THE IDEA of an international general strike to prevent governments going to war was advocated by the International Federation of Trade Unions when they met in 1933. Ernest Bevin thought this was nonsense, and told the Transport and General Workers Executive Council so. "Who and what is there to strike? Trade unionism has been destroyed in Italy and Germany; practically speaking, it does not exist in France; it is extremely weak in the USA . . . while there is no possibility of a general strike against the Russian government in the event of war. . .".
So, early in 1934, the General Council of the TUC met the National Executive and the Parliamentary Committee of the Labour Party, and drafted a crucial statement which was called "War and Peace". The statement declared that it was the duty of the labour Movement "unflinchingly to support our Government in all the risks and consequences of fulfilling its duty to take part in collective action against a peace breaker". And it warned forthrightly that there might be circumstances under which the Government "might have to use its military and * naval forces in support of the League in restraining an aggressor nation".
The policy embodied in "War and Peace" was overwhelmingly endorsed by the 1934 Trades Union Congress at Weymouth: near which town, exactly one hundred years earlier, the Tolpuddle Martyrs" had administered their "illegal oaths", while founding a branch of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers and had been sentenced to transportation for daring so to do.
The centenary of the victimisation of the six Dorset labourers moved Ernest Bevin to a characteristic utterance. "Whenever I am asked about the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the Nazis", he exclaimed vehemently, "or any other form of it, I reply that I was born in a village and held under a dictatorship until I was fourteen and I will see you to the devil before I have any more".
In the course of moving a resolution in support of the League at the 1935 Trades Union Congress, Citrine declared: "There is only one way of dealing with a bully and that is by the use of force . . . It may mean war, but that is the thing we have to face. There is no real alternative now left to us but the applying of sanctions involving, in all possibility, war. But I say this. If we fail now, if we go back now, war is absolutely certain. I ask you what will happen to Germany, if Italy can treat with contempt the nations of the world who have plighted their word to preserve peace?"
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printed 19 May 2013 at 23:14 hrs by 220.127.116.11