The Great Labour Unrest

Rank-and-file movements and political change in the Durham coalfield

This book analyses the ideological battle for control of the prestigious, influential and important ––regionally and nationally– Durham Miners’ Association in the fascinating "Great Labour Unrest" period before the outbreak of the Great War. In assessing the complex relations between structure and agency it recognises that the socialists of the ILP before 1910 made some progress in a particularly hostile environment, thanks to the dominance of liberal paternalism and Methodism. But the miners’ eight hour day, a socialist demand brought into effect by the Liberal government, caused tremendous strife in a coalfield, especially with the imposition of a three-shift working system that it entailed. The emergence of syndicalist activists in the coalfield, largely rejecting mainstream ‘political’ action for industrial agitation and revolutionary trade unions also threatened the ILP from the left. With the emergence of a new generation of younger, more radical and often well-schooled ILP activists after 1911, the ILP was able to harness the anger over the three-shift system to the renewed demand for a minimum wage. In doing so, these ILP activists created a mass coalfield rank-and-file movement that, after the minimum wage was won, sought to extend the struggle more firmly onto the ‘political’ plane. In deploying a militant, aggressive and class-based rhetoric they managed to outflank the syndicalist challenge and win over growing numbers of Durham miners to their cause. By 1914, these young ILP activists were beginning to reap the rewards of their labours, having forged tremendous progress since 1911.

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