Editorial from the February 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard
The recent ruling of the Appeal Court that Trade Unions have no legal power to force their members into supporting any political party, even when a majority of that Trade Union agrees to supporting that political party, came as a veritable bolt from the blue. The Labour Party, “the new force in politics,” the political organisation which in 1906 claimed that it had frightened the House of Lords into passing the Trades Disputes Bill, awakens in 1909 to discover that it has no legal standing at all, and is only suffered to exist by the voluntary support of its members. Now while we agree that political work must be done voluntarily, as is the whole of the work of the S.P.G.B., because only then is it the expression of the real convictions of the person expressing it, it is doubtful indeed whether the Labour Party can depend upon sufficient voluntary pence to pay its members’ salaries and its working expenses. Hence the decision o( the Labour Party to appeal against the Appeal Court's finding, and to attempt to cling to the privilege of levying Trade Union members for the support of a political party over which they have little or no control.
The rabid anti-Socialist Press, like the Daily Express, accused the Socialists of capturing the Trade Unions by controlling the Labour Party; but the Labour Party is not a Socialist party any more than it is a Tory party, its political representatives being mainly concerned with maintaining the status quo, keeping their seats—and their jobs. So the job-hunters who run the show have to pose as advanced reformers to the rank and file of the I.L.P., who do the work, and as tolerant, “practical,” men to the Trade Unions, who find the money. The net result to the working class is, in addition to the loss of their money, the disappointment of seeing nothing as the result of their expenditure of money, energy, and enthusiasm in “independent” politics. Yet these people have the ear of the public, and the Socialist has but little chance of a hearing. To believe that so great a sham can last for long is to be with as little faith in the workers as those middle-class “leaders" who have so graciously come among us to lead us, and who contemn us meanwhile.
The Socialist Party is clear that in the first, place the trade organisation is not the starting point of the political organisation if for no other reason than the fact that the unit of the union is the trade, while the unit of the political organisation is the locality; and in the second place that the workers’ effort towards their emancipation must be made voluntarily as the result of conviction of “class-consciousness”; certainly not as the result of watering down the position to appeal to a majority, and then using that majority to enforce the financial support of the minority of a type of organisation which has been enabled to build up its membership partly owing to the fact that party feeling in political matters has been rigidly excluded.