British Labour Movement

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The British organised Labour movement is the oldest in the world. Its pioneers created illegal revolutionary trade unions, before establishing the first workers’ party in history: the Chartist Association, which fought for the enfranchisement of working people. They later participated in the founding of the First International.

In the nineteenth century, the British labour movement built trade unions of the downtrodden, unskilled workers – those with “blistered hands and the unshorn chins,” as the Chartist Feargus O’Connor called them. Finally, Keir Hardie established a mass parliamentary party based on the trade unions in 1900: the Labour Party. After the Russian Revolution, the labour movement engaged in ferocious class battles, culminating in the General Strike of 1926.

The post-war upswing strengthened the working class. By the early 1970s, they had driven a Tory government from power, and in the 1980s unions miners waged a semi-insurrectionary (though tragically unsuccessful) struggle against the reactionary Thatcher government. The defeat of the miners, and later the dockers and print workers in the late 1980s, struck a serious blow against the trade unions, but the latest period of capitalist crisis since 2008 has seen a reinvigoration of the British Labour movement.

The election of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 was a political earthquake that transformed Britain into a field of ferocious field of class struggle. The “oldest parliamentary democracy in the world” is now an open battlefield between workers and youth on one side, and an increasingly desperate and degenerate capitalist class on the other. The history of the British labour movement holds important lessons for carrying the world socialist revolution to victory.

All the reactionaries are crowing. Donald Trump expressed particular delight at the result. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN!” the US President wrote on Twitter. “Johnson secures crushing UK election victory,” exuded the Financial Times, as the pound rose on foreign exchange markets.

With Marxist Labour councillors in the leadership, a mass movement involving the entire labour movement and working class communities was built up in Liverpool in the 80s, in order to oppose cuts and fight for socialist policies.

50 years ago, women at the Dagenham Ford Factory began a strike that became a turning point in the fight for equality. It was not the first such strike, and it would certainly not be the last. However, by standing up against bosses, union officials, and even other workers, they would send a message that has stood the test of time and inspires still.

Workers in Britain have been under attack from the bosses and the Tory government for years. And yet many trade union leaders do not seem capable of fighting back. This is one of the reasons that unions last year experienced the biggest single drop in their membership since records began. Total union membership is now just 6.2 million workers, compared to 13.2 million in 1979.

With Jeremy Corbyn on course to win another landslide victory in the contest for the Labour leadership, the Party Establishment are preparing the ground for a split. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, looks back at the Labour split of 1931 to analyse the important lessons of Labour's history for today's tumultuous events.

Ted Grant was a well-known figure in the international Marxist movement. He had a significant impact on British politics. When he died all the most important newspapers carried extensive obituaries that recognised this fact. This is a remarkable work that comprehensively covers the development of Ted's life and ideas, starting from his early family background in Johannesburg right up to his death in London in 2006 at the age of 93.

Beginning at one minute to midnight on the 3rd May, the 1926 General Strike shook the ruling class of Britain to its foundations. Lasting for nine days, the strike showed the enormous power and solidarity of the working class. 4 million trade unionists - out of a total of 5.5 million - responded to the TUC’s call to halt work. Despite no real preparation by the TUC leadership, workers organised - through their own initiative - strike committees up and down the country. Nothing moved without the workers’ permission.

The first few weeks of March 2014 will be a time of deep reflection for hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who will recall what they were doing when the 1984/85 coal miners’ strike began.

The following article is written by comrade Bill Landles, a longstanding defender of the ideas of Marxism, whose activity goes right back to the days of the Revolutionary Communist Party during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. We are publishing  a transcript of a speech by Bill on the apprentices' strikes of 1944.

In July 1888, 1,400 female workers walked out on strike at the Bryant and May factory in East London. 125 years later, that struggle still holds a place of honour in the history of the labour movement.

Saturday 31 March, 1990, one day before the introduction of the poll tax in England and Wales, and one year after its introduction in Scotland, 250,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate in London and Glasgow organised by the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation (in which the Militant Tendency was playing a leading role).This was just the culminating act of a mass campaign organising millions of people's non-payment and active resistance against the implementation of the tax. This massive movement of civil disobedience eventually succeeded in bringing down the hated Thatcher government, despite being lamentably opposed by the TUC and Labour Party leaders. We reproduce here the

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Ken Capstick, former Vice-President, Yorkshire National Union of Miners and Rob Sewell, author of 'In the Cause of Labour' and editor of Socialist Appeal talk about the struggles that lead up to 1972 and up to the miners strike of 1984/5. The speeches were given at the ULU Marxist Summer School which was recently organized in in London.

Forty years ago, in 1972, Britain faced a sharp and qualative change and teetered on the verge of a general strike for the first time in nearly 50 years. A wave of factory occupations and sit-ins had swept the country.  More than 23 million days were lost in strike action, excluding 4 million lost through political strikes. Only once, in the revolutionary year of 1919, was the number of days lost greater. The Tories, in a pamphlet misnamed In Defence of Peace, were already digesting the writings of Brigadier Kitson, who urged the army to be prepared for civil unrest. The spectre of revolution was once again beginning to haunt Britain.

The Great Unrest is the term used by historians to describe the period  a 100 years ago when Britain saw many industrial conflicts such as the Cambrian Combine Strike, the Tonypandy Riots and many other struggles.  In Wales there was also a major dispute in the Cynon Valley and riots in Llanelli during the Railwaymen's strike. Strikes occurred in Clydeside, London, Liverpool, Hull and many other towns and cities throughout the land.   Important ideas were developed and discussed during this period which had a profound affect on the Labour and trade union movement. Darrall Cozens, a member of the UCU and Coventry NW Labour Party, considers what we need to learn from

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