Paul Salveson assess the success of the 1911 transport strike

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

Paul Salveson evaluates the strike’s success. He pronounces it a “qualified success”, citing the fact that the workers had, for the first time, realised their strength. He concedes there is an argument that they should have stayed out longer, but also points to the violence perpetrated against the strikers (and not just on Bloody Sunday) as a sign of the cost that would have been incurred by a longer stoppage. The workers, he notes, unlike in the 1926 General Strike, did not feel they had lost: they had won union recognition and a platform on which to build. He also dismisses the idea of Tom Mann as the driving force behind the strike

Interviewee: Paul Salveson

Interviewee Gender: Male

Interview Transcript

But I think what was significant about it was the first time that the railway workers had actually not only showed their strength but realised the enormous strength that they had in Edwardian England, so the strike was a qualified success, I think looking back on it from various union historians and the NUR, ASLEF and so on, said, “Well, yeah, they probably could have got more if they’d have stayed out longer, but equally there would have been a risk of, you know, of all-out conflict of, sort of, seeing all-out conflict. As it was, Ray’s already mentioned the onslaught in St. George’s Plateau, where hundreds of people were injured in the police baton charge, two workers were killed in Liverpool the following days, and then there was a meleé on the way at taking some prisoners up to Walton Gaol, and in Llanelli in south Wales, two of the strikers were shot dead during a riot which had effectively been instigated by the, sort of, provocative actions of the army, so there was a cost there, and it was far more violent than the 1926 General Strike and I think, you know, it actually achieved a lot more, certainly the railway workers didn’t go back with a sense of defeat, they went back saying, “Well, actually, for the first time we showed out strength, we’ve got the sort of recognition to a certain extent that we’ve been after, and we can build on that from there.” What came next? The First World War. But what it says to us is that sometimes you’ll get a build-up of pressure from below, and I think the Middle East in the last few weeks is a very good example of that, which is beyond the control of any leadership. I think syndicalism, it actually chimed with the mood of the time, I don’t think you can say Tom Mann was responsible for the railway workers of Liverpool going out on strike, but what Tom Mann and his syndicalist colleagues did was to help to give it some local direction and local direction, but he was actually ultimately overruled by the national leaderships.

Tagged under: railway workers, 1911 strike, aslef, trade unions, national union of railwaymen, tom mann, bloody sunday, syndicalism, st. george's plateau

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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