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Posts Tagged ‘city of radicals’

Albert Lipczinski: Self Portrait

Art in Revolution at the Walker until 25 September is a wonderful display of paintings reflecting The Sandon Studios Society exhibition of Modern Art including work by the Post-Impressionists which ran at the Bluecoat a hundred years ago. Paintings on display include the work of van Gogh, Gaugin, and Matisse. Also Albert Lipczinski who had made his home and studio in Liverpool, and was deeply involved with the city’s ‘bohemian’, intellectual, cultural, political and activist life. SeeNerve for a good account of him.

The exhibition brings out some of the (mainly negative) responses of the art establishment: respectable people do not like revolutions. The revolution in art on display in Liverpool, 1911, followed from the 1910 Grafton Galleries exhibition, Manet and the Post-Impressionists. Of this, Virginia Woolf said, “On or about December 1910 human character changed.”

But there were other revolutionary movements afoot beyond the art world (although the exhibition subtly shows how they were connected). The great Liverpool Transport Strike of 1911 which we have covered earlier is also considered in the Walker exhibition with displays, audio, newsreel footage, photographs, and a short documentary presented by Eric Taplin whose book Near to Revolution is discussed in an earlier post. Photographs and the archive footage are available online, as is more information about the exhibition. There is a superb review on Gerry Condon’s brilliant site That’s How the Light Gets in.

 

We were lucky enough when we attended to see a short re-enactment of discussions between strike leader Tom Mann and unionist James Sexton, performed by Breathe Out Theatre’s Hugo Chandor and Anthony Crank.

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Mry Bamber, mother of Bessie Braddock, commemorated by the sculpture here, now housed in St George’s Hall, and the work of  Carrie Reichard  and Nick Reynolds. (Well worth looking at the links to them by the way!)

Liverpool Discovers is a site worth the visit. The extract below is from their work on Mary Bamber. There’s also a great article by Pat Ayers in Nerve Magazine, Autumn 2006 from Catalyst Media.

Born in 1874, to a prosperous, middle-class Edinburgh family, privately educated and living in one of the best parts of that city, Mary’s early life was, though, a world away from the poor of Liverpool she was ultimately to live among. However, when still a girl, her lawyer father took to the drink and one day walked out on the family never to be seen again. Her mother Margaret Little’s life up until then had been poor preparation for the rigours of single motherhood with six children to provide for. She worked hard charring and in other jobs to support her family, making a close
acquaintance with near destitution and, when her eldest son got a job with a printer in Liverpool, the family came with him.

The winter of 1906-7, with the usual misery of working-class subsistence exacerbated by severe trade depression, found Mary on the rota of women who made soup to sell at a farthing a bowl from a Clarion caravan parked on St. George’s plateau. She visited the sick, collected for the unemployed and kept open house for travelling socialists. She frequently spoke at outdoor meetings, often at Liverpool’s Hyde Park corner – the Wellington monument – but equally so on street corners or anywhere she could gather an audience. Sylvia Pankhurst described her as the
“finest, fighting platform speaker in the country”. In a city dominated by sectarianism, she refused any religious identification and was a regular heckler at both Catholic and Protestant political rallies.
It was, though, through her work as a trade union organiser that she became best known and where she becomes most visible. In the years leading up to the First World War, she worked tirelessly as an official for the Warehouse Workers Union. She travelled the length of the dock road, organising women from Johnson’s Cleaners and Dye Works in the North end to Wilson’s Bobbin Works in the South.

It was her attempts to organise those in the worst sectors of the female labour market, however, which perhaps command most respect. This was an incredibly difficult and thankless task. She was often up before dawn to catch bag women as they walked to work. They made and mended the millions of sacks used to contain and transport the products which passed through the port. Like employment in rope manufacture, which also drew Mary’s attention, this was heavy, filthy, poorly paid work often undertaken by only the most desperate – women caring for dependents, married women or those old and single.

Her work as an organiser though central to her politics was interwoven with other activity. She was present at the August 1911 Bloody Sunday demonstration. In 1919, she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Orange stronghold of Everton. Accompanied by a bodyguard – hustings often ended in violence and the hurling of abuse; fruit, bottles and other missiles were common occurrences. Campaigning on everyday issues such as milk, education and municipal laundries, she won by a tiny majority. The same year, she became a founder-member of the local Communist Party and, in 1920, attended the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow.

 

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Well be looking at George Garrett’s own account of this  event and the two preceding mass gatherings, shortly. In the meantime here’s an extract from Civil disobedience and political agitation: the art museum as a siteof protest in the early twentieth century by Suzanne MacLeod who is a Lecturer in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester where she is also Programme Director for the Art Museum and Gallery Studies Programme).

(Note that Mary Bamber and her daughter Bessie Braddock were both there. We’ll be looking at each of them separately in the City of Radicals strand.)

In September 1921, the Walker Art Gallery was ‘rushed’ and occupied by the National

Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement (NUWCM). The NUWCM was formed in the years following the First World War when thousands of men had returned from the trenches to mass unemployment and poverty in cities such as Liverpool. Resentment set in and, led by the Communist Party of Great Britain, the NUWCM organized itself under the slogan of “Work or Maintenance” and an agenda for action centred on non-violent protest, tolerance and passive demonstration (Braddock and Braddock 1963: 32; Garrett 1999; Pridmore 2002). Its principal aim in Liverpool was to raise levels of Poor Law relief for families facing starvation. These, as illustrated here by the West Derby Union Board of Guardians, barely met the requirements of subsistence:

Minimum disbursement for those accepted as in need of Poor Law relief was a food order for 7/6d., but because the guardians often bought goods under contract and in bulk, its true value might be nearer 10/-. The minimum order for a man, his wife and three children was 13/2d. The goods actually handed out to a man for himself, his wife and one child were: 6 oz. of cocoa, 16lb. of bread, 1lb.of syrup, 2lb. of rice, 1 lb. of soap, 1 lb. of margarine, 1 lb. of sugar and 4 oz. of tea.

No meat. No fuel. No money for the rent. The unemployed sold their possessions until all that remained were the clothes they wore (Braddock and Braddock 1963:32; quoted from Garrett 1999: 186).

A series of demonstrations was organized in Liverpool. The first involved the occupation of the Exchange Flags, the paved area behind the Town Hall where the merchants conducted their business. The second protest took the form of a military-style march through the streets of the city. A third demonstration was planned for Monday 12 September 1921 on St Georges Plateau, the paved area to the front of St Georges Hall and adjacent to the Gallery. Participants, Jack and Bessie Braddock later recalled that following the speeches and frustrated by their lack of progress, the organizers of the protest, who included Bessie’s mother, Ma Bamber, decided to take everybody to have a look at the pictures in the Walker Art Gallery. They were intent on staying there until the Lord Mayor gave permission for them to hold meetings in comfort in St. George’s Hall. The crowd, reported to be ‘the largest meeting yet held’ (Garrett 1999: 198), was addressed by one of the organizers who is reported to have said:

I think we’ll go for a walk… A short walk. It’s too late for anything else. We’ll all   be art critics this afternoon. We’ll go across and have a look at the pictures in the Gallery. Those places are as much for us as anybody else. They belong to the public (Garrett 1999: 199). (more…)

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George Garrett’s name weaves through the history of working class activism in the 1920s and beyond. As well as being a prominent organiser and  totally determined fighter for what he believed in, he was an extremely gifted writer. His short stories are wonderfully formed and on a par with anything that may be considered to show ‘literary’ genius; he also wrote plays and was a well-read and more than competent literary critic. This is the more remarkable considering the conditions he was working under, the lack of formal education, his total commitment to and involvement with political actions, and the grinding poverty and injustice all around him. He was also an extremely gifted chronicler of events. His Liverpool 1921-1922 gives intensely human insight to what was happening at a time when unemployment in  Liverpool had topped 60,000. The Workhouses was turning away the starving from their doors. Ex-servicemen who had been heroes a while before were selling their medals to survive.

We’ll be looking at his stories from The Collected George Garrett edited by the late Michael Murphy (whose premature death deprived us of bringing back to attention yet more of those parts of the city’s history so often forgotten or glossed over).  Nerve Magazine from Catalyst Media, Autumn 2006, has an excellent and concise overview of Garrett’s life and significance by Francis Boyce. So important is his place in history and Liverpool literature that we shall be giving several posts to discussing these.

Born in 1896 in Secombe where his father had a confectionary business, after hard times fell the family moved to Park Lane where his father became a stevedore. In a city riven with sectarian anger, Garret’s father who was a Loyal Orange Lodge member and his mother who was of Irish Catholic stock, the boy became sickened by the ongoing antagonisms. At school he witnessed the desperate poverty of many children wearing deceased grandparents’ hand-me-downs, and the disgusting humiliation, violent assaults and general bullying handded out by priests and teachers. His short story Apostate is a semi-autobiographical tale of such religious abuse.

He first became involved with industrial action during the Transport Strike of 1911 when he worked as a coal barrower on the docks.  A year later, propelled by the sectariaan atmosphere at home, he stowed away on a ship bound for Buenos Aires. The next four years saw him visit many places as a crew member, and he returned to Liverpool in 1918 only to discover that the land fit for heroes was a mass of poverty and unemployment. he went to the United States and there joined the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies). Still a young man, his travels and experiences, and his belief in fellowship among all peoples of the world would lead him to address fellow workers in Liverpool in 1921 with these words:

Fellow workers, it is all very well criticising the alien as one of your speakers has been doing, and telling you that he is the cause of your unemployment. It is not so. The present rotten system is the cause… All workers are slaves to the capitalists no matter what their race, colour or creed is, and there is more slavery under British Imperialism and the Union Jack than under any other flag. You Britishers, you sometimes give me a pain. I don’t tell people I’m a Britisher. I had no choice in being where I was where I was born. How many of you have the guts of the Indians who are following Ghandi in India today, or following Michael Collins in Ireland? There people are only trying what we should be doing, breaking the bonds of their serfdom.

Such a speech would have been as radical then as, for some, it would still be today.

Garrett was one of the organisers of the Liverpool section of the 1922 ‘Hunger March’ to London. In his eye-witness account of the march, Garrett reported how the marchers came upon the local workhouse at one town on their way:

A high-wire netting divided the workhouse grounds into sections. Through this, wives conversed with husbands, and children with their fathers. Some of the marchers stared in amazement as little tots pressed their lips to the wire in awkward kisses for their fathers, stooped low on the opposite side of the wiring.

After the march, as one of the organisers Garrett was blacklisted. He went back to the United States where he wrote plays, returning to Liverpool in 1926 as the General Strike was petering out. In the next five years he worked  nine months as a casual docker. During the next five years he only found two weeks’ work.

We’ll return to looking in more detail at Garrett’s life and times during this period. To conclude this introduction, here’s George Orwell’s assessment of the man:

I was very greatly impressed by Garrett. Had I known before that it is he who writes under the pseudonym of Matt Low in the Adelphi and one or two other places, I would have taken steps to meet him earlier. He is a biggish hefty chap of about 36, Liverpool-Irish, brought up a Catholic but now a Communist. He says he has had about nine month’s work in (I think) the last 6 years. He went to sea as a lad and was at sea about 10 years, then worked as a docker. During the war he was torpedoed on a ship that sank in 7 minutes, but they had expected to be torpedoed and had got their boats ready, and were all saved except the wireless conductor, who refused to leave his post until he had got an answer. He also worked in an illicit brewery in Chicago during prohibition, saw various hold-ups, saw Battling Siki immediately after he had been shot in a street brawl, etc. etc. All this however interests him much less than Communist politics. I urged him to write his autobiography, but, as usual, living in about two rooms on the dole with a wife (who, I gather, objects to his writing) and a number of kids, he finds it impossible to settle to any long work and can only do short stories. Apart from the enormous unemployment in Liverpool it is almost impossible for him to get work because he is blacklisted everywhere as a Communist.

 

(George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier Diary, in Ian Angus and Sonia Orwell, eds. George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Volume 1.An Age Like This, 1920-1940 London :Secker & Warburg, 1968, p 187.)

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We’ve been reading extracts from Herman Melville’s Redburn. The book deals with the first seagoing voyage of 19 years old Wellingborough Redburn between New York and Liverpool in 1839. Largely autobiographical and based on Melville’s own life, the middle sections of the book are based in Liverpool and describe the young merchantman’s wanderings therein, and his reflections. His father before him had made the return journey many times and Redburn brought with him a treasured guide to Liverpool his father had used. This would have been the 1805 edition of The Picture of Liverpool or Stranger’s Guide which was frequently updated. You can get a fascimile of the guide at the Liverpool History Society. At the time, as to some extent now, Liverpool was being torn down and rebuilt, and young Redburn was disappointed to find much of the guide referred to places already gone. He was astonished to that his imaginary childhood vision of Liverpool, coloured by his father’s tales and the engravings of fine buildings in the guide, proved to be so different. In particular he was struck by the appalling poverty he encountered. The chapters dealing with Liverpool are:

 

XXVII. HE GETS A PEEP AT IRELAND, AND AT LAST ARRIVES AT LIVERPOOL

XXVIII. HE GOES TO SUPPER AT THE SIGN OF THE BALTIMORE CLIPPER

XXIX. REDBURN DEFERENTIALLY DISCOURSES CONCERNING THE PROSPECTS OF SAILORS

XXX. REDBURN GROWS INTOLERABLY FLAT AND STUPID OVER SOME OUTLANDISH OLD GUIDE-BOOKS

XXXI. WITH HIS PROSY OLD GUIDE-BOOK, HE TAKES A PROSY STROLL THROUGH THE TOWN

XXXII. THE DOCKS

XXXIII. THE SALT-DROGHERS, AND GERMAN EMIGRANT SHIPS

XXXIV. THE IRRAWADDY

XXXV. GALLIOTS, COAST-OF-GUINEA-MAN, AND FLOATING CHAPEL

XXXVI. THE OLD CHURCH OF ST. NICHOLAS, AND THE DEAD-HOUSE

XXXVII. WHAT REDBURN SAW IN LAUNCELOTT’S-HEY

XXXVIII. THE DOCK-WALL BEGGARS

XXXIX. THE BOOBLE-ALLEYS OF THE TOWN

XL. PLACARDS, BRASS-JEWELERS, TRUCK-HORSES, AND STEAMERS

XLI. REDBURN ROVES ABOUT HTHER AND THITHER

XLII. HIS ADVENTURE WITH THE CROSS OLD GENTLEMAN

XLIII. HE TAKES A DELIGHTFUL RAMBLE INTO THE COUNTRY; AND MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THREE ADORABLE CHARMERS

XLIV. REDBURN INTRODUCES MASTER HARRY BOLTON TO THE FAVORABLE CONSIDERATION OF THE READER

The novel is very engrossing, often amusing, sometimes startlingly horrible in its depiction of human misery. The tremendous energy of the docklands comes across in all its force. It’s interesting to note too how small the city itself was then despite its magnificent buildings. Redburn recounts strolling up London Road to find himself soon out among fields where he encounters ‘three adorable charmers’.

 

One of the most memorable chapters in the book is 37, What Redburn Saw in Launcelott’s-Hey (now demolished). He heard from a grating he was passing in the ground a sound:

Once, passing through this place, I heard a feeble wail, which seemed to come out of the earth. It was but a strip of crooked side-walk where I stood; the dingy wall was on every side, converting the mid-day into twilight; and not a soul was in sight. I started, and could almost have run, when I heard that dismal sound. It seemed the low, hopeless, endless wail of some one forever lost. At last I advanced to an opening which communicated downward with deep tiers of cellars beneath a crumbling old warehouse; and there, some fifteen feet below the walk, crouching in nameless squalor, with her head bowed over, was the figure of what had been a woman. Her blue arms folded to her livid bosom two shrunken things like children, that leaned toward her, one on each side. At first, I knew not whether they were alive or dead. They made no sign; they did not move or stir; but from the vault came that soul-sickening wail.

I made a noise with my foot, which, in the silence, echoed far and near; but there was no response. Louder still; when one of the children lifted its head, and cast upward a faint glance; then closed its eyes, and lay motionless. The woman also, now gazed up, and perceived me; but let fall her eye again. They were dumb and next to dead with want. How they had crawled into that den, I could not tell; but there they had crawled to die. At that moment I never thought of relieving them; for death was so stamped in their glazed and unimploring eyes, that I almost regarded them as already no more. I stood looking down on them, while my whole soul swelled within me; and I asked myself, What right had any body in the wide world to smile and be glad, when sights like this were to be seen? It was enough to turn the heart to gall; and make a man-hater of a Howard. For who were these ghosts that I saw? Were they not human beings? A woman and two girls? With eyes, and lips, and ears like any queen? with hearts which, though they did not bound with blood, yet beat with a dull, dead ache that was their life.

At last, I walked on toward an open lot in the alley, hoping to meet there some ragged old women, whom I had daily noticed groping amid foul rubbish for little particles of dirty cotton, which they washed out and sold for a trifle.

I found them; and accosting one, I asked if she knew of the persons I had just left. She replied, that she did not; nor did she want to. I then asked another, a miserable, toothless old woman, with a tattered strip of coarse baling stuff round her body. Looking at me for an instant, she resumed her raking in the rubbish, and said that she knew who it was that I spoke of; but that she had no time to attend to beggars and their brats. Accosting still another, who seemed to know my errand, I asked if there was no place to which the woman could be taken. “Yes,” she replied, “to the church-yard.” I said she was alive, and not dead.

“Then she’ll never die,” was the rejoinder. “She’s been down there these three days, with nothing to eat;—that I know myself.”

“She desarves it,” said an old hag, who was just placing on her crooked shoulders her bag of pickings, and who was turning to totter off, “that Betsy Jennings desarves it—was she ever married? tell me that.”

He appealed to a policeman who was not interested. He went back the next day with some food and dropped it to them. Then they were gone, cleaned away. We spent some time discussing this episode, especially whether walking on by or ignoring the suffering was as common. Although we largely see things through the young Redburn’s eyes, the novel chapters are headed by a man looking back on his past, now more mature and able to reflect. He concludes this chapter:

Ah! what are our creeds, and how do we hope to be saved? Tell me, oh Bible, that story of Lazarus again, that I may find comfort in my heart for the poor and forlorn. Surrounded as we are by the wants and woes of our fellowmen, and yet given to follow our own pleasures, regardless of their pains, are we not like people sitting up with a corpse, and making merry in the house of the dead?

Another section we spent time on, especially in comparing then with now, and in the context of our considerations of this being the year of the City of Radicals,  was Chapter 29 which describes the life of the sailor in Liverpool. A question Melville raises, as it was beginning to be raised throughout the nineteenth century – and continues to be raised – concerns the place of not only the world’s sailors perhaps:

There are classes of men in the world, who bear the same relation to society at large, that the wheels do to a coach: and are just as indispensable. But however easy and delectable the springs upon which the insiders pleasantly vibrate: however sumptuous the hammer-cloth, and glossy the door-panels; yet, for all this, the wheels must still revolve in dusty, or muddy revolutions. No contrivance, no sagacity can lift them out of the mire; for upon something the coach must be bottomed; on something the insiders must roll.

 

Now, sailors form one of these wheels: they go and come round the globe; they are the true importers, and exporters of spices and silks; of fruits and wines and marbles; they carry missionaries, embassadors, opera-singers, armies, merchants, tourists, and scholars to their destination: they are a bridge of boats across the Atlantic; they are the primum mobile of all commerce; and, in short, were they to emigrate in a body to man the navies of the moon, almost every thing would stop here on earth except its revolution on its axis, and the orators in the American Congress.

 

And yet, what are sailors? What in your heart do you think of that fellow staggering along the dock? Do you not give him a wide berth, shun him, and account him but little above the brutes that perish? Will you throw open your parlors to him; invite him to dinner? or give him a season ticket to your pew in church?—No. You will do no such thing; but at a distance, you will perhaps subscribe a dollar or two for the building of a hospital, to accommodate sailors already broken down; or for the distribution of excellent books among tars who can not read. And the very mode and manner in which such charities are made, bespeak, more than words, the low estimation in which sailors are held. It is useless to gainsay it; they are deemed almost the refuse and offscourings of the earth; and the romantic view of them is principally had through romances.

 

 

 

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Academic and local historian with specialist interest in working class history, Eric Taplin’s Near to Revolution is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the 1911 strike which brought Liverpool to a standstill, and which one journalist described “as near to revolution as anything I have seen in England.”

Taplin is careful to put the events of August 1911 into a proper context, but he introduces his book by noting that,

The efforts of ordinary people to improve their standard of life and to secure greater dignity and recognition of their role in society have been evident in British history since at least the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

Writing in 1994 Taplin observes that:

Over the last fifteen years trade unions in Britain have been driven to the defensive by successive Conservative governments. Anti-union legislation has led to a loss of influence, membership and status. This is not the first time in British history that organised labour has faced severe challenges and I am hopeful  that this book will be a timely reminder of the rich heritage of struggle by working people to secure  protection against the excesses of ‘market forces’ through the strength and influence of the trade union movement.

The book itself is largely a well annotated collection of photographs taken during the stroke and these are preceded by an introduction which outlines the causes and the course of the strike, although Taplin points out the complexity of this and makes clear that he only offers a brief summary. He also locates the strike, which began with seafarers and spread to all other trades and jobs associated with transport, and sympathetic workers beyond transport, within the disjointed growth of unions generally, the Labour Party, sectarian divisions and the concept of a united working class. Mitigating against communalism was the prevalence of prohibition of union membership by employers, and a totally understandable individualism in the context of casual labour.

Years of festering grievances held by all sectors of the work force seemed united here though, and the sheer scale of protest and actions took employers and ‘the authorities’ by surprise. Extra police were drafted in from Leeds and Birmingham,  and 2,300 army troops, these to be the forces that over-reacted on “Bloody Sunday’ causing many injuries, followed by two protestors being shot dead by the soldiers en route to Walton Jail with five prison vans. The Government sent in HMS Antrim to anchor in the Mersey.

There is a superb piece on the site of  the ever-meticulous and professional historian Mike Royden, by William Jones then at Lancaster University who corresponded with Taplin as part of his research. It’s got a wealth of references. Here’s an extract which sets some of the national context for working class life in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Leo Chiozza, in his book, (Money, Riches and Poverty) published in 1905, highlighted the great disparity in the distribution of wealth amongst the people of Britain. He divided the British national product into two equal halves, one half was shared by over 39 million people, (80% of the population), whilst the remaining 5.5 million (only 12% of the population) shared the other half. Furthermore ownership of capital was distributed even more disproportionately, 120,000 people owned two thirds of the nation’s capital. Chiozza calculated that in 1905, 650,000 of the poorer sections of society left bequests totalling 30 million, whilst 260 million was left by the upper classes, 26 leaving bequests which equalled the total of the poorer sections of society.

A major concern to the government of the day, was the disproportionate distribution of wealth in the Golden Edwardian Age. Large numbers of the population lived in widespread poverty, and resulted in people suffering health problems caused by a poor diet. It was popularly believed that this had led to large numbers of men being rejected as volunteers to join the army during the Boer War because of their poor physical condition. This theory was later disproved as a myth by Michael Rosenthal in his book The Character Factory. The actual working class was divided into two main bodies, the artisans who earned a relatively decent wage and the labourers, consisting of unskilled workers, such as the dockers, porters and scavengers. Many of the unskilled workers had become members of ‘New Unions’ from the late 1880s onwards. The leaders of these new unions were often socialists who wanted to expand trade unionism on a class basis and supported the development of independent labour politics and a party to represent the working class movement.

Charles Booth (London), and Seebohm Rowntree (York), independently highlighted the state of poverty and the ill health of people in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Housing conditions were often appalling, people lived in extremely cramped inner city dwellings often without any form of sanitation. The greed of some landlords, who exploited people’s needs to live in the inner cities by subdividing properties and increasing rental charges, without undertaking any repairs or improvements, was common place. The cramped and unsanitary conditions people lived in were often greatly increased by tenants sub-letting rooms within their rented accommodation. Eleanor Rathbone investigated social and industrial conditions within Liverpool c1900-1910, 7 and her data highlighted the plight of the Liverpool casual labourer, and corroborated the findings of Booth and Rowntree.

In the first decade of the new century real wages fell by roughly 10%, in a situation where prices were rising while money wages tended to remain static. Food prices and the cost of living in general during this period rose steeply which, together with the fall in wages, pushed more people into poverty. Union membership increased quickly from 1,997,000 in 1906 to 3,139,000 in 1911, and the number of strikes also doubled during this period from 479 to 872, affecting three times as many workers. These strikes were led by railwaymen, miners and dockers, particularly in the heavily industrialised areas of South Wales, the North West and the North East.

Militancy increased from 1907, riots occurred in Belfast as carters, coal porters and dockers went on strike over low wages. The Scottish miners’ dispute of 1909 and the cotton, boilermakers and miners strikes of 1910 preceded further serious unrest, commencing in 1910 with the miners’ strike in Tonypandy South Wales when 12,000 miners struck for better pay and conditions against the Cambrian Coal Combine. Fifteen thousand workers went on strike over pay and conditions in the wool trade industry in Yorkshire, and further riots had occurred as a result of a strike by steel workers at Shotton on Deeside.

Liverpool was a hotbed of militant unionism, an example being the strike, of the ship scalers and cementers who struck on the 9 January 1911 for better pay and conditions, and were still on strike into March of 1911. Many of the new unions had been influenced by a revolutionary form of trade unionism, known as syndicalism, led by the charismatic Tom Mann and Ben Tillett. Syndicalists argued that the workers who operated the machinery possessed the real power and once the working class agreed to act together it would hold the power.

Support for Tom Mann, militant activist and socialist, and a key figire in the dispute

Call to Socialism

 

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Opposite the Municipal Buildings is this large banner made by artist David Jacques. It’s part of 2011’s being City of Radicals, marking both the centenary of the general transport strike in the city and the death as a pauper of Robert Tressell who wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. David is also exibiting an installation at the Walker Art Gallery which we’ll turn to in a moment.

If you look at the apparently random tiles of type and symbols below you’ll make out the phrase, “the  great money trick’. This is taken from Tressell’s novel. We discussed it in November last year and put up a post which includes an extract fully explaining the great money trick which you can read here

At the Walker Art Gallery   accompanying the  exhibition a short text tells of the discovery by the caretaker on the fourteenth floor of Irlam House, a tower block, of a stash of banners and designs left by the mythological art collective which has abandoned the dwelling.  Jacques has long been fascinated with trade union banners, and the imagined banners here are set in contrast with the commercialised production of slogans, mottoes, banners by nineteenth century entrepeneur George Tutil whose work was commissioned not only by trade unions but by the likes of the Orange Lodge and temperance movements. The caretaker (now embarked on an hilariously titled PhD) negotiates with a curator leading, one assumes, to their eventual exhibition, classification and so forth in an art gallery. The last line of the text has the caretaker saying that he personally thinks his find would be best left in the street.

There’s a great review of the exhibition by our very own Denis who’s now writing for Manchester Salon which you can read here.

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