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The Great Unrest 1911
When the press raged about 'mob rule'
"Mobs" control British cities. "We are facing an absolute disintegration of society." "Yesterday mob law reigned in London." "Mob law is in fact supreme". "It is what one might call a reign of terror."
These quotes are not from the recent riots but from newspapers 100 years ago. Then the 'mob' was trade unionists and their families fighting for a pay rise.
For young workers today the study of the strikes of the Great Unrest will provide many valuable lessons.
Instead of a few hundred out on the streets, in 1911 the 'mob' sometimes numbered 100,000 and they would march the streets of the east end of London three times a day - it was more like a revolt of the poor. The police were powerless against such vast numbers.
With shade temperatures above 100°F, the Times newspaper theorised that the hot weather caused many of the men "to lose their heads". Like today, there was no attempt to understand the real causes of the unrest.
The workers were winning. The Times commented: "As we write the sands are running out, the period of truce is coming to an end, and in a few hours we shall know whether it is peace or war."
The Riot Act was read in ten places and every city and major town reported disturbances between strikers and the police.
The conservative Morning Post considered that, "open revolution" was closer at hand than at any time in living memory and advocated: "The time has come for a whiff of gunshot." To end the strike, the King demanded that the troops: "should be given a freehand and the mob should be made to fear them."
The government obliged. Churchill, the home secretary, following "disturbances of a serious character" moved a Guards Brigade and the Aldershot garrison into London's parks - 25,000 troops to support the police.
The warship Antrim was anchored in the Mersey. There were an extra 2,400 police and 5,000 troops in the city. The Gordon Highlanders were dispatched to Sheffield, and many other areas were occupied by troops, including Derby, Leeds and Bradford. Even the Irish Command mobilised for transfer.
But the troops could not quell the anger of the strikers. The government and the bosses conceded defeat and wage increases were paid.
In The Socialist 17 August 2011:
The street eruptions and aftermath
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