Trade Unions and the Labour Party since 1945


After the expectant hush came happy pandemonium. Scrambling on their seats, waving their hats, delegates cheered the outcome of the crucial vote. The scene was the Trades Union Congress of 1899; the vote was on whether the unions should take independent political action. So far the TUC had always stood aside from the series of bodies which had been set up to win representation in Parliament for the working class. Now, after the long years of struggle by Keir Hardie and the Socialists, it was rejecting the traditional insistence that trade unionism and politics did not mix. By 546,000 votes to 434,000, it adopted a motion whose terms still merit recalling for all their lugubrious phrasing:

'This Congress, having regard to its decisions in former years, and with a view to securing a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons, hereby instructs the Parliamentary Committee to invite the cooperation of all cooperative, socialistic, trade union, and other working organizations to jointly cooperate on lines mutually agreed upon, in convening a special congress of representatives from such of the above-named organizations as may be willing to devise ways and means for securing the return of an increased number of labour members to the next Parliament.'

And so the Labour Party was born. For this was the decision which brought trade union and Socialist society delegates to that gloomy 'Cathedral of Non-conformity', the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, on February 27, 1900. Out of that meeting came the Labour Representation Committee.

To introduce an account of the Labour Party's relations with the unions today by recalling that enthusiastic scene at the TUC sixty years ago may seem a little less than kind. But these beginnings are still important. They are a reminder that the traditional claim of trade union orators that 'the Labour Party is the child of the trade union movement' is no idle boast. And yet even at birth the Labour Party was never exclusively a trade union preserve. Throughout its history it has been profoundly . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • London
Publication year:
  • 1960


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