The 1930s and the British labour movement: chronology

Submitted by martin on 19 December, 2009 - 12:36 Author: Martin Thomas

Dates and statistics, 1929 to 1945.

30 May 1929
Labour wins the general election with Ramsay Macdonald as prime minister. TUC affiliated membership is 3.7 million - down from 4.2 million in 1926, 4.4 million in 1922, and 6.5 million in 1919-20. Labour Party membership rises steadily from 215,000 in 1928 to 447,000 in 1937; dips a little in 1938 and 39; then falls sharply during the World War to 218,000 (1942) before rising again to 487,000 in 1945, and a peak of 1,010,000 in 1952.

24 October 1929
Wall Street Crash sparks the Great Depression. Output per head in the UK drops 9% between 1929 and 1932. This is a smaller fall than in other countries. Output per head rises again after 1932, by a total of 25% to 1939. But unemployment rises very sharply, to 22% in 1932, and then drops quite slowly. It is still above 10% in 1939.

18 September 1931
Japan invades China, tries to conquer it over the following years.

22-23 August 1931
Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald breaks from Labour, when it resists his calls to cut the dole; forms a 'national government' coalition run by Conservatives. Labour elects George Lansbury as leader instead.

27 October 1931
'National government' coalition wins a general election. Labour reduced from 287 seats to 52.

1932
First British Trotskyist organisation - the "Balham Group".

30 July 1932
Independent Labour Party - one of the main forces within the Labour Party since 1900: Macdonald was a member - disaffiliates from the Labour Party. Some ILPers remain in the Labour Party, forming the Socialist League (until 1937).

1 October 1932
Oswald Mosley founds the British Union of Fascists

30 January 1933
Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany

1933-4
TUC affiliated membership reach their low points - 3.3 million members, about 1 m striker-days. Limited economic revival after this will increase union membership and activity, though they are still low compared to the strike rates from about 1909 to 1926, and will continue low until another high period from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s.

1934-5
Communist Parties world-wide swing from "Third Period" to "Popular Front" line.

7 June 1935
Conservative Stanley Baldwin becomes prime minister; wins a new general election on 14 November 1935. Labour, now led by Clement Attlee, revives to 154 seats.

July 1935
First Penguin paperbacks go on sale

July 1936
Fascist army general start Spanish Civil War (against Popular Front government). Workers respond by taking over factories, but CP and others push for workers to back down in favour of "anti-fascist" unity. Military action by Popular Front leaders against left-wingers in Barcelona, May 1937. Fascists have the upper hand by 1938, and register complete victory by April 1939.

5 October 1936
Jarrow marchers set out to London

1937
TUC affiliated membership has risen to 4.5 million, and striker-days to 3.4 million. TUC membership will continue to rise, to 6.7 million in 1945, but striker-days dip in 1938-40 before increasing by 1944 to 3.7 million (2,194 strikes - many more than even the 1,352 in 1919) - despite strikes notionally being banned in wartime.
Aneurin Bevan and others launch Tribune (left Labour Party newspaper). Stalinists led by Ted Willis (later author of Dixon of Dock Green) win control of the Labour Party youth organisation. In June 1939 they will lead a large chunk of the Labour youth into the Young Communist League.

12 March 1938
Germany seizes Austria

28 - 30 September 1938
'Munich Agreement' cedes the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) to Germany

March 1939
Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps expelled from Labour Party for campaigning for the "People's Front" proposed by the CP.

3 September 1939
Britain declares war on Germany in response to the Germany invading Poland on 1 September 1939 (in a deal with the USSR, which invades and seizes the eastern part of Poland on 17 Sep). The CPs, until June 1941, will be pacifistic in a pro-Hitler way: "Hitler repeated once again his claim that the war was thrust upon him by Britain. Against this historic fact there is no reply. Britain declared war, not Germany. Attempts were made to end this war, but the Soviet-German peace overtures were rejected by Britain" - Daily Worker, 1 February 1940.

9 April 1940
Germany invades Norway and Denmark

10 May 1940
Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of a Tory-Labour-Liberal coalition government

10 May 1940
German invasion of Belgium, Netherlands, and France begins

7 September 1940
'Blitz' begins.

September 1940
US Trotskyists develop the "proletarian military policy". "We are willing to fight Hitler. No worker wants to see that gang of fascist barbarians overrun this country or any country. But we want to fight fascism under a leadership we can trust ... We will never let anything happen as it did in France .... The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler, and anybody else who invades their rights ...The contradiction between the patriotism of the bourgeoisie and that of the masses must be the point of departure of our revolutionary activity..." British Trotskyists will follow this.

22 June 1941
Germany invades USSR

November 1941
CP begins campaign for "the second front"

7 December 1941
Japan attacks US fleet at Pearl Harbour. USA enters the war.

November 1942
'Beveridge Report' published, outlining promises for the Welfare State
USSR starts counter-offensive against Germany at Stalingrad

10 July 1943
First Allied troops land in Europe, in Sicily. On 25 July the Fascist Grand Council sacks Mussolini, and his replacement, Pietro Badoglio, sues for peace with the Allies.

May 1944
Butler Act creates free secondary education

6 June 1944
Allied forces land in France on D-Day

Late 1944
Four British Trotskyists jailed for their activity in support of a national engineering apprentices' strike

4 February 1945
Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill confer on the post-war world at the Yalta Conference

16 April 1945
Russian army begins conquest of Berlin

26 July 1945
Labour wins the general election by a landslide