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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 August 2011

Liverpool 1911 - Jack's story

Tony Mulhearn

In 1911 a rail strike spread across the country. A mass demonstration in Liverpool was called to show support for the strikers and to determine a course of action locally. Taking place on 13 August at St George's Plateau, 100,000 workers came to hear speeches by workers and leaders of the unions, including Tom Mann. The demonstration went without incident until about 4pm when, completely unexpectedly, all hell broke loose.

This is Jack's story.

Jack woke up in his house in Edinburgh Road in the Kensington area of Liverpool, He was meeting up with his mates later. It was the day after his tenth birthday, 13 August, 1911. He had heard his dad, a merchant seaman, talking about the big meeting which would be taking place outside St George's Hall in the city centre later that morning.

Jack and two friends joined the growing volume of workers streaming down to St George's Hall. They chattered about the walkout by railwaymen at several depots after weeks of petitioning their company for reduced hours and an increase in pay.

"Me dad said the union should be doing more," Jack said, as they joined the stream of workers all heading in the same direction.

"My dad says the same," Mike retorted. Mike's dad was a docker. "But there's this fella who's been all over the world whose leading them now, his name's Tommy something."

Railway strike

Harry's dad was a railway worker. They chatted about hearing their dads talking about the railwaymen being on strike in the hope of forcing their union leaders to support them. 15,000 railwaymen were on strike by 7 August. Picketing began at stations throughout the city, serious disturbances began to break out between strikers and police, some leading to full-scale riots. Thousands of extra police and soldiers, many, it was rumoured, being issued with live ammunition, had been dispatched to the city.

The bobbing grey rivers of people, highlighted with colourful banners, flowed into the Plateau from the four corners of the city. They could see women and children in the rapidly growing assembly.

The scene was later described by one of the watchers:

"The gaily decked banners, carried aloft by brawny arms, led each contingent of workers from the outskirts of the city, with their union buttons up and headed by their local officials with music, it seemed good to be alive... From Orange Garston, Everton and Toxteth Park, from Roman Catholic Bootle and the Scotland Road area, they came.

"Forgotten were their religious feuds, disregarded were the declaration from the pulpit of some of their clericals on both sides who pontificated that the strike was an atheist stunt. The Garston band had walked five miles and their drum-major proudly whirled his sceptre twined with orange and green ribbons as he led his contingent band, half out of the Roman Catholic, half out of the local Orange band..."

One minute the mass assembly was intently listening to the speeches of Tom Mann, Ben Tillett and other great trade union leaders. Then it seemed in an instant the whole atmosphere changed as a blue-clad body of baton-wielding men charged from the street opposite the Plateau.

"Look at the police," Jack exclaimed, "they're hitting the men with their batons."

"I'm scared, I'm going home," said Harry.

"No, let's see what happens," said Mike.

Several hundred police who had been waiting in Lord Nelson Street had attacked the demonstration with batons drawn, clearly acting in a coordinated, planned fashion. Soon sections of the crowd began running in panic, some fought back and gave as good as they got. Being unprepared for such an attack, the demonstration broke up with sections of the crowd breaking away in panic.

"There's me dad over there by the lion. His head's bleeding. Let's go over."

The three boys ran through the fleeing throng, and knelt beside Jack's dad. "Are you alright dad?" Jack blurted out.

They pulled Jack's dad to his feet, stumbled across Lime Street and headed back to Kensington.

"If they think that's the end of it," said Jack's dad, "they've got another thing coming, they're not goin' to get away with that."

That night Jack flopped into bed, totally exhausted. He had been a witness to the most tumultuous industrial event in Liverpool's history, the importance of which would be recognised for generations to come.

His name was Jack Mulhearn, he was my dad.

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In The Socialist 17 August 2011:


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