Friday, 6 June 2008

1905 - Reform and Revolution

In 1905 the workers, peasants and bourgeois revolted against Tsarism demanding a democratic assembly and land reform. Prince Michael of Russia, who the nobles were to try to place on the throne in 1917 came to stay at Keele Hall (now part of the University) just outside Newcastle under Lyme. Keele Hall was the home of the Sneyd Family, and during the early 19th century it was from here that the dragoons were sent down into Stoke to massacre local Chartists on the many occasions they were rioting, or liberating food from barges on the canal to be distributed amongst starving workers. Newcastle under Lyme itself had even earlier been an area of radicalism. One of the regicides that signed the death warrant of Charles I was Major General Thomas Harrison from Newcastle under Lyme. During the 19th century Stoke was one of the main centres of the Chartists Movement, drawing its strength from the then militant Pottery Union, as well as from the textile workers in the surrounding towns such as the silk workers in Leek. The atrocious conditions in the local industries are described by Marx in Vol I of Capital. It was fitting then that the TUC Congress of 1905 that was so important in relation to the establishment of the Labour Party was held here in Stoke.

The 38th Trades Union Congress opened at noon on Monday 4th September 1905 at the Victoria Hall, Hanley. James Sexton, President of the Congress observed that with the exception of the London Congress it was the largest ever organised. Herbert Emery, president of the North Staffordshire Trades and Labour Council said he had two motives for inviting the Congress to the area. Firstly, to show that the morality of the district was not as bad as had been portrayed, and secondly, to act as a stimulus to Trade Unionism in the area which was, “perhaps not so strong as it ought to be.” (Staffordshire Advertiser). He was right. The defeat of the Chartist Movement, which saw the deportation to Australia of many of its leaders in North Staffordshire, to Australia, also saw defeats for the local Trades Unions. The Pottery Union was involved in a very long dispute which ended in defeat. The union and its successors never recovered, to the extent that it was to never again organise any serious industry wide strike. Its resources went into other ventures such as establishing Emigration Societies, but later it was also to channel its resources into the Labour Party.

The North Staffs Trades and Labour Council was established in 1893 on the suggestion of Tom Mann. I am proud to say that for two years during the 1980’s I was its President. Soon after it was established it succeeded in obtaining the appointment of several old Trades Unionists as magistrates, and was particularly successful in promoting the representation of the working class on to local School Boards and Town Councils. By 1905, nearly all the districts unions were affiliated.
Mr. Richard Bell MP, seconding a motion thanking the Mayor and reception committee said there was a time when Trades Unions were not respectable enough to be welcomed by the Mayor, and he looked forward to the day when they would be respectable enough to be welcomed by the Lord Chancellor. The statement reflects the policy of the Trade Unions at the time of seeking respectability. It was this search for respectability which had sapped much of the strength that Trade Unions had built up in the preceding period. Moreover, along with the development of a layer of privileged workers (the labour aristocracy), the maintenance of relative prosperity, and a high degree of bourgeois democracy (after workers got the vote the extent to which bourgeois parties sought to incorporate them was Disraeli’s quite deliberate attempt to win workers votes, which created the basis of working class Tories), it led to the Trade Unions developing an upper layer – the bureaucracy – which formed into a definite social grouping balancing between the workers and the bosses.

The first day’s business finished with the delegates spending the afternoon at Trentham Hall, Park and Gardens. Trentham Gardens remained a favourite place for local workers to spend leisure time up to the present. It was the home of the Duchess of Sutherland who also gets a mention in Capital. Marx refers to the barbaric way in which she threw her clansmen of their land in Scotland in order to make way for sheep, and grouse shooting.

That evening the Independent Labour Party held a demonstration and meeting at the Temperance Hall, Hanley. The choice of the Temperance Hall was probably not accidental. One of the main influences in the development of Labourism was Methodism, and Methodism was very strong in the area. John Wesley held regular sermons up on Mow Cop the nearest thing to a mountain in North Staffordshire, and the last link of the Pennines. Mr. F. Hayward presided. On the platform were the Rev. A.F. Smith (Stoke), Mr. Bruce Glassier (Labour candidate for the Bordesley Division), Mr. John Hodge (Labour candidate for Gorton), Mr. R. Smillie (Labour candidate for Paisley), Mr. Pete Curran (Labour candidate for Jarrow), Mr. A. Sumner (Islington), and Miss Billington, organiser of the ILP.

As with all the political organisations of the working class at the time, there are few available records of the size, influence, and activities of the ILP in Stoke. At the time I was writing this history 30 years ago I contacted the ILP, SPGB (descendant of the SDF) and other organisations for any information they had but with little success. What information I have gathered is based on reports in local newspapers at the time, and archive material from Keele University library etc. If anyone has further information regarding the ILP, SDF in Stoke at this time I would be grateful.

Two miners had been elected to Parliament in 1874. The total of working class candidates elected became 3 in 1880, 11 in 1885, and 10 in 1886. But all of these sat with the Liberals and were known as Lib-Labs. In 1893 though the ILP was founded under the chairmanship of Keir Hardie. The ILP set out to build up a separate parliamentary Independent Labour Party. At the next election in 1895 the ILP had 28 candidates, but all of them including Hardie were defeated. The objective of the ILP was outlined during the meeting referred to above. The chairman of the meeting said he believed the ILP was the logical extension of Trades Unionism. The ILP believed that workers would not achieve the reforms they were seeking until they organised politically as well as industrially. The Liberals and Tories he said were simply two wings of the same party, the employing capitalist party. The capitalists interests were diametrically opposed to those of workers, he said, and they could not confer benefits on the workers without dispossessing themselves. Only the creation of socialism could end the evils which bedevilled the workers, he continued. A motion, proposed by John Hodge was carried which said,

“That the welfare of the country demands the substitution of an industrial commonwealth for the present competitive economic system, and that the reforms necessary to ensure this can best be obtained by the independent organisation and representation of the workers.”

Not a bad idea at all. Can you imagine Tony Blair or Gordon Brown voting for that.

The need for independent labour representation was a recurring theme in the meetings organised outside the Congress, and during the Congress’s own deliberations that week. This was no co-incidence. After its failure in 1895 the ILP recognised the need to gain the support of the Trade Unions. At the same time the unions reeling from the attacks being made on them by the ruling class became more aware of the need to extend the bargaining role into Parliament. The Taff vale Railway Company in South Wales had suffered loss by a strike, and in 1901 sued the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. The court decided that the union must pay large damages. The effect of the ruling was to put union funds in danger. The Tories anti union laws passed 80 years later put workers almost back to this situation, and of course Blair’s government has continued those laws.

In 1900 the Labour Representation Committee had been set up as a result of a meeting in London of the ILP, the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabians, and the Trade Unions. It acted as a loose federation seeking to promote the political organisation of the working class. After Taff Vale the process of welding this federation into an independent party of labour was speeded up. Thus unlike the European example of large social democratic parties with Marxist programmes setting up their own unions, the process was the exact opposite in Britain with a social democratic party being formed largely by the unions. Many of the Trade Union leaders, many of whom were Liberals, opposed the idea, believing they couyld obtain the reforms they required through the Liberal party. The effect of this was that unlike its European counterparts, which had Marxist programmes, the Labour Party emerged as a party whose ideas were a mixture of Liberalism and Fabianism. The only avowedly Marxist organisation which had taken part in the setting up of the LRC was the SDF, and it had split away in 1901. The Trade Union leaders insisted that no reference to socialism was to be included in the goals of the party.

Discussions with the other organisations in the LRC took up a lot of the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee’s time during the year before the 1905 Congress and its report, amounting to some 17 pages, was discussed on the second day. Opening the morning’s business the President, James Sexton, in his speech, gave a good summary of the issues the Congress would be concerned with that week.

“The fate of the Trades Disputes Bill throws a lurid light upon the boasted but absolutely fraudulent representative character of the House of Commons,” he said, “For can there be a greater satire than is represented by the fact that a measure of this character, carried by a substantial majority of 122 in the House itself was at the mercy of, and consequently destroyed by 21 members, most of them employers interested in the Committee stage of the Bill.”

The Trades Disputes Bill was introduced by the Liberals to reverse the decision in the Taff Vale judgement. In 1906 when the LRC became the Labour Party the election of that year brought 29 Labour MP’s to Parliament. Those MP’s were able to exert pressure on the Liberals, and the result was the Trades Disputes Act was passed. It prevented unions from being sued for losses during a dispute, and established the right to picket. The Act was basically emasculated 74 years later by the Tories in the Employment Act.

Sexton went on to discuss a number of other issues which are still important today. The fact they are still important issues today is perhaps an illustration of how the unions search for respectability which was extended into the reformist approach of the Labour party not only had the effect of sapping the strength of the movement, but also singularly failed in even securing its original limited objectives. These issues were the Conspiracy laws affecting Irish agricultural organisations, the Aliens Bill, the amendment of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and the Unemployed Bill.

The Conspiracy laws were used against Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson during the Building Workers Strike (see:Workers Fight Article by Cynthia Baldry 1973). The Conspiracy laws allow the police to imprison people including in this case members of the Labour Movement when they are unable to bring to court any evidence that a crime has been committed. In fact, as in the case of the Shrewsbury Two, you can be sent to prison for conspiring to do something which is not itself illegal. Since then the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Blair’s new anti terror measures have introduced into the bosses armoury of weapons many more means by which to attack and suppress working class opposition.

The issue of compensation is one that concerned the Potteries particularly being an area where its workers suffered from pneumoconiosis in the pottery and mining industries. The pottery industry in particular has seen a long battle for the compensation of its workers whose lives are ruined as a result of this terrible disease. But it is an important point to note that after 100 years workers are still expected to be content with compensation for their lives being ruined, rather than the cause of their suffering being removed. In the case of asbestosis there was for years no prosecution of firms breaking the health regulations, and the workers were not even made aware of the danger they faced. As the recent fire in Hemel Hempstead and previous disasters such as Flixborough, Seveso, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and many more incidents show the use of dangerous chemicals and nuclear power present if anything more of a threat to workers health and safety than ever before, not just at work, but in the workers communities that surround such plants. To make matters worse the Health and Safety at Work Act actually reduces workers rights by making them as well as the bosses responsible for their own and their workmates health and safety, often in cases where this is outside their control.

Speaking about the Aliens Bill, a measure to restrict immigration, Sexton said it was being used by the government as an “appeal to stupid blind prejudice” to gain votes at the next election. “It is claimed,” he said, “that this Bill will relieve sweated workpeople by prohibiting the introduction of cheap labour from other countries. The political dishonesty of the measure needs no other argument than the fact that while the promoters profess to shut out undesirables from the UK in order to help the British workman here, they rushed a measure through to introduce the most undesirable kind of cheap labour into South Africa.”

100 years on Sexton could give Blunkett or Charles Clarke, or John Reid or Jacqui Smith lessons on socialist principles.

Sexton went on to discuss the Unemployed Bill. If credit was due to anyone for its passing it was the TRUC for its constant pressure, he said. But he questioned whether any credit at all was due for what was after all a compromise “born of political expediency, and desperation.” He noted that a national register of unemployed would enable the capitalists to point to this over-abundance of labour on the market as an excuse for cutting wages. Sexton also noted that such a register could also enable the bosses to use it as a register of potential blacklegs during a dispute. This idea was developed by Tory James Prior, that the unemployed should work for their benefits, and also forma the basis of Blair’s various workfare schemes.

One policy pursued by the government back in 1905 supposedly to reduce unemployment was Protection, the use of Tariffs and quotas on foreign goods to reduce imports. This policy, Sexton said, was as unstable as when it was practised by Joseph in the land of the Pharaohs. “Protection,” he said, “will but bind our fetters closer and give the monopolist greater advantages than ever.” He argued that “Free trade could only be developed in the true sense of the word when the freedom of produce has been secured, not for the benefit of the few, but for the benefit of all mankind…”

At the time I was writing this back in the late 1970’s early 80’s it was obvious how far back the Labour Movement had gone in its ideas. The Communist Party and its fellow travellers within the Labour left had produced the Alternative Economic Strategy a thoroughly reactionary document which sought to develop British capitalism through an extension of state capitalism, and intervention by the capitalist state behind high protective tariff walls. It implicitly put the blame for the crisis of capitalism at the time on foreign workers or the Common Market stoking the fires of national chauvinism and racism. In 1905, however, the Labour Movement laid the blame right where it belonged, at the feet of the capitalist system, and argued as does Owen the socialist in Tressell’s “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” that the answer is neither Free Trade nor Protection but the replacement of capitalism with socialism.
Sexton concluded this lengthy speech by dealing with the need for independent labour representation. He noted that workers were paying out £2 million a year to build up their unions but were having to vote for parties who were at the same time attempting to destroy the unions. (The more things change the more they remain the same). He noted the effect of the Taff Vale judgement on Trade Union organisation, and declared “independent labour representation is the only salvation of the Labour Movement.”The Political Committee’s report was taken next.

One issue raised in the discussion was the need for a Labour Movement paper.
In the afternoon, the Congress went on to discuss the motions on the agenda before it. These covered victimisation of trade unionists, hours of work in shops, lack of sufficient welfare provision for the blind. A motion was next carried unanimously calling for public bodies to be set up providing work fort he unemployed at fair wages, and for local authorities to be able to issue their own credit notes in order to escape the crippling interest charges on borrowed money.

The last discussion of the day welcomed the reduction in the consumption of alcohol and called for the trade to be brought under public control.

There was a meeting that evening in Burslem Town Hall in support of Trade Unionism and the candidature of Enoch Edwards as the Lib-Lab candidate for Hanley. Thomas Burt MP, Secretary to he Northumberland Miners Union, criticised the Government’s Aliens Bill. There was no other country than Britain, which had sent such a large number of its population to other countries, and no country in Europe with a smaller immigrant population, he said. And showing how little things have changed, he commented that the Aliens Bill would also be used against those seeking asylum. Enoch Edwards was a local man. He was General Secretary of the North Staffordshire Miners Association, and President of the Miners’ National Federation. In the election of 1906 he was elected as a Lib-Lab for Hanley. In 1900 he had contested the seat against the Tory MP A.H. Heath. At that election he lost by 642 votes. In 1906 the result was 9,183 for Edwards and 4,287 for Heath a majority of 4,896.

At another meeting that night held in Longton, and organised by the unions involved in the various branches of the pottery industry the chairman of the meeting said that Longton “was the black spot in local Trades Unionism, and as a result they saw in the china trade some of the masters taking advantage of the trade depression by invading prices and doing all they could to further enslave and tyrannise the workers.”

The annual conference of delegates to Congress representing trades in which women were employed also held its meeting on the Tuesday evening at the Grand Hotel in Hanley under the auspices of the Women’s Trade Union league. Mr. D. Shackleton MP presided, supported by Miss Tuckwell (President), and Mary Macarthur (Secretary), Constance Smith, Miss Bennett, Margaret Bondfield, and Miss Lindstrom (delegate from the Women’s Trade Union League America). There was also a meeting that night at the King edward’s Hall, Hanley under the auspices of the Amalgamated Society of Wood-cutters, the Cabinet makers, and the Furnishing Trades Unions.

At a meeting in the Masonic Hall, Hanley organised by the Council of Ruskin College Oxford, Robert Young explained that Ruskin was the first institution in the country to teach the economic and social questions from the point of view of the worker. A meeting of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses was held at the Temperance Hall, Hanley with Mr. J. Morris (President of the hanley Branch) chairing, Mrs. Chew, organiser of the Women’s Trade Union league was the main speaker. Other meetings that night were organised by the Bakers and Bricklayers.

Motions discussed during Wednesday’s business at the Congress included condemnation of the Home secretary for refusing to abolish privileged cabs on the railways, against the need for character references from former employers, and for the nationalisation of railways, canals, mines and minerals. A motion proposed by Ben Tillet calling for an expansion of bodies for arbitration and conciliation was soundly defeated by 92,000 votes on a card vote. Mr. Harvey of the Miners Association, Chesterfield said, “the miner’s were not prepared to submit the bread and cheese and the lives of 800,000 workers in the mines to the will of two men. The resolution was the bolstering up of non-unionism.”

What a far cry from this explicit belief in the power of workers independent direct action and equally explicit rejection of class collaboration are the present union leaders, who place all their faith in bodies like ACAS, the legal skills of their teams of lawyers and fear direct action by their members.

Congress then went on to discuss a resolution setting out requirements for the extension of the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

In the afternoon session discussion was mainly devoted to a Free Trade resolution. John Ward of the navvies union, and Labour candidate for Stoke proposed the following resolution.

“That in the opinion of this Congress any departure from the principles of Free Trade would be detrimental to the interests of the working classes on whom the burdens of Protection would press most heavily, and injurious to the nation as a whole; that protective duties by increasing the cost of people’s necessaries are unjust in incidence and economically unsound, subsidising capital at the expense of labour; and that a system of preference or retaliation by creating cause for dispute with other countries would be a hindrance to international progress and peace.”
In his opinion “they would always have the poverty problem so long as there was a private ownership in land and capital.” (Applause).

Mr. Albert Stanley (Cannock Chase Miners) seconding the motion said that after the repeal of the Corn laws millions of loaves of bread had found their way into workers homes. Pete Curran (Gasworkers Association London) supporting the motion said, “What they wanted to do was to join hands with their comrades across the seas and instead of building up walls, they wanted to break down existing walls.” (Applause). The motion was carried with 1,253,000 for and only 26,000 against. The result was received with great acclamation.

On Wednesday evening there was a demonstration and meeting at Stoke Town Hall in support of the candidature of John ward for the Stoke seat. Ward was born in Andover in Hampshire and began work on a farm at the age of seven. Later he became a navvy working on the Andover to Marlborough Railway and the Manchester ship Canal. During his early teens he joined evening classes in the village of Weybridge conducted by a Mrs. Stock and her daughter Ellen, where he learnt to read. Reading he wrote later, “changed the whole course of my life.” In 1885 he enlisted for railway construction work with the British Army in the Sudan, for which he received the Queen’s Silver medal and the Khedive’s Bronze Star, medal and clasp. His experiences in the Sudan made him “anti war and anti many other things.” (Rev. of Revs 1906 p571), and a reading of Hyndman’s translation of Kropotkin’s “Appeal to the Young” helped to move his ideas towards acceptance of a radical reconstruction of society. Personal contact with Tom Mann and John Burns aided the process and he joined the Battersea Branch of the SDF. In 1886 he was chosen by the SDF to test the legality of a ban on unemployed demonstrations imposed by the Commissioner of London police.

In 1889 Ward became chairman of he SDF branch and in the same year established the Navvies, Bricklayers’ Labourers and general Labourers Union. After a series of strikes in West London, ward along with Jack Williams of the Gasworkers established the National federation of Labour Union. The history of the union is obscure but the Navvies Union continued though was never very effective. In 1906 the “Labour leader” described it as “simply a benevolent friendly society” in which the “working expenses” absorbed sixty per cent of the contributions of the membership.

In 1888 Ward stood as a candidate for the Central democratic Committee in the London School Board election along with Annie Bezant, Harry Quelch, and Amie Hicks. Only Annie Besant was elected though Ward polled over 8,000 votes. In March 1892 he stood and was defeated in the LCC elections. His failure led him into the Progressive camp. He was adopted as parliamentary candidate for Wandsworth in 1894 but did not contest the seat. Ward began to move increasingly towards Liberalism and by the end of the nineties had renounced his social democratic past. Moreover, ward was anti-semitic. At the 1900 TUC he had argued against the Boer war on the basis that it was being fought for control over the goldfields for cosmopolitans “most of whom had no patriotism and no country.”

As early as 1902 Ward began negotiations in Stoke and with the help of Richard Bell concluded arrangements with local Liberals despite the fact that the Navvies Union was affiliated to the LRC. In 1903 Ward with Bell, and W.C. Steadman refused to sign the LRC constitution and was removed from their lists. In 1906, therefore, Ward stood successfully as a Labour candidate but without the support of the LRC. Ward held the seat in 1910, and was returned unopposed as a coalition Liberal in the coupon election of 1918. In 1922 he was elected with a majority of 6163 as a National Liberal over the Labour candidate. He hung on to the seat in 1923 with a majority of 617, and with Conservative and Liberal support won as a Constitutionalist in 1924. In 1929 he was beaten by the Labour candidate, Lady Cynthia Mosley, first wife of the later fascist Oswald Mosley.

Despite his earlier anti war sentiments, at the outbreak of the First World War, Ward helped to recruit workers to be slaughtered. He helped recruit five Labour battalions, and was given first the rank of captain, and later that of lieutenant colonel. In the Summer of 1918 he went to Siberia as part of the interventionist forces trying to crush the Russian workers. Ward’s battalion was attached to the forces of the Tsarist, White Guard, General Kolchak.

Although in 1905 Ward had moved a long way from his SDF roots, the extent of his later betrayal was not so apparent. The meeting at Stoke Town hall was chaired by James Sexton. A resolution was passed from Mr. H. Leese.

"That this meeting is of the opinion that the further progress and welfare of this country will be better secured by an increase in the number of direct labour representatives in the British House of Commons.”

Ward quoted figures showing that the working class was producing great amounts of wealth whilst many of their number languished in workhouses, asylums, prisons, hospitals, and were forced to live in inadequate conditions, and sleep in barns and sheds.

Also on the Wednesday evening their was a meeting at the Temperance Hall, Hanley organised by the Hanley branch of the SDF. The main speakers were the Countess of Warwick and H.M. Hyndman (leader of the SDF and candidate for Burnley). Mr. T. Whittingham, one of the Labour councillors on Hanley town Council and a co-opted member of the Reception Committee, presided. He said that in the Sentinel (the local newspaper) the week before there was a statement that Socialism and Trade Unionism were antagonistic to each other. That was not true, he said, socialists always recommend workers to combine in Trade Unions, and at the same time they were anxious to bring about a social state in which trade unions would not be necessary.

A motion was moved by Mr. C.F. Davis,

“That this meeting of socialists and trade unionists appeals to its comrades throughout the British Empire, also those on the continent of Europe, and all over the world to use vigorously their great and growing influence to do away with all forms of secret diplomacy, and to bring about permanent peace among the peoples, seeing the social struggle against the capitalist class, in which they are universally engaged demands the continuous exercise of all their energies to overthrow the common enemy in all countries fort he purpose of replacing the anarchy and horror of competitive capitalism by the order and well being of the co-operative commonwealth.”

Mr. F. Knee
seconded the resolution which was supported by the Countess of Warwick. She said that she was in no sense a speaker in the socialist movement, only a woker in the cause of children. Having been in Hanley a few days the cause of the children had been even more strengthened in her. “I cannot see,” she said, “how you parents can see the conditions under which the children in this district are living, and cannot pull yourselves together and create such a movement as the world will not withstand.” There was another reason why a socialist meeting should be held, namely that the great Parliament of labour was meeting within their midst, and the work being done there day by day to ameliorate the lot of the worker encouraged them to hope that the workers would feel how the power lay in their own hands to work out their own salvation. The resolution was adopted, and H.M. Hyndman then delivered a speech on “Trade Unionism, Internationalism and Foreign Policy.”

There is little information on the local SDF. It was formed in Silverdale (a village outside Newcastle under Lyme) in the 1890’s by Arthur Deakin. Fanny Deakin, Arthur’s sister, was also a member of the SDF, but she later joined the ILP when the SDF split. In 1917 she was elected to the Wolstanton and Stoke Board of Guardians. She was a leading figure in setting up the Labour Party in Silverdale in 1919. In 1921 she was elected as the Communist Party/Co-op candidate for Wolstanton and joined the CP in 1923.

The SDF was formed in 1894. It was an avowedly Marxist organisation and as with so many Marxist organisations since in Britain it was sectarian. It was the property of H.M. Hyndman who exercised control through ownership of the group’s printing press. The SDF suffered a number of splits, the first being in 1895. The next split led to the creation of the Socialist Labour Party. It was founded in America by Daniel De Leon and took up a dominant position in American socialism. The SLP was the closest thing top Bolshevism before the First World War. It gave a clear criticism of the Second International, pinpointing Adler’s weakness, the feebleness of the Second International, and gave a criticism of Parliamentarism, though it was in favour of parliamentary activity. Like the Bolsheviks the SLP argued for the importance of political organisation on the basis that the working class remained a slave class until it takes power. De Leon came up with the idea of organising in industry rather than in Trade Unions which could also act as organs of power. The SLP was more sectarian than the First International. It attempted to form unions where they did not exist. The method used in America against the AFL was transferred to Britain without taking account of the fact that in Britain unions already existed. The SLP had a great effect on the British Communist Party during the 1920’s.

The next split in the SDF occurred in 1905, and led to the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The SPGB is an extremely sectarian organisation which sees strikes for higher pay as a diversion from the task of replacing the wages system altogether. The SDF continued to exist and even to grow to some extent. IN 1907 it became the Social Democratic Party. With the growth of the Labour Party the SDP became the tail of the Liberal Party (a process I have referred to ealier in relation to John Ward). The SDP split once again and this time a fusion with the ILP led to the creation of the British Socialist Party which later became the Communist Party.

On Thursday the Congress took amendments to standing orders. A motion to have the president elected by Congress rather than the PC was defeated. Congress went on to discuss a motion condemning the Government’s Education policy, and calling for free state primary and secondary education compulsory until 16 or until such age as the University course begins, on the basis of equal opportunities, and where necessary the provision of means to allow capable students to go through University. The motion also condemned the use of exams for assessment, called for schools to be secular and administered directly by elected representatives of the people. The motion was carried with a minor amendment to the wording.

That evening a meeting of the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks was held at the YMCA Hall, Marsh Street, Hanley. Mr. H. Emery, President of the NST&LC, presided with the support of Lady warwick, over a well attended meeting. Mr. E. Burrows proposed that,

“This meeting of North Staffs shop workers affirms its entire confidence in organisation as being the only means whereby the conditions of employment in shops can be improved and maintained, and further, hereby calls upon all employees in the distributive trades to join the NAUSAWC and through it to combine with other workers in maintaining the solidarity of labour."

In urging the necessity of organisation he said they must remember that they were of the same army of labour as the navvy and the labourer. Lady Warwick supporting the motion said that, “with all the sympathy she had with their trade unions she would urge that it was so easy to go a step beyond and realise the power that lay in the hands of the workers of this country. If not for their own sakes, for the sake of their children. Socialism was quite easy if they would only consider it and think about it.”

Friday’s session of Congress opened with a motion on hours of work. Once again although unions have discussed this issue on almost every union Conference since little has been achieved, and rather than a reduction in working time, Blair now wants to make workers work even longer rather than retiring earlier, even though workers now work more intensively than they have ever done. The motion noted that with the present rapidity of production and the continuous introduction of labour saving equipment Congress should call for a maximum working day of 8 hours or 48 hours per week. The motion went on to condemn night working and called for the abolition of systematic overtime working. Mr. H. Emery of the Bakers supported the resolution saying that locally, bakers were working 80-90 hours per week.

Congress then went on to discuss a motion by Will Thorne on behalf of the London Gasworkers. On the physical deterioration of the working class. The motion, amongst other things, called for the provision of at least one free school meal every day, free medical advice and inspection for children, and for PT to become a necessary part of the school curriculum. The motion was carried.
A motion, proposed by C.F. Davis (Compositors, London) was then discussed. It pointed out the need for Local Authorities to provide decent housing for workers, and was carried unanimously. Congress went on to discuss conditions and wages in Government employment, the failure of Government departments to comply with the Fair wages resolution passed by the House of Commons in February 1891, the need for greater protection against injury in the pits, old age pensions, conditions in the postal service, the Workmen’s Compensation Act (the resolutions on which had been referred to committee earlier in the week), and a motion from John Ward condemning the Government for importing Chinese labour into South Africa, “to prevent it from becoming a white man’s country.”

A further meeting in support of Ward’s candidature was held on Friday night in Longton Town Hall with a crowded attendance. Cllr. H. Leese presided. The chairman said the Congress had one great objective, “namely, that the workers of the country instead of crying out for Empire should have better conditions under which to toil and live.” Whether this was a veiled attack on Ward’s position is not clear. He was pleased that there was already an awakening among workers for the need for independent labour representation. Mr. W.C. Steadman stated that the problems of low wages, long hours, poverty and high rents could be solved by only one class – the people directly suffering from these problems. He hoped that Stoke and Hanley would play their parts in returning the Labour candidates.

The last session of Congress was on Saturday morning when the only motion on the agenda was from the Shop Assistants calling for an end to the living in system whereby shop workers were paid partly in truck.

In the week before the Congress there had been a number of meetings. The first was on Saturday 2nd September. Held in the Victoria Hall, Hanley by the National Housing Reform Council. Mr. George Cadbury moved a resolution calling attention to the need to remove slum property and opposing the building of dreary block dwellings, and calling for future dwellings to be built on garden village lines. Again how far back have we gone with Prescott et al calling for workers to be crammed into so called affordable housing, which is another name for high density, low quality future slums to be built on brown field sites that would be better used to provide some open space to already congested and overcrowded areas. Cadbury went on to say that the most hopeful sign was that all over the world “labour was becoming more united, and before long men would refuse to lose their manhood and become mere machines to shoot down women and children at the will of a despot like the Tsar of Russia, or to slaughter their fellow workmen because they happened to live in another country.” The speech was extremely relevant to what was going on in Russia at the time where the first Revolution was getting under way, and unfortunately even more relevant to the developments just 9 years away where far from the sentiments expressed by Cadbury the leaders of labour throughout the world would line up their members to kill each other on a scale unprecedented in history for no other reason that they happened to live in another country.

The following day a meeting was organised by the Amalgamated Society of railway Servants at Stoke Town Hall. The attendance was only small but Sundays was the only day Railworkers didn’t work. A motion was passed calling for greater representation on public bodies and in Parliament. Cllr. H. Leese moving the resolution concluded by saying that he hoped that the holding of the Congress would instill more enthusiasm into local workers, “for he did not know any place in the kingdom that wanted waking up more.” Mr. Bell addressing the meeting said that he hoped the Congress would open the eyes of local workers “to the deplorable conditions into which they had dropped for want of organisation.”Another meeting that night at the Victoria Hall discussed “Education and National Physique”. The meeting was well attended. Will Thorne presided. Lady Warwick speaking for the SDF said in the Potteries where the physique of the people fell so lamentably below what ought to be the national standpoint it was necessary to set the task of building up better bodies for the workers in the next generation. She warned them that where there children were concerned not to be too timid in their demands.

The condition of workers in the Potteries was notoriously bad. Karl Marx in Capital quotes a Health Inspector’s Report on the District.

“Each successive generation of potters is more dwarfed and less robust than the preceding one.”

And another doctor says,

Since he began to practice amongst the potters 25 years ago he had observed a marked degeneration especially shown in diminution of stature and breadth.”
According to Dr. Arledge, senior physician at the North Staffs Infirmary.
“The potters as a class both men and women represent a degenerated population both physically and morally. They are as a rule stunted in growth, ill shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys and by rheumatism. But of all the diseases they are especially prone to chest disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands or bones or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters….That the degenerescence of the population of this district is not even greater than it is, is due to the constant recruiting from the adjacent country, and intermarriages with more healthy races.”(Children’s Employment Commission First report p24. Quoted in Karl marx Capital Vol. I p235 Lawrence and Wishart Ed. 1977)

John Ward and The LP

John Ward, one of the two Labour candidates elected from Stoke in 1906 was also one of the founding members of the Labour Party. On 16th February 1905 a Joint Conference between the TUC, LRC and GFTU took place at Caxton House. It established a Joint permanent co-ordinating committee with three joint secretaries from the three organisations, and became known as the Joint Board. At the TUC Congress held in Stoke that year the TUC had ratified the agreement reached in February and formally agreed to throw its weight behind the LRC which became the Labour Party. At the first Joint Board meeting on 29th November 1905 the representatives of each organisation were as follows.

From the TUC.

D.C, Cummings
D.J. Shackleton
J.J. Stevenson
W.C. Steadman

From the LRC

Keir Hardy
Ramsay McDonald
Arthur Henderson

From the GFTU

Pete Curran
Allan Gee
John Ward
I. Mitchell

When the debate took place, however, at the Stoke Congress it foreshadowed what was wrong with the political basis on which the Labour Party was established.

The debate took place on the second day of Congress. The TUC Parliamentary Committee had spent most of 1905 in meetings with the LRC, and its report amounted to 17 pages. A resolution was put by the Stevedores Union calling on the Parliamentary Committee to convene a conference of the TUC, GFTU, and LRC for the purpose of amalgamating into one body in order to be more powerful and effective. However, Ward's Builders Labourers' Union who seconded the motion had other motives. They voiced the opposition of a number of union leaders to having socialists on the Labour Representation Committee. They wanted unity in order to bring the LRC under the complete control of the TUC. The majority of delegates were satisfied with the agreement reached at Caxton House and rejected the motion.

That was the background to Ward refusing to sign the LRC Constitution.

No comments: