Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

Excerpt

In writing this history of the British labour movement since mid- Victorian times, I have become increasingly aware of the limitations of my subject. This is not a history of the working class, a majority of which has usually been excluded for one reason or another from effective participation in the labour movement. It was not until the First World War that the proportion of the occupied population organised in trade unions exceeded one quarter, and the majority remained unorganised until 1974. For much of their history trade unions turned an excluding face towards the less skilled, the poor, women; and the movement as a whole was characteristically unresponsive to the needs of the more exploited sections of the working class. The Labour Party was rather more successful than the unions in winning the allegiance of the working class. Nevertheless, the proportion of the working-class electorate voting for the Labour Party has never exceeded two-thirds, and has recently tended to be a good deal lower. I have tried to situate the history of the labour movement within the wider context of the history of the working class as a whole. But this remains a history of the movement, not of the class.

Similarly, the impact of the labour movement on modern British society cannot be understood outside the context of its constantly renegotiated alliances with radical sections of the middle class. The achievement of a limited working-class franchise and of basic trade union rights in the 1860s and 1870s was only possible because the small trade union movement was able to construct alliances with more powerful middle-class political currents. Labour politics, as it took shape over the succeeding three decades, embodied complex tensions between independence and a continuing need to maintain good relations with Liberalism. The eventual establishment of a majority Labour Government in 1945 was itself the product of a momentary conversion of a substantial section of middle-class voters to the party of the working class. And within the leadership of the . . .

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