Founding Labour – Is History Repeating Itself?
By Jim Grundy
Jim Grundy’s interesting research into the Labour Party’s origins gives food for thought, and is recommended reading. We should remember all that the Labour Party achieved, and recall how much has been eroded in recent years. There is a great deal here which still applies today. Jim presents this report into the establishment of the Hucknall Branch Labour Party, “… they had all made up their minds, as to the need of a new Labour Party, and if, and if they were not sick of Liberals and Tories, it was time they were.”
Small Town, Great War. Hucknall 1914-1918
On 18th July 1917 the Hucknall Branch of the Labour Party was formed. National issues played their part, the amount of money being made by a few industrialists and ship-owners and the inefficiency of the Food Controller. But the real issue that galvanised local opinion was the refusal of the council to sell their own seed potato crop to the people at cost price. Middle-men were making what many felt was a wholly unjustified profit at a time of fast rising prices and they had lost faith in the Liberal and Conservative parties. A report of that first meeting appeared in the local press.
Criticism of Profiteering at Hucknall
Potatoes for the People
The much-talked-of new Labour Party for Hucknall was duly launched on the tempestuous sea of politics on Wednesday evening [18th July 1917], about 70 persons being present at the inaugural meeting at the Co-operative Hall.
- Mr. G. Nicholson was voted to the chair, and said it was apparent to all that the workers must take into their hands the moulding of the destinies of this country, and if they did not take action at the present time he was afraid the opportunity would not recur again for some considerable time. He urged that they must tackle these questions intelligently, have a goal and go straight for it. It was lamentable to think that during the nation’s danger, when their sons and brothers had gone forth to fight, the capitalists should indulge in profiteering. Naturally, the people who had made so many sacrifices were shocked at this kind of thing. When they found people shocked therein lay some good. After they had asked their sons to fight for the integrity of this country there remained a state of things which permitted one section to rob the people because the workers had not the control of the industries of the country. The workers must realise what they wanted, and the amalgamation of the unions was for the good of the nation.
- Mr. A. Champkins moved that a new Labour Party be formed, and Mr. E. Mills seconded. The constitution of the National Labour Party was then outlined by the chairman, and some discussion followed.
- Mr. T. Winters said he was prepared to stand by that constitution. He urged them to be careful of side issues which might arise.
- Mr. J.C. Cooper said he was in sympathy with the movement as laid down in the constitution of the Labour Party, and if they did not start to work they would be further back than ever they had been. He was sick of the Liberal and Tory parties, and he could have done as much himself as the two Food Controllers because they had done nothing.
- Mr. A. Harvey said they had all made up their minds, as to the need of a new Labour Party, and if, and if they were not sick of Liberals and Tories, it was time they were.
- Mr. J. Cooper was pleased men were coming to their senses at last, and he classed Liberals and Tories as both alike.
- Mr. James Shaw said thinking people were sick of the present position of affairs. There was an improvement needed in local affairs, and instanced by the poor pay of the teaching profession. They wanted men of their own class on the County Council and other bodies.
- Mr. H. Hall stated that the movement had its birth at Butler’s Hill, and the credit for the same was due to Mr. E. Mills. They had six at their first meeting, 30 at the next, and that meeting was the third stage. They were roused by the action of the Council in disposing of potatoes at the rate of £1 10s. per ton, yet when working men wanted to purchase the same potatoes they were asked 11s. per cwt, allowing £9 10s. profit to the buyer from the Council. Their view was that the crop should be sold in rows to the people at cost price.
- Further discussion ensued, in which Councillor J.G. Slater took part. He said he was cradled with the Labour Party, and intended to associate himself with a branch of that party if ever one should be started in Hucknall. As regards the Council he had favoured some similar course for the disposal of the potatoes.
- Councillor F.W. Raynor also said he was in sympathy with the movement, but could not take office at the present juncture.
- It was decided to form a Hucknall branch on the lines of the National Labour Party, to be unassociated with any other political body, and to adopt candidates for parliamentary and local bodies. The entrance fee was fixed at 6d., and the weekly payments to be 1d.
- It was agreed to have four members from each Ward on the committee, and the selections were as follows:-
- North Ward – Messrs. F.J. Goodall, J. Shaw, A. Walker, and T. Thornley.
- West Ward – Messrs. H.W. Booth, T. Winters, W. Bailey, and A. Harvey.
- East Ward – Messrs. E. Mills, G. Fletcher, A. Champkins, and J.H. Palmer.
- Mr. H. Hall was the elected secretary, and Mr. J. Wilberry treasurer.
It was further decided to approach the Council on the lines suggested re. the disposal of the potato crop, and the committee remained to select the delegates.
A collection raised £1 2s. 4d. to pay for the incidental expenses.
The proceedings lasted two hours.”
‘Hucknall Dispatch’, 19th July 1917.