Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 3 December 2008

The Isle of Man general strike 1918: Workers' power paralysed government

On 3 July this year it was the 90th anniversary of the little-known Manx general strike, the Isle of Man's first and only general strike. Its immediate cause was the withdrawal of the subsidy to the flour industry, resulting in rising bread prices. This sparked unprecedented mass strike action across the island, bringing it to a complete standstill for the next two days and under effective control of the strike committee. The strike was only called off after it had forced the government to continue the subsidy.

Christian Daugherty

The Manx government and the Lieutenant of the Isle of Man, Lord Raglan, were very unpopular because of their resistance to reform. Manx workers and poor farmers were angered that the government had repeatedly postponed the introduction of direct taxation of wealth (this was seen as more fair than indirect taxation), old age pensions, national insurance and workmen's compensation. All of which had already been introduced in the rest of Britain.

As early during the war as 1916, there was a demonstration against the government at the Tynwald day ceremony.


Lord Raglan was met with shouts of 'resign'. When the Manx parliament, the House of Keys was mentioned, there were shouts of 'dissolve'. Demonstrators carried signs saying 'no food taxes', 'direct taxation' and calling for old age pensions. Speakers were met with boos and jeers and at one point someone threw a clump of mud and grass which hit Lord Raglan in the face.

On 20 April 1918 the Laxey miners went on strike for better wages, but were ordered back to work by the minister of munitions pending a decision on their case. Manx workers were then further angered by the raising of indirect taxation in April, the raising of the military age to 51 in May and the announcement of a government surplus of over £40,000 in June.

The final straw came with the removal of the nine-penny loaf. At which point the workers vowed to remain on strike until it was restored.

On the evening of Wednesday 3 July 1918 trade union leaders on the island called a general strike. They formed a strike committee composed of trade unionists that sat continuously for the next two days, at the strike headquarters in Salisbury Hall. The strike committee was in effect a soviet and an embryonic form of workers' power on the Isle of Man.

The practical power of the strike committee is demonstrated by the fact that during the strike only one boat sailed to the island from Liverpool. This was with permission of the strike committee and on condition that upon arrival its crew should also stop work and join the strike for its duration. No boats left the island.

On Thursday morning the government was shocked when mail and passenger boats didn't arrive and the cargo workers refused to load the ships. Amongst the sailors, firemen and cargo workers there was full union membership and 100% support for the strike.

The railway management had high hopes of using non-union labour to run services and early on Thursday morning there were some trains to Douglas, but only one from Douglas to the south of the island.

Its passengers brought news of the strike in Douglas, resulting in a crowd gathering at the station and holding a spontaneous demonstration in support of the strike. The crowd then persuaded the non-union train drivers and the train guards to join the strike.

At noon a crowd mainly consisting of women and children marched to the Douglas train station to prevent any more trains running. Having arrived they persuaded the signal operator and the clerical staff to join the strike and no more trains ran during the strike.

There were also a few electric trams from Ramsey to Douglas early on Thursday morning, run by non-union workers and management. The union workforce protested in Ramsey and a meeting in Douglas, called by the strike committee, ended with a half mile procession to the electric tram station. There were no further tram journeys for the remainder of the strike.


After this, the strike remained solid throughout the island for the rest of Thursday and Friday, resulting in the cancelling of the Tynwald day ceremony on Friday. At 3pm on Friday the government announced they would continue the flour subsidy. Having achieved their aim the strike was called off and the workers returned to work triumphant after the two most tumultuous days in the history of the Manx labour movement.

The Manx working class still remained very radicalised after the strike ended. On Armistice Day, trade unionist and general strike leader Hall Caine made a speech. He said of the war that: "Liberty has nearly been wrecked during the last four years. We have seen it as we see a ship sometimes outside - beset with tumultuous seas, with the black cormorants of autocracy screeching and squirming above it. "

The Manx ruling class took fright at the general strike and the show of strength by the Manx working class. It came only seven months after the October revolution in Russia had brought the Russian working class to power. This show of strength frightened them into making concessions.

Firstly the government agreed to continue the flour subsidy. Through continued pressure, within two years of the strike most of the July 1916 demonstrators' demands had been won.

On 27 July 1918 the income tax bill was signed by the Tynwald. On 17 December Lord Raglan, Lieutenant of the Isle of Man resigned after sixteen years. This was followed by the passing of the adult suffrage bill in February 1919 and the workmen's compensation bill in March 1919. The old age pension and national health insurance bill was passed in May 1920.

As the current economic crisis in the financial sector hits the island, the lessons of the general strike will become increasingly important for Manx workers.

The Isle of Man's economy is even more dependent on the financial/service sector than the UK. In 2000 it was estimated to be about 86% of GDP. As the crisis bites, Manx workers will face the biggest attack on jobs, pay and public services for a generation. This is after more than 20 years of economic growth have resulted in a certain stabilisation of living standards.

The general strike has important lessons for UK workers today, who have already faced more than a generation of attacks on their living standards. As the economic crisis grinds on we will face intensified attacks.

The Manx general strike shows that workers, through united strike action, can completely paralyse the power of a government. They can force the ruling class into a retreat and win progressive reforms benefitting all workers.

This would not have been possible without the trade unions having strong membership and the active participation by the workers. A determined, trusted and elected trade union leadership was also essential.

Unfortunately there was no Bolshevik-type party to take the political leadership and push the movement forward towards socialism.

Serious reforms cannot be gained by persuading the capitalists that aspects of their society are unjust. They can only be gained by directly opposing capitalism, with the power of the organised labour movement.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 3 December 2008:

Job losses

Fight back now against job cuts

Woolworths jobs threat

Fighting the threatened closure of Hoover factory

Environment and socialism

Our planet not their profit

Socialist Party editorial

India and Pakistan conflict

Terror mayhem strikes Mumbai

Socialist Party campaigns

Judiciary challenged over the right to protest

Building a left wing political alternative

Southampton uni students fight fees

Liverpool: mobilising against the far right

In brief


Social workers demand proper resources

Secondary education: PFI's gloss soon peels away

Socialist Party LGBT

Fighting homophobia

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

Crisis-hit capitalism fears prospect of revolution

International socialist news and analysis

Venezuela elections: Chávez wins victory but opposition gains ground

Marxist analysis: history

The Isle of Man general strike 1918: Workers' power paralysed government

Socialist Party news and analysis

Help fund the alternative to big business politics

Socialist women: Looking at the past to take action today

Housing crisis

Stop the repossessions

New Labour's housing crisis

Socialist Party workplace news

Vote 'no' to BT's pension cuts

A Christmas message from the Unite leadership

Dover docks strikes

Appledore shipyard


Home   |   The Socialist 3 December 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleDriving examiners walkout hits first day of new test

triangleSchool staff strike against privatisation

Isle of Man:

triangle'Paradise' for billionaires - austerity for us

triangleFarage's tax scandal hypocrisy

triangleCuts crisis on the Isle of Man

Working class:

triangleFighting sexism, violence and capitalism - an international struggle

Economic crisis:

triangleWakefield Socialist Party: 10 years since the economic crisis

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Anti-DOO lobby of Liverpool's transport committee



Unite protest against blacklisting


Donald Trump

Mobilise to stop bigoted billionaire Donald Trump's state visit to Britain



Arriva bus strikers stand firm



BT pensions review - oppose the attacks on the pension schemes



Driving examiners walkout hits first day of new test



School staff strike against privatisation



Brutal rail privateer Abellio takes over Midlands rail services



PCS Left Unity celebrates 40th anniversary at annual conference


North Yorkshire

Court maintains injunction against fracking protesters


Waltham Forest

Waltham Forest Universal Credit protest



Coventry Socialist sales hit 1,000



TUSC conference to debate 2018 elections



Liverpool John Moores Uni landslide for Socialist Students



Plans to launch no-cuts campaign at Kirklees College

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the full 5% claim

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

triangle30 Nov Dramatic retelling of Grunwick strike

More ...

triangle13 Dec Caerphilly Socialist Party: Are we heading for an era of war?

triangle14 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Universal Credit - the Tories' latest assault on the poor

triangle18 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Religion and Socialism

triangle19 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas social

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice