Ch 14 The Organisation of the Working Class



The Taff Vale decision



The Labour Representation Committee, in which ILP politicians and socialists were active from the beginning, at first received only fitful and tepid support from trade unionists and the TUC.

Then, in 1901, came the House of Lords decision upholding the Taff Vale Judgement, which ruled that a trade union could be sued and compelled to pay for damages inflicted by its officials.

It now became clear to the TUC and the Parliamentary Committee that, if the right to strike was ever to be preserved as an essential instrument of trade union policy, then the new principle embodied in the Taff Vale decision must be reversed by Parliament.

If this was to be done, the trade unions must secure greater and more influential representation in Parliament.

If the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee was incapable of achieving this on its own, then a working arrangement must be sought with the Labour Representation Committee politicians, socialists and all - for the joint, or complementary, endorsement of Parliamentary candidates.

In the event, at the 1906 general election, the working arrangements worked like a charm. Fifty‑four Labour candidates, of various sorts, were returned; in some cases greatly to their own surprise.

And, in the same year, the new Liberal Government under Sir Harry Campbell‑Bannerman, finding that a very large number of Liberal MPs had pledged themselves during the election campaign to support the TUC Parliamentary Committee's own Trade Disputes Bill, felt obliged to accept the principles of the TUC's Bill and pass them into law.

And the Lords deemed it wiser not to obstruct the Bill's passage.

Thus was restored to trade unions the degree of legal immunity which had been theirs before the Taff Vale Judgement.

And, as Henry Pelting put it, 'the unions had secured from the ballot box the respect for their privileged position which had been denied them in the courts.'

The next alarm on the legal front was destined to arise out of yet another House of Lords decision, upholding the Court of Appeal's Osborne Judgement of 1909, which ruled that it was unlawful for trade unions to contribute to political funds

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