On Sunday, June 20th, 1948, something significant happened at Victoria Hall, the birthplace of the Lidice Shall Live campaign. The event typified the change in direction the nation was taking. A mere three years prior, the flags of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were warmly embraced in the auditorium. Now, their presence would have been met with disquiet, even alarm in some quarters.
The occasion marked a sequel to a run of performances that had happened 14 months earlier at Burslem’s Queen’s Theatre of the Moral Re-Armament industrial teamwork play, The Forgotten Factor, by Anglican priest and author Alan Thornhill.
During the war, the play was used with remarkable success to maintain production levels across the British coalfields. The drama promoted the need for management and unions to work together on the basis of what is right, not who is right, in order for both to survive.
Now the play had been re-embraced by the Attlee Government to improve industrial relations and output and to keep communities alive at an hour of extreme national economic struggle. But it was about more than that. The Government wanted workers to shift their allegiances towards the West, to see socialism as more belligerent and capitalism as more benevolent, in line with Bevin’s Foreign Policy. It was time for workers to be content with what they had and to cooperate with employers and the owners of capital—the British Government.
The Victoria Hall rally was about the North Staffordshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers, highlighting what results had been achieved through their presentation of The Forgotten Factor to various other coalfields.
Besides delegations from the South Wales, Scottish, Lancashire, South Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire coalfields, in addition to North Staffordshire, there were guest mineworkers’ representations from France, Holland, and the Ruhr to make the occasion international in its scope. Italy was represented in the person of Mr Umberto Celosso, Secretary of the Saragat Socialist Party. But this time, there was no contingent from the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia.
It was an afternoon of speeches. Some contained personal testimony to a newfound outlook on life, and all stressed the need for greater cooperation in the home, at work, and in world affairs to develop true understanding and successful teamwork. The greatest applause was given to a 59-year-old German, August Halbfell, Minister of Labour for North Rhine-Westphalia, a province of 13.4 million people, who spoke as a miner and as a politician:
“When you hear Germany talked about even today, you will think of the horrible Germany which brought so much unhappiness to the whole world. But I ask you not to forget that alongside this terrible Germany, there was another Germany – a Germany that was ready to fight for the friendship, affection, and teamwork of the world. During the days of Nazism, this other Germany fought against Nazism and hundreds of thousands died in concentration camps and on the scaffolds.
“Several of our delegation, including myself, have had the opportunity to show in concentration camps that they were ready to suffer for those ideals. And yet, as we look around the world, we see that hatred is still a real passion. What we ask today is that there should be an understanding of a beaten people, and a poor people and of a broken economy. If hatred remains alongside hatred, it can mean fresh suffering for mankind.”
Chairman of the rally was Harold Lockett, former President of the North Staffordshire Miners’ Federation, holder of the Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion, and now President of the North Staffordshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers. Lockett told the audience of 2,000 that unless they were prepared to stand up for the things that would bring peace to themselves and their own homes, there was little chance of getting peace among the nations.
Mr Bill Yates, President of the Victoria (Biddulph) Colliery Branch of the NUM, gave the first of a number of two-minute addresses by mineworkers under the title of The Miner Speaks. Yates spoke of the impact on himself and on workmates of the play The Forgotten Factor and said he was struck to find that all people were regarded as equal. He only regretted that the Russians were absent.
Among others who addressed the rally were Mr Horace Holmes MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power; Mr W. Brough, Under-Manager Long Lane Colliery, Wigan; M. Frank Smith, Leicestershire Coalfield; Mr Bill Sperring, President of the Deputies Association of South Wales; Mr A. H. J. Kramers, Inspector of Personnel, State Mines, Holland; Mr Joseph Sauty, Secretary C.F.T.C. Miners Northern Coalfield, France; Mr Frank Painter, President of the Warwickshire Area, NUM; Mr Fred Copeman, one-time Commander of the International Brigade, former Communist and now a member of the Labour Party; and Mr Peter Howard, author; the Makinac Singers; the Wolstanton Colliery Choir; and the Pare and Dare Colliery Band, Welsh champions.