Matthew Case-Legge (Chichester) on the Labour Party and the debate over public ownership

I visited the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, attached to the People’s History Museum in Manchester. For my dissertation, I wanted to examine the development of the Labour Party’s conception of the public ownership of industry during the inter-war period. Before arriving I was not sure quite which industry to focus on, waiting for that to be informed by the amount of material available.

Front page of Herbert Morrison report on the reorganisation of the 
electricity industry.
Herbert Morrison report on the
reorganisation of the
electricity industry.

I spent the first day becoming acquainted with the archive structure, looking through the various indexes of the collection and discussing the issue with the archivist, trying to determine where the best place to search would be. I was particularly searching for the records of the Reorganisation of Industry Committee, referenced in Matthew Worley’s Inside the Gate. I decided that the best industry to examine was that of the railways.

The second day was far more fruitful. I was able to find the minutes to the aforementioned committee, and a twenty page report on the nationalisation of the railways. These were part the NEC minuets. The minutes were very useful in establishing the progress of the committee and in finding related material. The report, given its length, was especially useful in examining the position at the top of the party.

The third day was spent with the records of the conferences of the Labour party and the TUC during the 1930s. Containing verbatim transcripts of the debates they were extremely useful. The Labour Conference of 1932 was particularly illuminating, containing an extended discussion primarily concerned with worker control and the merits of a Transport Board run by ‘experts’. The debate was opened with an extended speech by Herbert Morrison which was very helpful in showing him articulate his ideas in his own fashion.

Thanks to the bursary provided by the SSLH I was able to carryout this research which was indispensable to my dissertation.