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Strikes in Britain: a selected timeline

1888 - The Matchgirls Strike: Successful strike against poor working conditions in a match factory, including 14-hour work days, poor pay, excessive fines, and the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus.

1901 - Taff Vale dispute: Strikers employ sabotage tactics to prevent scabs working, and the company sues the union for damages - and wins. This would lead to the formation of the Labour Party.

1910-1914 - The Great Unrest: A wave of strikes including  miners, railwaymen, dockers and others across the country, often as unofficial sympathy action. Including the 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike:  The working class in Liverpool brings the country to its knees. A warship sails up the Mersey, the army is on the streets (though Liverpool regiments are confined to barracks as the government doesn't trust their loyalties) and running battles are fought with the police through the summer.

The “general strike” was actually a series of separate disputes which started with a seaman's strike and soon escalated in a wave. As each group of striking workers won their battles, they vowed to stay out until others had won. This show of solidarity saw the reinstatement of the railwaymen who had been sacked for joining in the action. It also terrified the ruling class, and it is often said that this was the closest Britain has ever come to revolution.

What we mustn't forget is that this struggle was defined by the rank-and-file. The city's labour movement had a strong anarcho-syndicalist current, whilst the ship workers had been heavily influenced by the radical IWW. The government ultimately called in national union leaders to negotiate an end to the strike, but the dispute occurred entirely beyond their control.

1915-1920 - Red Clydeside: A series of actions including a 1919 strike of 100,000 for a 40-hour week which is savagely attacked by the police on what became known as Bloody Friday.

1918 & 1919 - Police strikes: Successful strikes prompt the government to crush their union and ban them from union membership, fearing they are losing control of their protectors.

1926 - The General Strike: In response to mine owners' attempts to cut wages, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) organises a General Strike under the slogan of “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day”. However, the TUC quickly realise the danger it has unleashed with this display of working class power, and works with the government and Labour Party to undermine the strike. The ruling class united in terror at the power of workers organisation, with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin stating “the general strike is a challenge to the parliament and is the road to anarchy”. Hundreds of thousands of workers took part in the strike, and there were pitched battles against government forces, scabs and fascist militias. After 9 days, the TUC attempted to call off the strike with no agreement. Yet the tenth day saw more people on strike than before. However,  the perceived TUC betrayal killed the strike momentum and
left working class organisation in disarray for years to come.

1931 - The Invergordon Mutiny: A thousand sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet are in open mutiny for two days over pay cuts of up to 25%, in one of the few industrial actions in British military history.

1943 - Glasgow Rolls Royce strike: Women at the Rolls Royce factory in Glasgow went on strike for equal pay, which was being denied in the name of wartime patriotism.

1972 & 1974 - Miners strikes: Two massive victories for miners as their actions nearly paralyse the country and garner huge wage increases – in 1974 directly bringing down Ted Heath's Tory government.

1976-78 - Grunwick dispute: The largely Asian and female workforce at the Grunwick photo processing plant go on prolonged strike demanding improved conditions and union recognition.

1978-79 - The Winter of Discontent: In response to government wage restraint, inflation and IMF austerity measures, a massive wave of industrial unrest spreads across Britain.

1984-85 - The Miners’ Strike: In a turning point of British labour relations, the Thatcher government announces a massive programme of pit closures. The miners having long been amongst the most militant section of the British workers movement, the government was obsessed with smashing their power. Workers from the pits affected sent out flying pickets to nearby pits, and quickly spread the dispute to a national level. The dispute lasted a year, before the miners were eventually starved back to work. This set the tone for over 25 years of working class defeat in Britain.

1986-87 - Wapping: Rupert Murdoch's News International launch a massive assault on conditions of 6,000 print workers. Supported by the scab EETPU union, a new plant is secretly equiped and put into operation in Wapping. A sometimes violent ongoing protest is launched in opposition to the move.

1995-98 - Liverpool Dockers dispute: Liverpool dockers are fired after refusing to cross a picket line set up by workers employed by a different company. They then fought a high profile campaign for reinstatement for over 3 years, with support from around the world.

2002 - Firefighters strike: Over 30,000 firefighters vote overwhelmingly for prolonged strike action demanding a wage increase of nearly 40% to make up for years of inadequate pay settlements. Scab cover was provided by the armed forces. After several days of action, despite high levels of support and morale, union leadership accept a three year deal which provided wage increases barely above inflation.

2011 - June 30th co-ordinated strikes: Up to a million teachers, civil servants and other workers take part in co-ordinated one-day strike action. Small fry compared to some of the big disputes of the past, but are we seeing a return of strike action to combat rising inequality?

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