Ch 14 The Organisation of the Working Class

CH.14-ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

Hits: 1845

CHAPTER XIV: ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

SECTION 4: SOCIALISM AND THE ORGANISATION OF THE UNSKILLED

 

THE MID 19th CENTURY SAW THE DEVELOPMENT OF CAPITALISM AND THE GROWTH OF SOCIALISM IN ENGLAND, ALTHOUGH BOTH HAD BEEN SENSITIVE TO EVENTS ABROAD.

THE IMPACT OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, THE CHARTISTS AND THE FORMATION OF THE ‘FRATERNAL DEMOCRATS’ (FOUNDED BY HARNEY IN 1846 AND A FORERUNNER TO THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL), MEANT ENGLAND WAS SOMEWHAT SENSITISED TO DEVELOPMENTS IN REVOLUTIONARY EUROPE.

FOR THE CAPITALISTS, THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR AND THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN LED TO THE EXPANSION OF COAL AND IRON INDUSTRIES, WHICH INCIDENTLY PRODUCED A RISE IN WAGES GENERALLY.

UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF MARX AND ENGELS AT THIS TIME, THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL FLOURISHED UNTIL THE ‘JUNTA’, WHICH HAD INITIALLY SUPPORTED IT, FOUND IT TOO REVOLUTIONARY FOR THEIR RESPECTABILITY AND INSULAR CRAFT PREDJUDICES. THIS LEFT ENGLAND LAGGING BEHIND THE EUROPEAN SOCIALISTS.

BY 1875, FOLLOWING THE RECOVERY OF THE USA, THE BOOM HAD AGAIN TURNED TO BUST. THE US ATTACKED THE BRITISH INDUSTRIAL MONOPOLY BY DEVELOPING ITS OWN INDUSTRIES, AND SO THE SLUMP DEEPENED. BRITISH INDUSTRY DECLINED AND UNEMPLOYMENT ROSE.

EFFECTS WERE FELT FIRST IN LONDON’S SHIPBUILDING INDUSTRY, AND A MIGRATION TO THE CLYDE BEGAN. IT LEFT HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF UNSKILLED CASUAL WORKERS UNEMPLOYED AND DESTITUTE AND THE REMAINDER ON LOWER PAY.

AS A RESULT, IT WAS THE EAST END OF LONDON, RATHER THAN THE NORTH, WHERE THE NEW MOVEMENT TOOK HOLD. TOGETHER WITH THE INTELLECTUALS, THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CAPITALISM, LAND OWNERSHIP AND TRADE UNIONISM WERE DEBATED IN THE ‘LABOUR STANDARD’ BY ENGELS AND THE LONDON TRADES COUNCIL.

THIS WAS THE TURNING POINT IN THE FOUNDATION OF THE MODERN BRITISH LABOUR.

THE STRUGGLE WAS BASED ON A POLITICAL MODEL. THE ‘SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION’ WAS FORMED AND ANNOUNCED A PROGRAMME. IT INOLVED SENSIBLE WORKERS AND INTELLECTUALS, SUCH AS TOM MANN, JOHN BURNS, WILLIAM MORRIS, ELEANOR AND EDWARD AVELING AND THE NONDESCRIPT ADHERENTS OF HM HYNDMAN AND ASSOCIATES.

HYNDMAN DISCREDITED THE ‘SDF’ BY HIS UNSCRUPULOUS METHODS OF OBTAINING MONEY, AND HE BROUGHT THE ORGANISATION INTO DISGRACE.

THE INTELLECTUALS LEFT TO FORM THE ‘SOCIALIST LEAGUE’, BUT THIS TOO CAME UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF AN ANARCHIST CLIQUE AND FELL TO PIECES.

IN 1884, THE FABIANS WERE FORMED AND PUT FORWARD A VERY ENGLISH SOCIALISM IN WHICH THEY ASSUMED THE RULING CLASS WOULD BEHAVE LIKE GENTLEMAN TOWARDS A CLASS STRUGGLE. ALTHOUGH IT HAS ALWAYS REMAINED SMALL, FABIANISM WAS SEIZED UPON BY RIGHT WING LEADERS OF THE LABOUR PARTY ANXIOUS TO FIND A THEORETICAL JUSTIFICATION FOR THEIR OPPORTUNISM.

ALL THE EARLY SOCIALIST BODIES WERE SMALL, ISOLATED AND LACKED MASS SUPPORT. IT WAS LEFT TO THE MASSES, WHO, AS A RESULT OF THE UNEMPLOYMENT IN 1886-7, HELD A DEMONSTRATION ON NOVEMBER 13TH: THE FAMOUS ‘BLOODY SUNDAY OF 1887 WAS BROKEN UP BY POLICE WITH EXTREME BRUTALITY.

THIS TRIGGERED ALL SOCIALIST AND RADICAL BODIES TO RALLY FOR A ‘FREE SPEECH CAMPAIGN’.
AT THE SAME TIME, IN THE NORTH THE BRADFORD LABOUR UNION WAS FORMED AND KEIR HARDIE WAS BEGINNING HIS EFFORTS TOWARDS WHAT BECAME THE SCOTTISH LABOUR PARTY.

THERE WERE SUCCESSES IN TYNESIDE BY THE ‘LABOUR ELECTORAL ORGANISATION’, BUT THE REAL BREAKTHROUGH CAME IN THE EAST END OF LONDON WHERE THOUSANDS OF WORKERS, WHO WERE NEVER REALLY ORGANISED BEFORE, LED THE WAY.

THE GIRLS OF THE BRYANT & MAY MATCH FACTORY STRIKE AND THE ‘GAS WORKERS’ UNION’ WERE  EXAMPLES OF WHAT COULD BE ACHIEVED, AND CAMPAIGNING BECAME SO EFFECTIVE THAT HOURS WERE REDUCED, CONDITIONS IMPROVED AND WAGES WERE RAISED.

BURNS, MANN AND THE AVELINGS WERE INVOLVED IN THESE VICTORIES AND ACTUALLY LED THE GREAT DOCK STRIKE OF 1889, WHEN THOUSANDS OF UNSKILLED WORKERS JOINED THE ‘GAS WORKERS AND GENERAL LABOURERS’ UNION’.

IT COMPETED WITH THE DEVELOPING MINERS’ UNION. WITHIN A YEAR, ITS MEMBERSHIP HAD GROWN TO 200,000. THE ‘MINERS’ FEDERATION’, WITH A POLICY OF A MINIMUM WAGE AND LEGAL LIMITATION OF HOURS, HAD ALSO GROWN FROM 36,000 TO OVER 200,000.

THOSE SOCIALISTS WHO WORKED IN THE UNIONS DID SO AS INDIVIDUALISTS, BUT THE SDF ABANDONED ITS SOCIALIST AIMS AND REMAIMED OUTSIDE THE MAIN BODY OF STRUGGLE.

IT BECAME A DISASTER BECAUSE THE SOCIALISTS REMAINED A SMALL MINORITY SECT, AND SOME EVEN DEFECTED TO THE RIGHT OF CENTRE.

CONSEQUENTLY, IN ENGLAND, THERE WAS NEVER A FUSION BETWEEN THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SOCIALISM, WHICH WOULD HAVE ALLOWED THE MOVEMENT TO GROW. IT PAID DEARLY FOR THIS.

UNIONISM DID ADVANCE, HOWEVER, DESPITE LACK OF POLITICAL CLARITY OF DIRECTION. IN 1889, ENGELS HAILED THE ADVANCEMENT OF CRAFT UNIONS.

THIS LACK OF AIM WAS SHOWN WHEN THE ‘GENERAL RAILWAY WORKERS’ UNION’, ON ITS FOUNDATION IN 1890, DECLARED “THIS UNION SHALL BE A FIGHTING ONE AND SHALL NOT BE ENCUMBERED WITH ANY SICK OR BENEFITS’ FUND”. INSTEAD, LOW DUES AND A WIDE RECRUITMENT POLICY WERE ADOPTED.

FOR THE FIRST TIME, WOMEN WERE CATERED FOR IN UNIONS, AND THE GAS WORKERS ALSO EXTENDED THEIR ORGANISATION TO IRELAND.

THE ORGANISATION OF THE UNSKILLED WAS HIGHLIGHTED BY ENGELS AS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP TOWARDS THE ‘NEW UNIONISM’.

THE OLD UNIONS’ PRESERVE OF TRADITION IN CRAFT WAS SEVERLY SHAKEN, AND THE PROMOTERS OF SOCIALISM, WHOSE ADHESION GAVE THE ‘NEW UNION’ MOVEMENT STRENGTH, EXPOSED THE WORKING CLASS ARISTOCRACY AND ITS PREJUDICES. FROM THIS, WE SEE THE NEW UNION TAKING A LEAD IN THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT.

THE LIVERPOOL TUC OF 1890 DEMANDED AND WON SUPPORT FOR THE LEGAL ENACTMENT OF THE EIGHT HOUR DAY, APPARENTLY USING REVOLUTIONARY ARGUMENTS.

ALL THESE UNIONS WERE FORCING THE POLITICAL ISSUES OF THE DAY, AND, IN 1893 THE ‘INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY’ WAS FORMED.

THE SDF, WITH ITS USUAL OBSTINACY, REFUSED TO COOPERATE, AND THE LEADERSHIP OF THIS NEW PARTY, BY FAR THE LARGEST SOCIALIST PARTY, PASSED TO KEIR HARDIE AND THEN TO THE MOST DANGEROUS FABIANS AND DISGUISED LIBERALS, LIKE SNOWDEN AND RAMSAY MACDONALD.

THE SDF BLUNDERED AGAIN WHEN THE LABOUR PARTY, THEN KNOWN AS THE ‘LABOUR REPRESENTATION COMMITTEE’, WAS FORMED.

AT FIRST, IT DID NOT COMMAND MUCH SUPPORT. ALL CANDIDATES IN 1901 FAILED IN THE GENERAL ELECTION.

IT WAS THE TAFF CASE AND THE FIERCE NEWSPAPER CAMPAIGN AGAINST TRADE UNIONISM THAT CHANGED MATTERS.

THE NEW PARTY DOUBLED ITS MEMBERSHIP TO NEARLY A MILLION AND WON SEVERAL SENSATIONAL BY- ELECTIONS IN 1906. 29 LABOUR MEMBERS WERE RETURNED TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.

EVEN THOUGH THE LABOUR PARTY WAS TO FOLLOW THE LEAD OF THE LIBERALS, IT REMAINED AN EXPRESSION OF THE MASS MOVEMENT OF WORKERS. ITS RANK AND FILE NEVER SUCUMBED TO THE BOURGEOIS INFECTION WHICH PROSTRATED THE LEADERSHIP. INSIDE THE PARTY, A CONSTANT WAR CONTINUED AGAINST THIS INFECTION.

LENIN SUPPORTED THE LABOUR AFFILIATION TO THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL IN 1908 AND DECLARED “IT REPRESENTS THE FIRST STEP OF A PROLETARIAN ORGANISATION OF ENGLAND TOWARDS A CONSCIOUS CLASS PARTY AND TOWARDS A SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY… ONLY THE BLIND CAN FAIL TO SEE THAT SOCIALISM IS NOW GROWING RAPIDLY AMONG THE WORKING CLASS OF ENGLAND.”

HOWEVER, DESPITE GROWING MILITANCY AMONG THE WORKERS, THE SOCIALIST OPPOSITION MADE RAPID HEADWAY INSIDE THE LABOUR PARTY. THE OUTBREAK OF WAR IN 1914 INTERRUPTED THIS DEVELOPMENT AND LEFT THE REACTIONARIES, FOR THE MOMENT, MORE FIRMLY ESTABLISHED THAN EVER.

NEXT- THE WAR FOR THE LAND AND THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE IN IRELAND

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