Socialist Worker

Labour in cartoons 3: 1943 - Days of hope

Issue No. 2023

Cartoon by Zec, Daily Mirror, 1943 (Pic: from the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

Cartoon by Zec, Daily Mirror, 1943 (Pic: from the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

By 1943 workers were already stepping up pressure for radical social change - and for the implementation of previous promises - even though the war against Nazi Germany was still raging.

Tory MP Quintin Hogg, later to become Tory cabinet minister Lord Hailsham, warned parliament that year, “If you don’t give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution.”

From 1942 onwards the coalition government made concessions to workers. The Tory-dominated government rigorously controlled prices and profits. Planning commissions determined what could be produced. Movements of currency and capital were controlled.

Clement Attlee’s Labour government, elected by a landslide in 1945, inherited these wartime policies. It set about nationalising the Bank of England, coal mines, electricity and gas, railways and other sections of the economy - and it created the National Health Service.

But economic crisis from 1948 saw Labour introduce a wage freeze and several tax measures that favoured the rich. The nationalisation programme ground to a halt.

Herbert Morrison, a central figure in the government, said there could be no more advances but only “consolidation”. Between 1945 and the end of the Labour government in 1951, the cabinet ordered troops across picket lines 18 times.

Abroad, Labour crushed popular risings in Greece, Malaya and Vietnam. A massive movement for independence forced Labour to agree to leave India.

But it did so in a way that guaranteed partition into two states. The resulting transfer of populations led to the deaths of up to a million people. And Attlee secretly built a British atomic bomb.

The cartoon is by Philip Zec. Born in 1910, he was a commercial artist who joined the Daily Mirror at the start of the Second World War.

Zec, who was Jewish, felt passionately about the need to defeat Adolf Hitler and produced a series of powerful cartoons on the war.

When Hitler heard about these attacks on his regime, he added Zec’s name to the Nazi blacklist of people to be executed after Britain’s defeat. But Zec’s cartoons sometimes upset the British government too.

In March 1942 the Daily Mirror published a cartoon about the government’s decision to increase the price of petrol. It showed a torpedoed sailor with an oil-smeared face lying on a raft. Zec’s message was, “Don’t waste petrol. It costs lives.”

Winston Churchill believed that the cartoon suggested that the sailor’s life had been put at stake to enhance the profits of the petrol companies.

In the House of Commons home secretary Herbert Morrison called it a “wicked cartoon” and Ernest Bevin, the minister of labour, argued that Zec’s work was lowering the morale of the armed forces and the general public.

The government considered closing the Daily Mirror - but decided to let the newspaper off with a severe reprimand.

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