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When was The UK Labour Party founded?

The Labour Party was founded on the 27 February 1900 at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London.

The conference established the Labour Representation Committee which after the success of the 1906 General Election became the Labour Party.

In September 1899 at the Trades Union Congress in Plymouth, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants proposed a resolution that a special conference of ‘all the cooperative, socialistic and other working organisations’ should be held. Its aim would be to increase labour representation in the next parliament.

The proposal originated from the Railway Servants Doncaster branch, where it had been put forward by Thomas R Steels, a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

The resolution was carried by 546 000 to 434 000 votes.

129 delegates attended the conference at the Memorial Hall, which was held on the 27 and 28 of February.

The delegates represented socialist organisations such as the middle class Fabian Society, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the more Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). Just over half a million trade unionists were represented.

The conference set up the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).

The LRC’s objective was proposed by James Keir Hardie of the ILP. It was to form ‘a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour’.

To ensure the support of the trade unions, which Keir Hardie believed was essential to success, compromises had been made over the LRC’s aims. They would be independent but to placate the Lib-Lab leanings of the unions, it did not rule out cooperation with the Liberals.

The conference rejected proposals to restrict Labour candidates to the working classes. It also rejected the motion by the SDF that the LRC should be ‘based upon a recognition of the class war’.

Initially twelve members sat on the executive committee. Seven were trade unionists the remaining five were from the socialist organisations. The ILP and SDF each had two seats, the Fabians one.

The SDF disaffiliated from the LRC in 1901. In the same year a trades council representative was added to the committee. Of the thirteen seats on the executive, ten were held by the unions.

Although it is now seen as the beginning of the Labour Party, at the time of its inception the LRC was not a united political party. The Committee was an alliance of independent organisations, set up to promote labour representation in the House of Commons.

The trade unions had traditionally supported ‘Labour’ candidates (Lib-Labs) which took the Liberal whip. However the local Liberal Associations were increasingly unwilling to take them on. A series of legal cases during the 1890’s also undermined the legal status of the unions.

The LRC came at a time when the unions saw the need for better parliamentary representation to look after their interests. However the resolution which led to the conference at the Memorial Hall and the formation of the LRC, only passed by a narrow margin.

There were no specific commitments to follow a socialist policy. Many within the unions were reluctant to cooperate with socialists, particularly the dogmatic SDF.

On the other hand, it was the lack of commitment to socialism and the ‘class war’ which saw the SDF disaffiliate from the LRC in 1901.

The LRC had just over 350 000 members from 41 unions and limited finances. Keeping the alliance together would be the task of its Secretary, James Ramsay MacDonald of the ILP.

At the ‘Khaki Election’ in October 1900 two of the fifteen LRC candidates won seats in the Commons, Keir Hardie for Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell for Derby. The LRC could offer only limited financial assistance. £33 was spent on the election.

In July 1901 the House of Lords overturned the Court of Appeal ruling in the Taff Vale case. The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants had to pay £23 000 to the Taff Vale Railway Company.

The company had sued the ASRS for costs and loss of earnings after its members took strike action. The Lords ruling meant that trade unions could now be sued for damages resulting from industrial disputes.

More unions realised the necessity of increased parliamentary representation and affiliation to the LRC increased. By February 1903 127 unions had affiliated and it had over 860 000 members.

The miners unions were more reluctant to join. They had enough influence and resources in their mining districts to elect their own Lib-Lab MPs in the Liberal Party.

The February 1903 annual conference in Newcastle strengthened the constitution and independence of the LRC.

An amendment meant that candidates now had to ‘strictly abstain from identifying themselves with or promoting the interests of any section of the Liberal or Conservative parties’.

A Parliamentary Fund was set up with members paying one penny a year. This would help with election expenses and support the LRC MPs who would be paid up to £200 per year.

In 1903 Ramsay MacDonald entered into secret negotiations with the Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone.

Under their agreement the local Liberal Associations would be dissuaded from running candidates against those of the LRC in certain constituencies. In return the LRC would not run candidates in particular Liberal seats.

The pact would increase the chances of the LRC winning seats at the next election. For the Liberals it would help remove the Conservatives from office by not splitting the anti-Tory vote.

The Liberals won the General Election of January 1906 with a large majority. Of the fifty LRC candidates who stood, twenty nine were elected to the House of Commons.

Keir Hardie was elected Chairman. The Party would not have a ‘leader’ until 1922. Arthur Henderson became the Chief Whip and Ramsay MacDonald Secretary.

It was agreed at the annual conference held in London in February 1906 that the LRC should formally be renamed the Labour Party.