The British Labour Party is founded.
In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations—trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.
After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie’s motion to establish “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.” This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee, meant to co-ordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population. It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 “Khaki election” came too soon for the new party to campaign effectively; total expenses for the election only came to £33. Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful; Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.
Support for the LRC was boosted by the 1901 Taff Vale Case, a dispute between strikers and a railway company that ended with the union being ordered to pay £23,000 damages for a strike. The judgement effectively made strikes illegal since employers could recoup the cost of lost business from the unions. The apparent acquiescence of the Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour to industrial and business interests intensified support for the LRC against a government that appeared to have little concern for the industrial proletariat and its problems.
Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House, 14 Farringdon Street
In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats—helped by a secret 1903 pact between Ramsay MacDonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone that aimed to avoid splitting the opposition vote between Labour and Liberal candidates in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.
In their first meeting after the election the group’s Members of Parliament decided to adopt the name “The Labour Party” formally. Keir Hardie, who had taken a leading role in getting the party established, was elected as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, although only by one vote over David Shackleton after several ballots. In the party’s early years the Independent Labour Party provided much of its activist base as the party did not have individual membership until 1918 but operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies. The Fabian Society provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the party. One of the first acts of the new Liberal Government was to reverse the Taff Vale judgement.
The People’s History Museum in Manchester holds the minutes of the first Labour Party meeting in 1906 and has them on display in the Main Galleries. Also within the museum is the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, which holds the collection of the Labour Party, with material ranging from 1900 to the present day.