Strikes and trade union history

The roaring twenties

Increasingly, big business leaders and bankers are talking about the possibility of an economic boom in the next few months. Earlier projections of economic stagnation and talk of the worst economic results in centuries have faded. Vaccines and lockdowns seem to have worked. The worst has been averted. Now, some are even speaking about another “roaring twenties” — harking back to the third decade of the last century. What does that mean for the left? Obviously, economic recovery is a good thing for everyone, so things like low unemployment are welcome news. But the 1920s were not exactly a...

Kino Eye: Sacco and Vanzetti

The front page of the 1927 Labor Defender (Solidarity 590) depicting the two anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti reminded me of director Giuliano Montaldo’s Sacco and Vanzetti, released in Italian and English language versions in 1971. Arrested for their alleged part in a payroll robbery on 15 April 1920 in Braintree, Massachusetts, where a security guard and a paymaster were both shot dead, Sacco (played by Ricardo Cucciola) and Vanzetti (Gian Volontè) always professed their innocence. Their trial was, essentially, a rigged examination of their anarchist beliefs with a biased...

Remember the class-war prisoners!

The noted international trade union leader Dan Gallin used to say that what the labour movement needed is a “May 2nd Movement”. In other words, after all the wonderful speeches made on May Day, we need to focus on what happens every other day of the year and how we put our ideas into practice. In that spirit, on Sunday May 2, LabourStart will host a major online event focussing on what we sometimes call “class war prisoners”. It’s an archaic term, a leftover from the 1920s, and had been used by — among others — groups with names like “International Red Aid” and “International Labor Defense”...

Kino Eye: Days of Hope

As far as I know there is no film about the events around Black Friday in 1921 (see Solidarity 588) but Episode Two of Ken Loach’s four-part TV drama Days of Hope — covering the period from the First World War to the 1926 General Strike — admirably fills the gap. It was broadcast by the BBC in 1975, with a script by long-time Loach collaborator Jim Allen. It sees Ben (Paul Copley), a British soldier, desert the army after serving in Ireland. He befriends a group of Durham miners who are locked out for refusing to accept a pay cut. The miners receive food aid from fellow workers around the...

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)...

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