Labour Parliament 1854

This page looks at the Labour Parliament which met in Manchester in March 1854 and lists the names of delegates.

Chartism traditionally thrived during times of economic crisis – notably in 1838, 1842 and 1848, when the three great national petitions were organised. But with trade and commerce flourishing in 1853 and 1854, Ernest Jones saw a new opportunity to revive the Chartist cause.

By the early 1850s, industry had shaken off a long period of gloom and in 1853 workers in many industries had succeeded in gaining wage rises thanks to the growing shortage of labour. At Preston in Lancashire, however, the mill owners formed their own federation and refused to negotiate with the spinners’ and weavers’ committees.

Rather than face a strike, employers locked out some 20,000 workers in the town. In response, the spinners and weavers launched an appeal that brought in more than £100,000, and succeeded in prolonging the battle from October 1853 to May 1854.

Manchester Times March 11 1854
Manchester Examiner and Times, March 11 1854

The Labour Parliament, which met in Manchester from 6 to 18 March March 1854, was in part a response to the use of the lock-out employed by the mill owners in this dispute. This was not ostensibly a Chartist event – and reports of its deliberations make clear that the issues which it discussed were economic and organisational. There was little, if any, mention of the Six Points or of the Chartist cause.

But by now the National Charter Association and Jones had adopted a specifically socialist programme – “the Charter and something more” – and the cause of labour was very much at the heart of their approach.

Over the course of a fortnight, the Labour Parliament set out an ambitious plan of organisation. John Clarke Cropper was elected to the chair, John Teer became general secretary and James Williams was made treasurer.

With Ernest Jones’ support, the meeting decided on a progressive weekly levy on workers’ wages, rising from a ha’penny for those earning less than 4 shillings a week to 4d for those earning up to 40 shilllings, the money to be used to support those on strike or locked out by employers.

There would be an executive committee elected by those paying the levy, with separate departments and secretariats for agriculture, manufacture, distribution, the regulation of the price of labour and for assisting with strikes, lock-outs and labour legislation.

These boards and their staff would seek to buy and manage land, factories and workshops, ensure goods were supplied to co-operative stores, and publish information on wage rates. Supreme authority would be vested in a Labour Parliament, which would meet at least once a year.

Before adjourning, the Labour Parliament elected a five-person executive of James Finlen (London), George Harrison (Nottingham), Joseph Hogg (Newcastle), Abraham Robinson (Wilsden) and James Williams (Stockport).

Ernest Jones was elected as an honorary member of the executive “with all powers except that of voting”, according to the Manchester Times.

But the scheme was not universally popular with the Chartist movement. For Robert Gammage, the Labour Parliament was the end of the road for Chartism.

Gammage had watched in horror as Jones put forward the scheme for agricultural and factory co-operatives in place of Chartism’s political demands, recalling that Jones “had always previously pronounced such schemes as worthless”. In his History of the Chartist Movement, he went on:

“The plan did not take. The contributions – which according to Jones, were to amount to five million pounds a-year – were not sufficient to pay the salaries of the Executive, who were involved in a debt of £18, which rested upon the shoulders of a single individual.”

According to Gammage, realising the plan was doomed, Jones “advised the people to send no monies but what were sufficient to pay off the debt”, and declared the failure of the scheme to be evidence that the people were becoming more convinced of the need to gain political power.

“Matchless impudence! Was ever trickery more transparent?” asked Gammage.

Detailed reports on the proceedings of the Labour Parliament can be found in the Manchester Examiner and Times of 8, 11 and 18 March 1854

Karl Marx and the Parliament

Although Karl Marx reported the opening of the Labour Parliament in an article for the New-York Daily Tribune (published on 24 March 1854), he declined the invitation to serve as an honorary delegate.

In a letter of 9 March 1854, first published in The People’s Paper of 18 March, he wrote:
“If the Labour Parliament proves true to the idea that called it into life, some future historian will have to record that there existed in the year 1854 two Parliaments in England, a Parliament at London, and a Parliament at Manchester – a Parliament of the rich, and a Parliament of the poor – but that men sat only in the Parliament of the men and not in the Parliament of the masters.”

Delegates to the Labour Parliament of 1854
Ernest Jones, James Bligh, James Finlen, Harry JeffreysLondon
John Petzler, EC Cropper, John TeerManchester
Matthew Shaw (weavers' union)Bury
Jonathan Westray (amalgamated committees)Preston
John RobinsonCoxhoe (Durham)
Wm EmmottKeighley (Yorkshire)
James WilliamsStockport
Abraham RobinsonWalsden and Thornton
John FlemmingBedford
James Candelet and James SmithNorth Lancashire Union of Cordwainers
George BrewerTorquay
E TidswellHaworth (near Keighley)
Isaac Hogg, Jeremiah EarlsLeek (silk twisters)
Joseph Hogg, George HobartNewcastle
George CandeletHyde
John OxfordBirmingham
James BrierleyManchester (cotton skein dyers)
B ArmfieldDoncaster
Wm WilsonCrook (Staffordshire)
William JacksonBirmingham
John Smith (for whom Wm Hill of Stalybridge would officiate until Wednesday)Wigan
George HarrisonNottingham
Edwin GoldringBarnsley
William PooleExeter (from Tuesday)
Mr Preston, Mr Price Humphrey, George Cowell (honorary delegagte)Preston (from Thursday)
George YoungCardroom hands of Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire
Mortimer Grimshaw, Wallace BeeverPreston (from Wednesday of week 2)
Source: Manchester Examiner and Times, 8, 11 and 18 March 1854