Posts Tagged ‘Walter Citrine’

Labour history uncut: A party caught in two minds

12/11/2013, 11:53:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By late 1932 the recession had become a depression. Unemployment was stuck at 3 million and more austerity seemed the government’s only answer.

The communists responded through their National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM), which was like a union for the unemployed, with the slight drawback that when they went on strike, nobody could tell. The NUWM organised hunger marches to highlight the plight of the workless.

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

The government reacted by doing some organising of their own, arranging for 70,000 policemen to meet the hunger marchers and welcome them to London.

For its part, the Parliamentary Labour Party organised to stay in that evening with a cup of tea, peeking through the office curtains at the ensuing violence and hoping those nasty communists would just go away.

No such luck.

The deteriorating economic situation had helped membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) surge from 2,300 in 1930 to 9,000 by the end of 1932.

Meanwhile in Germany, the election in January 1933 of new chancellor with a hilarious Charlie Chaplin moustache and a less hilarious set of beliefs, led many on the left to seek common cause with the communists.

Moscow agreed, recognising an opportunity when they saw one.


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Labour history uncut: Everybody out!

05/06/2013, 06:00:12 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

It’s somehow fitting that the fuse for the general strike was lit at the Daily Mail.

The government was still engaged in half-hearted negotiations with the unions when, on Sunday 2nd May 1926 the print compositors at the Mail refused to set an inflammatory editorial, entitled “For King and Country.” Although the companion piece, “Compositing print causes cancer” probably didn’t help either.

Seeing an opportunity to kick things off whilst still blaming the unions, the government summarily walked out of the talks muttering about threats to freedom of speech.

The unions thought, “Walk out will you? We’ll show you a thing or two about walking out.”

The next day letters went out to union members up and down the country and on Tuesday 4th May the whistle blew.

”Everybody out!”

The general strike had begun.

Around 1.5 million to 2 million workers took part in the strike. People downed tools all across the country.

Then, frequently, different people across the country picked those tools up again.

Approximately 300,000 volunteers had joined the overwhelmingly middle class and right-wing Organisation for Maintenance of Supplies. Their task was to help keep the country running during the period of the strike in a sort of extended “working class” themed fancy dress party.

The general strike’s PR team knew it had an uphill battle when even the Mirror started calling the strike "evil"

At the same time, with the print setters on strike, someone had to provide the British public with a replacement for their daily sports news, Sudoku and political misinformation. And who had enough spare time to moonlight over hot metal at a time of enormous national economic crisis? The chancellor of the exchequer, of course. Winston Churchill was put in charge of producing the government’s British Gazette.


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