Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

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 roots of the organisation lay in the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in July 1920, which considered the formulation of a colonial policy, and included a debate between Lenin and Manabendra Nath Roy, founder of India’s Communist Party. In 1926 a League Against Colonial Oppression was formed, a precursor to the League Against Imperialism, which formed in 1927.

In Aberdeen a branch was formed following a meeting addressed by Glasgow based Communist Party member Helen Crawfurd and the branch Secretary was Bob Cooney, Communist Party organiser for north-east Scotland. The branch was initiated in response to and existed for the period of the Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929 – 1933), in which trade unionists were imprisoned for organising a strike in British ruled India.

References: see below. Also, Remembering the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 (George Scott (ed.), Aberdeen Trades Council, 2nd edition, 2001).

Sources: papers of the international organisation held at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.

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The National Council of Women of Great Britain was originally formed in 1895 as the National Union of Women Workers. It came out of the 1880s national movement of several women’s philanthropic organisations concerned about civil, educational, religious and social issues affecting women. A body which was part of this movement was the Aberdeen Ladies’ Union (originally called the Ladies’ Union for the Care and Protection of Women and Girls), founded in 1883. The Union had a key role in forming the Central Council of the Conferences of Women Workers in 1891, which was a precursor to the formation of the National Union. In 1897 the Ladies’ Union became the Aberdeen branch of the The National Union of Women Workers.

The Aberdeen Union of Women Workers was made-up of numerous affiliated organisations which worked with women and concerned itself with issues such as poverty, social reform, equal rights, family rights and also suffrage. The affiliated organisations had representatives on the Executive Committee: organisations such as the Aberdeen Clothing Society, Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Employment Exchange and the Aberdeen Women’s Citizen Association. In 1909 the Union worked with the Women’s Liberal Association, Primrose League, National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to promote female representation on the school boards in Aberdeen and this included joint canvassing work for candidates.

The National Union of Women Workers changed its name to the National Council of Women of Great Britain in 1918. The Council is affiliated to the International Council of Women.

References: website and see below.

Sources: Aberdeen Union of Women Workers papers (1900 – 1926) and a few items as part of the Mary Esslemont papers (an Aberdeen physician) are held at University of Aberdeen Library. National records are held at London Metropolitan Archives.

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A University of Aberdeen society which advertised in the Freshers’ magazines. The society was formed in 1919 and appears to have existed for just one year. They had a syllabus of talks outlined in the magazine.

References: University student directories.

Sources: unknown.

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There was a Aberdeen University Labour Club at various times (1921 – 1926, 1939 – 1942, 1952 – 1954, 1957 – 1958). In 1958 the new Socialist Society was created from the ‘old labour club’.

The Club was formed to promote Labour ideas and put forward a Labour party candidate for the Rectorial Elections.

References: University student directories.

Sources: some publications issued as part of Rectorial election campaigns and a journal called ‘Insight’ (1924) are held at Aberdeen University Library.

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Founded in 1903 by Albert Mansbridge, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) was created to promote the higher education of working men and women at a time when few educational opportunities existed for the working class. The WEA is a national, voluntary organisation which provides adult education based on democratic principles.

In 1905, the first WEA branch was founded in Scotland in Springburn. It was followed by branches in Edinburgh in 1912, Glasgow in 1916 and Dundee and Ayrshire in 1917. The Aberdeen branch was founded in 1913.

References: website.

Sources: some papers are held at Aberdeen City Archives (from c.1970 – 1993) and also at the National Library of Scotland. The UK central archive is managed by London Metropolitan University and attached to the TUC Collection.

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Bob Cooney was born in Sunderland in 1908 but then his family moved back to Aberdeen and Bob was educated in Aberdeen. He became involved in the street politics and debates in the Castlegate in Aberdeen and became a communist and bitterly opposed to poverty. In 1930 Bob quit his current employment in order to devote himself full time to his politics. Between 1931-1932 he spent time in Russia, working at night and studying at the Lenin Institute by day. On his return to Aberdeen, and as Communist Party organiser for north-east Scotland, Bob threw himself fully into organising hunger marches (he went on two marches, in 1935 and 1936), mobilising the unemployed and spoke at open air meetings across the country. He was at the forefront of protests against fascism, which came to a head when the British Union of Fascists under William Chambers Hunter came to Aberdeen. There were running battles in the centre of Aberdeen and the fascists were beaten back. In 1937 he volunteered as part of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil war (along with 17 other Aberdonians, 5 of whom were ultimately killed), which he viewed as the front line against fascism. He was initially appointed as Commissar of a training group eventually rising to the position of Commissar of the XV (British) Brigade. He survived the Civil War and then served for the duration of WW2. He died in Aberdeen in 1984 after a life of activism.

References: information from Aberdeen City Council commemorative plaques database and Proud Journey: A Spanish Civil War Memoir (Bob Cooney, Marx Memorial Library and Workers School, 2015).

Sources: his songbooks which he used at the Aberdeen Trades Council in the c.1970s/1980s are held as part of the Trades Council papers at University of Aberdeen Library. Also the memoirs he created in 1944 and which were published in 2015 (see above) and oral history interviews he made in 1976 and available via the Imperial War Museum website.

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