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Liverpool Transport Strike 1911

A short history of the strike movement that took hold of Liverpool during the summer of 1911. Culminating in a massive general strike of all transport workers, the movement displayed some of the most extraordinary scenes of class solidarity seen in Britain.

The 1911 General Strike in Liverpool by transport workers has gone down in the annals of labour movement history.

Against a background of economic decline, increases in the cost of living and massive wage cuts; Liverpool emerged as the centre of worker unrest, beginning one of the most serious and prolonged disputes Britain has ever seen, with tidal waves of interconnected industrial action involving a huge range of transport workers. Liverpool commerce was paralysed for most of the summer of 1911 as rank and file solidarity spread, under the strike committee leadership of Tom Mann. Liverpool was “as near to a revolution” as anyone had ever seen.

The strike movement of Liverpool occurred during the great period of industrial unrest that was to grip Britain between 1910 and the outbreak of the First World War. Beginning with a walk-out of seamen, the strike soon snowballed and went on to reach epic proportions, involving up to 70,000 people.
The general election of 1906 had seen a close Liberal victory. Elected on the promise of widespread reforms, the government proclaimed the beginning of a campaign against "landlords, brewers, peers and monopolists", as well as launching schemes such as national insurance and old age pensions. However, this policy of continuing reform came to an abrupt halt in 1910, when the government could simply no longer afford to carry on its program. Faced with competition from rapidly expanding industry in Germany and America, the country was in a period of economic decline which saw wages drop by 10% from 1900 to 1910. Continuing increases in the cost of living also reached endemic proportions. With this failure by the Liberal government, and the prospect of massive reductions in wages looming, the coming of widespread strikes was only a matter of time.

Birmingham Police arrive in Liverpool  in 1911

Public Meeting in front of St Georges Hall

Police Baton Charge

Liverpool soon emerged as the centre of this movement. 1910 had seen the founding of the Transport Workers Federation (TWF), a union which aimed to bring every transport worker in the country into the same organisation. Led by the famous syndicalists Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, the union was imbued with an anti-parliamentary feeling largely alien to the trade union movement in Britain at the time. The TWF grew over the next year as existing transport unions began to affiliate to it, bringing thousands of workers with them.
A huge demonstration organised by the TWF took place in Liverpool on May 31 1911. Called in support of two seamen's unions on strike, thousands of workers marched across the city carrying banners in support of the strike. Ending at St. Georges Hall, Ben Tillett and other syndicalist leaders addressed the crowds, calling on them to assist the strikers in whatever way they could.

Unrest on the streets of Liverpool

Damage to property and looting was rife

Police arresting offenders

Crowds gather at the spot at the corner of  Hopwood Street where John Sutcliffe was shot dead by soldiers
on 15th August 1911

On a Tuesday evening, a convoy of vans, containing prisoners who had been arrested on Bloody Sunday, was despatched to Walton Gaol. It was accompanied by thirty-two soldiers of the 18th Hussars, on horseback and fully armed with rifles (loaded with live ammunition), bayonets, pistols and sabres, as well as a magistrate carrying a copy of the Riot Act, and a number of mounted police. A disturbance occurred on Vauxhall Road and, before the Riot Act had even been read, the troops opened fire, injuring five civilians, two fatally. John W. Sutcliffe, a twenty year old Catholic carter, was shot twice in the head virtually on his own doorstep, on the corner of Hopwood Street. Michael Prendergast, a twenty-nine year old Catholic docker, was shot twice in the chest a short time later, on the corner of Lamb Street. This might aptly be described as Liverpool’s “Bloody Tuesday”. Five days later, on Saturday 19th August, two more unarmed civilians were shot by troops in Llanelli. These are the last occasions in history when British soldiers have killed civilians on the streets of mainland Britain.

Police escorting goods

An arrest

Tom Mann addressing the striking men
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