Report of the 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike Centenary Conference
The event was organised to commemorate the mass strike which took place a hundred years ago and which saw strikers clash with the police and troops, a gun boat sent up the Mersey and two strikers shot dead.
It was also organised to help educate present day activists about the most significant episode in the stormy period of the 1910-14 Great Unrest (also coinciding with a big upsurge in the fight for votes for women and for Irish independence) which prepared the ground for the major increase in trades unionism amongst workers during this period.
It is relevant today as the working class faces the greatest assault in living standards since the 1930s.
The main ‘Trade unionism in 1911 and today’ panel speakers were RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, Labour Left MP John McDonnell, ex-Liverpool 47 Councillor and Socialist Party member Tony Mulhearn and SWP National Secretary Charlie Kimber, who all made excellent contributions.
Over 200 people attended the day long event, which included workshops and presentations by an impressive contributory team of historians, academics and grassroots activists.
As well as members of a host of unions and Liverpool Trades Council amongst these was a fair spattering of activists from a broad range of Left organisations including the SWP, SP, CPB, Merseyside SolFed, IWW, AWL, SR and maybe a few others – an excellent testimony to the broad pluralist approach of the organisers and one of the most positive things coming out of the event. The need for such an approach in general in my view, being the best was to promote ‘unity’ and not just to secure the success of such commemorative events.
Well done everyone involved. I’m glad Julian Alford invited me to it.
I spoke on this very same theme too during the panel session in support of Bob Crow’s call for the building of broad movement rather than the Left competing with each and focusing on building their own parties and party projects. I said it needed to be ‘a coalition of our class, of the unions and the mass of the people’. I also spoke in support of the need for a new party.
I said we also need to get real and stop raising demands such as ‘TUC call a general strike now’ when the possibility of it is a long way off given where the movement is currently at. Also, when the left is so weak and divided by sectarianism and resembles ‘The Life of Brian’ to the mass of ordinary people we need to engage with and win over. More importantly, that if we were serious about a General Strike then we would do well to recognise as the Chartists did in saving a penny a week in preparation for their proposed nationwide strikes and protests, and the ‘Triple Alliance’ did in 1921 of the need for some major large scale advance preparations to have any serious chance of winning, the Triple Alliance having even agreed to print a new currency. That no one raising the General Strike Now demand is also urging such preparations demonstrates their lack of seriousness about it as either a short to medium term perpestive.
I also said it was the onus of everyone in the room to fight against sectarianism not just to say it, that as Lenin said: “You can write unity in yard long letters” but to get it we had to fight for it. What I said was pretty warmly applauded and much of it echoed in one way or another by the summing up of each of the panellists, all to warm applause by everyone.
The proof of this new found commitment to unity will of course be in the pudding. I’m hoping this general message is staring to sink in amongst those who are serious about establishing a Socialist society within our own lifetimes.