James Henry Thomas

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Caricature by James Henry Thomas (1926)

James "Jimmy" Henry Thomas PC (* 3. October 1874 in Newport , Monmouthshire , Wales , † 21st January 1949 in London ) was a British trade union functionary and politician of the Labor Party , which for 26 years the constituency Derby as a member of the House of Commons and was several times Minister for the Dominions and Minister for the Colonies and from 1929 to 1930 Lord Seal Keeper . In 1936 he had to resign as colonial minister because of the betrayal of budget secrets and also renounced his mandate as a member of the lower house.


Worker and union official

Thomas completed his education in the state schools of his native Newport and worked early as a messenger youth in a drugstore and then as a machine cleaner in the local railway depot, before he found employment as a fireman in Swindon . It was during this time that his union and political involvement in local politics began when he was elected a member of the Swindon City Council for the Labor Party.

In 1904 he was elected President of the United Union of Railway Workers ( ASRS) (Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants) and in 1905 he was re-elected in this capacity. He then became a full-time union officer in Manchester in 1906 and then in South Wales.

Member of the House of Commons, Secretary General of the ONLY and First World War

After Richard Bell had resigned from his position as general secretary of this union in 1910 because of the rapprochement between the ASRS and the Labor Party and had also resigned his lower house mandate, Thomas became his successor for the Labor Party on January 15, 1910 in Bell's previous constituency Derby for the first time Elected to the House of Commons and represented that constituency for more than 26 years until June 11, 1936.

At the same time, Thomas also became vice-general secretary of ASRS and thus representative of its general secretary JE Williams. In this role he played a key role in the settlement of a rail strike in Liverpool in 1911 and in 1913 led the negotiations with the smaller unions UPSS (United Pointsmen and Signalmen's Society) and GRWU (General Railway Workers' Union) on the merger with the ASRS to form the National Union of the railway workers ONLY (National Union of Railwaymen) , of which he became general secretary in 1917 as successor to James Edwin Williams. He held this position until 1931.

During the First World War he provided considerable support for the implementation of campaigns and in 1917 was a member of a delegation that took part in a trip to the USA under the direction of Secretary of State James Balfour . In 1917 he was also appointed a member of the Privy Council .

Postwar, President of the TUC and Minister of Colonial Affairs

The post-war years were marked by numerous strikes on the railways, which he successfully ended after negotiations with the railroad companies, which led to a doubling of wages while simultaneously combining wage increases with the rate of increase in the cost of living.

In 1920 he also succeeded GH Stuart-Bunning as President of the umbrella organization of the trade unions TUC ( Trades Union Congress ) and held this position regularly for one year until he was replaced by Edward L. Poulton in 1921. As President of the TUC in 1920 and 1921, he played a key role in the formation of the three-way alliance of railway, mine and transport workers to prevent the use of armed forces against the Soviet Union . 1920 awarded him the University of Cambridge an Honorary Doctorate of Law (Honorary Doctor of Laws) .

He was also president of the International Federation of Trade Unions ( IFTU ) between 1920 and 1924 and a member of the executive branch of the Socialist Workers' International (SAI) from May 1923 to January 1924 .

On January 23, 1924, Thomas was appointed by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald to the first government of the Labor Party in the history of the United Kingdom, where he was Secretary of State for the Colonies for the first time until November 3, 1924 ) . During his brief tenure, he traveled to the British West Indies and developed a lifelong interest in British colonial policy .

General strike in 1926, keeper of the Lord Seal and the Great Depression

Thomas was a member of the Executive Committee of the Trades Union Congress, which in May 1926 called for a general strike by all its members. In doing so, he exercised moderate influence, avoiding the dangerous situation that this general strike would get out of control. This ultimately led to the settlement of the strike with the promise to resume negotiations, although the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) deviated from this compromise and the miners continued to strike for several months. In 1926 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of Oxford .

In the general election of May 30, 1929 , the Labor Party won 287 seats, making it the largest parliamentary group in the House of Commons. MacDonald was then again Prime Minister on June 8, 1929, but was again dependent on the support of the Liberal Party. Thomas was then appointed by MacDonald as Lord Privy Seal and Minister of Employment in his second government.

As such, he saw himself entrusted with the task of preparing the necessary steps against the rapidly growing number of unemployed, which as a phenomenon of the global economic crisis affected numerous industrial nations. In the hope of strengthening trade with the Commonwealth of Nations , he traveled to Canada . As a result of this visit, an Imperial Economic Conference was organized , which later led to the Ottawa Accords, which established a Preferential Tariff for the Commonwealth of Nations. In his function as Minister for Employment, he was assigned the Minister without Portfolio Oswald Mosley , whose radical proposals to combat unemployment, however, were always rejected by him or by the Cabinet. The ever-impatient Mosley finally compiled his entire program as a Mosley Memorandum, which was rejected by the Cabinet, whereupon he resigned in May 1930.

Minister for the Dominions and National Governments 1931 to 1936

Despite his efforts, Thomas did not succeed in solving the unemployment problem, so that at the height of the Great Depression on June 5, 1930, he was replaced as Lord Seal Keeper with responsibility for employment policy by the former Post Minister Vernon Hartshorn .

On June 5, 1930, he himself took over the post of Minister for the Dominions (Secretaries of State for Dominion Affairs), which had been separated from the Colonial Ministry . As the successor to Colonial Minister Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield , he was responsible for the Dominions of Canada, New Zealand , South Africa , Newfoundland and the Irish Free State as well as the Crown Colony of Southern Rhodesia .

After it at the height of the August 24, 1931 Great Depression by Prime Minister MacDonald to form the so-called National Government from the Labor Party, Conservative Party and Liberal Party came, Thomas remained Minister of the Dominions. At the same time he temporarily took over the post of Colonial Minister from Baron Passfield on August 25, 1931, which he held until he was replaced by Philip Cunliffe-Lister on November 5, 1931. The office of Minister for the Dominions, however, he also exercised in the national government of MacDonald's successor as Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin , until his replacement by Malcolm MacDonald on November 22, 1935.

From November 1930 to January 1931 and again between September and December 1931 Thomas was among the British participants in the first two British-Indian round table conferences in London . His closest collaborators at the time included James Thomas , who was his Parliamentary Private Secretary from 1932 to 1935, and his private secretary Edward Marsh .

Exclusion from the party in 1931 and re-elections in 1931 and 1935

His entry into the National Government led to his expulsion from the Labor Party along with the three other Cabinet members of the Labor Party (Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden and Lord Chancellor John Sankey, 1st Baron Sankey ). He then joined the National Labor Organization , which was co-founded in 1931 by Ramsay MacDonald after he was expelled from the party. At the same time, the union's displeasure was expressed in the fact that he also lost his post as general secretary of NUR and was replaced by his previous vice general secretary, Charlie Cramp .

Despite his exclusion from the party, Thomas was re-elected in the general election of October 27, 1931 with 49,257 votes (36.4 percent) and November 14, 1935 with 37,566 votes (30.08 percent) in the double constituency of Derby , which he won each time shared with William Allan Reid of the Conservative Tories .

In November 1935 he supported Frederick Bellenger, among others, in his candidacy for a lower house mandate in the Bassetlaw constituency . Bellenger saw himself as a representative of the industry, and in this situation he became a symbol of the dislike of the miners towards the mine operators, the National Government of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald of the National Labor Organization and the local government representatives. This became clear, among other things, when Thomas was booed as former general secretary of the railway workers' union NUR (National Union of Railwaymen) and then Minister for Affairs of the Dominions in election campaign appearances in Worksop and Retford.

Colonial Secretary in the Baldwin administration and retirement from politics 1936

As part of a reshuffle of Baldwin's national government, he took over again from Malcolm MacDonald as Minister for the Colonies on November 22, 1935, while the latter in turn became his own successor as Minister for the Dominions.

On May 22, 1936, Thomas had to resign as Colonial Minister after premature financial changes in the budget of his ministry occurred and he was accused of violating budgetary law. It was about betrayal of secrets towards his son, the stockbroker Leslie Thomas, as well as the entrepreneur Alfred Cosher Bates. His successor as Colonial Minister was then on May 28, 1936 the previous Minister for Public Works (First Commissioner of Works) , William Ormsby-Gore .

At the same time he resigned from his lower house mandate. In the now thus necessary election (by-election) of 9 July 1936, was Philip John Noel-Baker (52.5 percent) significantly against the candidate of the National Labor Organization, of the Labor Party with 28,419 votes Archibald George Church , prevail , which received 25,666 votes (47.5 percent).

Following Thomas drew the temporarily also magistrate (justice of the peace) of the County of Kent and Governor of Dulwich College , from the political life back. He died in London on January 21, 1949. His marriage to Agnes Hill in 1898 resulted in two sons and two daughters.


  • When Labor rules , 1920
  • My story , 1937

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