Jeremy Hawthorn gives a detailed account of the 1911 transport strike in Liverpool
Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 22nd July 2011 by Liam Physick
Jeremy Hawthorn, audience member, talks more about the strike. He mentions the Suffragettes’ campaign, and some little-known facts about the Liver Building. He also clearly distinguishes between the different groups of workers involved in the transport strike, and of how all crucially displayed solidarity with one another. He finishes by noting that in the November local elections, the Conservatives and Liberals formed an electoral pact, but that did not prevent Labour from dramatically increasing its number of seats
Interviewee: Jeremy Hawthorne
Interviewee Gender: Male
Jeremy Hawthorn. It’s more about about, how do you say, it’s more of a contribution than a question (inaudible). The credential I can present is that this Nerve magazine, that produces this calendar, you might have seen it, you can Google “Nerve magazine Liverpool”, you’ll find a calendar for the year, setting out the events of 1911 in Liverpool, as far as that was concerned, day by day by day, so that tomorrow is a day when the black sailors at (indecipherable) Dexters shipping line, come out on strike, cos they’re only getting paid half of what white sailors are, and that’s three months before the national seaman’s strike is attempted. So, that’s the sort of thing we got, and we did it by going through the entire local press in the City Library on Microfish, in the day when – for those who are journalists here – days where journalists were actually real journalists and wrote news (laughter from the audience) and they were, they’d get out their Smithers and report it, and they did, and you read between the lines. There’s a couple of things I wanted to throw in, one was there was all sorts of ferment going on at the time, part national, part local. There was the whole Suffragette movement, was in overdrive to some extent, because they were havering on with the, the Liberal government, havering off . . . and when they didn’t, at the end of November 1911, there was a massive great demonstration in Whitehall, when Patricia Woodlock, a very eminent Liverpool Suffragette, was arrested for, I think, the fourth time, for smashing windows of the Treasury (audience laughs – next word inaudible) 12 and 6, and jailed for 21 days because she wouldn’t be bound over or pay a fine of £2, and that was, I think, the fourth time she’d been to jail, and when she came out, she was feted, and that’s, bear in mind when there’s all people descend upon London in a fortnight’s time and all these shocking things, and so on, it happened 100 years ago, they think it’s a new thing, and that’s one reason why the history is worth celebrating, it’s because you don’t think, we’re not the first people to be in this position, it happened before, and 1911, you, the civic establishment here will have a big (coughing in the audience) . . . On the 19th November, 19th July, when they celebrate the centenary of the opening of the Liver Building and all their corporate people, with their ties and so on, celebrate, what they won’t tell you, is the Trades Council in March 1911, rumbled the Liver Building, for underpaying the workforce, by getting unskilled workers to do skilled work, and it cost them an extra £20,000 when the Trades Council pointed this out. That’s the kind of history they won’t tell you in November (laughter from the audience). Two quick things: one, it is actually helpful to know that the strike was a series of strikes and not just one big transport strike, there was a National Transport Workers Federation, had only just been formed, it started as a fairly standard seamen’s strike, ghettoised on the docks, and was set to settle on that basis, and Tom Mann was settling firm by firm in a very organised way, and suddenly, the dockers said, “Hang on a minute”, Sexton – James Sexton – sole Labour council, dockers’ general secretary, trying to settle a seamen’s strike and doing nothing about the dockers, “Hang on a minute”, say the Bootle dockers, No. 12 branch, “what about us”, and it upset the Strike Committee’s applecart, for over one fatal weekend, in which they were sending people back to work, and the dockers saying, “No you don’t, hang on a minute, it’s actually” – I don’t wanna ruin the plot of the play (laughter from the audience) – but it’s, it’s historical, you’ve got it absolutely right and I’ve, actually hugely impressed about – but the seamen and the strike move say, “OK”, Tom Mann, he said (puts on Midlands accent), “All right, let’s start again”, and they start again, and reach white-work agreements, which incorporates dockers, stewards, seamen and firemen, beginning of August. Then, the railway guys, North Docks again, come out, and the dockers and seamen say, “Well, is that’s your position, goods porters, we’re staying with you.” So the docks stayed idle, not because they had their own dispute any more – they had a perfectly good agreement they’d agreed to – but because they were in solidarity with the rail workers, a major change, and that had never happened before, and so the whole thing stayed absolutely idle, except incidentally, Edge Hill goods depot, which stayed working throughout the strike, and that picture, we, we made the same mistake in Nerve, we used this picture of the carter boys, nice picture, it’s on the Metal website you’ll, look at the caption, they have not struck, because they didn’t, but everywhere else did and so you had convoys of, military and police convoys, taking goods from here, and Brunswick station, into town, cos that’s the only way they could go, and that is the, how it became a solid strike, and then of course it went national, well the railway travellers, and the other thing that – and then I will shut up – is that the railway guys went down to London and took away the leadership from Liverpool, but, sort of, with them, militancy from Manchester, Sheffield, Hull and London, and so on, and there were 50,000 troops in London, on strike duty, as well as just under 5000 in Liverpool, so it was a national thing. They achieved a national settlement on Saturday evening, Liverpool stayed out for another week and why did they stay out? Because the tramwaymen, half of them, had come out, the guys who ran the trams, and because the City Council, a vindictive bunch of people if ever there was, would not reinstate 250 tramwaymen, they said, “Well, we’re, we’re staying out”, and the railwaymen said, in Liverpool, “We’re staying out”, and the dockers, and the carters, and the seamen said, “We’re staying out until, you’ve got eight miles of shipping in the Mersey waiting to be unloaded, we’re staying out until you reinstate 250 people”, and that lasted another week. Was it any surprise that, come November, the Liberals and the Conservatives formed an electoral coalition (laughter from the audience) against a Labour movement, and Labour still went from, council representatives, from one to seven, nearly got an eighth, and three cheers for solidarity.
Categorised under: Work & Industry