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The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 online

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neutral accountants and the joint application of
principles by the salaried officers of the em-
ployers and of the workmen respectively —
for Collective Bargaining, the settlement of
standard piecework lists, scales of wages, and
other general minima of the conditions of em-
ployment to be observed throughout the trade;
for the application of these formal agreements
to the varying circumstances of particular dis-
tricts, particular establishments, particular
branches of work, and even particular jobs;
and also for the revision of these general agree-
ments, and the settlement by arbitration of the
disputes that from time to time inevitably arise.
This elaborate machinery for determining, ir-
respective of the will or caprice of individual
employers or individual operatives, the minimum
conditions on which the whole trade shall work*
is most highly organized in the cotton manu-
facturing, coal mining and shipbuilding indus-
tries, together with some smaller trades, such
as the brassworkers, lacemakers, and com-
positors.

The Trade Unions have, however, further
organizations of their own. The local branches
in each town are united for mutual support in
Trade Councils, of which there are now over
200. These organizations are of little financial
strength, and chiefly of moral support. More
substantial are the great federations, of which



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GREAT BRITAIN — THE LABOfe MOVEMENT IN POLITICS



the principal one, the General Federation of
Trade Unions, now includes over 90 large
Trade Unions, with 400,000 members, and an
accumulated fund of £100,000. This has for its
object the mutual support of its constituent
unions in industrial disputes. Another federal
body, the Federation of Engineering and Ship-
building Trades, with 350,000 members (includ-
ing most of those in the General Federation),
has for its principal object, the prevention and
settlement of the disastrous disputes that oc-
casionally break out between one set of work-
men and another as to the 'encroachments* by
one trade on another, and the proper "de-
marcation* of their several pieces of work. A
third body, the Miners' Federation, is composed
of practically all the coal mining Trade Unions,
and has, beyond mutual support, principally for
its object the obtaining of additional Mines
Regulation Acts, especially the enactment of
an eight hour law.

The relative proportion which Trade Union-
ship members in the United Kingdom bears to
the wage earners as a whole, is often much mis-
understood. The two millions of Trade Union-
ists amount to only one in seven of the whole.
What is, however, obscured by the statement is
that the vast mass of the wage earners belong
to occupations in which Trade Unionism does
not exist, or exists only in rudimentary form
— such, for instance, as the agricultural la-
borers, the unskilled laborers in urban dis-
tricts and the domestic servants, or the large
numbers who work in one or other form as
independent producers, such as the jobbing
craftsmen, the tin and copper mines, the
home working Seamstresses, etc Women
workers, generally, including all the factory
population, count only 125,000 Trade Unionists
out of some four millions of women industrially
employed. A more correct way to estimate the
strength of Trade Unionism is to take the
proportion of Trade Union membership to the
adult males employed at wages in particular in-
dustries. In many cases, such as the boiler-
makers; the cotton spinners, the lacemakers,
and the coal miners, it would be found that
over whole districts of England every operative
actually employed was a Trade Unionist. In
such industries, indeed, Trade Unionism is as
universally compulsory as citizenship, and is en-
forced by as little conscious pressure. It is
taken for granted by every workman, as it is
by every employer. The whole industrial or-
ganization is adjusted to it, with the result that
it becomes as imperceptible as the weight of the
atmosphere. On the other hand, there are great
industries, such as the building and engineering
trades, in which, while strong Trade Unions
exist, are whole districts in which a majority
of the workmen remain outside the unions, not
caring to pay the weekly dues; and usually in
every town some establishments which employ
indifferently both Unionists and non-Unionists.
To the economist it is significant that it is pre-
cisely in those industries in which Trade Union-
ism is virtually universal and compulsory*—
among them being particularly cotton spinning
and shipbuilding — that both technical proc-
esses and the use of machinery have been most
advanced, and both industrial efficiency and
financial success have been most conspicuous.



In contrast stand the *sweated tt industries, low
grade in quality in their nature, and curiously
unstable in their position in the world-market.
In these industries neither Trade Unionism nor
effective Factory Legislation exists.

Bibliography*— The principal authorities are
the < Annual Reports > of the Board of Trade
(Labor Department) on Trade Union Statistics,
and on Strikes and Lockouts. For the history,
consult <The History of Trade Unionism,' by
S. and B. Webb (1902 edition), and (as to
origins) also industrial Organization in the
16th and 17th Centuries, * by George Unrvin
(1904). For an elaborate economic analysis of
every form of Trade Union activity, consult
industrial Democracy* by S. and B, Webb
(edition of 1002) ; also c Methods of Industrial
Remuneration, > bv D. L. Schloss; < Industrial
Peace, > by U L. F. R. Price; <The Case for the
Factory Acts,* edited by Mrs, Sidney Webb,
with preface by Mrs. Humphrey Ward. For
the case against Trade Unionism, from the
standpoint of the individualist employer, consult
* Trade Unions and Industry, > by E. A. Pratt

Sidney and Beatrice Webb,
Joint authors of { The History of Trade Union-
ism* ; ^Industrial Democracy*; ( Problems
t of Modern Industry.*

97. Great Britain— The Labor Movement
in Politics* The greatest politician of the
last century, W. E. Gladstone (q.v.), writing:
in 1892, expressed the opinion that *The labor
question may be said to have come into public
view simultaneously with the repeal of the
Combination Laws,» — that is about 1825.

Accepting this authority, we may divide the
86 years that have since elapsed into three
periods, dominated not as might be expected
by three but by two ideas. Froiji 1825 to
about 1850, labor, when it fought at all, fought
under its own flag, and disdained alliance with
any other party. From 1890 to 1000, partly
owing to the dominating personality of Mr.
Gladstone, political labor for the most part
joined hands with Liberalism. In 1900 the
banner of independence was raised once more,
and has already attracted the greater part of
the political forces of the proletariat.

The First Period of Revolt.— Up to 1832
the Government of England was an irregular
oligarchy rather than a democracy. The
House of Commons which then as now exer-
cised supreme control, was elected in a hap-
hazard fashion. A few members represented
large democratic constituencies; many were
elected by some scores or hundreds of voters;
many others were practically nominees of indi-
vidual landowners or of the Crown. Labor
scarcely aspired to political rights; all it asked
was relief from coercive legislation and ex-
cessive taxation. The populace, of course, sup-
ported the reformers of 1820-32, and it was
fear of revolution which forced the House of
Lords to consent to the passage of the Reform
Bill.

Nearly the first work of the reformed
Parliament of 1832 was the amendment of the
old Poor Law, which had reduced the agri-
cultural laborers of southern England almost to
the condition of serfs, owned not by individuals,
but by their parishes. The abolition in 1834



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GREAT BRITAIN —THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN POLITICS



of the system of indiscriminate outrelief was
intensely unpopular, and this, combined with
the memories of the recent reform agitation,
and with the teachings of Robert Owen (q.v.),
who had promulgated many of the doctrines
of modern Socialism, led to the Chartist move-
ment, the first distinctively working class polit-
ical agitation in modern England. (Sec
Chartism.)

a The People's Charter,* drafted by Francis
Place, the radical tailor, was issued in 1838.
Its six points were universal (•'. e. manhood),
suffrage, election by ballot, payment of mem-
bers, annual parliaments, equal electoral dis-
tricts, and the abolition of property qualification
for members. This purely political programme
gathered to itself the whole of the working
class discontent which hitherto had taken other
forms. In 1839 the north of England was saved
from a revolutionary rising by the ability of
Sir Charles Napier; and Chartism was crushed
by the imprisonment of its leaders. It survived
till 1848, when the continental revolutions
fanned it again into flame, but it expired after
the failure of a monster meeting at Ken-
nington, London, which was to inaugurate the
British revolution. Meanwhile the agitation
for the abolition of the Corn Laws, which
was successful in * 1846, had attracted to the
Liberal party a great measure of labor sup->
port, and with the disappearance of Chartism,
the first period of revolt terminated.

Labor in Alliance with Liberalism.-*- The
abolition of the Corn Laws was followed by a
series of years of expanding trade and growing
wealth; the narrow Whig oligarchy was grad-
ually replaced by a broader Liberalism which
conferred the suffrage on the workmen of the
towns in 1867, and on those of the rule dis-
tricts in 1884. John Bright (q.v.), the
tribune of the people, and Joseph Chamberlain
(q.v.), the idol of radical Birmingham, were
the real leaders of the working classes up
to 1886, and Gladstone generally held their
allegiance from 1868 till his retirement in 1894.
The trade unions had during this period estab-
lished themselves as national institutions, and
the standing Parliamentary committee of their
annual conference was in constant friendly
communication with Sir William Harcourt
(q.v.), Sir Henry James (now Lord James)
(q.v.), A. J. Mundella, and other leading Lib-
erals. George Odger was one of the first
working-class aspirants to Parliament, but he
died before the day of victory. In 1874, Thomas
Burt (q.v.), the Northumberland miner, was
elected for Morpeth, a position he still retains,
and his remarkable career has been honored in
his old age by the high dignity of a seat in the
Privy Council. In the same election another
Labor candidate, Alexander Macdonald, was
successful. At first the Liberals opposed these
upstarts ; but their claims were soon admitted,
while their harmless respectability and valuable
special knowledge were generally acknowl-
edged. In 1880-83 trade unionists were
elected; in 1885, 11; in 1886, 9; in 1892, 15;
in 1895, 12; while 3 more were successful
at bye-elections between this date and 190a
Meanwhile Henry Broadhurst, a stone-mason,
was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary



of State for Home Affairs in 1886, and Thomas
Burt, a miner, was Parliamentary Secretary to
the Board of Trade from 1892 to 1895.

It may be said that almost all these men
were elected as Liberals. The distinction be-
tween them and the others of their party was
that they had been manual workers, they had
entered Parliament as nominees of their fellow
workmen, and usually their election expenses
were paid and their maintenance was provided
by the funds of their trade unions. But in
fact the classification, though definite, is not
determined by any one factor. Working men
were elected during this period in considerable
numbers to town councils, school boards, county
councils, and other local governing authorities,
and many were appointed justices of the peace,
that is members of the unpaid courts of first
instance.

The New Revolt. — The origin of the re-
vival of independence in politics dates from
1884, when the modern Socialist movement
began in England. In this year the Social
Democratic Federation, founded a short time
before by H. M. Hyndman, became distinct-
ively socialist, and the adhesion to its ranks
of William Morris (q.v.), the poet and artist,
brought it into immediate prominence. Several
Socialist candidates were put in the field at
the election of 1885, but they all failed to secure
more than a few dozen votes, except John
Burns (q.v.), now President of the Local
Government Board, who polled 598 votes at
Nottingham, but, of course, was defeated.

From this time onwards the Socialist party
made slow but steady progress. The Fabian
Society, founded also in 1884, devoted itself to
adapting the principles of socialism to English
political conditions, and in 1893 J. Keir Hardie
(q.v.) (Ayrshire Miners), who had been elected
to Parliament for West Ham, near London, the
year before, founded the Independent Labor
Party, a socialist body whose object was to
promulgate a form of socialism more accept-
able to British trade unionists than the doc-
trinaire and revolutionary gospel according to
Marx, which was then expounded by the Social
Democrats.

Here we must turn aside to make one point
clear. The Independent Labor Party (com-
monly called the I. L. P.) is a small, though
influential, socialistic body, which has never
numbered more than some 15.000 members. It
must be carefully distinguished from the Labor
Party which is before all things independent, as
well as from the Labor Party in its wider sense.
This important distinction is constantly neglected
even in the best-informed London press.

During the fifteen years prior to 1899 the
Socialist societies kept up a constant agita-
tion for the direct and independent repre-
sentation of labor in Parliament, with a cer-
tain measure of success. John Burns wa*
elected in 1892 for Battersea as an inde-
pendent attached to no party. Keir Hardie,
after his election, carried his independence
even further, but lost his seat in 1895, and
was not re-elected till 1900. Meanwhile the
trade unions had been gradually permeated
with the new spirit, and in the autumn of
1899 at their Plymouth conference, a resolu-



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GBEAT BRITAIN— THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN POLITICS,



tion was carried instructing their executive to
call a conference of trade unions arid Socialist .
societies in order to form a new body for the
promotion of labor representation. This con- ,
ference met in London in February 1900, and
the Labor Representation Committee was then
founded with a membership (at the close of
the first year) of 376,000, of whom less than
53,000 were Socialists and the rest trade
unionists.

The new body (which in 1906 altered its
name to the Labor Party) consisted of a
federation of trade unions, trades councils
(that is t the local organisation of . trade
unionists in each town), and the three Social-
ist societies, of which, as previously men-
tioned, the Independent Labor Party is one.
The Social Democrats, however, withdrew a
year or two later. At the general election
of 1900, the Labor Representation Commit-
tee, as it was then called, put 15 candidates
into the field, but it was only a few months
old; the Conservative Party, asking a vote of
confidence from the country while the South
African war was in progress, won an over-
whelming victory, and the Labor Party was
not ill-pleased to score two wins, Keir
Hardie at Merthyr and Richard Bell at
Derby. During the next five years it won
three sensational bye-elections, but Mr. Bell
dropped out, and at the dissolution the new
party numbered four, Mr. Bell's defection
was due to a change in the policy of the.
body. It was first formed to create a a group» ;
it was determined that candidates supported,
by the Labor Representation Committee might
ally themselves on other questions with the
existing parties; that independence should be
limited to labor questions alone. Against this
policy a constant internal struggle went on till
the Newcastle conference of February 1003,
when the extremists won an overwhelming
victory, and thenceforward the watchword was
complete independence of all other political
parties.

There are two chief reasons for this policy.
One, of course, is distrust of the Liberal Party
which is largely middle-class, controlled by
wealth, and in league with a section of the aris-
tocracy. It is not necessary to discuss how far
this distrust is well founded, because it is un-
deniable that the Liberal Party, as at present
constituted, must consider other interests as
well as those of the workers. The other reason
is more cogent. If labor makes any political
alliance it must be with the Liberals. Once
indeed the secretary of the cotton-operatives
was a Tory candidate for Oldham, but he lost
the seat for his party, and he is the only excep-
tion to the otherwise unbroken rule that labor
alliance means alliance with Liberalism. But
very many trade unionists, especially in Lan-
cashire, are Conservative, or at any rate are
strongly anti-Liberal f and they would not be
content ^ to see their contributions to their
unions invariably used in the interests of their
political opponents. In fact it was the acces-
sion of 103,000 textile operatives that at the
Newcastle conference turned the scale de-
cisively for independence. Five years were
spent in active preparation, and the long-
expected election of 1906 found the Labor Party



ready for the fight. It put 50 candidates into .
the field, and elected 29 of them. After the
election another joined their ranks, and for the
first time in British history the workers of the
country were represented by a compact inde-
pendent party in the House of Commons. No
aspect of the election attracted more attention
at the time, and in the few months since the
new party has fully justified itself, by the
activity and political ability of its members, and
their success in moulding the policy of the
Liberal government

Political Labor in 1906. — Having traced the
history of the participation of Labor in poli-
tics, we shall conclude with a survey of its
present position, which will reveal an extraor-
dinary complexity of organization, and a con-
siderable diversity of ideas.

The most dramatic result of the Liberal
victory was the appointment of John Burns,
engineer, socialist, and trade unionist, to a
seat, in the Cabinet as President of the Local
Government Board, which carries with it mem-
bership of the Privy Council: The appoint-
ment was fully expected. John Burns was too
powerful a force to be left outside, and he can
rightly claim that he entered the Cabinet as
a direct representative of labor. He is still
a member of his trade union, and until his
salary as a minister began to run, he was
largely maintained by grants from his own
and other unions. As member of Parliament
for Battersea Mr. Burns was never distinctly
a Liberal : he stood as John Burns. His ap-
pointment was the most popular act of the
government which took office immediately be-
fore the election, and for a time John Burns
himself was the most conspicuous man in
England.

The representatives of labor in the present
parliament belong to three distinct groups : ( 1 )
The Labor Party proper, the group of 30
men who sit in opposition to the Government,
and act in complete isolation; (2) the Miners,
of whom there are 13 (besides one or two in
the Labor Party), some of whom were elected
as Liberals, some as miners simply, who in a
few cases fought and beat the official Liberal;
(3) the Liberal-Labor men who numbered II
at the election, but who have since been reduced
to 10 by the retirement of Mr. Broadhurst. The
Miners and the Liberal-Labor men form a
group within the Liberal Party, and a number
of advanced radicals usually co-operate with
them.

Outside Parliament there are three great
working class organizations: (1) The Parlia-
mentary Committee of the Trade Union Con-
gress, which is the largest and traditionally
most important of the three, though its func-
tions h,ave now been largely usurped by the
younger bodies; (2) the Federation of Trade
Unions, formed to organize a common fund
for strike purpo ses » which takes but little
part in politics; and (3) the Labor Party,
which exists for politics alone. Joint com-
mittees of these three bodies have frequently
been formed for special purposes; a joint
board now exists to promote co-operation,
and the same set of men form the executives,
sitting sometimes on one, sometimes on



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GREAT BRITAIN — THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN POLITICS



another, and sometimes even on two of the
committees.

The Labor Party consists first of the 30
members of Parliament. These men are re-
quired by the rules of their party to stand as
labor candidates only. In fact about 2$ are
members of socialist societies, chiefly the Inde-
pendent Labor Party. The Labor Party organ-
ization which finances these candidates consists
of 158 trade unions with 904,496 members, two
socialist societies with 14,730 members, and 73
trade councils whose membership owing to
overlapping cannot be counted. Except for the
Miners, who are scarcely represented, the whole
of the English trade unions may *>e said to
belong to the party. Its funds are provided
by a payment of 15/- per 1,000 members, for
working expenses, and one penny a member
(likely to be increased to 2d.) for the Parlia-
mentary Fund, out of which the 29 members
elected under its auspices are paid £200 a year,
with a small contribution toward election ex-
penses.

The body holds an annual conference which
has exclusive power to alter rules and deter-
mine policy. This conference elects the execu-
tive committee of 13, of whom nine are chosen
by the trade unions, one by the trade councils,
and three by the Socialists. It will be noted
that Socialists who only contribute one-sixtieth
of the funds and only possess the same pro-
portion of the voting power at the conference
are accorded three-thirteenths of the executive
committee, while the Secretary, J. Ramsay
Macdonald, M.P., also belongs to their party.
This arrangement, deliberately maintained at
the conference of 1905, after keen debate, is a
tribute by the trade unionists to the political
importance of Socialism. Every organization
affiliated to the Labor Party can put forward
its own candidates if it undertakes to provide
their election expenses, and, if successful, the
member is paid by the party. The 50 candi-
dates who stood in 1006 were put forward
partly by the trade unions and partly by the
Independent Labor Party; the Fabian Society
does not collectively run candidates, though
many of its members stood and seven were
elected. Of the Social Democrats only one,
who stood as a Labor candidate nominated by
the dock laborers, was elected.

The Socialist wing of the labor movement
is represented . by three national societies, the
oldest and most orthodox or doctrinaire of
which is the Social Democratic Federation. It
claims about 10,000 members, and has done
much to influence public opinion. The Inde-
pendent Labor Party claims about 14,000 mem-
bers and has about 19 members in the House of
Commons. It is very influential because it has
always striven to work in harmony with the
trade unions; its members not only fill trade
union Parliamentary seats but all other offices
as well, both in voluntary and local govern-
mental organizations. The third socialist so-
ciety is the Fabian Society, a body with under
1,000 members, mainly middle-class. It may
roughly be called an association of leaders. It
does not aim at a large membership and de-
votes itself to education, and the formulation
of socialist policy. It has eight members of
Parliament, some Liberal, some Liberal-Labor,



some Labor, and some both Labor and Inde-
pendent Labor Party.

The political aims of Tabor are very in-
definite. All are united on demanding such
reform of the law relating to trade unions as
will undo the recent legal decisions (*Taff
Vale* and others) which have destroyed the
security of their funds. As their bill will prob-
ably soon become law, an exact exposition of
their grievances is unnecessary. These hostile
legal decisions contributed largely to the suc-
cess of the movement for political independ-
ence amongst trade unionists. Otherwise, the
members of the Liberal-Labor section, includ-
ing the miners, vary in the complexion of their



Online LibraryWilfrid RichmondThe Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 → online text (page 32 of 185)