1936unofficial labour party history
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February 1936A left-wing alliance wins power in Spain.
July 1936Spain's left-wing government is threatened by a right-wing armed revolt, which consists of monarchists, conservatives, clericals, proto-fascists and large sections of the Spanish Army.
October 1936 The Jarrow Crusade is born out of desperation in the industrial areas of Britain. One of its marchers, unemployed marcher George Hill of Salem St, Jarrow summed it up well when he said 'If I was fit enough in 1914, I am fit enough now.' The march succeeds in placing poverty near the top of the political agenda as even Conservatives are forced to adopt more compassionate positions. The media focus on the Jarrow marchers also ensures that the spotlight is removed from the left-wing National Unemployed Workers Movement - which has been organising hunger marches since 1932.
December 1936King Edward VIII abdicates. Throughout the saga, Attlee and the Labour leadership adopt a cautious approach, and do not lend their support to Edward.
January 1937Whilst the Conservative government turns its back on Spain, mass supplies of food, clothing and medicine are sent to the Republic. Basque children are even adopted, and more than 4,000 have been brought to Britain. The Co-operative Union and the Labour Party launch the Milk for Spain Fund - selling sixpenny and threepenny tokens in Co-ops throughout Britain. This raises 32,500 pounds for suffering children in Catalonia and other parts of Republican Spain.
April 1937Whilst the First World War established pacifism as a legitimate viewpoint within the Party, when Germany and Italy lend support to General Franco in his attempt to oust a democratically elected socialist government in Spain, policy and thought begins to change. Many socialists were to follow Major Attlee's call to arms and fight in the Battalion of the International Brigade. The atrocities inflicted by the Luftwaffe in Guernica only add to the resolve of many.
May 1937Birmingham businessman Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister. He immediately introduces the Factory Act, improving working conditions in many factories through the imposition of regulations. In his domestic policy he follows an interventionist approach, as a rather left-wing Conservative. Nonetheless, he is known for his total contempt for the Labour Party and trades unions.
September 1938Neville Chamberlain comes under concerted attack from the Labour leadership and some Conservatives. The deal at Munich to divide Czechoslovakia merely increases the resolve of the Labour Party that Hitler's aggression against German people and other Europeans has to be stopped.
Attlee says of Munich that "the Czechs have been betrayed, and handed over to a ruthless despot." Winston Churchill is quick to agree, as are the many people who attend over 2,500 protest meetings in support of Czechoslovakia.
March 1939Even Chamberlain becomes resigned to the prospect of war after the occupation of Prague. The rise of fascism, with Oswald Mosley active in London's East End, is to lead Stafford Cripps, Strauss and Nye Bevan to call for a 'Popular Front' with the Communists. They are expelled from the Party. Some had been warning of events in Italy and Germany for some years; Mussolini had gained power in 1924 after the asassination of Socialist leader Mateotti, whilst Hitler's first acts as Chancellor were to outlaw the Social Democrats and ban free trade unions.
September 1939Britain declares war after Germany invades Poland.
November 1939Bevan is re-admitted to the Labour Party with the minimum of publicity.
May 1940The fiasco over the British expedition to Norway convinces Labour's National Executive that a war leader is needed, with dissident Tories and Labour forcing Chamberlain to resign in favour of Churchill. As a Coalition is widely recognised as being essential, Labour becomes vital to the war effort.
Whilst some Conservatives, such as Lord Halifax, and some Labour people, such as Stafford Cripps, disagree with the war, the overwhelming view in the Party and Parliament is that it is a terrible necessity. The Popular Front disintegrates, with some Communists following the Moscow line on the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Labour plays an influential part in the creation of the wartime Coalition, with a united Party. All of Labour's top men enter into the War Cabinet - Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister, Dalton concentrating on economics and Herbert Morrison organising the civil defence in a new era of airstrikes and bombing.
The key role perhaps goes to Ernest Bevin of the TGWU, who is placed in charge of massive personnel mobilisation into the armed forces or war production. As the government takes over the mines and railways, and Bevin supplies the workforce, a way is being paved for Labour's New Britain. Amongst the terrible devastation of coastal and industrial towns, plans are being made for the future.
February 1942Sometimes the wartime restrictions upon information make it hard for Parliament to assess the actual progress of the war. Nye Bevan questions Churchill's handling of various incidents, such as the Singapore debacle, reflecting some restlessness within the Party. As Churchill is not only Prime Minister but is also the man co-ordinating all armed forces, Bevan attempted to restore some accountability for failures. Historians still argue whether the conduct of the war was as good as it could have been.
December 1944Most of shattered Western Europe has been placed under Allied control. It is in Eastern Europe where Labour face future problems, as Stalin's dictatorship travels with the indisputably heroic Red Army into the centre of Germany. A new world order is emerging, with American and Soviet troops face-to-face across a devastated continent.
The labour movement is starting to show signs of discontent with the entrapment of the party within the coalition. A miner's strike erupts, contained with some difficulty by Bevin, and talk is of the next election - there has not been a contest for some years by this stage. Nye Bevan warns of 'corporatism' and the growth of a faceless bureaucracy; in itself an affront to the individual freedom that so many Britons have sacrificed their lives and homes for.

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