Formation of the Labour Party
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Who were the working class?

  • Workers who earned living through manual labour.
  • Earned wages through working for others.
  • 1918 75% - 80% of population in Britain working class.
  • In this period working class became aware of solidarity with other working classes, regardless of occupation.
  • Identified with workers nationwide, not just in own town or region.
  • Became aware of class conflict, exploited by employers and employers were now opponents.
  • Real wages failing to meet rise in living costs and Britain’s wealth.

Trade unions

  • Formed by workers to get better deals from employers.
  • Better pay, shorter hours and 19th century unions, also working conditions and who could and could not do work.
  • Before 1850 trade ‘model’ unions small groups of skilled workers existing to help members and run saving schemes.
  • By 1914 4 million workers in trade unions.
  • Organised mass strike, commanded attention of employers, newspapers and government.

New Unionism

  • These aimed at recruiting members of less skilled trades
  • Many had not previously been in unions
  • Charge lower subscription fee than ‘model’ unions to entice more members and from lower paid jobs
  • More militant than the ‘model’ unions, possibly because led by active socialists
  • However, also because less skilled workers were thought easier to lay off than skilled
  • Employers were unwilling to negotiate with unskilled, consequently actions by unskilled workers became more aggressive and troublesome

Why did the new unions become more militant?

Economic reasons

  • Real wages failing to rise on equal terms to inflation
  • Trade boom increased unions bargaining power before World War I
  • Unemployment fell to just 2.1% in 1908-13

Social reasons

  • Education acts in 1870,1876 and 1880 had introduced compulsory education
  • Workers were now better educated and aware of rights and ability to bargain
  • Many factories were getting larger, fewer workers now knew their employer
  • Easier to ask for a rise from someone you know little about than a life long employer

Political reasons

  • Taff Vale case was replaced by 1906 Trade Disputes Act
  • Picketing could now include trying to persuade others to strike
  • Trade unions could now not be challenged in courts
  • 30 Labour Members of Parliament in Parliament after 1906 election, however, many workers were displeased with what they had achieved since gaining their seats
  • Argued that strikes were needed to bring about a socialist society

Employers’ reaction to new trade unions

  • Formed associations to give support to one another
  • Used the law to their advantage
  • Invariably won court battles against unions
  • Confirmed belief amongst trade unions that they needed representation in politics
  • This party would represent the working class and trade unions
  • They would be in a position to change laws to benefit the workers

TAFF VALE 1901- huge turning point

The emergence of the Labour party

  • The question should not be how did the Labour Party come to being in 1906, but why did it take so long?
  • The working class had been involved in politics since the earliest expansion of the franchise to include working class in 1815
  • The 1867 and 1884 Reform acts had extended the vote to large numbers of working class men
  • Both Liberals and Conservatives sought to win over the votes of the working class
  • However, neither were willing to allow the working class extended political power
  • As Members of Parliament had to fund their own position it was impossible for many working class to stand as Members
  • The Liberals were still committed to free trade, allowing only minimum of government interference in the market
  • The unions therefore found it difficult to believe that the Liberals were the party of the people as they would want them to believe
  • The Liberals accepted working class men as parliamentary candidates in certain areas
  • However, there were only 11 Lib-Lab Members of Parliament by 1900

Why was the Labour party so slow to develop?

  • The existing parties were popular with the voters
  • Both Conservatives and Liberals had large working class support
  • Many people voted on religion rather than class
  • Non-Conformists Liberal and Anglican Conservative
  • Many workers were not interested in politics or socialism
  • Many workers were more interested in their pastimes rather than getting involved in politics
  • Many were respectful of the existing system and accepted it rather than rebelling against it
  • British governments treated trade unions well and respectfully compared to their foreign counterparts
  • Labour candidates worked through existing parties
  • Many early labour representation league candidates ran as Liberal Members of Parliament

From 1888 this situation began to change

  • Disappointed with Liberals
  • Increasing success for trade union movement
  • The emergence of charismatic working class leaders
  • Led to the foundation of the Independent Labour Party

The Independent Labour Party

The Bradford Conference 1893

  • In 1890-91 there had been a strike in the Bradford area in the silk and textiles industries
  • Employers had worked together to defeat the strike
  • The unions worked together to help the strikers
  • The workers lost
  • However, the experience had created strong support for political action
  • Many saw the need for a strong and independent Labour Party
  • The Bradford conference drew together various socialist factions
  • The Scottish Labour Party (Keir Hardie), Trade Union representatives, Social Democratic federation (SDF), Fabians and labour club representatives
  • The main aim of the delegates was to create a party where socialists and trade unions could work together and get Labour candidates into parliament
  • They deliberately called themselves a Labour party rather than a socialist party to draw as much support as possible from trade unions

What did the ILP achieve?

  • Provided a social life for people, set up Sunday schools and clubs
  • Its Leader, Keir Hardie, was a charismatic dominant figure
  • Preached of a better life under socialism
  • Members worked tirelessly in trade unions
  • Achieved more influence in the unions
  • Co-operated with Liberals in local areas
  • Many members were elected onto local councils, school boards
  • Overall grew in size, began to get elected at local level
  • Most importantly gained authority with trade unions

The Labour Representation Committee 1900

  • ILP leaders knew trade unions were of great importance to them
  • The trade unions were now more aware of a need for political representation
  • The unions wanted laws introducing 8 hour working days and extension of picketing rights
  • This meant getting Members elected into Parliament
  • The Trade Union Congress (TUC), ILP, SDF and Fabians met at a conference arranged by Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald
  • They all had differing views but concentrated on organisation not policy details
  • They drew up an agreement for ‘a distinct Labour Group who shall have their own officials and agree upon policy’
  • They would cooperate with any party willing to promote legislation in the direct interests of Labour

What did the LRC achieve?

  • The group was a federation of different groups, not yet a single party
  • Trade unions provided money to fund LRC candidates
  • Only 2 Members got into Parliament after the 1900 election
  • To be more effective the LRC needed funds and election workers, the trade unions were the only organisation large enough to provide both
  • In 1901 the LRC had 353,000 affiliated members through trade unions
  • After Taff Vale this had risen to 850,000
  • Taff Vale helped gain members through the decision to make trade unions liable for damages after strike action

Lib-Lab Pact 1906 election

  • Semi-secret agreement between Labour and Liberals
  • Candidates from both parties would stand down in opposition to one another if the other candidate was more likely to win
  • This would help gain victory over Conservatives as the voters would be more likely to vote Liberal or Labour
  • 29 LRC candidates were elected, 24 of them had no opposition from Liberals
  • Impossible to know if LRC candidates would have been elected without pact
  • However, undoubtedly helped gain support

What did the Labour Party achieve 1906-14

  • Labour Party title adopted in 1906, after general election all those sitting specifically to represent working class interests agreed to act as single party
  • Miners did not merge until 1908, when the party’s political power shifted to greater
  • Trade disputes act 1906, shows Labour influence over Liberals
  • Changed law to protect trade unions and strikers in reversal of Taff vale decision
  • Education provision of meals act 1906
  • Brought forward by newly elected Labour Member of Parliament and adopted by Liberals

Labour party 1906-14

  • Broadly based organisation
  • No clear commitment to full programme of socialism
  • Divisions in the Labour party ran deep
  • The ILP still remained separate identity within the party
  • Dispute over female suffrage caused divisions
  • Working class men were generally amongst the least sympathetic to the idea
  • More committed socialist (Keir Hardie) were in favour of female votes

1910 election

  • Fielded only 70 candidates through fear of financial problems resulting from Osborne judgement
  • 40 labour Members of Parliament elected, all from areas where no Liberal stood
  • After 1910 elections the Irish Nationals became the focus of Liberal legislations
  • Before became dependent of Irish, New Liberals had been sympathetic to those seen as natural allies against Conservatives
  • Now as Liberals lost majority moved away from natural concerns of Labour party and moved towards Irish question

Osborne Judgement 1909

  • Set back for Labour party
  • House of Lords judges decide trade unions have no legal right to use its funds for political purposes
  • Undermined Labour party funding
  • Seen by working class as attack on Labour movement

Trade Union Act 1913

  • Major boost
  • Asquith’s government pass bill which gave unions right to use subscriptions to fund political parties

Overall...Was Labour making progress before 1914?


  • Liberals needed Lib-Lab Pact as much as Labour in order to control growing threat of Labour movement
  • Powerful trade unions were abandoning Liberals and turning to Labour
  • Liberals introduced some reforms under pressure from Labour, School meal and pensions
  • Payment of Members of Parliament Act 1911 gave working class opportunity to stand for parliament
  • Membership had risen from 375,000 in 1900 to 1.5 million in 1910
  • Organisation and funding had risen dramatically along with trade union involvement in party


  • Labour only got 42 Members of Parliament in 1910 through Lib-Lab pact
  • Only gained seats where Liberals did not stand
  • Labour too closely linked with Liberals, had no single identity
  • Labour not pursuing policies to help working class
  • Supported Home Rule rather than campaigning for improved living standards
  • Liberals established as party of social reforms



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