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.

The 4th October marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a momentous event in which the working people of London united to deliver a decisive blow against the menace British fascism. In this article we commemorate the brave stand of those workers who fought the fascists while seeking to expose the real nature of fascism and drawing lessons for today's struggles against the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP).

Eighty years ago in 1931, Labour right-wingers joined with the Tories to form a National Government. This act had but one purpose. Like the Coalition government of today, its aim was to carry through ruthless cuts to save the profits of capitalism. Rob Sewell looks back at the great betrayal.

The Walton by-election, in Liverpool, took place in July 1991, twenty years ago. It arose after the sudden death of Eric Heffer, the left-wing Labour MP for Walton. At the time it created quite a political stir. It was also a key factor in the demise of the Militant, which had boasted it could win the seat, but failed miserably. The whole episode played into the hands of Labour’s right wing that used it to expel Militant from the Labour Party. To understand what happened we need to take a brief look at the background.

More than a century after the formation of the Labour Party, the party still remains rooted in the organised working class. Despite everything, the results of the recent general election confirm the ingrained support for Labour throughout the working class areas of Britain.

The news is full of the plans of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to hammer the public sector in the interests of the ruling class. But “the best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew,” as Robbie Burns wrote. This is precisely what happened to Ted Heath's government.

Yesterday was Bill Landles’ 85th birthday. He is an active supporter of the Socialist Appeal in Britain and the IMT. His activity goes right back to the days of the RCP during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. He is a living link to those early pioneering days of our movement.

1922 was a watershed in the struggle for a mass Marxist Party in Britain. Under the direction of the Leninist Comintern, the young militants of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) grappled with the task of transforming an essentially propagandist group into the foundations of a genuine mass Bolshevik organisation.

Today, almost 25 years since the miners’ strike began, the industry has been decimated, with only a few thousand jobs left. The proud traditions remain and many miners have taken their fighting traditions into the wider labour movement but many of the pit villages are crumbling. The main lesson of the Ridley Plan for the labour movement and the politically active layers of the youth is that a Tory government would be forced to move against the working class, to deal with the crisis that the capitalist system clearly faces.

Winston Churchill is one of the most famous figures in British history and the official approach is that it would be unpatriotic not to admire him. The purpose of this article is to draw aside the veils of myth and legend which establishment historians and fawning admirers have spun around him and look at the real Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. The facts reveal a different man altogether.

Back in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain was preparing to sack 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce. The Shop Stewards approached their members for technically viable means of using the existing equipment and human expertise to make socially useful products instead of weapons. The result was a 6-volume document which revealed that workers have the know-how to run industry. What was lacking was the capital. For that you need to expropriate the capitalists.

The British National Health Service was set up sixty years ago, officially on July 5th 1948. It was the result of years of struggle on the part of the working class for a free universal health service. At its height it was as close as you could get to a communist principle under capitalism. Over the years the capitalists have been working hard to drag us back to the dark days when the poor could not afford decent healthcare.

At the University of East Anglia recently Rob Sewell of the Socialist Appeal gave a talk on the Miners strike in Britain 1984-5. The strike was a culmination of the inevitable build up of tension between the ruling and working class. In the post-war period the decline of British imperialism had occured. The Tories of the 1980s were a rabid reaction to that phenomenon, determined to destroy the organised labour movement by taking on its most militant section, the National Union of Miners.

It is 100 years since the Labour Party first emerged as a force in parliament, and 100 since the Trades Dispute Acts granted British workers some basic rights against prosecution by employers in case of strike action. Today workers have fewer rights than they did then. Since 1906 the British ruling class have attempted to break the link between Labour and the unions, but have systematically failed.