bevan and the British Medical Association. It was reported that the BMA were meeting when the 1945 election results were being declared and they all cheered when William Beveridge, the Liberal MP who had written a plan for the welfare state including state health provision, as part of the plan for the post-war reconstruction of Britain, lost his seat. Not all the doctors were hostile though. Dr Summerskill was elected as a Labour MP for Fulham. Her experience of treating the poor had made her a socialist!
Why did the BMA oppose Bevan’s plan for an NHS? They feared the loss of clinical freedom and they did not want to become civil servants. The profession had an elite structure with Harley Street at its pinnacle and they believed that this had a trickle down effect. Their status pre-1945 was that of self-employed small businesses. A newly qualified doctor had to buy a practice. Nevertheless it was the case that after the 1913 National Health Insurance act introduced by Lloyd George, (which the BMA also opposed), two-thirds of their salaries came from the government. Those who were not covered by insurance had to pay a (means-tested) rate. Some doctors were prepared to give free treatment to those who could not afford it – the practice of leaving your gloves and having to return to collect them, but really for checking up on a patient who could not afford a follow up visit, was a known practice.
The plan for an NHS after 1944 attracted much support but the BMA continued its resistance up to its establishment  in July 1948. Bevan stood his ground and refused to negotiate. By May 1948 30% of GPs had signed up to the NHS and by July this had risen to 90%.

Labour Heritage held a short AGM at which the secretary gave a report of the year’s events. Three committee meetings had been held over the year attended by most of its members. There had been two events – one the Essex and one in Chiswick, West London. Two issues of the bulletin had been produced and the membership had risen to 140. Members of the Committee are trying to get a plaque of commemoration for the house in Covent Garden, where the First International held its inaugural meeting.
The following officers were elected –
Chair –Stan Newens, Secretary- Maureen Colledge, Treasurer – John Grigg, Bulletin editor-Barbara Humphries. Additionally Alan Spence,  Bill Bolland, Kit Snape, Stephen Bird, Jason Williams and Irene Wagner were elected to the committee

Paternalism in the thought of Robert Owen
The central pillar of Robert Owen’s thought was that character, usually meaning that of the community, was formed by the environment.  From this he concluded that it was the poor environment in which working people lived which led to poor character traits.  Owen argued that if one could improve the conditions in which people lived, and very importantly provide people with education, then character could be improved.  In his own words:
'Any character, from the best to the worst, from the most ignorant to the most enlightened, may be given to any community, even to the world at large, by applying certain means; which are to a great extent at the command and under the control, or easily made so, of those who possess the government of nations.'

New Lanark
His first attempt to apply these 'certain means' could not really be described as socialist, but it was certainly paternalistic.  As the manager of the New Lanark mills, Owen sought to improve the environment in which his workforce and their families lived and worked, and thereby improve their character.  During his time as manager, Owen abandoned the practice of employing children under the age of ten, and provided free full-time education for them;  existing buildings and streets were improved and new ones built;  sanitation was improved; and shops were set up in order to sell goods to the workers at cost price.
New Lanark prospered and became known as a model community.  Men of power, manufacturers and rulers visited.  As long as Owen did not explicitly challenge existing power relations, he was treated with a good deal of respect by those in power.  In the words of Ralph Miliband:
'The reforms... that he had introduced at New Lanark had given him a wide reputation as an enlightened and practical philanthropist.  For the next few years he enjoyed the friendship and approbation of princes, prelates and ministers.' 
This all encouraged him in his belief that the existing powers could be won over to his schemes through patient and rational persuasion.  He looked to government and the industrialist class to show paternal feeling and rationality and to introduce measures improving the environment of the poor and working class.
Owen's experiment at New Lanark was not socialist in the sense of challenging the capitalist system.  It was a very successful capitalist venture, and Owen had proved that capitalists could run successful profit-making ventures based upon the provision of good conditions for their workers.  As Keith Taylor points out, Owen saw himself as responsible for the government of New Lanark.  In Owen's own words:
'I say "government," - for my intention was not to be a mere manager...; - but to introduce principles in the conduct of the people...;  and to change the conditions of the people, who, I saw were surrounded by circumstances having an injurious influence upon the character of the entire population...' 
This attitude was later criticised by the Marxist historian, A.L.  Morton, on the grounds that Owen's view of social change was that it must come from above:
'His true weakness... was his inability to see that the new environment must be created by the efforts and struggles of the working people themselves.  He, Owen, had changed the environment...:  he, Owen, could instruct his fellow employers and managers, and under his instruction they... could change the environment of the whole working population...'

In 1812 Owen published A Statement Regarding the New Lanark Establishment.  This pamphlet set out the principles upon which his reforms had been based.  He then expounded them in more detail in Essays on the Formation of Character, and these were finally published in the form of a book entitled A New View of Society in 1813.  These publications aroused the interest of politicians and clerics.  Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, granted Owen an audience.  Political thinkers and economists such as '...Thomas Malthus, James Mill, David Ricardo, and Francis Place' addressed themselves to Owen's theories.

Socialism and co-operation

In the period following the Napoleonic wars, Britain experienced considerable economic distress and a problem of unemployment.  In 1816 Owen was asked to sit on a committee made up of statesmen, economists, and businessmen, whose brief it was to make proposals for the relief of the distress.  Owen was asked by the committee to produce a report.  The Report to the Committee of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing Poor was published a year later.  He proposed the setting up of a network of villages, which he called 'villages of unity and mutual co-operation', as a solution to the unemployment problem.  In these villages the unemployed and poor could live and support themselves through work which was mainly to be on the land.  Each village was to consist of between 500 and 1,500 people.  They were to be self-sufficient in terms of food production.  According to G.D.H.  Cole this report
'marks the turning point in Owen's career and contains the first expression of his wider positive proposals, marking the transition from Owen the factory reformer and educational pioneer to Owen the ancestor of Socialism and Co-operation.' 
The report was not taken up by the government or by Parliament.  In 1819, a committee set up by the government did recommend the setting up of an experimental village but the funds, which were to be raised by public subscription, were not forthcoming.
The magistrates of the County of Lanark asked Owen to write a report advising them on how to deal with the problem of unemployment and distress.  This Report to the County of Lanark was published in 1821.  Keith Taylor remarks that the report was 'much more radical in tone than any of Owen's previous publications...'  He now saw the 'villages of unity and mutual co-operation' not merely as instruments to deal with the immediate problem of unemployment, but as the basis of a new society based upon co-operation instead of competition.  Taylor argues that:
'Owen was emerging as an uncompromising critic of private property, the capitalist wage-system, and its associated division of labour...'
Despite this radicalism, Owen still saw these villages, on the whole, as being established and run on paternal lines.  They were mainly to be founded upon government, parish, and county initiative or by philanthropists.  In addition, he also envisaged the founding of such communities by workers and members of the middle class.  He did seem to suggest that those communities formed by working class together with middle class people might be able to enjoy some form of self-government and democratic control.  He was, however, insistent that in the case of communities founded in other ways, administration would be conducted in a paternal manner.  In his own words:

'The peculiar mode of governing these establishments will depend on those parties who form them.
Those founded by landowners and capitalists, public companies, parishes, or counties, will be under the direction of the individuals whom these powers may appoint to superintend them, and will of course be subject to the rules and regulations laid down by their founders.
Those formed by the middle and working classes, upon a complete reciprocity of interests, should be governed by themselves, upon principles that will prevent  divisions, opposition of interests, jealousies, or any of the common and vulgar passions which a contention for power is certain to generate.'
Ultimately Owen saw a network of co-operative villages across Britain, and indeed world wide.  Ultimately these villages would be self-governing and democratic.  But, in Owen's view, human beings, particularly the poor and working class, were not yet in a position to take responsibility.  This view was connected with his view of character formation.  The workers and poor had had their character deformed by the deprivations of the capitalist system, and would have to be re-educated before they could act responsibly.  In Owen's words:
'It is as necessary that individuals should be trained for a Community,  as it is necessary they should be trained for any trade;  and this can only be done by proper arrangements for the purpose.' 
Thus there was a need for a paternal authority to oversee this process.  In the words of Ralph Miliband:
'Owen... inherited the belief of eighteenth-century thought in the benevolent despot as the agent of social change.'
Even when he suggested a form of democracy that might be practical in the future, it was a form of direct democracy that had paternal aspects.  In the Report to the County of Lanark, Owen stated of the communities formed by a union of working-class and middle-class members that,
'their affairs should be conducted by a committee, composed of all members of the association between certain ages - for instance, of those between thirty-five and forty-five, or between forty and fifty.' 
Of such a system Owen stated,
'it has the democratic perfection of numbers, and the parental perfection of unity and decision of action.'
Under this future system all men would have their chance to rule, even if rule was by elders.  Owen viewed such a system as being superior to ‘representative’ democracy.  In the words of Taylor:
‘…He disliked certain features of the traditional liberal view of representative government.  In particular, he hated the divisive role of political parties and elections, and saw no virtue in the idea of representation of large numbers of people by a much smaller group in government and parliament, given that it was almost impossible to determine how representative these institutions were at any particular point in time.’      
Direct democracy, however, was for the future and Owen's view that democracy should not be instituted until the character of the communities had sufficient time to develop must have been reinforced by the experience of the failure of several attempts to run model communities.  This must have been especially so in the case of the community he tried to set up in Indiana, the community known as New Harmony.  According to G.D.H. Cole, 'there was... the big question as to whether New Harmony was to be conducted as a self-governing democracy, or under Owen's patriarchal tutelage.  Owen first insisted on a period of authoritative government under his control, and then handed over to the settlers the regulation of their own collective affairs.'  There were disputes and New Harmony fragmented. 
In 1841 Owen suggested that power should be placed in the hands of a single elected leader, whose task it would be to oversee the transition.  In his words,
'The Elective Paternal System is alone calculated to carry out any new and complicated system successfully in the transition-state.'  
In 1839, he had even seemed to suggest that the environmental conditioning of the middle-class had uniquely equipped them to direct affairs and so for the immediate future should do just that.  He also seemed to suggest a continued class system based upon 'directors' and 'operators', even in the future.  In his own words:
'Now, the middle class is the ONLY efficient DIRECTING class in Society, and will, of necessity, remain so, until our system shall create a NEW class of very superior DIRECTORS as well as OPERATORS...  The working class never did DIRECT any permanent successful operations.'
Owen shared the fear of many people of his time of the destructive power of the mob.  In the words of Miliband:
‘The Gordon riots exercised the imagination of Englishmen long after their occurrence, while the central event of  Owen’s life, the French Revolution, seemed an awful warning of the dangers inherent in the release of the populace.’
Even when, after his return from the U.S.A., Owen had assumed the leadership of the trade union and co-operative movements, his attitude was paternal and dictatorial.  He saw his responsibility as being to guide the workers onto the correct path of peaceful and co-operative change.  He saw the workers as having had their characters deformed by the evil environment of capitalism, and so they were inclined to be consumed with deluded notions of the way forward being through class-struggle and violence.  Also they were inclined to make political demands such as the extension of the franchise, and they were just not ready to have a say in government.  In Miliband's words:
'Owen did not cease to feel that the poor must be carefully shepherded into the good life...  All his addresses to the working class are couched in language suggesting that he is speaking to untutored and mischievous children, who must be constantly guarded against their ignorance, prejudice and passion.’
From all of this we can see that a constant aspect of Owen’s thought was his paternalism.  This was connected to his ideas on the formation of good character.  He viewed paternalist rule as necessary until such time as the community had acquired the good character required in order to take charge of itself.
Christopher Snape
Editor’s notes. The footnotes which were supplied with this article have been omitted.

West London labour history conference

Labour Heritage organised a labour history conference in Chiswick, West London last December. Held in the Brentford and Isleworth Labour Party rooms it was attended by over 40 people from the neighbouring constituencies.

The early years of the Labour Party in Ealing

The first speaker was Councillor Phil Portwood who gave a talk on the early years of the Labour Party in Ealing and Acton.  Most of his research has been done by using the local newspaper in the Ealing local history library. A local Labour Representation Committee was in existence in Acton in 1904 and there was a branch of the Independent Labour Party in Ealing. Its chairman, a teacher called  Mr  Norris regularly wrote to the local paper. Its secretary, Mr Piggott lived in Studley Grange Road in Hanwell.  In 1906 the ILP was contesting local elections. Candidates stood in the Manor Ward in South Ealing and a leaflet entitled “A Labour call to arms” was distributed. There was also a branch of the Social Democratic Federation in the borough.
The first Labour councillors in the borough were elected in 1907. By 1918 when the Labour Party was re-organised at a national level the Party was winning significant numbers of seats in Acton. Many of the members of the Party worked on the railways – for the Great Western Railway. There were also significant numbers of women involved – some of whom stood for the Council. Some were school teachers and one of them worked full time for the Railway Women’s Guild.
Apart from meetings there were other activities for the members – a socialist choir, two Acton Labour Party football clubs, a Labour cycling club and regular dances. The first Labour MP for Acton won the seat in 1929. Housing was a key issue for Acton councillors in the 1920s.

John Wilkes

The second speaker, John Grigg of Acton and Shepherds Bush CLP spoke on John Wilkes. John Wilkes had local connections with Brentford, where he was elected for the Middlesex Division as a radical MP in 1768. A street in Brentford has now been named after him. In his early days as a radical  he campaigned against the corruption which dominated British politics at the time, for an extension of the franchise and freedom of the press.  He published  the “North Briton.” In issue number 45 of this, he had attacked the King which led to his arrest. He successfully challenged the warrant for his arrest as illegal which led to a lot of support amongst London tradesmen. They proclaimed “Wilkes and Liberty” on their banners. Elected as an MP for Aylesbury in 1757 he attended the Hell Fire Club in High Wycombe. He was expelled from Parliament for sedition and spent time abroad but returned and was subsequently imprisoned for libel. He was elected as MP for the Middlesex Division whilst in prison. In his later years he campaigned for religious toleration and completely opposed the Anti-Catholic Gordon riots in which 200 people were killed. He also took a stand in favour of American Independence.
(a full article on John Wilkes will appear in the next Labour Heritage bulletin)

Dingle Foot in Ipswich

The third speaker was Mike Cartwright, a Hammersmith councillor now, but he spoke on life as a councillor in Ipswich in the 1960s and 1970s. He began with the campaign to get Dingle Foot elected as MP in 1967. Dingle Foot had started life as a Liberal before joining the Labour Party. Episodes from the 1967 campaign included the use of an ice cream van for electioneering. This played the tune of “Robin Hood “ – the words of which were changed for the Dingle Foot campaign. This did not prevent all the local children from coming out with their money to buy ice creams! Campaigning on a local housing estate known as the “Poets’ estate”., Dingle treated the residents to poems from Byron  or Keats according to which road he was in.  He was elected in 1967 but lost the seat by 17 votes in 1970 when the Heath Government was elected.
Mike also spoke about campaigning for the council and how there was a local agreement between the parties not to contest every seat. Apparently this was quite common in rural areas but it was challenged by the youth in the Labour Party. So in 1971 Labour contested all 14 seats and won them all!
One of the issues that the Labour Council in Ipswich had to deal with was the employment of women on the buses. This was initially opposed by the Transport and General Workers Union but eventually accepted when there was a labour shortage. A campaign for free fares was not successful but bus fares were reduced to one penny for a journey. The town centre was pedestrianised.
The final speaker was Stan Newens, former MP and MEP, current chair of Labour Heritage, who gave a speech on the 90th anniversary of the Co-operative Movement. This speech, originally given at the Labour Conference in Essex in October 2007 , had not been heard before by most of those attending in Chiswick, some of whom have current connections with the  Co-Op movement.

Book reviews by Barbara Humphries

“Chartism – a new history” by Malcolm Chase,
 published by Manchester University Press

Could there be anything new published about Chartism? Well apparently yes! This excellent book gives a vivid illustration of the Chartist Movement shown from a local perspective and through the lives of a number of Chartist activists whose lives are traced. It is another contribution to the story of the labour movement “from below” and this alone would make it worth a read.
The first petition is described as being “3 miles long” and “was rolled into a cylinder the size of a cartwheel. When it was taken into the House of Commons by Attwood and Fielden, two not very sympathetic MPs, it was greeted with laughter! There were fears however on the part of the ruling class about the extent to which Chartists up and down the country were getting armed, in line with the rallying cry “Peacefully if we may, forcibly if we must.” In fact the Clerk to the Privy Council wrote that “there is no military force in the country at all adequate to meet these menacing demonstrations.”
In this review however I would like to dwell on some of the less well known themes that are revealed in the book. I would like to start with one of the more contentious aspects of the Chartist movement – that of women’s involvement. It is often said that the six points of the Charter did not include votes for women – only universal male suffrage. Why was this? Perhaps the prejudices of those in the London Working Men’s Association such as Lovett who drew up the Charter. Nevertheless Chartism attracted large numbers of female supporters who organised themselves into Female Political Unions. By 1838 there were 100 such groups nationwide, some as in Birmingham with as many as 3,000 members. Many of these women had been involved in the Anti-Poor Law Campaign against the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act which had made entry to the workforce compulsory for those receiving poor relief. Some had also been involved in the Anti-Slavery campaign. Women were particularly involved in “exclusive dealing” – one of the tactics by which the Charter was to be won. Traders hostile to Chartism were boycotted. In some cases Chartists set up their own companies and schools. 20% of the signatures on the petition for the Charter were from women.
The extent of the Chartist press is also covered – the Northern Star had a circulation of over 17,000 in 1839. But there were also many local Chartist papers – Sheffield Cryer, Northern Liberator, London Democrat and the True Scotsman. The content of these newspapers included verbatim speeches which had taken place at Chartist rallies. They were intended to be read out aloud,  as were many 19th century pamphlets.

Chartist lives

The author describes a number of  “Chartist lives” which give further insight into the movement.
One of the “Chartist lives” was Thomas Powell, a co-operator and follower of Robert Owen. He was on the Committee of the British Association for the Promotion of Co-operative Knowledge and owned an ironmonger’s shop. He was arrested and spent a years in prison, charged with sedition, for his alleged role in a riot in Wales. In 1840s hundreds of Chartists were in prison.  On his release he came up to London to work in a publishing business. What is of interest is his other activities which he pursued alongside Chartism. These included – the London Atheistical Society, but also the Tropical Emigration Society. This was an off-shoot of the back to the land ethos which some saw as a salvation for the working class, as in the Chartist Co-operative Land Society. This Society however looked to the Caribbean. It had 1600 members and in 1844 193 of them took off for Trinidad and hence to Venezuela where sadly the majority died of tropical diseases.
One of the lesser known tactics of Chartism was teetotalism. This was not just to prevent drunken misery amongst the working class but to avoid paying the taxes which were levied on alcohol. The practice became known as “dietary radicalism.” Alcohol and sugar were heavily taxed so avoid buying them. Some Chartist associations such as the East London Chartist Total Abstinence and Mutual Instruction Society were completely committed. A Mr and Mrs Neesom, stalwarts of the National Charter Association in the City of London adopted full scale vegetarianism, becoming members of the Vegetarian Society.  They distributed leaflets “Do you eat flesh?” and “Nature’s bill of fare”. They argued that the carnivorous passions of men could be subdued by the mild and peaceful principles of vegetarianism.
Local studies show that Chartists were involved in the trades union movement and in the 1840s attempts were made to revive the Owenite Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. The National Association of United  Trades for the Protection of Labour was set up with 50,000 members.
1848 was a turning point for Chartism. News of the Revolution in France crossed the Channel and the audience at Sadlers Wells theatre stood up and sang the Marseillaise. The day in April when the third petition was due to be presented to Parliament, the authorities panicked. The Royal Family were sent to the Isle of Wight. Troops in the capital were given ten days’ emergency rations and many citizens including 250 staff from the British Museum and William Gladstone were sworn in as special constables. However their services were not needed. The rest is history.

Sons and daughters of labour: a history and recollection of the Labour Party within the historic boundaries of the West Riding of Yorkshire edited by Brendon Evans, Keith Laybourne, John Lancaster and Brian Haigh.
Published by the University of Huddersfield Press

This collection of essays was published by the University of Huddersfield to commemorate Labour’s centenary in 2006. It is focused on the West Riding of Yorkshire and is written by historians and activists.
Bradford was the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party and the first essay “Shaping a radical community” illustrates this. But there were other important organisations in the history of labour in Bradford – Socialist Sunday Schools for instance. There was a Yorkshire Union of Socialist Sunday Schools. In circulation was a “Socialist Sunday School hymnbook”, and “socialist ten commandments.” In Halifax a “socialist café” was set up The other active organisations were the Clarion Cycling Clubs.
The textile district of the West Riding of Yorkshire was a “Labour heartland” in the 1920s and 1930s. It was an area which produced Labour activists such as Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle, Betty Boothroyd and Roy Hattersley. However by the 1960s this heartland was challenged by the other two main political parties.
Another essay explores the links between the Labour Party and the miners. The Yorkshire Miners’ Association was founded in 1881. This was to become the Yorkshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers, one of the most militant sections of the union. Statistics show the proportion of the working population in the mining industry  in this area, which has now virtually disappeared due to de-industrialisation on  a large scale.

Labour League of Youth

There is an interesting chapter on the Labour League of Youth. This was set up in 1924 to foster the ideals of anti-militarism and love of the outdoor life among young people aged between 14-21. It was not envisaged that it would be a separate organisation to the Labour Party but would prepare young people for a life of activity within the Party. It held its first conference in 1929. To encourage enjoyment of the countryside it forged links with the Youth Hostels Association. In the West Riding of Yorkshire there was a federation of the LLY, some branches having over 200 members. Betty Boothroyd began her political life in the LLY. It had an active social life which included rambling, drama – the performance of political plays, speaking contests and so on. However it became subject to political controversy as its members sought links with more radical organisations on the Left such as the ILP Guild of Youth, and in the 1930s the Young Communist League with whom it campaigned for a “united front”. In 1927 the age limit had been raised by request of the youth to 25. However by 1936 the Labour Party viewed it with suspicion and closed it down. It was resurrected again in the 1940s.
Another chapter deals with Labour and ethnicity in West Yorkshire with interviews with two activists from ethnic minority backgrounds – one of them a retired bus driver from Huddersfield. He had been a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers Union and a member of the Huddersfield Action Committee against Racialism.
The collection spans a wide time from the 19th century up to the controversies within the Labour Party in the 1980s. It has a very good collection of photographs which often say
more than the text itself.

Herbert Gladstone and the Lib-Lab pact of 1903

Larry Iles, member of Labour Heritage wrote an article on Herbert Gladstone for  the Journal of Liberal History, Summer 2006. In it he deals with the Lib-Lab pact of 1903. Gladstone saw the Liberal Party as the main vehicle for change and which should be supported by  the working class,but had become infuriated with some of Liberal candidates, who were employers and hostile to Labour. But he also wanted to contain what he saw as “extreme socialism”. The secret pact with the Labour Representation Committee in 1903 was concluded between Ramsay MacDonald and Gladstone’s secretary, Jesse Herbert, who was also a relative of MacDonald’s. This deal was largely beneficial to the Liberals who laid claim to expenses of over £1,000 which had been made available to the LRC by the trades unions. Labour candidates in the resulting two-cornered fights were given constituencies in Lancashire with a tradition of working class Toryism linked to the Roman Catholic Church. MacDonald agreed to put pressure on local LRCs who wanted to contest key Liberal seats with Labour candidates. Larry believes that this pact strongly assisted the Liberal revival after 1900.
The Lib-Lab pact was publicly denied and was known as an agreement. It meant that radical Labour candidates, for instance those who supported land nationalisation would not get a straight fight with the Tories.” Will Crooks was the first ever pact LRC candidate, as early as a by-election in 1904 because most ILP and Radical Liberals like Masterman and G.K.Chesterton as well as Herbert Gladstone not only endorsed him but raised certain crucial monies and personally campaigned for Woolwich’s new MP”. In Yorkshire there was traditional hostility towards Liberal candidates.
Some Liberals were keen to enter local pacts against socialist candidates.

Patricia Seers

Members of Labour Heritage in West London may remember Pat Seers who attended some of our day schools which were held in Ruskin Hall, Acton.
Sadly she died, following a fall, on Tuesday 25th March.
Born to a mother who was a suffragette and father who was a trades unionist, Pat had been a life-long activist in the labour movement. She was a councillor in Ealing for over 20 years, right up to the time when she was over 80.
She also had been on the Community Health Council for many years.
Married to Dudley Seers, former head of the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, she visited Cuba with him in the 1960s.