Section - First World War

Issue date
12 Mar 2001

The actual outbreak of war caught the labour and trade union Movements of Europe off balance. As late as August 2nd a mass meeting addressed by British labour leaders in Trafalgar Square had passed a resolution proclaiming that ' The Government of Britain should rigidly decline to engage in war, but should confine itself to efforts to bring about peace as speedily as possible.'

Two days later, the Kaiser's armies invaded Belgium, and almost everyone in Britain felt a shock of indignation and repugnance. The conference that had been called for August 5th at the House of Commons by Arthur Henderson and C. W. Bowerman, at which representatives of the Parliamentary Committee were present, when faced now with the actuality of war, proposed the setting‑up of a War Emergency Workers' National Committee to protect workers as far as possible from war's economic effects.

Ramsay MacDonald, who had always insisted that if war broke out both sides would be to blame, then felt impelled to resign as leader of the Labour Party. He was succeeded by Arthur Henderson, who believed that, now that the war was on, the labour Movement must play its full part in helping to win it.

The Parliamentary Committee of the TUC held the same views; and, on August 24th, the Committee declared itself in favour of urging all unions to observe an industrial truce for the duration.

Everything possible, it affirmed, should be done to bring existing disputes to an end, and to forestall or settle any future disputes which might lead to stoppages.


 

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