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Critically Evaluate the Impact of Socialist Organisations and Ideas on the Early Labour Party.

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Introduction

Critically Evaluate the Impact of Socialist Organisations and Ideas on the Early Labour Party. Eighteenth century industrialisation created a new class of working people, dependent for survival on the wage they earned for their labour. The conditions they endured and toiled under were often of the harshest imaginable and because of this movements grew, from varying quarters, looking to better their lot. British politics, at the time, was dominated by two sets of people: the Tories, essentially landowners, and the Whigs, liberal industrialists who emphasised personal responsibility and individualism, bound up within a general concession towards human equality. The nineteenth century saw advances towards social change implemented by these parties (the reform acts of 1832 and 1867), but it became clear to some that they could not be relied upon to take things significantly forwards, mainly as it constituted a direct conflict of interests for them to do so. Early working class upheaval, and resentment, was voiced and organised through the chartist movement; and even before that by the influential utopian socialist Robert Owen. Indeed, Engels said of Owen: "Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself onto the name of Robert Owen."1 Chartism developed in the middle 1830's to address the shortfalls of the first reform act, which failed to extend the franchise in any radical sense. Chartism therefore, had as its main tenant: '...the call for a representative parliament, largely elected by, composed of and annually accountable to working men.'2 Chartists, however, had fizzled out by the late 1840's due to poor leadership, internal disagreements, and Europe being close to revolution in 1948, which somewhat scared the British movement. Chartism still managed to survive until 1958 in Halifax, a strong working class community. The relative prosperity of the 1850s suppressed support for radical social politics somewhat, confining it mostly to small groups of migrant Europeans in the capital, Marx et al. ...read more.

Middle

As well as this, increased mechanisation of all aspects industrial work had created a great many newer, unskilled workers without any organisations to which they might have joined. SDF members, such as Annie Besant, initiated the first steps in this new movement in East London, where a new Union was formed at the Bryant & May match factory, specifically to improve working conditions. A strike was called and their demands quickly met. This Union differed from those that had gone before because it was inclusive of everybody. The setting up of the Gasworks Union in early 1889, which managed to secure a maximum working day of eight hours for its members, without having to take strike action, quickly followed this. The Gasworks Union was organised and run by SDF member Will Thorne, who worked as a stoker. Helping him were other SDF members Ben Tillett, J. Burns and T. Mann, as well as E. Marx from the socialist league. East London was again the scene for industrial action later on in the same year as dockers sought an improvement in pay to sixpence an hour, 'the Dockers' tanner', and improved working conditions. The refusal to meet these simple requests swelled the numbers of B. Tillett's newly created Labourers Union, and all dockers went on strike, including the skilled workers from their separate Unions. This conflict was not resolved as quickly the previous two; the dock owners took a strong stance and refused to negotiate. The dockers may have failed to win but for two important factors: the support of the Australian Trade Union movement, to the sum of thirty thousand pounds, and the widespread support of both the general public and the media.14 The Success of the Great Dock Strike stimulated growth of new unskilled unions across the country, but by 1893 Unions were again enduring a phase of decline. This wane in numbers can be attributed to economic factors: depression causing greater periods of unemployment, which severed the links between many men and their Unions, and especially in the unskilled and their new Unions. ...read more.

Conclusion

In addition one other MP, elected separately, defected to their ranks after the election. At this time the party changed its name to the Labour Party. It was a primarily working class party, not staunchly socialist, but prepared to accept some of its shibboleths at least. Its main focus was the improvement, and restoration of, Trade Union rights, and to campaign for improved working conditions and security for the working people. The early socialists struggled to win any widespread support from the people they were attempting to help; they were often missionary like, seeking to almost convert their contemporaries; this sanctimonious character coupled to the fact that their ideas were hard to grasp for uneducated people, who were living at a time when every one was meant to know their place and except it, meant hostility and contempt for them was the norm. The real muscle behind the creation of the LRC, and therefore the Labour Party, was the Unions; they provided the money and mass of supporters that were necessary for its survival and success. The impact of socialism on the Unions was initially small, but it was socialist thinkers and activists that fired the New Union Movement, ultimately leading to the augmentation of all the Unions, and consequently an urge for greater representation in parliament that would befit their advanced status. It was socialists, most importantly Keir Hardie, who realised how crucial the Unions would be in forwarding a workingman's party, and the ILP was formed with these intentions. The early labour party owes much to socialists, if not socialism, because without their visions of, and subsequent drive for and commitment to, an independent party for labour concerns, it would have failed to materialise. Nevertheless, the majority of those involved with unionism still had many links with the Liberals; and had the Liberals been more accommodating to their wishes they would have no doubt been able to count upon their continuing support. R. McDonald said words to this effect in 1895: "We didn't leave the Liberals. They kicked us out and slammed the door in our faces. ...read more.

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