Paul Salveson recounts how the Liverpool transport strike went national
Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 22nd July 2011 by Liam Physick
Paul Salveson explains how the Liberal government tried to end the Liverpool strike by brokering a deal between the railway unions and the companies, but the latter continued to refuse to recognise the unions. As a result, Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith offered the unions a deal, which they rejected because it did not include either recognition or redress of grievances: thus, they called a national strike - with an overwhelming response. Incidentally, in this clip, Paul erroneously describes David Lloyd George as President of the Board of Trade when in fact he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had been President of the Board of Trade from 1905 to 1908, after which he became Chancellor. He was chosen by Asquith to handle the negotiations because he had developed a reputation as a conciliator. In mentioning the four unions involved in the strike, Paul mentions “a smaller union for the signalmen”: presumably, he means the United Kingdom Pointsmen and Signalmen’s Society, formed in 1880
Interviewee: Paul Salveson
Interviewee Gender: Male
The executives of the four main unions, we’ve got the ASLEF, ASRS, General Railway Workers’ Union, also a smaller union for the signalmen, met in Liverpool in the middle of August, to try and see what could be done about it. The railway companies themselves refused point-blank to have anything to do with the railway union leaders, even though it was obvious that the only way it was gonna be sorted out was by the union leadership exerting some degree of control over the, the strikers, and so the government then said, “Well, it getting a bit worrying, this, the railways are grinding to a halt, come down to London and we’ll meet you and we’ll see what we can do”, so they organised a train from Lime Street down to Euston and met Asquith, the Prime Minister at the time, and Lloyd George, who was President of the Board of Trade, and Lloyd George was clearly quite peeved at the railway companies, cos he wanted to get down together, he’d be the brains, dealmaker, really, he’d get the unions and the railway directors sitting down together for the first time ever to try and cobble out an agreement, but the railway companies again refused – the general manager of Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways said he’d rather see the railways turn to rust than talk to the railway union leaders, even these very moderate men, like J H Thomas. And so, what actually happened, was that Asquith, the Prime Minister, walked into, there’s one room here, where the union people were, there’s another room there, where the directors were sat, cos they didn’t want to (inaudible) with the unions, so Lloyd George and Asquith were scurrying backwards and forwards, and Asquith came up with this suggestion, “Well, we’ll have a Royal Commission and we’ll, you know, look very seriously at your complaints” and the union leaders, to their credit, said, “Well, no deal, we want recognition, we want all these grievances being addressed” and so Asquith said, “Well, no can do, and if you insist on going ahead with this strike, your own blood will be on your own heads.” So, on the one hand, they were trying to, sort of, smooch them, but at the same time, there was this threat of military force and, you know, there was 70,000 troops in Liverpool alone by this time as well as gunships, so it was no idle threat. So, at that point, the union leaderships went back to their own room, and said “Right, well, that’s it, we’ll call out the first national railway strike in British railway history”, and a telegram was sent out to 2000 railway centres, saying, “Your liberty is at stake, all railwaymen must strike now.” It was an absolutely, you know, huge clarion call to revolt and so, within hours of the telegram going out, workers at all the major railway centres were out on strike, there’s a, a facsimile reprint of the ASRS paper, the Railway Review, there, and on the left hand side you can see the branch reports and all these, sort of, railway centres like Aberdeen, Lostock Hall, Edge Hill, all the same, the same thing, the strike completely solid, no blacklegs, railway stops.
Categorised under: Work & Industry