1900-1906
Make your own free website on Tripod.com

The birth of the Labour Party officially occurred on February 27, 1900. 129 delegates gathered in the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. Among these were Keir Hardie and Ramsay McDonald from the Independent Labour Party. The groups present included:

-Independent Labour Party representatives
-4 delegates from the Marxist Social Democratic Federation
-1 representative from the Fabians
-Delegates from 64 different trade unions

What these groups had in common was the fact that they had very little in terms of financial resources and only a vague perception of a distinct political programme. The larger unions, such as the engineers and miners, maintained their pact with the Liberal Party, whilst the Co-operative Societies remained officially apolitical. Among the trade union representation present were those from craft unions, such as vellum binding and french polishing, as well as the gas workers and navvies, who had began relatively recently in their defence of conditions for unskilled workers.

The decision to form a Labour Representation Committee was unanimous, but was largely disregarded outside the hall, where the Boer War dominated the news and the popular consciousness. The fact that this was not the first effort at providing the working class with an independent voice in Parliament added to a sceptical, if not bored public response. The first year was therefore very difficult, with the Fabians not playing an active role and the SDF resigning because of the LRC's refusal to acknowledge the concept of class war. Infancy was to be tricky for the LRC.

After only months of its formation the LRC faced the first of its 'khaki elections.' Only two candidates out of 15 were successful: one of which was Keir Hardie in Merthyr, the other being Liberal- inclined Richard Bell in Derby.

The capacity of the British Establishment to shoot itself in the foot came to the rescue of the LRC in 1901. The House of Lords made the Taff Vale Judgement which established a legal liability for unions attempting industrial disputes. Losses sustained by the Taff Vale Railway Company during a rail union strike were claimed as damages from the union. This set a dangerous precedent for future disputes and illustrated the need for political representation. Membership of the LRC rose from 376,000 in 1901 to 861,000 in 1903, bolstered by textile workers and engineers.

With this came some amount of financial security and the opportunity to tighten its constitution. Now MPs could actually be paid! With candidates' independence now guaranteed, Arthur Henderson was to be one of three new MPs to send shockwaves through the political establishment by winning seats at by-elections for the LRC. Lloyd George was aware of the threat that Labour was beginning to pose.

For the index or close window to return to index