The Great Unrest

Editors Note: This is an archived blog post from 23/9/2011.

An open public meeting exploring the reasons behind the first national rail strike and to discuss the relevance to today’s rail unions will take place at the People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER, on Saturday 12th November 2011, 16.00-19.30. The meeting will be an open event, featuring a panel discussion followed by a debate.

Britain’s first national rail strike in 1911 was part of ‘The Great Unrest’, a huge upsurge of worker militancy between 1910 and 1914, which created the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), the first industrial union, in February 1913 and the ‘Triple Alliance’ of miners, dockers and railworkers. On ‘Bloody Sunday’, 13 August 1911 a mass strike meeting at Liverpool’s Lime Street station was attacked by police. The Liverpoole strike committee declared a general strike from midnight. The following day four rail unions (ASRS, GRWU, UPSS and ASLEF) threatened a national rail strike unless rail companies agreed to negotiations. The government offered rail bosses “every available soldier in the country” to resist the ultimatum and on 17 August a national rail strike was declared in the famous ‘liberty telegram’, which proclaimed: “Your liberty is at stake. All railwaymen must strike at once. The loyalty of each means liberty for all.” The strike demonstrated the power of workers acting in solidarity across shipping, docks, railways and road transport to reject craft sectarianism, which rail companies used to rule transport workers.

The 1911 strike pushed ASRS, GRWU and UPSS railway unions to merge to create the National Union of Railwaymen, one of the largest and most important trade unions in the twentieth century British labour history.

Speakers include:

David Howell – Professor of Politics, University of York, and author of Respectable Radicals: Studies in the Politics of Railway Trade Unionism (1999)

Sam Davies – Professor of History, Liverpool John Moores University, and author of History in the Making: The Liverpool Docks Dispute 1995-96 (1996)

Alex Gordon – RMT President and author of Charles Watkins: The Syndicalist Railwayman (2010)

Bob Crow – RMT General Secretary and Founder and Chair of the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws

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