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J. Keir Hardie
Chapter 4. The Second International—West Ham—The I.L.P. - Parliament


THE year 1889 is notable in Socialist history as the year in which what is known as the Second International was founded. Its predecessor, formed in’ 1864, under the style of the International Workingmen’s Association by Karl Marx in co-operation with George Odger, George Howell, Robert Applegarth, and other leading British trade unionists, together with representatives from the Continental countries,, was rent asunder by disputes between Bakuninists and Marxists, and finally ceased to exist in 1876. But the principles and the purpose which inspired it could not, and cannot, be destroyed. International war, the Franco-Prussian, had, for the time being, defeated international working-class solidarity, as it has once again—may we hope for the last time— in these recent terrible years. The idea of co-ordinated-international class effort based upon communion of interests is one of those ideas which, once enunciated, are indestructible except through the disappearance of class. The slogan of the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world unite,” sounded by Marx twenty years before the first International was formed, may be temporarily overwhelmed by militarist and nationalist war cries, but it re-asserts itself, and must do so until it becomes the ascendant, dominant note in humanity’s marching tune.

The call for international, working-class unity was making itself heard once more, and this 1889 Conference in Paris was the answer to the call. Naturally, Keir Hardie was there amongst the others. There were, in fact, two Congresses held simultaneously, one of purely trade union origin, arising out of the decisions of the Conference held in London the previous year, and the other arising out of the decisions of the German Working-Class Party in 1886. But for misunderstandings, unavoidable perhaps in the early stages of so great a thing as an international movement, there need only have been one Congress, for both passed the same resolutions and manifested the same purpose, though one was labelled Possibilist, and the other Marxist.

What is to be noted is, that Hardie attended the avowedly Marxist Congress, thus early affirming his allegiance to the Socialist conception of internationalism. Hyndman, the exponent and standard bearer in Britain of Marxian philosophy pure and undefiled, attended the Possibilist gathering as delegate from the Social Democratic Federation. With him were representatives from the Fabian Society, the Trades Union Congress and the Trade Union movement generally, amongst his colleagues being John Burns, Herbert Burrows, Mrs. Besant, Thomas Burt, M.P., and Charles Fenwick, M.P. Hardie, who at the other Congress represented the Scottish Labour Party, had for companions Cunninghame Graham from the same Party, and William Morris from the Socialist League. Thus, before any political Labour Party had been formed for Great Britain, a Scottish Labour Party was represented in the international movement, due undoubtedly to the influence of its Secretary, Keir Hardie. At this Congress he found himself in the company of many famous leaders from other lands, including Wilhelm Liebknecht, Jules Guesde, Bebel, Vollmar, Dr. Adler and Anseele, and, we may be sure, gained education and inspiration thereby. Both Congresses passed resolutions in favour of an Eight Hours’ Day, a Minimum Wage, prohibition of child labour and unhealthy occupations, and the abolition of standing armies; not by any means a revolutionary programme, but one postulating the demands upon which the organised workers of all countries might be expected to agree. The virtue and strength of the International was not in its programme, but in the mere fact of its existence. Therein lay incalculable potentialities. The Workers’ International is the adaptation of labour force to meet the world conditions created by modern capitalism. It challenges, not any particular form of government here or there, in this country or in that, but the capitalist system, which is one and the same in all countries.

Moreover, the International differentiated itself from other rebel movements in that it placed no reliance on underground methods. It came out into the open. It assumed that labour was now strong enough to stand upright. It recognised that methods of secrecy made national working-class co-operation impossible, and that only by open declaration of ideals and purposes could the people in the various countries understand and have confidence in each other. The International was, and is, an historic phenomenon, vastly more important than the English Magna Charta, the American Declaration of Independence, or the Fall of the Bastille. It is the summation of these and other efforts towards liberty, seeking not merely to proclaim, but to establish the Rights of Man. Three times it has suffered eclipse. The Communist League hardly survived its birth-hour amid the storms and revolutionary turmoil of 1848. The First International—so-called—went down through the blood and fire of the Franco-Prussian War. The Second, of which we are now speaking, was submerged in the frenzies of a world war. Already it emerges once again, the deathless International, and who shall say that it will not this time accomplish its purpose?

They were strong, courageous spirits who conceived the Workers’ International and gave it form and stimulus, and lifted it ever and anon out of the very jaws of death. Amongst these Keir Hardie has a foremost place.

The consciousness of having assisted in an event of unparalleled importance to the working class could not but have an expanding effect upon a mind already deeply impressed with a sense of the greatness of the Labour movement, and it is unfortunate that we have no personal record of his impressions at this time. He was not much in the habit of revealing his thoughts in his private correspondence, and his paper, “The Miner,” having ceased to exist, we have no printed account of the Paris Congress such as that which he gave of the London one the previous year. It would have been deeply interesting for us to know, not only his thoughts about the personalities whom he met, but also how the great city of Paris looked to the miner from Ayrshire. That this experience constituted another stage in the development of his character cannot be doubted, and the equanimity with which in future years he was able to meet the rebuffs, vexations and scurrilities which assailed him in the course of his work for Socialism, derived itself in large measure from his sense of the magnitude of the cause to which his life was now consecrated.

At home, the chief task of Hardie and other advanced workers was to combat the conservative elements in the Labour movement itself, as exemplified in the reluctance of the big Trade Unions to adapt themselves to the changing economic and political conditions of the time. After a long heroic struggle the old repressive combination laws had broken down. Trade Unionism had been legalised, an achievement in itself marking a big step in the advance towards liberty, but still only a step. The right to combine, implying the right to strike, was still for large sections of the workers only a right theoretically, as was shown by the failure of Joseph Arch to organise the agricultural labourers, and by the difficulty of incorporating in the general Trade Union movement the immense mass of unskilled labour, male and female, whose low standard of wages continually imperilled the higher standard of the organised sections. This very year another big strike of London Dock labourers had taken place, and there was seen amongst this class of workers much the same sequence of events which Hardie had witnessed amongst the miners of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, namely, that the strike was a necessary prelude to the Trade Union. First organise and then strike, seems logical, but in the early stages of revolt against economic subjection, necessity, not logic, is the determining factor, and the process is first strike then organise. The strike, resorted to in many cases in sheer desperation by unorganised workers who have been driven to the conclusion that it is better to go idle and starve than to work and starve, emphasises (whether it be partially successful or a complete failure) the need for organisation, and later there comes the conviction that if only the organisation can be made effective enough there will be no need for strikes. “The strike epidemic,” as the pressmen called it, of those years, amongst dockers, gas-workers, general labourers, seamen, match girls and other seemingly helpless sections of the community, laid the foundations for the powerful unions of the unskilled —so called—which now play an equally effective part with the craftsmen’s associations in determining conditions of employment. But in its immediate economic effects the strike movement of those times did something more than that. It demonstrated the inter-dependence of all sections of labour, and consequently the mutuality of the interests of all. A stoppage of labour in the dockyards, or on the railways, or in the coal mines throughout the country, affected the productive capacity of engineers and textile workers and the distributive capacity of shopkeepers and warehousemen. It played havoc with the idea of an aristocracy of labour. It tended to break down class divisions within the working class. It gave birth to the idea that the Labour cause is one and indivisible.

Synchronising with all this industrial unrest was the fact that the workers now possessed a large measure of political power, and the growing feeling that some means must be found of giving effect to it. In all their disputes, the workers found the Government, whether Tory or Liberal, throwing its weight on the side of the employers. They found that in these disputes they had to fight both Tory and Liberal employers, that directors and shareholders of industrial companies knew no party politics; they even found, as in the casie of the strike of the shamefully underpaid women at the Manningham Mills in Yorkshire, a Liberal Cabinet Minister amongst the sweaters. They found further, that Parliament, though elected by the votes of the workers, made not the slightest attempt to deal with the problem of unemployment, but left the employers free to use that problem with its surplusage of labour as a weapon against the workers; and thus there began to evolve, almost without propaganda, a belief in the need for a political Labour Party—an Independent Labour Party.

Towards the formation of such a party Hardie now devoted all his activities. Not only on the propaganda platform and in the Miners’ Trade Union Councils, but year by year at the annual Trades Union Congress he had come to be regarded as the chief spokesman of the new idea of political independence, and was the mark for all the antagonism which that idea evoked, not only from the capitalists and landlords, but from the working classes themselves, and especially from those working-class leaders who, while believing in political action, had all their lives and with perfect sincerity been looking towards Liberalism as the way out. These men naturally resented any action which tended to weaken the Liberal Party as being either treason or stupidity. Passions were aroused and some life-long friendships broken during this protracted struggle between the right and left wings of the Labour movement. But the work went on, and when the General Election of 1892 came along, sufficient progress had been made to justify the Independents in at least a partial and tentative trial of strength at the polls, as the outcome of which Keir Hardie found himself in Parliament.

That fact gives some measure alike of the growth of the labour sentiment towards political independence, and of the extent to which Hardie was now recognised as representative not merely of a trade or section or district, but of the Labour movement nationally.

In 1888, he had claimed the suffrages of the Lanarkshire electors on the grounds that as a miner he was specially qualified to deal with the interests of the miners, and that as a Scotsman he was specially qualified to deal with Scottish affairs. Now, four years later, he was returned to Parliament by a constituency in which there was not a single miner and very few Scots. That the miner from Scotland should have been able to appeal successfully to a London community is indicative also of a certain intellectual adaptability on his part, a capacity for identifying himself with the mental and social outlook of people whose environment and habits of thought were very much different from those in which he himself had been reared.

The success of John Burns at Battersea is not so difficult to understand. He was on his native streets, amongst his own people, and spoke in their idioms— a Londoner of the Londoners. Hardie was an incomer, a foreigner almost; and his quick success in this new field of adventure cannot be wholly accounted for, either by the strength of the local Labour organisation, which was only in its incipient stage, or by the intervention of certain accidental circumstances which will be referred to later. Hardie’s personality had much to do with his — success at West Ham, and especially his power of merging himself without losing himself in the actual life of the people whom he wished to serve.

His presence in West Ham was largely the outcome of the Mid-Lanark contest, which had attracted the attention of advanced politicians all over the country, and amongst them certain democrats in this industrial district of London who were dissatisfied with the Liberal Party policy and were up in arms against the local party caucus. The I.L.P. had not yet been founded, but there was a very influential branch of the Land Restoration League as the result of Henry George’s visit to this country some years previously, with groups of Socialists and Radicals anxious to try conclusions with the orthodox parties. From a committee formed of these, Hardie received the invitation to contest the constituency.

The rejection of financial help from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and the manner of the rejection, emphasised the fact that he was, above all things, a Labour candidate who was not to touch pitch, however offered. Mr. Carnegie, who was by way of being an uncompromising Republican, was also, as the whole world knew, a big employer of labour in America, and as his employees at Pittsburg were at that very time on strike and were up against Mr. Carnegie’s “live wires” and hired gunmen, the West Ham share of the donations went to help the strikers.

The election of Hardie and Burns was the first practical indication to the orthodox politicians that there were new elements in society with which they would have to reckon. Even yet they hardly realised the significance of what had taken place. They were being kept too busy with other matters to be able to take serious note of the new movement. Not without reason, they were concerned with the malcontents of Ireland more than with the malcontents of Labour. Their last Franchise Act had created a formidable British-Irish electorate, able to decide the fate of governments—or at least so it seemed for a time—and the rival competitors for parliamentary power were Susy on the one hand placating the Irishmen, and on the other stirring up and rallying all the possible reserves of British prejudice against the Irish. They were, in fact, endeavouring to keep the British voters divided, no longer merely as Liberals and Conservatives, but as Home Rulers and Unionists. In this they were only too successful, but were too engrossed in the congenial political manoeuvring in which British statecraft seems to live and move and have its being, to realise the significance of the entry into Parliament of a man like Hardie. They were to have it fully brought home to them within the next three years.

That Hardie was on this occasion favoured by a certain element of luck must be admitted. The local Liberal Party were taken at a disadvantage through the sudden death of their selected candidate, and, with little time to look for another and the knowledge that Hardie had already secured a strong following, they made a virtue of necessity, and, though never officially recognising him, joined forces with the forward section. They even persuaded themselves that Hardie could be regarded as a Liberal Member and be subject to official party discipline.

They had no grounds for such a belief in any utterances of the Labour candidate. On the contrary, he had made explicit declarations of his independence of party control. “I desire,” he said in his election address, “to be perfectly frank with the body of electors, as I have been with my more immediate friends and supporters in the constituency. I have all my life given an independent support to the Liberal Party, but my first concern is the moral and material welfare of the working classes, and if returned, I will in every case place the claims of .— labour above those of party. Generally speaking, I am in agreement with the present programme of the Liberal Party so far as it goes, but I reserve to myself the absolute and unconditional right to take such action, irrespective of the exigencies of party welfare, as may to me seem needful in the interests of the workers.” At a Conference of Trade Unions, Temperance Societies, Associations and Clubs, asked if he would follow Gladstone, he answered : “So long as he was engaged in good democratic work, but if he opposed Labour questions he would oppose him or anybody else.” “Would he join the Liberal and Radical Party?” In reply, he said “he expected to form, an Independent Labour Party”

On these conditions he entered the House of Commons untrammelled and unpledged—except to his own conscience—perhaps the only free man in that assembly.

He had hardly taken his seat, and the new Government had not even been formed, when he began to be troublesome to the House of Commons’ authorities. On August 18th, we find him interrogating the Speaker as to procedure, and as this was his first Parliamentary utterance and foreshadows fairly well his subsequent policy, the question may be given in full. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I rise to put a question of which I have given you private notice. Perhaps you will allow me to offer one word of explanation as to why I put the question. On Thursday, last week, I gave notice of an amendment to the Address, but when the amendment then before the House was disposed of there was so much noise and confusion that I did not hear the main question put, and I anticipated that to-day there would be an opportunity of discussing the point embodied in my amendment. I find that under the ordinary rules of the House there will be no such opportunity. The question which I desire to put now, Sir, is whether, in view of the interest which has been awakened on the question of holding an autumn session for the consideration of measures designed to improve the condition of the people, there is any way by which the sense of the House can now be taken for the guidance of the ministry now in process of formation?” The Speaker, as was to be expected, ruled that the question could not be raised until a Government had been formed. And as no autumn session was held, it was February of next year before Hardie could begin his Parliamentary work on behalf of the unemployed.

An incident which occurred at this time illustrates in a very vivid way his determination to keep himself clear of all entanglements which might in any way interfere with his personal and political independence. It had best be described by himself, especially as his manner of telling the story brings out some of those characteristics which governed his actions all through life.

“I was elected in July, and on getting home was told that two quaintly dressed old ladies had spent a week in the village making very exhaustive inquiries about my life and character. Later in the year, we were spending a few days with my wife’s mother, in Hamilton, and learned they had been there also and had visited my wife’s mother. They told her frankly their errand. They knew that, as a working man, I would be none too flush of money, and they were anxious to help in this respect, provided they were satisfied that I was dependable. Their inquiries into my public character were assuring, but—was I a good husband? A mother-in-law was the best authority on that.

“The upshot was that I received, through an intermediary, an invitation to call upon them in Edinburgh, which I did. They explained that from the time of the Parnell split they had been helping to finance the Parnellite section of the Irish' Party, but that they also wanted to help Socialism, and believed that Nationalism and Socialism would one day be working together. They therefore proposed to give me a written agreement to pay me £300 a year so long as I remained in Parliament, and to make provision for it being continued after they had gone. To a man without a shilling, and the prospect of having to earn his living somehow, the offer had its practical advantages, and I promised to think it over. A few days later I wrote declining the proposal, but suggesting as an alternative that they should give the money to the Scottish Labour Party, the I.L.P. not yet having been formed.

“But this gave mighty offence. They had all their lives been accustomed to having things done in their own way, and, as I learned subsequently, their attachment was to persons rather than causes. For my part, I was probably a bit quixotic and had made up my mind to ‘gang my ain gait’ without shackle or trammel of any sort or kind. Besides, I knew that they had made a charge against a leading member of the Land Restoration League of having appropriated to his own use money intended for other purposes, and I was taking no risks.”

And thus it came about that for the second time Keir Hardie had refused an income of £300 a year. The two elderly ladies were the Misses Kippen of Edinburgh, and, as will appear, they did not allow this rebuff to destroy their interest in Hardie’s career, nor in the cause with which he was identified.

The following year, during the Parliamentary session, an experience of another kind provided him with an amusing indication of the insidious methods which might be used to influence his Parliamentary conduct. He was invited to a seance in an artist’s studio, the special inducement being the prospect of a talk with Robert Burns. He took with him a number of friends, Bruce Wallace, Frank Smith, S. G. Hobson and others well known in the Labour movement of that time. The medium delivered messages from Parnell, Bradlaugh, Bright and other distinguished persons resident in the spirit world, including Robert Burns, and they all with one accord advised Hardie to vote against the Irish Home Rule Bill! As Hardie supported Home Rule on every possible occasion, we must' suppose that these eminent shades were duly disgusted. Hardie never learned who were responsible for the seance, but they must have taken him to be a very simple-minded person—either that, or they were so themselves.

In the interval between his election and the opening of his Parliamentary career, an event of even greater importance than his election to Parliament had taken place. The Independent Labour Party had been formed, and when he returned to Westminster it was with the knowledge that there was an organised body of support outside. Even in these first few weeks, however, he had, partly by accident and partly by design, managed to become a conspicuous Parliamentary figure, and to inaugurate a sartorial revolution in that highly conventional assembly. The intrusion of the cloth cap and tweed jacket amongst the silk hats and dress suits was most disturbing and seemed to herald the near approach of the time when the House of Commons would cease to be the gentlemen of England’s most exclusive club-room. It conveyed an ominous sense of impending change, not at all modified by the fact that the cloth cap had arrived in a two-horse brake with a trumpeter on the box. Hardie’s participation in these shocks to the House of Commons’ sense of decency was quite involuntary. He wore the clothes which were to him most comfortable.

The charabanc was the outcome of the enthusiasm of a few of his working-class constituents who desired to convey their Member to St. Stephen’s in style, and being a natural gentleman always, he accepted their company and their equipage in the spirit in which it was proferred. In the result, the vulgar sarcasms of the press made him the most widely advertised Member of the new Parliament and even for a time overshadowed the discussion as to whether Rosebery or Harcourt would succeed Gladstone in the premiership.

Meantime, while the press humorists were making merry, the Independent Labour Party was getting itself formed.

Following upon the formation of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, in 1888, similar organisations had sprung up in various districts of England, notably in Yorkshire and Lancashire and on the North-East coast. All these bodies had the same object, namely, the return to Parliament of Labour Members who would be independent of the Liberal and Tory parties.

A most notable factor in bringing those organisations into being was “The Workman’s Times,” founded in 1890, under the vigorous editorship (and latterly proprietorship) of Mr. Joseph Burgess, who in due course became a prominent personality in the Independent Labour Party, in the formation of which he took an active part. Though published in London, the paper, through its localised editions, had a considerable circulation throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire, especially amongst the textile workers.

It consistently and ably advocated independent Labour representation, with Socialism as the objective. It ceased to exist in 1894, but by that time it had done its pioneering work and helped to make an Independent Labour Party not only possible, but inevitable.

There was also the Social Democratic Federation operating chiefly in London, but with branches scattered here and there throughout the country, and having the same political objective as the others. Between all these bodies, however, there was no organised cohesion, except to some extent in Scotland, where the Scottish Labour Party had brought into existence some thirty branches, all affiliated to a Central Executive, of which Hardie was Secretary. The time had now arrived for unifying all these bodies into one National Party. With two independent Labour Members now in Parliament (for it was fully believed that Burns, whose Socialist declarations had been even more militant than Hardie’s, would be sturdily independent) it was felt that a strong organisation was needed in the country to sustain and reinforce these Parliamentary representatives and to formulate a policy which would define clearly the Socialist aspirations of the new movement. In September, the annual meeting of the Trades Union Congress was held at Glasgow. By a greatly increased majority, the resolution in favour of independent Labour representation, which had been passed at three previous meetings of the Congress, was reaffirmed, but unlike what had happened on previous occasions it was not allowed to fall into complete neglect. That same day, an informal meeting of delegates favourable to the formation of a Party in conformity with the resolution was held, and it was decided that a conference of advanced bodies willing to assist in promoting that object should be called.

On January 13th and 14th, 1893, the conference was — held in the Labour Institute, Bradford. Delegates to the number of one hundred and twenty-one mustered from all parts of England and Scotland. All manner of Labour and Socialist societies were represented, the chief however being Labour clubs, branches of the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society, the Scottish Labour Party, and several trade organisations. Keir Hardie was elected Chairman, and despite many forebodings of dissension and failure, the gathering set itself to the task of formulating a constitution in a thoroughly earnest and harmonious spirit. The name “Independent Labour Party,” which had already become a common appellation of the new movement and had been assumed by many of the local clubs, was adopted almost unanimously in preference to that of the “Socialist Labour Party.”

Without hesitation, however, the Conference declared the primary object of the Party to be the “collective ownership and control of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” Thus, though rejecting the word Socialist from its title, the Party became an avowedly Socialist or Social Democratic organisation. Among the delegates present at this historic Conference were Bernard Shaw, Robert Blatchford, Pete Curran, Robert Smillie, Katherine St. John Conway (afterwards Mrs. Bruce Glasier), F. W. Jowett, Joseph Burgess, James Sexton, Ben Tillett, Russell Smart, and many other notable workers for Socialism.

Mr. Shaw Maxwell, well known in Glasgow Labour circles, but at that time resident in London, was appointed Secretary, and Mr. John Lister, of Halifax, Treasurer. The National Administrative Council consisted of delegates representing the London District, the Midland Counties, the Northern Counties, and Scotland, their names being : Katherine St. John Conway, Dr. Aveling, son-in-law of Karl Marx, Pete Curran, Joseph Burgess, Alfred Settle, William Johnson, W. H. Drew, J. C. Kennedy, George S. Christie, A. Field, A. W. Buttery, William Small, George Carson and R. Chisholm Robertson.

Not all of those who took part in these memorable proceedings were able to continue their allegiance through the years of storm and trouble which followed. Robert Blatchford, failing to get the constitution made as watertight against compromise as he desired, in due course seceded. Others fell away for exactly the opposite reason, because the constitution, from their point of view, lacked elasticity. On the whole, however, the defectionists were comparatively few, and even they could not undo the work they had helped to accomplish in those two eventful days in Bradford. They had founded one of the most remarkable organisations that has ever existed in this or any other country—a political party and something more—a great social fellowship, joining together in bonds of friendship all its adherents in every part of. the land and forming a communion comparable to that of some religious fraternity whose members have taken vows of devotion to. a common cause.

This fraternal spirit was the outcome of the nature and method of the propaganda carried on by the new Party and of the character of the propagandists, who were mostly of the rank and file; and also of the character of the Party newspaper, which made its appearance almost simultaneously with the Party itself. The “Labour Leader,” promoted by the Scottish Labour Party on the initiative of Hardie, and edited by him, came out as a monthly periodical devoted to the interests of the I.L.P.

On entering Parliament, he had quickly realised that if he were to be able to stand there alone, ostracised as he was sure to be by all the other parties, and subject to the misrepresentations of the entire political press, he would require at least one newspaper which would keep him right with his own people. Its most valuable feature for promoting a sense of unity and fellowship amongst the readers consisted in the brief reports of the doings of the branches in the various districts, whereby they were brought together, so to speak, all the year round. Men and women who had never met face to face, nevertheless got to feel an intimate comradeship the one with the other.

During the first year, the “Labour Leader” was produced monthly, and afterwards weekly. It had, as we shall see, amongst its contributors writers and artists of great ability, some of them perhaps with a greater literary gift than Hardie himself, but throughout it continued to be mainly the expression of Hardie’s personality. It came to be spoken of by friends and enemies alike as “Keir Hardie’s paper.”

At this period he had good reason to be satisfied with the way things were going. He had gained a footing in Parliament, and had sufficient confidence in himself to believe that from that position he could command the attention of the nation to the questions in which he was interested. The political party for which he had laboured incessantly during five strenuous years, had now come into existence and promised to become a power in the land. And he had control of a newspaper which, though limited in size and circulation, yet enabled him to reach that section of the community whose support he most valued. All this meant more and ever more work, but he was not afraid of work. It was the kind of work he loved, for the people he loved. It was the work for which he believed himself fitted and destined. And in this frame of mind he prepared to resume his Parliamentary duties.

Hardie had no illusions as to the kind of environment into which he was now entering and certainly had no expectations that the new Government would willingly provide him with opportunities for realising his avowed purpose of forming a new party in the House. The Tory opposition was simply the usual Tory opposition with only one immediate object in view, to defeat the Government and step into its place. On both sides all the vested interests of capital and land were strongly represented. There were fifteen avowed Labour Members in the House, but of these only three had been returned independent of party—John Burns, J. Havelock Wilson and Hardie himself. The others had long ago proved themselves to be very plastic political material. It was hoped that the three Independents would hold together, but that had yet to be proved—or disproved. Hardie was not disposed to wait too long for developments. The unemployed were demonstrating daily on the Embankment and he had pledged himself to raise the question of unemployment. Whatever the others might do, he was going to keep his word. The Government, playing for time to produce its Home Rule measure, had in the Queen’s Speech outlined a colourless legislative programme which, while referring vaguely to agricultural depression, quite ignored the industrial distress. Upon this omission Hardie based his initial appeal to the House of Commons.

On February 7th, 1893, he made his first speech in the House of Commons in moving the following amendment to the Address: “To add, ‘And further, we humbly desire to express our regret that Your Majesty has not been advised when dealing with agricultural depression to refer also to the industrial depression now prevailing and the widespread misery due to large numbers of the working class being unable to find employment, and direct Parliament to legislate promptly and effectively in the interests of the unemployed.’” There was a large attendance of members curious to see how this reputed firebrand would comport himself in the legislative chamber. If there were any there who expected, and perhaps hoped, to hear a noisy, declamatory utterance in consonance with their conception of working-class agitational oratory, they were disappointed. He spoke quietly and argumentatively, But with an earnestness which held the attention of the House.

“It is a remarkable fact,” he began, “that the speech of Her Majesty should refer to one section of industrial distress and leave the other altogether unnoticed, and there are some of us who think that, if the interests of the landlords were not bound up so closely with the agricultural depression, the reference even to the agricultural labourers would not have appeared in the Queen’s speech.” He went on to justify his action in moving the amendment by referring to his election pledges to raise the question of unemployment in Parliament. He spoke of the extent of the evil and quoted the trade union returns to show that 1,300,000 workers were in receipt of out-of-work pay, and he based upon these and Poor Law statistics, the statement that not less than 4,000,000 people were without visible means of support. His amendment had been objected to, he said, because it contained no specific proposal for dealing with the evil. Had it done so it would have been objected to still more, because every one who wanted to find an excuse for not voting for the amendment would have discovered it in whatever proposals he might have made. The House would agree that he had high authority in this House for “not disclosing the details of our proposals until we are in a position to give effect to them”—which was not quite in his power yet. Meantime, the Government, being a large employer of labour, might do something for the immediate relief of the distress then prevailing. It could abolish overtime, about which he had heard complaints. It could increase the minimum wage of labourers in the dockyards and arsenals to sixpence per hour, and it could enact a forty-eight hour week for all Government employees. It had been estimated that, were the hours of railway servants reduced to eight per day, employment would be found for 150,000 extra workingmen. The Government might also establish what is known as home colonies on^the idle lands about which they heard so much discussion in that House. One of the most harrowing features connected with the problem of the unemployed was not the poverty or the hardship they had to endure, but the fearful moral degradation that followed in the train of enforced idleness. In every season of the year and in every consideration of trade, men were unemployed. The pressure under which) industry was carried on to-day necessitated that the young and the strong and the able should have preference in obtaining employment, and if the young, the strong and the able were to have the preference, then the middle-aged and the aged must, of necessity, be thrown on the street. They were now discussing an address of thanks to Her Majesty for her speech. He wanted to ask the Government, what have the unemployed to thank Her Majesty for in the speech which had been submitted to the House? Their case was overlooked and ignored. They were left out as if they did not exist.

This amendment was seconded by Colonel Howard Vincent, a Tory Member, and in the division he had the support of many Tories who were, doubtless, more anxious to weaken the Government than to help the unemployed, Sir John Gorst being probably the only member of that Party who was sincere in his approval of Hardie’s action. John Burns did not take part in the debate, while Cremer, a Liberal-Labour Member and actually one of the founders of the International, spoke against the amendment and explained that he had already put himself “right with his constituents”; so that, literally, Hardie stood alone as an Independent Labour representative voicing the claims of the unemployed worker in his first challenge to capitalism upon the floor of the House of Commons. One hundred and nine Members voted with Hardie, 276 against him. The division was mainly on party lines. He had proved that honesty is the best tactics and had successfully exploited the party system for his own purpose. The spectacle of the Liberals voting against the unemployed, and the Ayrshire miner leading the Tory rank and file into the revolutionary lobby was not calculated to enhance the credit of either of these official parties. The Liberals never forgave him for having compelled them to make exposure of their own inherent reactionism.

The approval or disapproval of either of the official parties did not affect Hardie in the slightest degree, and he continued to seize every opportunity which the Rules of the House allowed to give publicity to the grievances of all classes of workers. A mere list of the questions which he asked during his first Parliamentary session almost forms an index to the social conditions of the country at that time. On the same day on which he moved his unemployment amendment, we find him asking the Postmaster-General to state why certain Post Office officials had been refused leave to attend a meeting of the Fawcett Association. On March 7th, he was inquiring as to the dismissal, without reason assigned, of certain prison warders. On the 9th, he was back again at the unemployment question, demanding from the Local Government Board information as to the number of unemployed in the various industries, and what steps local authorities were taking to deal with the matter. On the 10th, he wanted to know why men on strike had^ been prosecuted for playing musical instruments and collecting money, while organ-grinders and others were not interfered with for doing the same thing. On the 13th, he inquired whether it was intended to submit a measure that Session to enable local authorities to deal effectively with the severe distress prevailing all over the country, and followed this up with another question indicating how this could be done. This question is still so relevant to present-day problems that it may be given in full: “I beg to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he contemplates, in connection with the Budget proposals for next year,, such a rearrangement of the system of taxation as is known as a graduated Income Tax, by means of which the contribution to the revenue, local and imperial, would bear a relative proportion to income; also whether he will make such provision in the Budget estimates for next year as would enable the Local Government Board to make grants to any Board of Guardians, Town and County Councils, or committees of responsible citizens willing to acquire land or other property and to undertake the responsibility of organising the unemployed in home colonies and affording them the opportunity of providing the accessories of life for themselves and those dependent on them.” The same day he was inquisitive as to the pay of House of Commons’ policemen. On April 13th, he raised the question of the inadequacy of the staff of Factory Inspectors, and wanted to know whether it was proposed to appoint subinspectors from the ranks of duly qualified men and women who had themselves worked in the factories and workshops.

On this day also, he put the first of a series of questions which continued daily, like the chapters in a serial story, for the following five weeks, and gave conspicuous illustration of the alliance of the Government with the employing classes against the workers. What is known in the history of industrial revolt as the Hull Dock Strike had broken out, and the Government had, with great alacrity, sent soldiers and gunboats to the scene of the dispute. Day after day Hardie attacked the Government in the only way available, with questions, some of which were ruled out of order, but many of which had to be answered, either evasively or with a direct negative, but, either way, revealing the Government bias. “Had the shipowners refused all efforts at a compromise or towards conciliation?” “In these circumstances, would the Government order the withdrawal of the military forces?” “By whose authority were the military and naval forces of the State sent to Hull to aid the shipowners in breaking up a Trade Union registered under an Act of Parliament?” The answers not being satisfactory, he moved the adjournment of the House in order to get the whole question of military interference discussed, but less than forty Members rose, and, says “Hansard,” “business proceeded.” Nothing daunted, he returned to the attack, and asked the Secretary of State for War whether he was aware that soldiers were being used at Hull in loading and unloading ships. He asked Asquith whether a lady journalist who had taken part in a meeting of locked-out dockers had been refused access to the docks by police? He asked particulars regarding the number of magistrates at Hull; how many were shipowners or dock directors, and how many were working men, and elicited the following illuminative reply :—

“Thirty-nine magistrates, of whom there are four shipowners, nineteen shareholders in ships. Dock directors (no information). No working men.”

He followed this up with the question: “Was a Bench composed exclusively of shipowners and dock directors capable of giving an unbiassed opinion on the question of the means desirable to be taken for the protection of their own property? Was it true that additional forces had been requisitioned, and were they to be sent?” The answer was: “Yes.” “Was the chief obstacle to a settlement of the dispute a Member of this House and a supporter of the Government (the reference being to Wilson, of the Shipping Federation)?” but this was ruled out of order by the Speaker as being a matter “not under the cognisance and control of the Government.”

Day after day, and week after week, he persisted with his damaging catechism. Burns and Havelock Wilson joined him from time to time, until at last a day was granted to the latter to move a resolution on the question, he, as secretary of the Trade Union most deeply involved, being recognised as specially representative of the men on strike. A big debate ensued in which Front Bench men took part, and during which Hardie delivered an impassioned speech of considerable length. Burns, Cremer and Hardie all urged Havelock Wilson to divide the House on the question, but that gentleman, for reasons which he doubtless thought satisfactory, withdrew the resolution. Finally, the strike ended, like many others before and since, as a drawn battle in which the workers were the chief sufferers. Never before had— any Labour dispute occupied so much of the time of the House of Commons—a fact due to the presence there of one man whose sense of duty to his class was too strong to be overborne by regard for Parliamentary etiquette or party exigencies. He was pursuing, in the interests of labour, the same tactics which the Parnellites had, up to a point, pursued so effectively in the interests of Nationalism, and, had it been possible to have gathered round him at that time a group of a dozen men prepared resolutely to adhere to that policy, the subsequent history of Labour in Parliament would have been much different from what it has been. The dozen men were there, but they were bound by party ties, and lacked both the courage and the vision of Hardie.

As it was, he had redeemed his promise to form an Independent Labour Party in the House. He had formed a Party of one. And before that Parliament came to an end Liberals and Tories had to bear witness to its vitality and effectiveness.

Meantime outside was growing, thanks not a little to the advertisement it was getting from Westminster. The first Annual Conference at Manchester, in January, 1894, found it with two hundred and eighty affiliated branches. At the Conference, Hardie was elected Chairman; Tom Mann, then an enthusiastic recruit, undertook the secretaryship. Ben Tillett—with a growing reputation as an agitator, and strange though it may seem, something of a Puritan in social habits— joined the National Council. Reports from the districts showed that the Party would be well represented in the Municipal elections during the next November, and would thus have an opportunity of testing in some degree its electoral support throughout the country. The I.L.P. was an established factor in the political life of the nation.


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