1st July 1949 – Labour turns against ‘Labour’.
‘Have you heard it’s in the Stars, Next July we collide with Mars’?, 1940’s song revived for High Society 1956: Cole Porter.
Welcome all my readers to the Month of July…named after Julius Caesar in the Julian calendar; of 10 months it was the fifth month originally Quintilis, later changed to Julius. In both Republican and Julian calendars it had 31 days.
It was the Anglo-Saxon: maed-monath-meadow month.
The heady days of Labour’s landslide victory in 1945, which promised a new age of government-worker co-operation, were undone Today in 1949, when the dockers went on strike. Self interest re-asserted itself instead of the common good.
In January 1947 the Road Transport workers had struck, mainly for a 44 hour week, before returning just before one of the worst winters on record took hold. The dock-workers ‘blacked’ work relating to the hauliers, thus causing a desperate shortage of the supply of meat, until troops were brought in.
By Monday the July 11th matters had got serious enough for some government action demonstrated by Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s ceremoniously presenting to the Speaker ‘a gilt-edged typed Message from the King, bearing the Sign-Manual in the top left-hand corner’. The message announced that as the dock strike constituted a State of Emergency, it was necessary to ‘state’ an emergency existed.
As a report said: ‘As the hands of the clock showed 3.30 Mr Attlee rose and walked to the Bar [of the Commons[, where he stood smartly to attention, while Mr George Isaacs, the Minister of Labour, said (his voice sad and tired), that ‘the dockers had decided not to return to work and that one hundred and twelve ships and more than ten thousand men were now standing idle’.
On the Wednesday the 13th the Commons was crowded for the debate on the Message from the King announcing a State of Emergency and the Regulations thought necessary to deal with the situation.(1)
Churchill was there, wearing the traditional black coat and waistcoat, but with trousers of the ‘palest grey’. Attlee explained that the Government had acted ‘because it was a strike and not a lock-out, and was politically inspired, no doubt implying that there were communists ‘under the bed’, the scapegoats of that time.
The Attorney-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross condemned communist activity in the strike and in the Commons said: ‘These acts of unofficial strikes are an act of economic and political treason to our Trade Unions, Socialist Movement and …to our Country’.
‘Circumstance was now ‘master’, the Government merely the servant or slave’. On the 22nd of July the strike ended. The use of the word ‘masters’, back in 1946 in the Bill to repeal the Tory Trades’ Disputes Act, the Attorney General had said ‘We are the masters at the moment…and for a very long time’. It apparently surfaced in a Liverpool Daily Post article, and was a political millstone round his neck to later haunt him.(2)
(1) Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Tory) reminded the House that the Regulations necessary as they are, made serious inroads into traditional British rights and freedoms, which contrasts with today, of constant of EU interference and bogus Human Rights issues being thrown in our face by people lamentably lacking in these considerations.
(2) The Quote about ‘masters’ was cited in Hansard 2.4.1946, was attested by Lord Bruce in a New Statesman article. In Shawcross’ Obituary in the Independent (London) 11.7.2003, it was reported that the use of the ‘talk about masters’, he admitted, was one of the most foolish things he ever said’. Shawcross was British Lead Prosecutor of the Nazis at Nuremberg 1945-6.
Ref: Hansard HC Debate 13.7.1949 Vol 467 cc441-571
Ref: Chronicle of the 20thc J L International Publications.
Ref: Punch Magazine July 20th 1949 PP76-77, Impressions of Parliament.
Pic Ref: P. 59 Gavin Weightman London River, Guild Publishing 1990.
Next Post: ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’.