Issue date
12 Mar 2001

Soon after Will Thorne’s return from his Moscow visit in 1917 with the news that there was no trade union centre in Russia, the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC proposed sending two of its members to assist the Russians in the task of strengthening and organising its trade union Movement. But the Provisional Russian Government did not react to this proposal-though it did indicate its willingness to participate in an International Socialist Conference to be held in Stockholm, at which workers' war and peace aims could be concerted.

Lloyd George sent Arthur Henderson to Russia on a mission of enquiry to investigate the desirability of British trade union and Labour Party participation in such a conference. Henderson reported back in favour of such participation. And Lloyd George immediately vetoed the whole project.

Later, in the summer of 1920, when Lloyd George was backing the Poles in their anti‑Soviet crusade, the dockers, with Ernest Bevin’s encouragement, declined to load the Jolly George with arms destined for the Polish armed forces. The Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party supported the dockers’ stand.

Shortly afterwards, when it looked as though Lloyd George was going to intervene actively with massive ground support for the Poles, Congress and Labour Party set up a 'Council of Action' to organise a strike to stop the war. Lloyd George thereupon did another about-turn; and British support for the Poles petered out.

Meanwhile, the TUC had been review­ing the role of the British trade union Movement in international affairs, and 'the desirability of making the Parliamentary Committee the British centre for dealing with international Trade Union matters.' In July 1918, a conference of representatives of trade unions that were affiliated to the inter­national federations resolved that the Parliamentary Committee should be requested to set up an international trade union bureau for the collection, and dissemination to unions affiliated to the TUC, of statistical and other information bearing on relevant international matters. The Parliamentary Committee was also urged to foster a closer association between British and other trade union movements, not least that of the United States. For when, earlier in 1918, the Allied Labour and Socialist Conference presided over by J. W. Ogden, the then Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, had endorsed the main points of the British Movement's declaration of war aims, which had been greatly influenced by the declarations of President Wilson, the American Federation of Labour had been conspicuous by its absence.

In the following year, the Parliamentary Committee, after being called into con­sultation by George Barnes.(who was by then one of Britain's representatives at the Peace Conference), about a projected International Labour Organisation (ILO), contributed a number of improvements to the British draft memorandum which was destined to become, with slight modifications, the blueprint for the ILO.

 

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