DURING the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's, the TUC became increasingly concerned with the conditions of life and work in other countries of the Commonwealth. The first straw in the wind was a meeting at the ILO Conference in 1927, of the workers' representatives from Great Britain, India, Canada, New Zealand and the Irish Free State. In the following year a conference was convened in London for representatives of the trade union movements of Australia, Canada, Ceylon, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Palestine, South Africa and Trinidad. The subjects examined by the Conference included: racial problems and governments; trading in the Commonwealth; and social insurance schemes.
These Conferences have been held from time to time ever since 1927. The concern for conditions in Commonwealth countries began to take practical shape when the second Labour Government appointed a Colonial Development Advisory Committee. The task of this Committee, of which Ernest Bevin was a member, was to advise on applications from the colonies for grants, under the Colonial Development Fund Act of 1929, to assist specific schemes of development, such as the Zambesi Bridge project.
"It was the first time Bevin came into contact with the struggling impoverished world of the under developed countries", wrote Alan Bullock. "It aroused an interest and a sympathy in him which he was never to lose, and which bore fruit in the support he gave to Arthur Creech Jones as Colonial Secretary of the post war Labour Government, and in the Colombo Plan, the last great project to which he put his hand at the very end of his life".
In 1930, the TUC and the Federation of British Industries, assuming not unreasonably that the Imperial Conference of that year would be used partly for a discussion of economic matters, issued a joint statement urging the creation of permanent machinery for economic consultation between the various nations of the Commonwealth. But as, in the event, it was impossible fully to consider economic subjects at the 1930 Imperial Conference, agreement was reached to proceed with a special Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa in July, 1932. To this conference the British Government invited the TUC to send two representatives.
The TUC and the FBI again issued a joint statement, this time pointing the need for co operation between both sides of industry, and echoing the consensus of the Mond-Turner talks.
The TUC itself had already been moving away from Free Trade doctrine, and had been recognising the need for trading policies that gave a degree of stability to the prices of primary products, so as to ensure some stable markets for British manufactured goods.
Later, in 1937, the TUC set up its own Colonial Advisory Committee to investigate the conditions in which peoples of the Commonwealth lived and worked; and to see how far the TUC might be able to contribute towards improving those conditions and raising the peoples' standards of life.
This Committee, which still exists under the name Commonwealth Advisory Committee, eventually succeeded in persuading the Colonial Office under Malcolm MacDonald to set up a Labour Department, advised by a Committee on which the TUC was represented.
In 1938, the importance of the TUC's constructive concern with colonial conditions was further recognised by the British Government, when Walter Citrine was appointed a member of the Royal Commission that was instructed to investigate social and economic conditions in the West Indies, where serious riots had been taking place.
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printed 18 June 2013 at 06:58 hrs by 184.108.40.206