Immigration Controls

The Aliens Act of 1905 is almost entirely forgotten today by the Jewish community and by socialists. It was the natural corollary to the anti-Jewish ideology described above, namely the successful demand for immigration control on Jews. The Act was passed by a Tory government with the full support of its leadership and of the Tory Party. It was enforced by a Liberal government. However, in many ways it was the result of nearly twenty years of agitation by the English working class.

This agitation took two main forms. Firstly, there was the grassroots proto-fascist organisation in London's East End—the British Brothers League. Between its inception in 1901 and its victory in 1905, the Brothers organised constant demonstrations and rallies through the East End against Jewish immigration. Secondly, there was the organised labour movement itself. From 1892, the T.U.C. was formally committed to a resolution excluding Jews. This was not a passive 'paper' position, indeed the issue of immigration control was included in a list of questions to be asked of all Parliamentary candidates, which was compiled by a special conference of the T. U. C. in 1895 (Manchester Evening News, 11.7.1895). Indeed, the T.U.C. sent a delegation to the Home Secretary demanding control (Times, 6.2.1896).

This was only the tip of the iceberg. W.H. Wilkins, a fanatical campaigner for control, in his book The Alien Invasion, published in 1892, named 43 labour organisations, not including the T.U.C., advocating restrictions on Jews. These ranged from the National Boiler Makers and Iron Ship Builders Society to the Miners Association of Durham to the Oldham Provincial Card and Blowing Room Operatives. It also included the Liverpool Trades' Council. Many other trades' councils were to come out in favour of control. These included London, where control was supported by the renowned rank and file dockers' leaders Ben Tillett and Tom Mann (London Evening News, May 27th and June 19th 1891), Manchester (Trades Council Report, 1892) and Leeds (evidence of its secretary, to the 1903 Royal Commission on Alien Immigration). J.H. Wilson, who was an M.P. and also secretary of the Seamen's' Union, was actually one of the first to propose legislation in Parliament (Hansard, 11.2.1893).

The attitude of most of the emergent socialist organisations to all of this, varied from agreement to inconsistency. For instance, The Clarion came out eventually for total exclusion. In an article just after the Act became law, The Clarion stated that Jewish immigrants were:

"a poison injected into the national veins", they were the "unsavoury children of the ghetto", their numbers were "appalling" and their attitudes "unclean" (22.6.1906).

The S.D.F.'s position was, to put it mildly, fainthearted. Hyndman at a meeting called ostensibly to oppose controls, declared that he was against "free admittance of all aliens" and went on to attack Jews for living in ghettos and refusing to intermarry (Jewish Chronicle, 1.4.1904).

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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