The Labour alliance, 1895-1914
Between 1890 and the labour unrest of 1910-14 there was no major explosion of trade union growth, though union membership rose steadily through most of the intervening years. The vicissitudes of trade unionism during this period underlay political developments in the working-class movement, and went far to determine the ambiguity of these developments. During the 1890s a major employers' counter-attack on the unions opened the way to victory for the advocates of independent labour representation in Parliament, with the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. At the same time the limitations of the counter-attack, which resulted not so much in defeat for the unions as in industrial truce and the expansion of collective bargaining, helped to ensure that socialism would have a minor role to play in the emergent Labour Party. While the counter-attack pushed unions towards independent politics, the extent to which they had won a recognised status within capitalist society made the construction of a socialist party on the basis of official trade union machinery an unlikely project from the outset. When the new trade union explosion came after 1910, the political institutions built during the years of industrial peace proved to be entirely inadequate to reflect the new power and aspiration of the working-class movement. By the outbreak of war in 1914 the alliance of socialists with trade union leaders in the Labour Party may have been on the point of collapse.
The biggest trade union battles of the early 1890s occurred in mining and cotton. The Miners Federation, established on the principle that wages should reflect the miners' needs rather than fluctuations in the price of coal, faced its decisive test when coal prices fell after 1890. In 1893, in the course of a bitter lockout caused by the union's refusal to accept wage cuts, two miners were shot dead by troops at Feather-