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Centenary Of John Burns Stand On Great War

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GMB To Join BWTUC In Marking Centenary Of Resignation From Cabinet Of Battersea MP John Burns Over UK Entry Into First World War

From the vantage point of 100 years later it is clear that John Burns was right to oppose a catastrophic decision that ultimately led to more than 30 blood soaked years and to over 70 million dead says GMB

GMB will join with Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) in marking that, one hundred years ago, on 2nd August 1914, John Burns, Battersea’s socialist MP, resigned from the Cabinet in protest at the pending declaration of war against Germany. Two days later the UK declared war.

On Saturday 9th August GMB members from Southern Region will take part in an inaugural guided walk through John Burns’ heritage in Battersea. The will start at his grave at St Mary’s Cemetery, Battersea Rise, Bolingbroke Grove, SW11 1HE. At the end of the walk there will be a  dedication of a John Burns Room in the Bread and Roses pub at 68 Clapham Manor  Street SW4 6DZ, which is owned by BWTUC. See for copy on for the route of the walk and for information on John Burns and the BWTUC. Media are invited on the walk and to the event in the Bread and Roses at 4pm

In 1894, 120 years ago, John Burns set up the Battersea Trades & Labour Council. This was the forerunner to BWTUC to which GMB branches are affiliated.

John Burns MP, in July 1914, wrote, “Why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand. This I know, there is one fellow who will have nothing to do with such a criminal folly, the effects of which will be appalling to the welter of nations who will be involved. It must be averted by all the means in our power. Apart from the merits of the case it is my especial duty to dissociate myself, and the principles I hold and the trusteeship for the working classes I carry from such a universal crime as the contemplated war will be. My duty is clear and at all costs will be done.”

John Burns was born in 1858 in South Lambeth and moved to Battersea at about the age of nine. He started work aged 10. Burns was a superb public speaker at open air and indoor meetings. See copy of HF Finberg painting of him speaking in Hyde Park on GMB website. He played a leading role with Tom Mann in the successful London Dock Strike of 1889. He supported setting up the new union for gas workers in 1889 which was the forerunner of GMB.

With the help of others he put together a Progressive Alliance in Battersea amongst trade unionists, socialists, liberals and radicals. He was elected to the London County Council at the end of 1888 and as MP for Battersea in 1892. The Progressive Alliance took control of Battersea in 1894.

The Liberal Prime Minister invited Burns to join the Cabinet in December 1905 as President of the Local Government Board. His major lasting achievement was the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 which enabled councils to build houses for rent.

Paul Maloney, GMB Regional Secretary, said “From the vantage point of 100 years later it is clear that John Burns was right to oppose a catastrophic decision that ultimately led to more than 30 blood soaked years and to over 70 million dead.

No power declared war on Britain and Ireland. Burns resigned when the Cabinet took the initiative to declare war on Germany. Burns described the decision as a “criminal folly”. We are still living with the consequences.

That sound judgement has stood the test of time. GMB members will attend the centenary events to recognize the wisdom of one of our founding greats.”


Contact Kieron Merrett at GMB on 07866 441656 or GMB press office 07921 289880 or Carmel Pollen at BWTUC on 07946 172461 for more information on the history contact Sean Creighton 07725 045550

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