spotArguments for socialism




spotAround the UK

All keywords

All Campaigns subcategories:




* Anti-war


Black and Asian



Corporate crime



Election campaigns





Gender Recognition Act

Health and safety

Health and welfare


Human Rights

LGBT Pride

Local government

Local services

Low pay



New workers party



Post Office



Public Services




Stop the slaughter of Tamils


The state



Welfare rights


Workplace and TU campaigns


Anti-war keywords:

Anti-war (168)

Arms (50)

BBC (183)

BBC bias (2)

Chemical weapons (4)

Enrichment (2)

Gaza (142)

Invasion (61)

Nuclear test (1)

Nuclear weapon (4)

Nuclear weapons (46)

Palestine (136)

Petraeus (1)

Sanctions (40)

Stop the War Coalition (24)

Terror (57)

Terrorism (146)

Terrorist (49)

Trident (35)

Troops (128)

War (1082)


Highlight keywords  |Print this articlePrint this article
From: The Socialist issue 1085, 6 May 2020: Bosses push to lift lockdown - they only care about profits

Search site for keywords: Tyneside - Strike - Workers - Miners - War

Lessons from history

The Tyneside apprentices' strike during WW2

Bevin Boys undergoing training, photo Division Photographer/CC

Bevin Boys undergoing training, photo Division Photographer/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Heather Rawling, Leicester Socialist Party

I have been enjoying reading the articles on World War Two. There are many lessons to be learnt for today for our class and the youth.

The article 'Class collaboration and worker militancy in World War Two Britain' (see by Alec Thraves, mentioned the apprentices' strikes of 1944. These took place in the North East, North West and Yorkshire.

I have a particular interest in this dispute, as not only am I from Tyneside, but my uncle Roy was involved with the Tyneside apprentices strike, and went to prison for his actions. I can remember my mam and dad discussing it when I was a young girl, as they too had played a role in the strike.

The class struggle during the war reached a peak in 1944. The official number of strikes was 2,194 in that year, with more than 3,700,000 working days lost.

Coal was the major fuel for industry and shipping in those days, and so essential for the war economy. Extra demands were made of the miners to produce more coal. As the article mentioned, the miners went on strike for more pay and demanded nationalisation.

In January 1944, at a time when the government needed coal the most, it had provoked the biggest single miners' strike since the 1926 General Strike. This was despite massive profits being made by the coal owners.

Today, the Tory government has totally mismanaged the war against coronavirus, and will pay the price when workers' anger translates into industrial action and protest.

In 1944, the government blamed the miners' strike on a 'Trotskyist conspiracy'. Ernest Bevin, right-wing Labour MP and Minister for Labour, claimed that the miners' strike "was worse than if Hitler had bombed Sheffield and cut our communications."

Bevin received the full support of the Trade Union Congress leaders (TUC - the umbrella organisation of trade unions) who attacked the miners, saying they had "struck a blow in the back of their comrades fighting in the armed forces". The TUC was representing the so-called national interest against the interest of workers.

The pro-Stalin Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star), also urged the striking miners to go back to work.

Bevin Boys

The Bevin Ballot scheme was designed to send 10% of apprentices down the mines which, as Alec Thraves points out, was more dangerous than being in the armed forces due to poor health and safety provision.

Workers today are fighting for better health and safety provision to fight this deadly coronavirus, and we are in danger of being conscripted back to work for the benefit of big business, hungry for profits. Business leaders have floated the idea of the young returning to work first. Again, sacrificing the young in their pursuit of profit.

The Bevin Ballot scheme was one of the most unpopular measures of the war. It met with fierce opposition, particularly on Tyneside. Many of the apprentices, 'Bevin Boys', conscripted to the mines in 1944, had been on very low pay for three or four years.

They at least hoped that they would complete their apprenticeships as skilled workers, but the Bevin Ballot took that away. They were given no guarantees that they could take up their chosen trade when the war ended.

Their militancy is hugely significant as this group of workers were bound by contract to their employers. They were not allowed to go on strike, and some were not even allowed to join a trade union.

Given the opposition of the TUC, the apprentices set up the Tyne Apprentices Guild and approached the Revolutionary Communist Party, (RCP - forerunner of the Socialist Party) for support. With the help of the RCP they linked up with apprentices on Clydeside and elsewhere, and recruited the support of family members and other workers. They helped the apprentices produce leaflets to distribute.

By the end of March 1944, 26,000 apprentices on the Tyne, Glasgow, and other industrial areas were on strike against the Bevin Ballot scheme, and in support of the call for the nationalisation of the mines.

The activities of the RCP had not gone unnoticed and, despite being a relatively small organisation, had been discussed at Cabinet level. MI5 (the domestic secret service) had a file on them.

The apprentices' strike lasted two weeks, and straight after their return to work the police raided the headquarters of the RCP. Homes of party members were also raided.

My uncle, Roy Tearse, industrial organiser of the RCP, was one of those arrested on Tyneside, along with Ann Keen and Heaton Lee. Another RCP leader, Jock Haston, was later arrested in Edinburgh. The press was vicious in condemning them. Headlines labelled Roy Tearse the "evil cripple" as he had been disabled from childhood polio.

Socialism on trial

Roy and his fellow comrades were tried under the hated Trade Disputes Act which declared that: "No person shall declare, instigate or incite any other person to take part in, or shall otherwise act in furtherance of any strike among persons engaged in the performance of essential services or any lock-out of persons so engaged". They were also charged with conspiracy.

Socialist Appeal, newspaper of the RCP, launched a Defence Committee. Left-wing Labour MP Aneurin Bevan spoke in parliament in their defence.

Sympathetic soldiers petitioned the home secretary. In their letter they wrote: "Tearse and his comrades are accused of fomenting the strike amongst the apprentices and the coal miners. We do not believe that that is true. That they gave guidance and advice to the miners and apprentices is to their credit, for that is the job of all faithful workers' leaders."

They went on to say: "We soldiers are also workers. We do not want to come back to a life where living conditions have been driven down to intolerable levels. We consider the miners' fight as a struggle to maintain these rights". Soldiers in the Eighth Army (drawn from across the Commonwealth) declared that the "right to strike is part of the freedom we fight for".

These words must have struck terror in those at the heart of government and representing the interests of big business. When soldiers begin to understand their common interest with workers and identify as workers, then the very existence of capitalism is in jeopardy.

The defence campaign also won the support of trade union branches around the country.

The four were still convicted though. Roy Tears and Heaton Lee were given 12-month jail terms, Jock Haston six months, and Ann Keen 13 days. But in September 1944, the convictions were quashed.

The prosecution of these Trotskyists was the most significant anti-worker militant criminal pro-secution undertaken by the ruling class for many years.

The RCP militants had been up against the might of the state during a world war. But they had successfully appealed to their class and won support, along with some Labour MPs like Jimmy Maxton and Ernest Silverman.

The overturning of the conviction was a victory, not just for the RCP but for workers everywhere. The organised working class had gained one of the most important legal victories in the struggle against anti-union legislation. The defence had upheld the right to strike.

Already, in the struggle by workers to win safe working conditions during the coronavirus crisis, unofficial, and therefore illegal, strikes under the current law have taken place. These victories will not be lost on workers, and can be the spearhead of a future campaign to overturn the Tories anti-union legislation.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020