19: The rise of the Labour Party
The establishment of the Labour Party
Following the Reform Act of 1884 the majority of the adult males of Wales were given the vote. Most of them were content to support the Liberal Party, some because of their Nonconformist loyalties and others because they considered Liberalism to be an umbrella movement capable of accommodating a wide range of radical causes - the furtherance of the interests of the working class among them.
In 1885 Mabon was elected MP for the Rhondda. As a trade union leader accepting the Liberal whip, he was a leading representative of the Lib-Lab tradition. There were those however, who argued that as the majority of the population was working class, their interests should be paramount.
The Independent Labour Party was founded in 1893. A highly idealistic movement, it established a few branches in Wales but failed to gain a mass following.
The year 1900 saw the founding of the Labour Representation Committee. A joint venture of trade unionists and members of socialist societies, it was the organisation from which the Labour Party evolved. Keir Hardie, the Committee's candidate in 1900 in the two-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil was elected, a breakthrough of great significance.
However, it was the legal decision of 1901 concerning the Taff Vale Railway - effectively outlawing strike action - which ensured the Lib-Lab tradition was abandoned and even Mabon was obliged to join the Labour Party. Yet as late as 1914, only five of the 34 Welsh MPs were Labour members.