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over the caning of one of their peers. Within days, pupils in more than sixty towns throughout Britain had taken to the streets to express their grievances. What accounted for their actions? Are the recent pupil protests against the war in Iraq another manifestation of a longrunning tradition of discontent among pupils, fed up with authorities not listening to their concerns? The school strikes of 1911 were not unique. The first nationwide strikes occurred in 1889 and, like 1911, took place during a time of widespread industrial unrest. Llanelli and other towns experienced mounting tensions in railway, dock and other industries- in August, 600 soldiers were sent into Llanelli to keep the peace, but in the ensuing riot there were several fatalities. Children were not immune from all of this - some of their parents were directly involved as employees within the respective industries. They were also aware of the emerging adult labour movement - as one boy told a Daily Mirror reporter, 'our fathers strike - why shouldn't we?' But should the strikes of 1911 be seen merely as copy-cat protests?
1910 had seen the founding of the Transport Workers Federation (TWF), a union w syndicalists Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, the union was imbued with an anti-parliam year as existing transport unions began to affiliate to it, bringing thousands of work
A huge demonstration organised by the TWF took place in Liverpool on May 31 19 banners in support of the strike. Ending at St. Georges Hall, Ben Tillett and other s
The strike was organised by two affiliates of the TWF, the National Sailors and Fir protest against degrading medical inspections, the strikers soon raised further dema be present during hiring, and an end to the medical inspections. Under pressure from Federation, for talks aimed at ending the dispute. Met with silence from the Shippin
Joined by all workers employed by the shipping companies; from cooks and stoker fact that many scabs used to break the strike were completely untrained, forced the
Hearing of the victory of the seamen, 4,000 dockers immediately walked off the job during the national strike, were quickly followed out by the scalers and coal heaver again purely in support of the dockers. Mass meetings were held, and the largely un
In September 1911 the ASRS called a strike which saw ten per cent of the strikers laid off in an overt and unapologetic act of victimisation undertaken by the chief director of the GSWR, Sir William Goulding. Whereas in Britain successful strike action had led to increased membership and the formation of the NUR and the Triple Alliance, in Ireland trade union development on the railways was frozen, and remained so for the next five years. The hardline stance taken by Goulding in 1911 made the similar stance taken by William Martin Murphy in 1913 all the more viable.
The strike increased tension between the Irish membership and the British-based leadership. in particular. syndicalism. and proved to be a success. militant action on the part of the Irish railway companies in 1911. had won the day. and achieved improvements in pay and work conditions much more quickly and effectively than any conciliation board or parliamentary committee – the standard demands of the more conservative elements within the unions. in Bermondsey. regardless of trade or. indeed. Sympathetic strike action had been used as a tactic in England. Many of those who took on leadership roles during 1911 were advocates of industrial unionism and. One element of the industrial unrest of 1911 was a call for the end of sectional interests and the creation of a united front against all employers. Throughout the year there were hundreds of strikes.Unlike in Britain. industry 1911: the great unrest A century ago a strike wave spread throughout Britain that saw troops on the streets and a strike committee virtually running a major city. .000 women workers from over 20 factories spontaneously came out on strike in April. mostly unofficial. 15. can suddenly explode into militant mass action. often with no militant tradition and with the most cowardly union leaders. south London. Most of those involved were in food processing—many in jam-making. writes Simon Basketter Events of 100 years ago show that workers. For instance. This massive outburst of class struggle became known as the Great Unrest. and it was not until the exceptional circumstances brought about by the Great War had set in that the Irish railwaymen were in a position to challenge the companies once again over wage and work conditions Grassroots militant trade unionism had surged across Britain in 1911. and not the trade unions.
000 miners struck in South Wales over pay—despite opposition from an increasingly conservative trade union bureaucracy. or even to predict where they would happen next. employers and trade union leaders were all at a loss on how to control the strikes.” The strike won pay rises and unionised the area. that the working class “took a revolutionary course and might have reached a revolutionary conclusion”. They remained on strike until the end of the summer of 1911. The government.000 workers were involved in strikes—more than ever before. wrote in the classic book on the period. . The first shots in this class war had been fired in September the previous year. Seafarers In May. The historian George Dangerfield. The Strange Death of Liberal England. when over 300. seafarers across Britain started unofficial strikes over union recognition and working conditions. they remain unorganised mainly because they are badly paid. “While women are badly paid because of their unorganised condition.Strike leader Mary Macarthur said. The strike was solid and won. In 1911 some 961.
000 workers were out on unofficial action before the union leaders even got involved. The government deployed 58. when the government convened talks.000 troops against it—but it was panicked. a wave of unofficial rail strikes broke out.” On 17 August the national railway strike began. We are done!” The unions’ national demand was for recognition. desperate to regain control. the seafarers’ earlier victory . Some 50. Rail workers spread the action informally from company to company. We cannot keep the trains running. Wage negotiation through conciliation boards (workers called them “confiscation boards”) had broken down as bosses reneged on deals. the men are being called out. The general secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. a proposal they had rejected three days earlier. announced a national strike with the words: “War is declared. So on the promise of a Royal Commission. In some places. “The men have beaten us. Home secretary Winston Churchill declared. There is nothing we can do. through July and August. the union leaders called off the strike.Then. In Liverpool. In a sense they got it two days later. union leaders were less able to keep control.
The seafarers came back out in support of the dockers. tug boat workers. vitally. brewery workers and workers at the rubber plant all struck. Importantly. “If that boat were sunk he would for his part rejoice. a citywide strike committee—including. the dockers won. the sooner they went to heaven or hell the better for the world. A newspaper reported that revolutionary strike leader Tom Mann told strikers.000 dock porters struck on 7 August.” Within a week. .000 were out. Cotton Exchange porters. Soon. the strikes united Protestant and Catholic workers in a city riddled with sectarianism. As for the scabs on board. When 1. Other groups of workers followed. the rail workers—agreed that all transport workers would add their support through sympathy strikes.gave confidence to others and 4. Mersey Ferries workers. he would do it.000 Liverpool dockers reacted to it by walking off the job on 28 June. coopers (barrel-makers) and labourers at the giant Stanley Dock tobacco warehouse. After a shipload of scab labour appeared in the River Mersey. If he were able to sink the ship himself. By the end of the day 10.
were killed by soldiers.000 troops into the city. The docks were closed and there were no freight trains out of Liverpool at all. Most of the bosses wanted to settle.000 railway workers struck—against the wishes of senior rail trade union officials. five prison vans carrying some of those arrested at the rally. but the tram company refused to re-employ strikers they had sacked. escorted by army cavalry. The strike committee began to look like an alternative organ of class power. The authorities were powerless. with furious attempts made to rescue the prisoners. were attacked. When some 80. police and troops repeatedly attacked the crowd.The next day 4. in effect. Two dockers. The government dispatched two navy cruisers to Liverpool. The strike committee had.400 police and 5. . Michael Prendergast and John Sutcliffe. Most goods could only be moved with the agreement of the strike committee.000 people turned up to a mass meeting called in support of the strike on Sunday 13 August. so the strike continued until the tram workers were finally reinstated on 25 August. Two days later. taken the leadership of the rail strikers in Liverpool away from the union officials. Predictably. the government drafted an extra 2.
135. One boy told a reporter. Many carried “ammunition”: stones and other missiles. pupils “organised a demonstration outside the school. Cane Within days. .The workers’ victories inspired a wave of school student strikes.000 by the end of 1913. The great wave of struggle continued for the next three years.” The students chalked demands on the pavement: the abolition of home lessons and the cane. The Times reported that at one school in Deptford. South Wales to protest over the caning of a pupil. and an extra half-holiday in the week. school students marched with union banners. “Our fathers strike—why shouldn’t we?” Llanelli was one the most militant areas of the rail strikes. 30 boys marched out of Bigyn school in Llanelli. it had transformed the union movement. And while the onset of the First World War stemmed the strike wave.477. iron bars and sticks. In London’s East End. Total union membership grew from 2. On 5 September. pupils in more than 60 towns across Britain had taken to the streets. and amused the neighbourhood by shouting ‘We are on strike’.000 at the end of 1909 to 4.
It was struggling against a mass campaign for votes for women. . workers had been defeated in a series of major confrontations. Profits were increasing. the great unrest: why did strikes break out? Britain was at the height of its imperial power. But at the same time the ruling elite was in serious crisis. and newspapers were full of stories about the extravagant spending of the wealthy. Here was something all the respectable diplomacy of earlier years could never have achieved—power. At the same time the Tory opposition was openly calling for violent revolt to crush the Irish independence movement. from 1888 to 1892.” Background to 1911. “A movement which had started impulsively among the obscure and the unskilled suddenly revealed itself in all its infinite promise: here was power.The Great Unrest left another lasting legacy— breaking the Liberal Party as a political force. The dominant Liberal Party was ruthless but weak and trapped by three linked issues. The government relied on the votes of Irish nationalists to stay in office. Since the last big upturn in workers’ struggle. As George Dangerfield put it.
Tame The most important of these groups was the syndicalists—revolutionary trade unionists. The growth of reformist ideas and conservative bureaucracy in unions and politics pushed the syndicalists to an emphasis on collective direct economic action. The syndicalists rejected the idea that gradually securing a workers’ majority in parliament would be enough to tame capitalism. “The object of the unions is to wage the class war and take every opportunity of scoring against the enemy. The syndicalists were brilliant militants and organisers. but average real wages fell by around 10 percent between 1900 and 1912. This combined with the generalised political crisis meant radical voices were beginning to gain a hearing from growing numbers of workers. Prices and rents increased.” As a revolutionary reaction to the growth of reformism. . As Tom Mann put it.And huge pools of bitterness existed among working people. the syndicalists pushed trade unionism to breaking point.
and some from as far afield as Belgium and Holland. began a general strike. and to end discrimination against union members. Strike for liberty’. held at Liverpool on 31 May in support of two seamen’s unions that were on strike. which meant no fewer than 10. Cooks. A huge TWF demonstration.000 men had gone on strike by the end of the day. demanding improvements in pay and conditions. handing them victory. which led to the slaying by soldiers of two workers.000 dockers went on strike. had decided not to wait. Since then the TWF had grown rapidly. Their initial purpose was to protest against degrading medical inspections. But still. Buthchers and Bakers. Later that day their stance was mirrored by the crews of several liners at Southampton. and boldly predicted that the fight would be ‘short. including wage increases. although he was imprisoned the following year for an innocuous offence connected with the strikes. Later that month the shipping companies acceded to the strikers’ demands. where a successful strike among sailors inspired a summer of strikes throughout the city’s other industries. and an end to the medical inspections. The summer of strikes At Liverpool on the morning of 14 June 1911. and within a week the Shipping Federation (an employers’ organisation) gave in. A regular reader gave the Scottie Press a copy of a book printed for St Patrick's Day in 1910. Between 1910 and 1914 Britain experienced a wave of industrial unrest. and their organiser Tom Mann was heralded a hero. On the evening of 14 June Tom Mann addressed a meeting of the first strikers with the mantra: ‘War declared. was due to announce a general strike among seamen later that day. which details the work of the Men's Confraternity of the Holy Family in . That August a peaceful demonstration turned into days of anarchy. and underestimated their strength. but the crewmen at Liverpool and Southampton. Inspired by the sailors’ success. The next day seamen at most major UK ports. but they soon added further demands. Wage cuts. numerous transport unions were now affiliates and had brought thousands of workers with them. Neither did they have an answer to how the working class could take power. Tom Mann. and rapid inflation (between 1889 and 1910 the cost of food had risen by 10 per cent and the cost of coal 18 per cent) left workers deprived and disgruntled. The seamen then went back on strike in support of the dockers. Two TWF affiliates. being eager for action. The most significant of these were in Liverpool. union recognition. The various trade unions were swelling in size and in 1911 there were widespread strikes. the National Sailors and Fireman’s Union (NSFU) and the National Union of Ships’ Stewards. with most companies agreeing to improve workers’ hours and pay. many syndicalists went on to become important figures in building the Communist movement internationally. Mann had started the TWF alongside his friend Ben Tillett the previous year – their aim was to unite every transport worker in the country under a single auspice. sharp and decisive’ [The Guardian].But they did not fully grasp the way bureaucratic pressures affect trade union leaders. The strikes were otherwise largely successful. on 28 June 4. were behind this first strike. improved accommodation. They were quickly followed by scalers and coal heavers. the crews of two North American Liners refused to sign on for work. co-founder of the Transport Workers Federation (TWF). poor working conditions. had foreshadowed the June general strike.
K. They believed that workers' interests lay in cooperation with employers to develop Irish industries. Craft unions established trade councils in urban centers (Cork in 1880. Also pictured above is the statue of Father James Roche who died in 1883 and to who is attributed the credit of building two graceful and beautiful Parochial Churches. The sheer numbers and poverty of Irish unskilled workers made them difficult to organize. their emphasis on self-reliance drew many urban artisans into radical nationalist movements such as Fenianism and Parnellism. It was in 1868 that the Men's Confraternity of the Holy Family was started in Wexford. (St Aidan's). in Wexford. Known the world over as the "Twin Churches of Wexford". Formed originally in Liege in Belgium in 1844. Belfast in 1881. an Irish Trade Union Congress (ITUC) was founded in 1894. Among those named are Edward (see picture above) and Nicholas Byrne. If you can help Mike email mikekelly@talktalk. which is pictured above. Before 1900 organized labor was dominated by skilled craft workers who emphasized their differential status (by restricting skills and controlling admissions). and not until the end of the nineteenth century were sustained efforts made to do so.net. Their legal status was not fully regularized until the 1860s. It is recorded in the book that the Wexford churches established sections of the Confraternity and these sections had Prefects and Sub-Prefects.Wexford. which was a fine old structure belonging to the Franciscan Fathers. Attempts to create U. They operated within cross-class nationalist movements (the Dublin trades were a mainstay of nationalist processions). though such cooperation often proved one-sided.-wide labor federations in the nineteenth century foundered because of organizational and communications difficulties and nationalist sentiments. Prior to this date there was only one Catholic Church. These men were possibly relatives of Wexford born Patrick (Dandy-Pat) Byrne who came to Liverpool (aged 18) in 1863 He later owned and ran the Morning Star pub (Scotland Place) and Tatlock pub (Titchfield Street) and became a City Councillor for the Scotland Road area in 1885. and even America. The 1890s also saw many local Irish societies merge with larger British unions. Labor Movement Trade unions emerged in Ireland in the early nineteenth century. Patrick Byrne(pictured below circa 1885) died in Liverpool in 1890 and is buried in the family grave in the churchyard of St Aidans in Wexford(pictured below). Efforts are being made by local author Mike Kelly to trace the family tree of Patrick (Dandy Pat Byrne). Craft unions acted as friendly societies. providing medical and other benefits for members. the Confraternity was to spread rapidly not only in Belgium but also in Holland. France. the Church of the Assumption and the Church of the Immaculate Conception were opened in 1858. Ireland. in the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Rowe Street). British Isles. Dublin in 1886). combining features of the obsolescent guilds and agrarian secret societies. the role of British unions in Ireland .
From 1892 several Home Rule MPs identified themselves as "labor nationalists" (similar to contemporary "Lib-Lab" MPs within the British Liberal Party). he is best remembered for debating the relationship between socialism and nationalism with Connolly in 1911. The ITUC was hampered by divisions between pro-union northern workers and (predominantly nationalist) southern unions. some members were labor activists in Britain. The "Lib-Nat" MPs voiced labor concerns but were primarily loyal to the Home Rule Party. but it was always vulnerable to constitutional and religious tensions. but these proved divisive and ineffective. the Knights of the Plough (1890s). The first independent Labour parliamentary candidates stood for election in Belfast in 1885 and 1886." which tried to organize unskilled workers in massmembership unions.intermittently divided the Irish labor movement until the 1950s. whose relations with the British labor movement were complicated by its alliance with the Liberals and its own increasingly bourgeois character. Walker's "gas and water socialism" included support for the union on economic grounds. The industrialization of northeast Ulster gave it disproportionate strength within the movement. The Dublin-centered Irish Republican Socialist Party (1894–1903) deserves particular attention as the first political venture of James Connolly (1868– 1916). These faced formidable organizational difficulties. The Belfast trade unionist William Walker (1871–1918) established an Independent Labour Party presence in Belfast in 1893. but northern unions mirrored the sectarian divide. and unskilled workers followed populist Orange or Green (Protestant or Catholic) leaders who incorporated "laborist" elements in their messages. The Home Rule Party sometimes spoke of itself as a "labor party". Cross-sectarian cooperation occurred from time to time. Beginning in 1873 attempts were made to organize agricultural laborers through groups such as the Irish Agricultural Labourers' Union (1873–1879). His endorsement of sectarian Protestant legislation alienated Catholic support. Its principal impact on Ireland began in 1907 when James . Skilled workers' unions maintained sectarian as well as craft divisions. led briefly to labor unrest in Ireland when it emerged in the late 1880s. British "new unionism. The extension of the local-government franchise in 1899 created independent labor groups on several urban councils. and the Irish Land and Labour Association (1894–1918). and the party sought British support by comparing land agitation to trade unionism. the Scottish-born Marxist theorist and future leader of the 1916 Rising. their association with the Irish Parliamentary Party encouraged factionalization and complicated relations with urban unions. They were absorbed by the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union during the First World War. Small socialist groups appeared in Irish urban centers beginning in the 1870s. which contributed to the defeat of his parliamentary candidacies in 1905 to 1907. these were usually short-lived because of clerical and political opposition.
led by William Martin Murphy. The ITGWU joined the ITUC in 1909. proved ineffective and was bitterly denounced by Larkin. organized large numbers of unskilled workers. Larkin moved to Dublin and Cork. linking their struggle to Fenianism and Parnellism. frightened by Larkin's radicalism and divided between laborist and probusiness elements. In the summer of 1909. Belfast was already experiencing an upsurge of trade-union militancy. In 1912 the ITUC established the present-day Irish Labour Party. Older craft unions acquiesced or were sidelined.) . it denounced the employers and their allies in uncompromising terms. first appeared on 27 May 1911. After his suspension by the NUDL in December 1908. His reckless leadership was balanced by skilled (and occasionally exasperated) organizers such as William O'Brien and James Fearon. prepared concerted counteraction. between April and November 1907 Belfast saw disputes involving dockers. the ITGWU operated in a confrontational style. The Irish Parliamentary Party. Connolly returned from the United States as a political organizer and produced some of his bestknown attempts to adapt Marxism to Irish conditions. it sidelined Larkin and settled on disadvantageous terms. ITGWU strikers in Cork were crushed by a concerted lockout. (In some provincial centers. Meanwhile.Larkin (1876–1947) arrived in Belfast as an organizer for the Liverpool-based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL. which experienced a major dispute in 1912. the "closed shop. the Dublin employers. notably Sligo. Larkin held the syndicalist belief in the general strike as a weapon of social transformation. enlisting the impoverished masses of unskilled urban labor and trying with some success to bring a general rise in wages through sympathetic strikes. written mostly by Larkin. founded in Liverpool by Irish immigrants). an inspiring orator. Instead of the conciliatory tactics of the older unions. local Home Rule leaders did come to terms with Larkinism. The weekly Irish Worker. The new union faced determined opposition from employers and the NUDL. The year 1911 saw further labor conflict. carters. moving it toward explicit socialism." and aggressive tactics against strikebreaking. Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU). becoming embroiled in further strikes. Pro-Larkin labor councillors became the principal opposition to Dublin Corporation. which had also faced middleclass and clerical opposition. Faced with heavy demands for strike pay. The NUDL leadership disliked Larkin's confrontational style and expansive recruitment. to some extent uniting Catholic and Protestant. Larkin was briefly jailed in 1910 because of a dispute over NUDL funds. with prolonged strikes in Wexford and Dundalk and a Dublin rail and timber strike in September. He expressed the anger and hopes of the poor. Larkin. and tobacco workers. Employers reacted with lockouts. Organized strike-breaking and street unrest led to police mutiny and military intervention in which two laborers were killed and many were wounded by troops.
000. The Irish census shows the population to be 4. However this never materialised as the dispute was settled shortly afterwards. coupled with the sheer brutality of the police during the first weekend of the strike in August 1913. Police brutality during previous strikes in Dublin. The All-Ireland Champions are Kilkenny (hurling) and Cork (football) 1912 • • • • • • The Third Home Rule Bill is accepted by the House of Commons. to defend the strikers if the employers sent in the army. after a worker died as a result of a police baton charge during the 1911 Wexford strike for I.U.G. 500. in what became known as Bloody Sunday.T. Larkin himself had said during the 1908 Dublin Carters strike.400. The All-Ireland Champions are Wexford (hurling) and Louth (football) 1911-1920 1911 • • • • The Parliament Act is passed in the House of Commons . Cork and Wexford. were the factors which actually resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army . Daly proposed the formation of a 'Workers Police'. The Titanic is launched at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. The offer from a military man like Jack White to organise and discipline a workers defence force. The Irish Labour Party is founded.W. had convinced some people of the absolute necessity of a defence force. P. The Titanic sinks in the Atlantic .T. as they had done in Belfast in 1907.its last port of call was County Cork.1910 • • The Unionist Party is formed with the aim of maintaining the Act of Union.Lords can now delay a bill for only two years. D. recognition. Corbett makes the first flight across the Irish sea. that he would organise a "workers army". but is postponed for two years.000 Ulster people sign the Solemn League and Covenant. The All-Ireland Champions are Kilkenny (hurling) and Cork (football) 1913 The idea of a strikers defence force had been mooted many times before the Irish Citizen Army was actually formed. W.