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Posts Tagged ‘1890s’

The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) was Britain’s first socialist political party and was established in 1881 (called the Democratic Federation). Members included Henry Hyde Champion, James Connelly, HM Hyndman, Tom Mann and William Morris. In 1884 the Federation split with others going to form the Socialist League. A key founding member of the SDF who influenced matters in Aberdeen well into the 1890s was Henry Hyde Champion.

In Aberdeen there was already a socialist group operating, the Aberdeen Socialist Society, led by James Leatham. In 1893 Leatham left Aberdeen for Manchester and the Society affiliated itself to the SDF. The SDF became increasingly influential and overshadowed the Independent Labour Party as the 1890s progressed. SDF members were involved throughout the period, as members of the Aberdeen Trades Council, as part of the various interations of joint trade union/labour organisation committees and also standing for municipal and general elections. The first SDF electoral success was William Cooper (former Aberdeen Socialist Society) in the town council elections for Woodside in 1895. In the 1906 and 1910 general elections for the Aberdeen North seat, Tom Kennedy was a candidate (Kennedy was Social Democratic Federation organiser in Aberdeen). Other members included Aberdeen Trades Council senior officers: James Fraser (Secretary), James Gordon (Vice President), John Macwaters (President) and David Palmer (President).

The Aberdeen branch had a hall at 144 Gallowgate, then moved to 41 Queen Street (in 1899). The branch published their own irregular newspaper called ‘The Comet’ and there were several issues from 1898 until about 1908. The newspaper was described as ‘a working class paper…a paper that will take cognisance of the existence of the class war going on in society’.

The SDF could not be affiliated to the newly formed Labour Party and in 1911 the SDF united with other groups to form the British Socialist Party (it lasted from 1911 – 1920).

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Union Council and Aberdeen Socialist Society

References: History of the Trades Council and the Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen, (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939), Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955) and The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980).

Sources: branch newspapers called Comet (1898, 1899 and 1907) and Aberdeen Trades Union Council papers (references within) are both held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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In February 1891 a conference of representatives of the Aberdeen Trade Council and the Aberdeen Labour Committee met to discuss political matters and recommended the Council to convene a meeting of delegates from Trade Councils across Scotland. The aim was united action to secure Labour members of parliament for Scotland, with a programme such as a legislative eight-hour day. The meeting took place in August 1891 and was arranged from Aberdeen but convened in Edinburgh. The key resolution was that: ‘This conference recognising the need for direct representation of labour in Parliament and on local administrative boards, recommends that wherever a candidate is put forward by recognised local labour organisations, and whose candidature is in no wise connected with either great political parties, every possible effort should be made by the trade organisations of this country to assist him financially and otherwise’. The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (STCLP) was formally established at the next conference in Glasgow in March 1892 and the Executive Committee consisted of a representative from each Scottish trades council as well as a representative of the Scottish Labour Party. The Party recommended that local branches were established and in May 1892 a branch in Aberdeen was formed. Branch members included former members of the Aberdeen Labour Committee: A.T.G. Beveridge (he was Chairman), A. Birse, George Bisset, George Gerrie, A.P. Glass and William Mitchell (Joint-Secretary); individuals and trade unionists from the Aberdeen Socialist Society such as William Cooper and William Rennie; and other officers such as John Keir (Vice-Chairman), J.I. Mundie (Joint-Secretary) and James Philip (Treasurer).

The Aberdeen branch was involved in the promotion of the first ever ‘Labour’ candidate, Henry Hyde Champion (formerly of the Social Democratic Federation) in Aberdeen South, in 1892. Yet the formation at national level of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in late 1892/early 1893 changed everything and there seemed no reason for the continuation of the STCLP, so much so that the STCLP folded by March 1893 and advised that branches should now join the ILP. The Aberdeen ILP formed directly from The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party and it was more or less a simple name change.

The STCLP was briefly resurrected by Champion in October 1893 and a conference was held in Dundee. This was basically a vehicle for Champion and part of his feud with leaders of the ILP such as Keir Hardie. It was unsuccessful though.

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Union Council, Aberdeen Labour Committee and Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen branch).

References: Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: unknown but references within Aberdeen Trades Union Council papers held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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The Social and Labour Committee appears at the time of preparations for nominating a candidate for the Aberdeen North seat in the 1900 General Election. As part of the nomination process the Aberdeen Trades Council had sent representatives to a conference to discuss local parliamentary representation (also there were the local Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the aforementioned Social and Labour Committee). The membership of this committee seemed to be mainly middle-class men who had been members of the Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen), which was now in abeyance. The conference recommended to the Trades Council, Robert Cunningham Graham for Aberdeen South and Henry Hyndman (leader of the national SDF) for Aberdeen North (as an aside the Trades Council agreed on Graham but he did not stand in the end, and did not agree with the nomination of Hyndman).

Related entries: Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen).

References: Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: unknown.

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The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was formed nationally in 1892/1893 and the first conference was held at Bradford in January 1893. The first national party Chairman was Keir Hardy. Aberdeen ILP had asked Henry Hyde Champion (formerly of the Social Democratic Federation) to attend on their behalf but he was too ill to attend (he did become the Honorary President of the Aberdeen branch). The ILP as an organisation was a crucial stepping stone on the road to the creation of The Labour Party. It was key to the creation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which then became The Labour Party in 1906 (the ILP becoming an affiliated body).

The Aberdeen ILP formed directly from The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (which had formed in May 1892) and was more or less a simple name change. The genesis of the Aberdeen ILP though was longer, formed from the Aberdeen Labour Committee, which had been in existence from 1888 – 1892 and which itself had been formed from members of the Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association and The Aberdeen Radical Association. There was remarkable continuity between the first Aberdeen ILP executive committee and the Aberdeen Labour Committee, as it included A.T.G. Beveridge (he was Chairman), A. Birse, George Bisset, George Gerrie, A.P. Glass and William Mitchell (Joint-Secretary). The formation of the Aberdeen ILP was assisted as a result of the coming together of Aberdeen Trades Council, Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (STCLP) and the Aberdeen Labour Committee, in the promotion of the candidacy of the first ever ‘Labour’ candidate Henry Hyde Champion in Aberdeen South earlier in 1892. Champion lost but it was a very important first step to have been taken.

The membership of the ILP was quite diverse, the bulk being trade unionists and some were also members of the Aberdeen Socialist Society. Many of the key party officers though were middle class and formerly of the Aberdeen Labour Committee (Beveridge, Bisset, Gerrie etc.). Other officers were John Keir (Vice-Chairman), J.I. Mundie (Joint-Secretary) and James Philip (Treasurer). Committee members included Aberdeen Socialist Society members and trade unionists, William Cooper and William Rennie.

The labour movement issued a weekly newspaper in 1893 and 1894 called ‘Aberdeen Labour Elector: a weekly record of the Labour movement’ (later called the ‘Aberdeen Standard’). It cost a penny and was initially sold alongside the London edition simply called ‘Labour Elector’ (the newspaper was a vehicle for the views of Henry Hyde Champion and had first appeared in London in 1888 – 1890, but was revived again in 1893 – 1894). The Aberdeen Labour Elector was a fairly forthright publication and the first issue proudly proclaimed its power as a party and that George Bisset was recognised in the town council as the Labour Leader. The first issue also stated that the ILP manifesto was circulating very widely indeed.

The branch reached a peak very quickly in 1893 but from then on never regained its strength. The leadership of Champion had gone as he had fallen out dramatically with the national ILP leadership and Keir Hardie, and had returned to Australia in early 1894. The Aberdeen branch remained loyal to Champion (not affiliating with the national ILP until 1896) meaning the branch remained rather isolated from the national labour movement. In 1896 though there was a flurry of activity as the labour movement promoted the candidacy of Tom Mann (he was the national ILP Secretary) for the Aberdeen North seat. This was the first ever Labour candidate in Aberdeen North and Mann came within a whisker of winning against the Liberal candidate. After this though the Aberdeen ILP became somewhat overshadowed by a strong Social Democratic Federation branch in Aberdeen and appears to have become more or less dormant in the late 1890s.

The branch was resurrected in 1905, active in the 1907 Aberdeen South by-election, and operational well into the 20th century. The ILP disaffiliated from The Labour Party in 1932 and A.F. Macintosh stood as an ILP candidate in Aberdeen North in 1935, against the (winning) Labour candidate.

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Council, Aberdeen Labour Committee and The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party.

References: ‘Aberdeen Labour Elector: a weekly record of the Labour movement’ and its succeeding publication ‘Aberdeen Standard’ (Aberdeen, January 1893 – February 1894), Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: ‘Aberdeen Labour Elector: a weekly record of the Labour movement’ and its succeeding publication ‘Aberdeen Standard’ (Aberdeen, January 1893 – February 1894) are held at University of Aberdeen Library. The papers of Joseph Duncan, Aberdeen ILP member and trade unionist are held at the National Library of Scotland.

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The Aberdeen Labour Committee was formed about the time when the Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association folded in 1888. The key individual was George Gerrie, former Junior Liberal Association Secretary, but there was also George Bisset (President of the Aberdeen Trades Council 1886 – 1888). This Committee of middle-class former Liberals was formalised in 1890 and was composed of not only Bisset and Gerrie, but also former Aberdeen Radical Association member Dr A.T.G. Beveridge (future Chairman of the Aberdeen Independent Labour Party (ILP)) and former Junior Liberal Association member W.C. Spence. There was also stalwart campaigner Rev. Alexander Webster, Dr (later Sir) W.L. Mackenzie, A.P. Glass (shop-keeper/hatter) and A. Birse (a retired schoolteacher).

The function of the Committee was ‘to provide for those who were willing to assist the [Trades] Council on any labour questions of importance’. The Committee worked jointly with the Trades Council for a number of years, a key issue being the move towards the creation of the Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (STCLP), in May 1892. The Committee was also involved in the canvassing of former Social Democratic Federation member Henry Hyde Champion as a Labour candidate for Aberdeen South in 1892.

When the STCLP was formed the Aberdeen Labour Committee folded. After a short period the STCLP became the Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen branch) and there was remarkable continuity between the ILP executive committee and the Aberdeen Labour Committee.

Related entries: Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association, Aberdeen Radical Association, Rev. Alexander Webster, Unitarian minister and socialist, Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party and Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen).

References: Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: unknown but references within Aberdeen Trades Union Council papers held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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Aberdeen Socialist Society was formed in c.1891 and followed on from The Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League (Aberdeen branch) which was active from 1887 – 1891. The Society continued the work of its predecessor holding public meetings, organising lectures (many with well known Socialist lecturers such as Eleanor Marx) and organising demonstrations by the unemployed. The key person again was James Leatham, compositor, and now a publisher in his own right. From 1889 – 1892 Leatham ran his own printing and publishing co-operative (the 1st socialist press in Aberdeen), selling progressive and socialist literature, including his own very popular propagandist pamphlets. In the winter of 1891–1892, supported by the Society, he produced The Workers’ Herald, the first, though short-lived (there were 6 issues), avowedly socialist weekly paper in Scotland.

By mid-1891 the Society had split (mirroring national events as the Socialist League was overtaken by anarchists) and a group called the Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation was founded, changing its name to the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group in 1893.

In 1893 Leatham left Aberdeen for Manchester and the Society affiliated itself to the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the largest socialist organisation in Britain, which had been founded in 1881.

Members included Leatham of course, Aiken, Patrick Barron, brothers George and William Cooper (jobbing joiners), William Diack (stonemason), Harry/Henry Hill Duncan (shoemaker), Alex Gray (shoemaker), William Simpson Rennie (stonemason) and William Russel (drystone dyker).

Related entries: The Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League, James Leatham, author and publisher, Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group and Social Democratic Federation.

References: James Leatham autobiography (unfinished) ’60 years of World-Mending’ which was serialised in Leatham’s own magazine ‘Gateway’ from 1940 – 1945, James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978), History of the Trades Council and the Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: James Leatham papers held at University of Aberdeen Library as well as copies of his publications. Copies of The Workers’ Herald are held in Aberdeen Public Library.

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The Scottish Land and Labour League (SLLL) was formed in Edinburgh in 1884 and constituted itself as the Scottish section of the largest British socialist organisation of the time, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), itself founded in 1881. The SLLL agitated for land nationalisation united with public ownership of industrial capital. Later that same year after a split in the SDF, the SLLL affiliated itself to the new organisation, the Socialist League (again effectively as a Scottish section).

In late 1887 a branch of the SLLL was established in Aberdeen after a series of meetings held by SLLL organiser J.L. Mahon. The meetings had been arranged by James Leatham, compositor (and soon to be a publisher in his own right). The local organiser was Leatham, Secretary was Patrick Barron and Treasurer was Harry/Henry Hill Duncan. The branch organised open air meetings in the Castlegate every Saturday, organised a choir and provided for literature to be had at meetings such as Justice (journal of the SDF), Commonweal (journal of the Socialist League) and Agnostic Journal and Secular Review. One of the major events organised was the hosting of a lecture by William Morris, in March 1888.

By 1890/1891 as the Socialist League nationally was disintegrating with the takeover by anarchists, a new organisation was formed called the Aberdeen Socialist Society.

Related entries: James Leatham, author and publisher, Aberdeen Socialist Society and Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group.

References: James Leatham autobiography (unfinished) ’60 years of World-Mending’ which was serialised in Leatham’s own magazine ‘Gateway’ from 1940 – 1945, James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978), History of the Trades Council and the Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: Socialist Songs: Socialist League, Committee of the Aberdeen Branch (Aberdeen, 1889).

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