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How significant were trade unions in the creation and Development of the LRC by 1903?

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How significant were trade unions in the creation and Development of the LRC by 1903? Over one hundred years ago, on 27th February 1900, a conference of trade unionists and socialist organizations met to establish the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), the forerunner of today's Labour Party. However in 1867, the trade union movement in Britain was limited to a mere 5% of the working class. The unions, although initially uncoordinated and unsupported by the law had, by 1903, acquired millions of members, legal protection and political representation. In order to understand the relationship between the trade union movement and the rise of the LRC it is necessary to look at the development of the unions in the context of the social, economic and political conditions in the late nineteenth century. Life at this time was pretty grim for the working class. Research by Booth and Rowntree estimated that a family of five needed a minimum of �1 a week to survive in reasonable health. He also found that 1/3 of families had less than this. Skilled workers were financially more secure, but still had no real political representation. In an attempt to improve their circumstances these skilled workers and artisans established their first trade unions in the late 1860s (these are now known as new model unions or NMUs). These were so called because they revamped previous trade union styles. They differed in that they had relatively high subscription rates so were fairly exclusive, they were nationally organized with paid officials, and lacked a real political agenda; their aim was to improve their working conditions and acquire respectability and upward social mobility. ...read more.


As stated, up until 1887 the trade union movement only represented the most aristocratic of the working class, and for the movement to truly develop the unions would need to loose their elitist approach. The time was right for a move towards solidity which worked well in highly populated industrial areas where large numbers of unskilled workers could join together to form New Unions (NUs). These were unions for the masses, recruited without distinction and with low subscription rates, therefore membership flourished. The New Unions also benefited from excellent leadership; notably Ramsey Macdonald and Kier Hardie who were both dynamic and politically astute. They realized that mass unions would need to be more militant and willing to strike to succeed. Following little more than Marxist ideology, they lead a string of successful strikes in the late 1880s. Will Thorne's organization of the London gas workers won an eight-hour day without being contested in 1889. This success soon inspired others. The Bryant & May match workers were compensated following a display of overwhelming support protesting against their poor working conditions and "phossy" jaw. The most notable and triumphant of all strikes was that of the Dockers in 1889 precipitated by low wages the unreliability of the work. The strike lasted five weeks and resulted in an increase in wages and an improvement in working conditions. This success was due to enormous support and was sustained through public donations including �30,000 from Australian trade unions. ...read more.


The case reinforced the Lyons Vs Wilkinson case of 1899, with the right to peaceful picketing completely destroyed. Trade unions also now faced another dilemma; they now had to think twice about striking in fear of being sued. The only way to overturn the Taff Vale ruling would be through an Act of Parliament. The Conservative government was strongly against political reform, and the Liberals were powerless in opposition. The NMUs realized that they were at threat from legal action by employers, and soon pledged their support and financial aid to the LRC. By 1903 127 unions were affiliated to the party. The LRC made further political progress when a pact was made with the Liberal party in which they agreed not to stand in opposition to the LRC in 30 constituencies where the working class vote would be split between the two thus allowing the Conservatives to gain a majority. This was successful, and in the 1906 the LRC gained 29 seats. In conclusion the trade union movement was crucial in the creation and development of the LRC. The poor social, economic and political conditions of the working class in the late nineteenth century created an environment in which the trade union movement was able to flourish, supported by a resurgence of the socialist left. As political reforms were introduced both skilled and unskilled workers were able to demand improved conditions. Political parties and employers saw these as a threat and retaliated (employer's backlashes) the creation of the LRC was the subsequent response of the unions and socialist parties who recognized a need to represent the rights of the working class in parliament. Shpat Shala 12TD ...read more.

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