Saturday, 18 February 2012


All that any leftwing activist needs to know about the history of the class struggle in Britain, be they a member of a trade union or not, is contained within the book shown opposite but few will have seen it and even fewer will even know of its existence.

I am fully aware the above could invite criticism - "What about the revolt of slaves in Roman times....ever heard of Spartacus?" "Remember Wat Tyler and the peasants' revolt?" "The Craft Guilds of medieval times?" "How about the Diggers, the Levellers, Cromwell, Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, and don't forget the French Revolution!" "And what of the Pugachev rebellion and the peasant uprisings in Russia?"  

Well, these occurred before 1868 and seriously, this isn't a concise history of workers' struggle for  emancipation: it is just a simple blog on parts of the history of the TUC and how this history contains lessons for those conducting the class struggle in Britain today.  It is also a commentary on the role of the Labour Party in working people's attempts to obtain true parliamentary representation that would serve their interests as a class.

The Social Science Association was a middle-class body that claimed to have a sympathetic interest in trade unionism.  However, when William Dronfield, secretary of the Sheffield Typographical Society attempted to defend trade unions following a savage attack on them by a previous speaker at a Congress of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, there was not a single mention of this in the Association's report.  Dronfield gave word of this to two fellow compositors, Samuel Caldwell Nicholson, President of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, and William Henry Wood, secretary of the trades council, and questioned the point of trade unionists going to these congresses of supposedly 'progressive' middle-class organisations if the views of working men were to be suppressed.  Nicholson's response was to ask "Why not have a congress of our own?"  Later, on February 21st 1868, Nicholson and Wood sent out the first summons to the first Trades Union Congress to be held on 4th May that same year.  It should be noted that Manchester and Salford Trades Council took the initiative and that  the congress would be of Representatives of Trades Councils and other Federations of Trades Societies.  The Trades Union Congress of today owes its existence to the work of the Trades Councils of 1868 -  a fact that ought never to be forgotten by the trade union movement of today.

The history of British working people's struggles for better pay and conditions by means of Trade Unionism and through politics is something of which we should be proud.  British workers have engaged the class enemy at home and fought foreign enemies abroad. Yet the battle at home continues and will continue until capitalism has been thoroughly defeated and replaced by socialism.