A Short History of the Labour Party by Henry Pelling (auth.)

By Henry Pelling (auth.)

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It seemed rather that the party was a prisoner of the other parties, obliged to take responsibility for various measures that were bound to be unpopular in the labour movement. One highly controversial issue was the dilution of labour in the factories - that is, the admission of unskilled workers into occupations hitherto reserved for craftsmen who had served their apprenticeship. Another was military conscription, which was strongly opposed by most sections of the labour movement. Members of the government soon began to realise that the participation of Henderson and his colleagues in office did not guarantee the loyalty of all the workers in the factories and mines.

Even Walter Hines Page, the American ambassador, who was no friend to labour, could see the implications of Henderson's policy: as he wrote to President Wilson in January 1918, 'The Labour Party is already playing for supremacy '. Henderson, unlike MacDonald, was quite willing to pick the brains of the intellectuals; and by December 1917 Beatrice Webb could say that her husband Sidney, who was on the National Executive as the representative of the Fabian Society, had become' the int ellectual leader of the Labour Party'.

The first was the concept of the National Minimum, which the Webbs had advocated at the time of the Poor Law Commission of 1905-9, and which the Labour Party had been slowly working towards before the war. The National Minimum, according to the statement, meant a comprehensive policy of full employment with a minimum wage and a minimum standard of working conditions, together with a maximum working week of forty-eight hours. The second principle was the Democratic Control of Industry: here Webb emphasised the need for nationalisation of industry but also made somewhat vague concessions to the Guild Socialist standpoint which was now so popular among 44 Henderson's Party : War and Reconstruction ( 19 14- 22) parts of the labour movement - particularly the Miners and the Railwaymen.

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