Liberalism and socialism

Alastair J. Reid

in The Tide of Democracy

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780719081033
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702949 | DOI:
Liberalism and socialism

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This chapter analyzes the scattered writings of Robert Knight of the boilermakers' society. Given his widespread image as the most autocratic of the ‘Old Unionists’, he has consequently been almost universally dismissed as an archetypal ‘conservative’ interested only in narrow trade union matters and actively opposed to all new trends in labour politics: even his union's move to support increased parliamentary representation for trade union purposes was seen as becoming possible only after his retirement. Knight was scrupulously careful not to mention party politics in his role as a trade union leader, but enough emerges from his annual reports to his members, from his interventions at the Trades Union Congress, and from his evidence to public inquiries, to permit a reconstruction of his basic outlook on wider issues, paying particular attention to the religious and political influences which can be detected in it. From this it becomes evident that the standard description of Knight's outlook is profoundly misleading: he may have been an anti-socialist but that did not mean he was in favour of an unchanging status quo; he may have been a moderate but that did not require him to be unthoughtful; he may have been primarily concerned with particular reforms but that did not mean he lacked a coherent tradition on which he could draw for inspiration.

Keywords: Robert Knight; trade unions; union leaders; boilermakers' society; trade unionists; labour politics

Chapter.  13109 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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