When the Chartists Petitioned Parliament

In 1838 the London Working Men’s Association drew up the People’s Charter which demanded equal political rights for the working class. Chartist organisations were subsequently created across Britain and their petition/charter was signed by over a million workers and supporters. In 1839 this petition was rejected by parliament – in fact, MPs would not even accept the petition.

A good case can be made that these Chartists represented the first mass workers’ movement in history; but they did not just fight for democratic demands–they were also engaged in a revolutionary struggle to change society.

The ruling class, however, has never willingly conceded power to workers, and hence riots ensued, as took place locally in 1842 — described in the Leicester Mercury’s informative article the “Battle of Mowmacre Hill was fight for democracy” (August 19).

The ceaseless struggle for democracy continued throughout the 1840s and 1850s, and after much further organising the vote was finally conceded to male workers in 1867, but not to all women until 1928.

The Mercury is correct: “the Battle of Mowmacre Hill proved a milestone in greater British democracy.” But what is essential to note is that the struggle for real democracy continues.

We have fought for and attained many important concessions from the ruling class, but unfortunately many of our so-called workers’ representatives in parliament were quickly absorbed into the capitalist system – the most profound expression of which can be seen in the transformation of the Labour Party into New Labour.

The ongoing demands for a Labour Party that truly represents the needs of the working class continues the Chartists’ struggle for democratic rights as a step to a workers’ democracy.

Continued attempts to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class is best demonstrated by the efforts of the swelling party membership to keep Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, in determined opposition to the Blairite coup that is presently being led by Owen Smith.

Reflecting upon the Battle of Mowmacre Hill, the Mercury reminds us how “174 years ago to this day, a group decided to challenge the status quo and a pitched battle for democracy took place, right here in Leicester.” Yet this is a battle that is taking place, right here in Leicester, right now.

This was more than evident in the same edition of the Mercury, where local Blairite councillor, Vi Dempster, took the time to attack local members of her Constituency Labour Party (in Leicester West, which she chairs) for trying to hold a meeting to decide whether to endorse Corbyn or Smith as their preferred candidate for the leadership of their party.

Leicester Mercury August 19 2016

For all intents and purposes Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party represents the continuation of the Chartists struggle for democracy and working class representation in parliament. This is precisely why all defenders of the capitalist status quo (including the Blairites) consider Corbyn’s downfall to be their number one political priority.

The planned Labour Party nomination meeting will take place on Thursday evening on August 25 at Fosse Neighbourhood Centre, 7pm. For further details see: https://www.facebook.com/events/276780009370066/

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