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Second Tuesday: Professor Ralph Darlington, Analysing the Contexts and Causes of the 1910-14 Labour Revolt

January 12 @ 19:00

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Meeting ID: 858 1228 1578
Passcode: 383471

The ‘Labour Unrest’ – or what more precisely should be termed ‘Labour Revolt’ – that swept Britain in the years leading up to the First World War between 1910 and 1914 was one of the most sustained, dramatic and violent explosions of industrial militancy and social conflict the country has ever experienced. Most explanations for the causes of this strike wave have tended to focus almost exclusively on economic factors, on the way in which the decline in real wages and purchasing power after 1900 and the sudden upturn in trade and employment after 1910 provided the major economic impetus for a series of wage demands that lead to strike action. Yet arguably, even if the most commonly reported single cause of strikes was pay, this hardly offers an adequate explanation, by itself, for the scale, insurgent nature, rank-and-file dynamic and broader political challenge of the industrial rebellion that swept Britain during this period.

This talk attempts to provide an understanding of the way in which there was a coalescence of a multifaceted set of interconnected contextual and casual elements (structure and agency) contributing to the process. Specifically it examines six features: the economic, industrial and social backcloth; industrial relations and trade union framework; political context; bargaining capacity; leadership and mobilisation resources; and broader zeitgeist of defiance of the authorities and rule of law. In the process, it assesses the limits and potential of George Dangerfield’s depiction in his celebrated book The Strange Death of Liberal England of a conjunction of three rebellions – by workers, women and Irish nationalists – that had the cumulative effect of placing the country on the verge of semi-revolution. And there is consideration of the extent to which workers’ readiness to engage in militant strike action depended upon the subjective element – the encouragement they received from the minority of uncompromising working class socialist and syndicalist agitators and propagandists within their own ranks.

Ralph Darlington is Emeritus Professor of Employment Relations at the University of Salford. His research is concerned with the dynamics of trade union organisation, activity and consciousness within both contemporary and historical settings. He is the author of The Dynamics of Workplace Unionism (Mansell 1994) and Radical Unionism: The Rise and Fall of Revolutionary Syndicalism (Haymarket 2013), co-author of Glorious Summer: Class Struggle in Britain 1972 (Bookmarks 2001) and editor of What’s the Point Of Industrial Relations: In Defence of Critical Social Science (2009). He is currently researching to write a book on the 1910-14 Labour Revolt to be published by Pluto Press.




January 12