Under Mary Macarthur's leadership, the NFWW supported World War 1 and the industrial truce called by the TUC. Sylvia Pankhurst labelled Mary Macarthur’s work in the Central Committee for the Employment of Women (CCEW) as a ‘gross betrayal’ given that the rates paid fell below those set by the first Trade Boards.
However Mary Macarthur was a strong supporter of equal pay for women and her work during the war is testimony to this. She discovered that although the TUC had supported equal pay in policy terms since 1888, very little was done to fight for the policy in any meaningful way. Job titles were changed and adjustments made, usually of a simple type, so that the women’s work could never be declared to be the same as that of men and thus not eligible for equal pay. Hence the demand was changed by Mary and the women themselves from ‘equal pay for equal work’ to ‘equal wages to workers of equal value’. This clearly presaged the 20th century equal value demand given the disappointment of the Equal Pay legislation.
In 1920 the NFWW voted to merge with the National Union of General Workers. Mary strongly supported this, but had no inkling that her union would, eventually be totally submerged within the men’s organisation. She did not live to see this unfortunate outcome. She died five months after the merger.
Despite the fact that Mary Macarthur’s father was a conservative, an anti-socialist and an opponent of trade unions, Mary, nonetheless, joined and became active in the Shop Assistants’ Union. In 1905 she, along with others, helped to launch the sweated trades’ exhibition and in 1906 formed the Anti-Sweating League. In the same year she formed, together with Margaret Bondfield (Shop Assistants’ Union) the organisation for which she is most renowned: the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW). Without the support of the NFWW, the strike among women employed at Millwall Food Preserving Factory, and those of the Cradley Heath Chainmakers and the Kilburnie netmakers would have been doomed to failure. Relief from their starvation wages and intolerable conditions was largely due to Macarthur's able championship of their claims.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Russia (the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey). It ended Russia's participation in World War I. The chief negotiator was Trotsky. Although Lenin had promised ‘Peace, Bread and Land’, this treaty was unpopular because it gave away too much Russian land especially in the Ukraine. In fact this was one of the chief reasons for the later Civil War between Red & White Russians.
Opposition to WW1 centred in Clydeside.Maclean immediately set about educating the workers about the real nature of war by taking the message directly to the shipyard gates In February 1915 there was a strike at the munitions factory Weirs of Cathcart. The odds were stacked against them. The Defence of the Realm Act had made strikes illegal and the TUC had made a pledge of industrial peace for the duration of the War and so the Strike was an unofficial, shop steward led strike, (most of whom were pupils of Maclean), in defiance of the Union. The workers formed a rank and file Labour Withholding Committee to conduct the strike but were forced back to work with no strike pay. However this was to prove the start of real militancy on the Clyde.
Since the start of the War the landowners had taken the opportunity to push up rents. Mrs Barbour in Govan and the women there refused to pay increased rents. Maclean supported the women. The agitation soon spread to other areas of the city as working class women organised against the rent rises. Maclean took the fight to the shipyards and factories until the men declared that they were ready to strike to prevent the rises.
Passed July 1915 this prevented right to organise, to strike or to move from workshop to workshop. The Rank & File soon learnt that the union leaderships were preparing to betray them and so took steps to reform Labour Withholding Committee. Delegates were sought from every shop across the Clydeside and a Manifesto was drawn up, “ To organise the workers upon a class basis and to maintain the class struggle until the overthrow of the wages system, the freedom of the workers and industrial democracy have been attained ". The new body became known as the Clyde Workers Committee and it was to play a central role in Clydeside’s opposition to War. Many of the delegates were pupils of one of Maclean’s classes.
As part of the employers offensive Maclean was arrested under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) 18th November. Bailiffs had decided to sue householders to collect the increased rents. 18 men were summonsed to the Sheriff Court. Mrs Barbour organised women to march to the Sheriff Court to protest. Govan Shipyards and factories went on strike and deputations marched to the town, one of which marched via Lorn Street School and carried MacLean (who was working under notice of dismissal) shoulder high to the Sheriff Court, this was to be his last day as a teacher. In the town they met deputations from all over the city & Maclean addressed a crowd of 10,000 and demanded that if rent rises were implemented a General Strike should be called. The Sheriff realised the desperate situation & phoned Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, who told him to stop the case and announce that a RENT RESTRICTION ACT would be passed. MacLean hardly had time to celebrate though because next day he was jailed for refusing to pay his fine.
Maclean believed that a successful Revolution could only be achieved if workers were grounded in Marxist principles. His Sunday afternoon class alone, now had 481 students. From his classes he formed the Labour College Committee which planned an Inaugural Conference in February 1916. The plan was to run a full time course of 3 terms a year, funded by Unions covering all aspects of Industry, Economy, Labour Laws and History.
Inevitably Maclean became the first victim of government repression.He was arrested in February. Gallacher, Muir and Bell were arrested shortly afterwards. Then on March 9th leaders of CWC were seized and deported to Edinburgh, where it was reckoned they would cause fewer problems. The next day Maxton and McDougall urged a general strike at meeting on Glasgow Green, but a mood of fear was creeping over the workers, and this was compounded when Maxton and McDougall were later arrested for sedition.
At Maclean’s trial he was charged with 6 counts against him connected with statements made that were ‘all likely to cause mutiny, sedition and disaffection amongst the civil population, and to impede the production, repair and transport of war material.’ All prosecution evidence came from the police. Maclean gave a valiant defence and the Judge admitted definite conflict of evidence but decided in favour of the police, as to do otherwise would mean that the police were guilty of conspiracy. The jury found MacLean guilty on 4 of the charges and he was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude (hard labour) at which point Maclean turned and waved to his wife & the crowd sang the Red Flag.
Although the British Government may have temporarily abated the Strike movement on the Clyde the effects were to reverberate internationally.
Demonstrations were held throughout the country to protest at against the treatment of political prisoners as Scottish prison conditions were worst in Europe- McDougall suffered a nervous breakdown. The February Russian Revolution had helped galvanise the position of the revolutionaries. Maclean was elected to Executive of BSP when Hyndman clique were forced out.
The Mayday March 1917 saw 80,000 marchers & 250,000 lining streets to support the Soviets and demand Maclean's release . At the end of May 100,000 people demonstrated on Glasgow Green at Lloyd George being given the Freedom of the City and to demand the release of Maclean . When Lloyd George came to Glasgow. Thousands took to the streets to protest and the Government was forced, under intense pressure from the working class to release Maclean to pacify the crowds. As soon as Mclean was released he set about denouncing the War, Capitalism and gathering support for the Soviets. This work was to see him appointed an Honorary President of the First All- Russian Congress of Soviets and appointed Bolshevik Consul for Scotland . The authorities refused to recognise the Soviet Government. and Maclean’s consulate. They refused to deliver mail addressed to him and he had trouble getting funds to run the newly opened office. His Assistant was arrested and deported to Russia. MacLean saw that the best way to help the Soviet Government was agitation at home and later said that the Sinn Feiners ‘though non-Socialists at best’ had done more to help the Soviets than British labour by keeping Capitalism busy at home. Willie Gallacher testified to this when he wrote "The work done by MacLean during this winter of 1917-18 has never been equalled by anyone. His educational work would have been sufficient for half a dozen ordinary men, but on top of this, he was carrying a truly terrific propaganda and agitational campaign. Every minute of his time was devoted to the revolutionary struggle, every ounce of his extraordinary energy was thrown into the fight." and the Scottish Labour College now had 17 classes with over 1,500 pupils.
Meanwhile the Americans had joined the war & the British Government feeling assured of victory decided to crush the anti-war movement. In April 1918 MacLean was arrested for sedition on his return from a tour of Durham. The workers took the 1st of May for May Day celebrations at MacLean’s insistence for the first time and after listening to the speeches from 22 platforms on Glasgow Green a huge crowd marched to Barlinnie Prison where MacLean was being held.
At his trial on 9 th May the Indictment took 10 minutes to read & consisted of 11 charges the main one of which that he said the Workers should follow Russia and strike a blow for Revolution. He conducted his own defence and cross examined 28 witnesses 25 of whom were employed by the police. He called no witnesses of his own but instead gave an impassioned speech lasting for 75 minutes giving a full & unashamed account of his own activities & beliefs with his famous quote:
“No human being on the face of the earth, no government, is going to take from me my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to everything that is for the benefit of mankind. I AM NOT HERE, THEN, AS THE ACCUSED: I AM HERE AS THE ACCUSER OF CAPITALISM DRIPPING WITH BLOOD FROM HEAD TO FOOT.”
He was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude in Peterhead
The Clyde District Defence Committee was formed to protect activists and provide for Maclean’s family. Monthly demonstrations on Glasgow Green to demand his release and the July demonstration was attacked by police. When his wife Agnes got to visit him in October she found out that he had been on hunger strike since July as he claimed he was being fed drugged food . Since July he had being force-fed by Warders. Such was the fury of the Labour Movement the Government, was forced to pay attention. More than anything they feared Social Revolution at home similar to that which had happened in Russia and was happening in Germany and elsewhere. 10,000 marched to demand his release in Finsbury Park, London. He was released on December 3 less than 7 months into a 5 year sentence. He launched straight into an election campaign, standing for the Labour Party but on a revolutionary platform, denouncing parliamentary methods. His return to Glasgow is best given in this contemporary account “ I do not believe the extraordinary and deeply moving spectacle of that evening will be easily effaced from the memory of those who witnessed it. The slowly moving carriage being dragged through the thronged streets by a score of muscular workers who had taken the place of the horses, the surging, exultant mass of people, the incessant cheering and singing and standing upright in the carriage, supported by friends, was the challenging figure of John MacLean waving a large red banner with an air of triumph and defiance"
The resolutions of the Second International, in condemning colonialism (1907 Stuttgart Congress) and calling for workers to oppose war (1910 Copenhagen Congress), were promptly forgotten in the rush to arms and the International itself collapsed.
British labour leaders maintained an anti-war stance up until the point, on August 4th 1914, that the government finally declared war on Germany. By the end of August, the Labour Party and the TUC declared an 'industrial truce' for the duration of the war and lent their support to an all-party recruitment campaign. By May 1915, there were three Labour MP's in the Coalition Government, one of them, Arthur Henderson, in the cabinet. The two Treasury Agreements signed by government and trade union representatives confirmed labour's promise to abandon strike action for the duration of the war. It also drew the unions (including the Amalgamated Society, whose members were principally affected) into agreeing to suspend 'restrictive practices' in skilled trades by agreeing to the use of unskilled or semi-skilled labour (particularly that of women) in the war industries. (This was known as 'dilution'.)
The British Socialist Party (BSP) opposed the war from the outset. The Independent Labour Party also maintained an anti-war policy from the start, even though some of its leading parliamentary members did not.
In addition, there was a considerable body of political opposition to the war which generated a host of anti-war organisations like the Union of Democratic Control and the No Conscription Fellowship. As the war progressed the lack of war aims coupled with the blundering of the military commanders, made it clear that the price of victory was to be paid through mass slaughter. Conscription was introduced in 1916.
Whether consciously anti-war or not, it was clear from 1915 that industrial workers were not going to be cowed by the legal strictures against strike action. An early example of this mood of defiance came from the strike by engineering workers in munitions factories on the Clyde in 1915. The strike was, of course, unsupported by the ASE leadership. Aided by the hastily formed Central Labour Witholding Committee, the strike spread rapidly throughout the Clyde. Signs of mass defiance were not limited to Scotland. The strikes were ultimately defeated. However, on Clydeside, the Central Labour Witholding Committee was replaced by a permanent organisation - the Clyde Workers' Committee (CWC), whose chairman, William Gallacher was a member of the British Socialist Party.
The CWC provided the model for similar organisations in other urban industrial centres. Its language was syndicalist, but its practice was not - in the sense that it sought to link the industrial struggle (based on the shop stewards) with wider community based campaigns.
'Red Clyde' was in the vanguard of the wartime workers' movement, but mass protests led by revolutionary socialists developed with as much force in other parts of the country. The election of shop stewards and the formation of shop stewards committees was commonplace in most large factories which had been turned over to war time production. In Sheffield a Workers' Committee under the leadership of J.T.Murphy was formed on the model of the CWC. Other industrial centres like Manchester, London and later Birmingham also had Workers' Committees, but they were less long lived than their Sheffield and Clyde counterparts.
Women's trade union membership increased by about 160% during the war, but apart from the National Federation of Women Workers, the Workers' Union (WU) was the only union to make a serious commitment to organising women. By 1918 the WU employed twenty women full time officials and had a female membership of over 80,000. This was more than any other general union and represented a quarter of the WU's own membership. In 1918 the Equal Pay strike was led and ultimately won by women tramway workers - starting in London and spreading to other towns.
In 1914, the Women's Social and Political Union abandoned the suffrage campaign itself and ardently supported the war effort and urged all women to do the same. Sylvia Pankhurst's organisation was one of the very few to maintain the fight for the vote until its first instalment (to women over 30) was granted in 1918. The National Council for Adult Suffrage also kept up the pressure for the vote in the war years. This organisation was established in 1916 and held its first meeting at the Daily Herald offices. It was a broad based activist adult suffrage campaigning group linking the left wing of the women's movement with the left wing of the labour movement.
Coming soon - Bob Cooney's 'Proud Journey' published in collaboration with Manifesto Press with support from the International Brigade Memorial Trust and UNITE the Union.
Bob Cooney (1907-1984) was a prominent anti-fascist and communist in Aberdeen who joined the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Published for the first time, “Proud Journey” is his memoir of those turbulent times. It takes us from street clashes with Blackshirts to the battlefields of Spain and the heroism and sacrifice of Cooney and his comrades facing the forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. Written in 1944 and with the Second World War as a backdrop, this is a rousing personal account of one man’s part in the long and bloody fight against fascism that helped define this key period of twentieth century history. Cooney paints an action-packed and politically-charged picture of struggle, solidarity, comradeship – and hope.
Soon to be available for £5 at the Marx Memorial Library and on our online shop here http://marx-memorial-library.org.uk/shop
An ideal gift for any radical history enthusiast - Marx Memorial Library Greetings Card with voucher entitling recipient to free guided tour of the building.
Text on voucher is as follows:
This voucher entitles you to reserve a free guided tour of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers' School.
Tour highlights include banners, posters and ceramics tracing the history of the labour movement from the 19th century to the present day, from the campaigns of William Morris and Eleanor Marx to the the miners' strike and Wapping dispute of the 1980s. Visit the room where Lenin worked while in exile in London in 1902-3 and see the original banners that the British Battalion of the International Brigades brought home from Spain in 1938. All these, and much more, are housed in Marx House, a listed 18th century building with medieval cellars (also part of the tour) in the historic Clerkenwell district of London.
This voucher is valid until 31 December 2016 admits one.