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Building the Labour Party - Lesestoff
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However, it is not accurate to say the two organisations live a life of blissful co-existence. The trade unions held the power of a block vote, with the ability to overrule potential Labour policy. With the value of the block vote and the fact the unions alone comprised the largest element of the Labour Party, there is potential in the concept that the trade unions were a hindrance to Labour policy. Further to this, the fact that numerous MPs were sponsored by the trade unions specifically, adds more to the suggestion that the trade unions could use their influence to control events where they deemed fit.
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Taking the concept that debate often develops into action and thus policy, the union block vote can be seen as a hindrance to the enforcement of Labour policy, should Labour policy deviate from the wishes of the trade union. Further to this, trade union issues dominated Labour policy, especially in its early years. One major event was the Taff Vale judgement in This ruled that unions could be held accountable for any damages occurred by taking strike action.
Meaning, the party was forced to make policy in aid of reversing the decision to gain trade union support, which it so desperately needed. Without supporting the reversal of the decision, which came in , it is likely the Labour Party would never have gained the support of the trade unions in the way it did, and thus, as mentioned before, fail to develop beyond the status of a pressure group due to a lack of support and financial aid.
After Taff Vale, Labour membership jumped, from around , to , as the trade union leaders began value the significance of having consolidated representation in parliament. Without the concentration upon trade union interest in terms of policy, it can be argued the Labour Party would not have gained the support of the trade unions, and thus remained a pressure group rather than a political group. Thus, tailoring policy to the trade unions, at least in formative years, was of significant help to the Labour Party.
The final topic of discussion involved in this essay is whether the trade unions were a help or hindrance to the development of the Labour Party. It can be argued that the biggest development for the Labour Party prior to was the period shortly after the First World War. Also, the experience of a mass war instilled a desire for a political voice for many, which recently had been granted. The horrors of war could not be repeated, and the Labour Party, standing for representation of the working class and known to hold an anti-war stance, now seemed a viable choice.
This is where the trade unions can be seen to be a help to Labour development, as more people joined the already large trade unions during the war, in particular women involved in the war effort. The connection between the trade unions and the Labour Party can be seen to have created a flow of ideas, in the sense of; join the trade union, recognise the Labour Party supported and was supported by the trade unions and thus perhaps held similar interests, become interested in the Labour Party, potential voters grow.
It cannot be said that those who joined, and were already members of, the trade union, then immediately voted for the Labour Party, but a flow of thought can be seen to develop. In this sense, the relationship between the trade union and Labour Party can be seen to help Labour Party development, as it opened up a connection, which otherwise the Labour Party may never have been able to make alone, directly to the working and labouring class. On the other hand, it must be considered how the relationship in this scenario can be considered a hindrance. It can be seen to be a hindrance with the notion that the relationship between Labour and the trade unions could limit the voting market Labour would appeal to.
By aligning with the trade unions, any non-member could become alienated, by the overarching grip of the trade unions. The result of this would be the Labour Party failing to represent the working class past the clutch of the trade unions. However, to counter this argument, it must be pointed out that no political party can escape the issue of consistent minorities, especially one which is newly formed. In the system of democracy we follow, complete representation is impossible. Thus, the trade unions were of help rather than hindrance to the development of the Labour Party, as without the relationship and support, the Party would not have become a Party, let alone connect with such a large scale of the working class.