Friday, August 6, 2010

The Keir Hardie Society Meets

The inaugural meeting of the Keir Hardie Society yesterday afternoon was an unqualified success with socialists and labour movement activists from the Labour Party, other parties and no party at all coming together to celebrate the life and works of Labour's first leader on his birthday at Summerlee Heritage Museum in Coatbridge.

After a minute's silence to mark the recent death of that other colossus of the labour movement, Jimmy Reid, the meeting was given the apologies of Tony Benn who has agreed to be the Society's honorary president. The meeting Chair was Hugh Gaffney of North Lanarkshire Trades Union Council.

The first speaker was Jackson Cullinane , Deputy Regional Secretary for Unite. He focused on the importance of drawing lessons from Keir Hardie's life for today in fighting for fair conditions for working people and opposing casual labour just Hardie himself did. The view Hardie had of unemployment as not merely a symptom of capitalism but something exploited by capitalists to drive down wages and working conditions is still as relevant today as it ever was and in the light of the contrasting views there are of the future of trade unions is especially important. He argued that a movement must be built to oppose the savage cuts now imminent in the public sector and that we should be working towards the biggest turnout possible for the Scottish Trades Union Congress's protest in Edinburgh on October the 23rd.

Next the meeting heard from Cathy Jamieson, MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and the new MP for Kilmarnock and Loudon. She highlighted Hardie's support for women's suffrage , home rule, the co-operative movement and was determined to carry on the fights he would have fought today such as opposing the ConDem government's policies on the Independent Living Fund and the Future Jobs Fund.

Bob Holman, author of a new book about Hardie, brought out the influence of Christianity on Hardie and how he viewed socialism as a means of putting the values of the Sermon on the Mount into practice but also recognised that many socialists were non-believers and respected them as comrades in the struggle for a more just society.

Finally, Richard Leonard, Political Officer for the GMB in Scotland spoke. He insisted it was important we celebrate we history of the labour movement through the life and works of Keir Hardie and that we faced the same struggles today as were faced then. The organisational response to this should be a Keir Hardie Society to keep alive Hardie's ideas and promote his writings and activities. Where appropriate we could work with public bodies to increase the profile of Hardie with monuments, education, perhaps even regular festivals to celebrate every aspect of his life through the arts.

I look forward to playing a full as role as I can in the Keir Hardie Society. Fortunate as I was to learn more than some about him while I was at school, I want to know more and I want everyone to know about the man who many say was Labour's greatest leader.
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