What will they or can they do in the present state of politics? They will not help the Conservatives, and may spoil the Liberals in playing their own hand. But what will this do for the people? Both of the organised parties have done something for the nation, and will do again as opportunities arise — maybe not all that could be desired, nor half so much as is needed; but, then, the engine of State moves slowly, and Rome was not built in a day.
The Labour aims are noble, and largely appeal to the generous side of human nature — to lift the helpless, to lessen suffering, to destroy sorrow, and create happiness is surely an ideal worth fighting for; but how curiously at times they go about it, and when not smothering each other fall foul of capital and of Mr. Chamberlain. Just now the latter gentleman is as a red rag to a bull to them and the little Englanders; and how curious this is when the Trade Union principle is one of pure protection, and the members often boast of the great good it has done to their order. Has it never struck them, if it is such a good thing for the union, that it might be the same for the nation? But their leaders have always been the same with regard to the hon. member for Birmingham. They, like the sick and friendly societies, would not have old age pensions at his hands, and the same leaders have never yet found in their hearts to acknowledge his great boon of compensation to workmen. Just now a large number of the leaders have their faces turned towards Westminster, where they will have to be provided for, and if they could only do the good they promise they would richly deserve all they get. But there is no royal road to the amelioration of mankind. This is a great problem which the best of men have been trying to solve since the beginning of the world. Some progress has been made by the forwards of the past; men who deserve recognition, and who ought not to be flouted. For instance, how these men rail at capital. Well, what can the worker do without it; at least, until he gets some of his own? Then and now the world is open to employ or be employed; either way, if it only leads to greater happiness for the many. In Lancashire just now some of the Labour leaders are busy against the Tariff Reform League, casting reflections and making scornful allusions to fiscal reform in the County Palatine and elsewhere, taking upon themselves to decide for the people who have never been consulted as yet. This is a state of Toryism worthy only of the worst days of the past. Surely the men of the Red Rose will have a voice in the matter, and not be like dumb cattle driven to the slaughter under a new name. There is something to do, and if these men will sober down to reach the sufferings of the multitude they will deserve well of the nation. Look at the poor mothers in our congested towns. What a sad lot is theirs! No houses worthy of the name, in which the poor things have to nurse, cook, char, clean, and sew for an entire household. Without her the only ray of sunshine would be gone; but, alas! how soon this hard life tires out, and how early decay sets in, and how many of the dear souls are taken early away, leaving orphans to struggle alone, unloved, and more cruelly afflicted by the loss of the dear one through long suffering and dire neglect.
Here is a work to do, and if the leaders of the Labour party would direct their energies to lessen these and other evils, they would be sure to have a greater following, and occupy a stronger position. We are told in a grand manifesto that 172 trade unions, 70 trade councils, the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour party, representing over 1,000,000 trade unionists, are affiliated against fiscal reform. If this is so, no one will complain. But if they, the workers, have expressed no opinion, and are only being dragooned into it by the leaders, as in the ill-mannered circular of their Parliamentary Committee, it will be a fair question for enquiry. In these days it is not safe to dictate too much, but, whatever the result, if the poor get better terms and conditions all true hearts will rejoice.
There are, it is said, fifty Parliamentary Labour candidates in the field, and forty of them occupy positions so strong that the Liberal party is not likely to oppose them. Who will they join? What will they do? How soon, if they act alone, will they be able to get into power? It looks a long time hence, and by the period this may be accomplished most of the present generation will be in their graves. However good these men may be, or however desirous to lift the lowly, they will not have the chance for some time; therefore at the present a party will have to be called into power who can act, act in the living present, faith within, and God o’erhead. Such a one will be outlined in the next chapter. Such a party may be impossible and impracticable; if so, we shall have to muddle on until the time of selection. Then may those who will honestly do most for the people win the day at the next general election.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden