Strikes and trade union history

The lessons of "Black Friday", 1921

Long before “Black Friday” became the name for the first day of the Christmas shopping season, it was the name that the labour movement gave to the day on which trade union leaders inflicted a defeat on their own movement. It happened exactly one hundred years ago, on 15 April 1921. Over the previous few decades, unions had worked together more closely, as workers’ organisation evolved through amalgamations and alliances from a patchwork of hundreds of distinct “craft unions” to a smaller number of larger, more powerful industrial unions. It was in this context that the “Triple Alliance”...

Shrewsbury 24: learning the lessons

On Tuesday 23 March 2021, the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of 14 North Wales trade unionists who had been sentenced for picketing in the 1972 building workers national strike. They were part of the "Shrewsbury 24": 24 workers were originally put on trial 48 years ago. The appeal was granted because original police trial statements had been destroyed and the defendants had not been informed of that, or of the reason why. The secret destruction was uncovered a decade ago by the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign’s researcher, Eileen Turnbull. The discovery included the following note between...

Shrewsbury 24: some belated justice

On Tuesday 23 March, the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of 14 North Wales trade unionists who had been sentenced for picketing in the 1972 building workers' national strike. They were part of the "Shrewsbury 24": 24 workers were originally put on trial 48 years ago. The appeal was granted because some of the original police statements in the trial had been destroyed by the force, and the defendants had not been notified of this basic fact. The secret destruction was uncovered about a decade ago in the archives by the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign’s researcher, Eileen Turnbull. The...

Rank-and-file links key

Thanks to Dave Chapple for his article (in Solidarity 583), which is an important contribution to the history of trade unionism in the UK Post Office. As a CWU [Communication Workers’ Union] activist of 25 years standing I would like to add some additional comments. I joined Royal Mail in the 1980s. Like Dave, I found that my older colleagues sometimes talked about 1971. Indeed, the key branch officials had all taken part in the strike. As I became more active in the union, one interesting theory I heard was that Tom Jackson was actually playing a game of internal politics within the UPW...

Kino Eye: The 1970 Leeds clothing workers' strike

The 1971 postal workers’ strike (Solidarity 583) was one of several key strikes in that stormy period. Leeds United!, directed by Roy Battersby, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1974 in their Play for Today series, concerns an unofficial strike by female clothing workers in Leeds and is based on real events in 1970. The militancy of the women, led by the indefatigable Mollie (Lynne Perrie), and their desire to improve their miserable wages, come into conflict with an entrenched, all-male, trade union bureaucracy who eventually negotiate a sell-out deal. A Communist Party member Harry Gridley...

The great Post Office strike of 1971

UPW Bristol Branch strike march, February 1971: leading the march were striking day telephonists with Branch Officers Reg Dixon, Harry Varcoe and Monty Banks. Pic: DC This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Great Post Office Strike of 1971. This article surveys the background to the strike, how it was organised, and discusses the reasons for its defeat. Its author, Dave Chapple, is not a member of Workers' Liberty, but the article is published here with his permission, and with thanks. The Union of Post Office Workers, UPW, is the predecessor of today's Communication Workers Union (CWU)...

Kino Eye: Unionisation films

Great news that Google workers are unionising. Despite its long history, the theme of unionisation has not been so well-served by the film industry. Honourable exceptions include the British film Comrades (Bill Douglas, 1986), which shows an early attempt at organising a benefit society (an embryo union) at Tolpuddle, Dorset in 1834; Norma Rae (Martin Ritt, 1979) set in the Deep South of the USA, where a young woman enlists in a unionisation drive in a textile mill and eventually becomes its inspirational leading force; and The Killing Floor (Bill Duke, 1984), a tale of migrant black workers...

How transport workers beat the colour bar

This story of colour bars in the UK railway and bus industries begins after the Second World War, when Britain had a labour shortage and people moved to Britain in increasing numbers from Caribbean countries and elsewhere. The National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, predecessor of the RMT) declared in 1948 that: “we have no objection to the employment of coloured men in the railway industry” and that “coloured men had been satisfactorily employed on the railways over a long period”. But although the top of the union was getting it right, in some areas the grassroots was not. In 1950, white workers...

The Story of Colour Bars on the UK Railway

Speaking at our online meeting in September, Janine Booth tells the story of the period after the end of the Second World War when black people came to Britain but met opposition from some white workers, until the 'colour bar' was defeated in 1966.

Why we need a general strike

Workers' Action pamphlet, "Why We Need a General Strike", 1980 Click here to download pdf

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