Paul Salveson talks about the underlying grievances that led to the strike of 1911

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 22nd July 2011 by Liam Physick

Paul Salveson outlines the grievances of railway workers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which would culminate in their going on strike in 1911. It was not a well-paid job, the hours of work were very long (leading to many cases of workers falling asleep), and, above all, the death rate was very high. The latter mainly resulted from workers being crushed as they tried to couple the rolling stock up, as the railway companies refused to introduce automatic coupling on the grounds of cost

Interviewee: Paul Salveson

Interviewee Gender: Male

Interview Transcript

But there were huge grievances on the railways in the nineteenth century, right from the start, that were still there, sort of, seething discontent in the 1880s and 1890s: although it was seen as a job for life if you kept your nose clean, but it wasn’t a particularly well paid job, but some of the big, equally important issues were: overwork, it was quite typical for an engine driver in the 1880s and 1890s at depots like Edge Hill, Sandhills, Brunswick in Liverpool and Garston, to work for 18 or 19 hours, it was quite common for signalmen to work similar, sort of, amounts of hours,  and there were a whole series of major accidents caused by signalmen falling asleep, drivers falling asleep in the cab, even though in, sort of, very (inaudible due to audience member coughing) conditions, you know, so it must have been absolutely dog-tired, doing hard, demanding work, and the other aspect as well was the appalling safety record on the railways, I’ve got some, some figures here, in 1875 alone 767 railway workers were killed in accidents, and between 1875 and 1899, nearly 13,000 railway workers were killed, and one of the most common ways of getting seriously injured or killed was having to get in between the wagons to, to couple the wagons or the carriages up, and you didn’t have to do that, actually, it’s quite common on many other railways around the world, particularly in America, where you had automatic coupling, where staff didn’t actually have to get in between and risk getting themselves crushed, but the railway companies decided, “Well, this would cost too much for us”, you know, we’ve heard that once or twice recently on our own railways, so the investment case wasn’t there, there was no business plan to provide safer working conditions for railway staff, so they carried on this appalling loss of life on the railways throughout the nineteenth century, and it was something that came to the attention of the press, the Times fulminated about it, but the railway companies themselves, even though they were brought in front of Select Committees to try and justify it, just said, “Well, in our opinion, the main reason for all these accidents is that, lack of care on the part of the servants” (audience murmurs), so it’s, it’s your own fault if you get crushed in between the wagons.

Tagged under: edge hill station, coaches, carriages, railway workers, wagons, trucks, drivers, signalmen, 1911 strike, brunswick station

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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