Friday, 24 May 2024

From the Liberty Wall – National Liberal Trades Unionists

NLTU to research liberal involvement in the early trade union movement.

The LIBERTY WALL exists so that the National Liberal Party can host pages and links to campaigning groups sponsored or supported by the party.

One of these is the National Liberal Trade Unionist group. According to the NLTU, it “aims to promote a non-socialist trade unionism i.e. building employee protections rather than class revolution. The group will support the principles of liberty e.g. the protection of all individual employees, and patriotism e.g. the defence of workers from globalisation, and promote a liberal e.g. supporting greater employee share ownership agenda.”

Those interested in finding out more about non-socialist trade unionism should check out the NLTU Facebook page here:

SOME FOLKS may be aware that many of the ‘founding fathers’ of the wider labour and trade union movement were patriotic socialists. Men like Robert (‘Bob’) Blatchford, Henry M. Hyndman and William Morris all fought to improve the plight of the ordinary man and woman.

Interestingly, their views wouldn’t be tolerated in today’s modern – and Politically Correct – Labour Party. For instance, they were all men of principle as well as being radical patriots. They remained true to their roots – and are probably now spinning in their graves at the thought of millionaires like ‘Red’ Ed Miliband ‘representing’ ordinary British working families.

However, not all those involved in the early labour and trade union movement were socialists. Many were non-socialist liberals. Indeed, between 1830-1900 more trade unions were led by Liberals rather than socialists.

One group which intends to document this ‘lost period’ of trade union history is the National Liberal Trade Unionist group. It hopes – in time – to fully research this 70 year period and produce an archive consisting of books and papers relating to this era. It will also look at individual liberals like Joseph Chamberlain MP, who was himself supported by the trade unions.

The NLTU group also intends to investigate why Christian and Liberal Trade Unions were so powerful in Europe before and after WWII.

One of those who’re extremely interested in all of these areas of research is Graham Williamson. Graham is a member of the National Liberal Party’s Steering Committee, editor of New Horizon, the NLPs ideological magazine, and joint editor of Fourth World Review. (Regular readers will know that 4WR is a radical independent magazine which advocates that ‘Small is Beautiful!’)

Graham told us:

“I’ve read a reasonable amount about the early trade union movement and was really interested to find out that many early leading trade unionists were also liberals.

The period between 1830–1900 fascinates me. I hope that the research proposed by the NLTU group will shed more light on the development of the early trade union movement in general and liberal involvement in particular.”

This research is scheduled for some time in the future. However, in the meantime, Graham has written a brief article which – in passing – briefly touches on the subject of liberal trade unionists. We reproduce it below

Once upon a time the Trade Union movement in Britain was largely part of the Liberal movement. The majority of officials were even members of the Liberal Party. This continued from when the first unions were formed up until the turn of the century. The, then new, ideology of socialism took hold amongst many officials who believed that the future of politics was a class struggle and that only a working class party could represent or even deliver power to that class. Thus the Labour party was formed and Trade Unions became synonymous with the party.

In the present day workers still require the services of a union, whether as individuals or as a collective. In the short run, jobs are under threat and employee rights are under attack. In the medium term, workers face the negative effects of globalisation e.g. wage depression or unemployment.

Many however feel that those unions in the TUC, wedded to a confrontational class-based politics, are ill-equipped to respond to these problems.

For example, socialism is no longer popular. The TUC’s ‘workers of the world unite’ slogan rings hollow to British workers losing jobs overseas. Class politics is the exception to the rule and the ‘working-class’ no longer automatically regard the Labour party to be their natural representatives.

In Europe there has always been an alternative trade unionism, either ‘Christian’ or Liberal, and this often resulted in separate unions that reflected their ethos. In the UK such groups failed to found their own unions and slowly shrank in importance within existing ones.

We believe in a Liberal (and patriotic/national) unionism that seeks to protect the interests of its’ members at work rather than as an arm of political or class revolution. In this way unions can focus their energies in the workplace rather than frittered away trying to control the Labour party. A separate liberal union could effectively influence ALL political parties to adopt policies to protect employees in the workplace.

Whether via its own union or within another(s) our supporters will support the principles of liberty (putting the individual member first) and patriotism (defending workers from the negative efects of globalisation), whilst being liberal (increasing employee share ownership) and economic (focusing activity in the workplace) in practice.

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