History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

22
CAMPAIGNS FOR
DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS 1950–1

The Labour leaders had always boasted of their devotion to freedom and democracy. But, during the year 1950–1, government circles were, as one historian put it, increasingly obsessed with the ‘red menace’.1 This led them to use extraordinary measures to undermine existing democratic rights. Having managed to block the Peace Congress event in Sheffield, they revived a wartime regulation enabling them to prosecute strikers, and tried – unsuccessfully – to prevent young people travelling to a World Youth Festival held in Berlin.


ORDER 1305 AND THE TRIAL OF THE SEVEN

‘Order 1305’ was an emergency measure brought in under the wartime Defence Regulations in 1940. It laid down that no employee could go on strike ‘in furtherance of a trade dispute’ unless the dispute had been reported to the Minister, who had the power to refer it to an arbitration tribunal whose award would be binding on both employer and employee. If the Minister did not do this, and took no action, the strike might become legal.

The wartime Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, who had been responsible for introducing this Order had promised at the time that it would be repealed when the war ended. But this had not happened. At the 1946 Trades Union Congress, Walter Stevens had moved a resolution demanding its repeal, but was defeated. At every subsequent congress, motions put forward for its repeal were lost. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, the Order could be used to enforce ‘recognised terms and conditions’ upon employers. Secondly, the penal provisions against those who took part in strikes had not, in practice, been invoked since the war ended. That part of the law appeared to have been put in cold storage.

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