Paul Salveson describes how the 1911 strike began and spread

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

Paul Salveson explains how the 1911 transport strike began on the docks, and this inspired the railway workers to follow suit, first in Liverpool, then in other cities: even non-unionised workers joined in. This was much to the consternation of Jimmy Thomas, leader of the Amalgated Society of Railway Servants, and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, who told Thomas that the strikers were mad!

Interviewee: Paul Salveson

Interviewee Gender: Male

Interview Transcript

When the strike actually broke out, on the railways, in Liverpool, on August 5th, there had already series of strikes on the docks – obviously, the seamen’s workers – which had a very direct influence on the railways, and in those days, railwaymen and dockers and seamen worked cheek by jowl along the docks, you, you, the locos would come down to pick up the wagons, the railwaymen would chat with the dockers, they would, sort of, share canteen facilities and that sort of thing and have a brew together, so they’d exchange ideas and be influenced by what was going on, and the railwaymen saw the success of the dockers’ strike in June/July, and so there was a sense of, “Well, yeah, if they can do it, we’re gonna have a go as well.” Now, what actually happened in Liverpool was the result of the workers on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, coming back to Tithebarn Street, Exchange, a very militant little location in the city, they objected to the fact that they were paid less than the London and North Western Railway colleagues, the Cheshire lines, colleagues who worked out of London Central, and they were also working longer hours, so the goods porters, first of all, struck, and they decided, “Well, we’re not just gonna sit here on our backsides, we’re actually gonna go round to all the railway depots and bring people out, so they was a, sort of, moving wave of strikers that, sort of, went from one station to another, from one depot to another and, within a couple of days, virtually the whole of the railways in Liverpool had stopped, so it was quite a, you know, an amazingly heady situation. More and more troops were brought in, I think Ray has already shown the, sort of, military might that was brought to bear in Liverpool during this period. One thing to say about it was it was an incredibly hot summer, and that was seen by the press as being (laughs), it’s all because it’s a bit warm, I mean, people got a bit excitable (audience laughs), you know, as these Liverpudlians do. Really, really nice, cos a little, nice little example in Philip Hagwell’s History of the Railwaymen where he describes the brewers (indecipherable) to give a bit of liquid refreshment to the strikers, which was a, much appreciated. I think what was, we’re talking about Liverpool railwaymen being out, almost in their entirety, by 5th August, so there’s, sort of, a period of about 10 days, whilst the strike spread really like a fire, not just to Liverpool, but to Manchester, to Hull, to south Wales, maybe other centres, and none of this was controlled by the union leadership, it was very spontaneous, and there’s a, a very interesting example by Jimmy Thomas, who was a very moderate leader of the ASRS, who, sort of, scurried up to Liverpool to try and get, get things sorted out, he couldn’t have all these members coming out on strike, and a lot of the strikers weren’t members of trade unions anyway, they, they were “nons”, the hated “nons”, until they joined common cause with the unionised railway workers, and Thomas was saying, “Well, this is terrible, people are coming out on strike here, there and everywhere, they don’t know what they’re coming out on strike for and the, you know, we got to bring some sort of order to it”, and the, the Mayor of Liverpool said to Thomas, “Well you, can you not persuade to, to go back to work, they’re out of control, you know, they’re mad” (audience laughs). They were very mad! And, what it was, this, if you like, almost 100 years of discontent that had finally come to the boil in Liverpool in 1911, and spread to the rest of the railways.

Tagged under: railway workers, docks, army, 1911 strike, liverpool exchange station, trade unions, london and north western railway, amalgamated society of railway servants, jimmy thomas, lancashire and yorkshire railway

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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