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.

In the middle of the war the ILP was floundering. Not having a fully worked out Marxist programme, it combined opportunism and sectarianism at the same time. They could not understand the method as outlined by Ted Grant at the time, which was not to issue mere denunciations of the Labour Party leaders. It could “only be done by demonstrating to the masses, by their own experience, that their leaders are incapable of representing their interests.”

In 1942 a slanderous campaign against the Socialist Appeal waged by the Communist Party leaders was backed up by the Sunday Dispatch, infamous for its early enthusiastic support of Hitler, Mosley and the Blackshirts. They shamelessly joined forces to accuse the Trotskyists of being Hitler's agents! Here is Ted Grant's reply to these slanders.

In 1942, Mr. Hall, President of the Yorkshire Miners' Association viciously attacked the Socialist Appeal. In his attack, Mr. Hall claimed that "subversive influences outside the miners' association" were responsible for the unrest in the mines, and that these forces were "pro-Nazi". Ted Grant responded to these slanders point by point, explaining the real reasons for unrest on the coalfields.

In 1942 the Socialist Appeal, organ of the Workers' International League, came under a sever attack launched by the mouthpiece of the coal-owners, The Daily Telegraph, and echoed by the entire national and provincial press, the Tories, the Communist Party, the Liberals and the Yorkshire miners’ TU leaders. The aim was to get the Socialist Appeal suppressed. Why? Because the SA was giving a voice to the anger of the Yorkshire miners as they came into conflict with both the bosses and their own strike-breaking trade union leaders.

In 1942, a censure motion by the extreme right wing of the Tory Party was proposed in order to replace Churchill with a military general. The ruling class was playing with the idea of using the Royal Family as a cover for introducing some form of Bonapartist rule.

The text of the thesis adopted at the National Pre-Conference of Workers' International League, August 22 and 23, 1942. Edited for publication in The Unbroken Thread, full version available on the Ted Grant archive.

After Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, the Stalinist CPGB leaders followed the U-turn decided in Moscow and became the most loyal supporters of Her Majesty’s war effort. In order to cover their left side, they launched a vicious attack on the Socialist Appeal and the ILP. We publish here the Workers’ International League’s reply where Ted Grant challenges the Stalinists to a public debate, and an exchange of letters with ILP leader Fenner Brockway.

As part of a general attempt to slander revolutionary ideas as pro-Nazi, the Labour Party's newspaper, Daily Herald, ‘accidentally' included the report on the trial of the Minneapolis General Drivers' Union, also leaders of the Socialist Workers' Party (Fourth International), into a report of the trial of 33 German spies. Here is the vibrant protest of the Workers' International League, by Ted Grant.

After the first few months of war in March 1940, preparations for an even worse scenario of slaughter were being undertaken by all imperialist powers by mobilizing the masses of each country against the "enemy". The labour and Stalinist leaders' bankrupt policies left the workers unarmed. Here Ted Grant makes a balance-sheet of the first months of War.

With preparations for war in full swing the small Workers' International League gathered around Ralph Lee and Ted Grant was the only voice that stood out defending a real internationalist position. Here we provide our readers with the lead article of the August 1939 edition of Youth For Socialism, signed by Ted Grant.

As armaments were piled up in preparation for the Second World War Ted Grant explained that, “This war machine is for the defence of the trading interests and the colonial loot of British imperialism, for what is making for war is the intensified and sharpened struggle for markets between the different countries of the world.”

"Britain today stands, at a point of crisis – perhaps more so than any other capitalist country. But Britain’s crisis is to a large extent also a crisis for four of the world’s continents, and at least the beginning of a shift for the fifth – and today the most powerful – America. At the same time the political development of Britain exhibits great peculiarities, flowing from the whole of her past, and in large measure blocking the path before her." (Leon Trotsky in 1925)

The Condition of the Working Class in England is a study of the industrial working class in Victorian England. Engels' first book, it was originally written in German as Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England; an English translation was published in 1885. It was written during Engels' 1842–44 stay in Manchester, the city at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and compiled from Engels' own observations and detailed contemporary reports. After their first meeting in 1844, Karl Marx read and was profoundly impressed by the book.