DALLAS, George

Type

Person

6th August 1878 to 4th January 1961

Biographical Text

Dallas was a prominent member of the Labour Party in the inter-war years, serving as an MP and later becoming party chairman. He was a trades union organiser and also campaigned on agricultural issues. 

Dallas was born in Glasgow on 6 August 1878, the son of a shoemaker. After leaving primary school he worked in a coal mine, then attended Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College; in 1894 he also joined the Socialist League. Moving to London, Dallas worked as a clerk for a coal merchant and attended the London School of Economics. His interest in radical politics continued, and he attended demonstrations opposing the Boer War (1899-1902).  

Returning to Scotland, Dallas opened a men’s clothing shop in Motherwell. His first involvement with trades unionism was his service as secretary to a local shop workers’ union. He stood as a socialist in the Glasgow municipal elections of 1907. He became particularly interested in the conditions endured by female labourers in the textile industry, and helped women cloth-workers to organise. In 1913 he married Agnes Brown, an activist with the Women’s Labour League; after her death in 1916 he married her sister, Mary.   

In 1912 Dallas returned to London as an organiser with the National Federation of Women Workers. In 1913 he joined the Workers’ Union as an organiser for London and the home counties. He became interested in the plight of agricultural workers, and encouraged many of them to join the union. This led to a deeper interest in agriculture and rural affairs which continued throughout his career. In 1917 he was appointed to the Agricultural Wages Board, representing agricultural workers. 

This latter service won Dallas considerable respect, and thereafter he was frequently called upon as an expert. He served on the Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1919, and was a member of the Agriculture Council of England and the Agricultural Economics Society, serving on the latter’s executive committee from 1930-7. From 1940-45 he was head of the Timber Control Board.  

Dallas had been a member of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland from 1908-12. After coming to London he joined the Labour Party and from 1919 stood several times for parliament. He was finally elected for Wellingborough in 1929, but lost the seat in 1931. He contested the seat in 1935 but lost again, and thereafter never stood for parliament. He continued to be widely respected in the party, however, and served on Labour’s National Executive Committee from 1930-1944. He was vice-chairman in 1936-7, and party chairman in 1938-9. He also served for many years as a justice of the peace, first in Hertfordshire from 1932-9 and then in Northamptonshire from 1938 onward. Dallas was awarded the CBE for his wartime work in 1946. 

Dallas left no body of written work. His socialism seems to have been of a moderate kind, and he was strongly opposed to the authoritarian regimes that emerged in the Soviet Union and China. He seems to have been genuinely committed to the cause of the workers, and singled out particularly disadvantaged groups such as women workers and farm labourers for attention. Although he ran several times for parliament, he does not appear to have been a seeker after high office. 

Dallas begins his lecture by telling us that he is a substitute, brought in to replace ‘one of the ablest of our leading Labour officials’, who had to cancel his appearance at the last moment. (It is not known who this official was.) Dallas’s lecture is nonetheless interesting because, at a time when some figures on both sides of the political divide equated industrial action with political action, he says instead that most industrial disputes are the result of petty workplace grievances that have been allowed to fester.  

A great many disputes could have been prevented entirely, says Dallas, if only management had used their common sense, or managed their firms more effectively. In one case, workers threatened to strike over cuts to piece rates, to the bewilderment of the owner who had given no order to cut the rates. It transpired that some foremen, jealous of the wages received by the men under them, had instituted cuts of their own. Dallas also says that far from encouraging strikes, unions can be valuable force in preventing them if business owners are prepared to negotiate sensibly about these minor grievances. To this end, he says, organisations of employers can be very useful in presenting a united view, and he talks favourably of negotiations he has witnessed between organised labour and organised employers. Workshop committees and Whitley Councils, or Joint Industrial Councils bringing management and labour together, also have a role to play.  

One way or another, says Dallas, employers must engage with their workers: 

No doubt there has been a great change in the mentality of the British workman during the past ten years. He is not the same person that he was in 1913. His outlook on life has entirely altered, and he is no longer content to be treated as part of the machinery of the works. He resents, and will resent with growing intensity, the idea that so far as industry is concerned, he is not even yet a human being, to be taken into consideration. He will demand a greater voice in industry. 

Employers need to ‘look at the whole matter from a really human standpoint’. If they can recognise that society has changed and are willing to meet workers halfway, then it is possible to achieve not only labour peace, but true national prosperity.  

Bibliography

Dallas, K., ‘Dallas, George’, in Dictionary of Labour Biography, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1977. 

Griffiths, C.V.J., ‘Dallas, George’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Original Source

Lecture Industrial peace: from the workers’ point of view’, 21 September 1923, Balliol College 

Citation

“DALLAS, George,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed July 16, 2020, http://rowntree.exeter.ac.uk/items/show/29.