Churchill, Troops and Strikers (2)

Churchill, Troops and Strikers (2)

Con­clud­ed from Part 1

“Guilty with an Explanation”

Through­out the August 1911 rail­way strike, troops had orders to stand by and act only if pub­lic secu­ri­ty was endan­gered by the strik­ers. But there was anoth­er rea­son why anx­i­ety ran high at that time. A few weeks ear­li­er, the Ger­mans had sent a gun­boat to Agadir, French Moroc­co, and rumors of war with Ger­many were ram­pant. David Lloyd George said the Agadir Cri­sis was a threat to peace, that the Ger­mans “would not hes­i­tate to use the paral­y­sis into which the coun­try was falling in order to attack Britain.” Paul Addi­son, in Churchill on the Home Front, described the pub­lic mood:

The unprece­dent­ed chal­lenge of a simul­ta­ne­ous nation­al stop­page by all four rail­way unions con­vinced respectable opin­ion that the world was about to be turned upside down….Churchill’s own appre­hen­sions were con­nect­ed, appar­ent­ly with fear of sub­ver­sion in Germany….He was also informed by Guy Granet, the gen­er­al man­ag­er of the Mid­land Rail­ways, of alle­ga­tions that labour lead­ers were receiv­ing pay­ments from a Ger­man agent….Conservatives applaud­ed him for tak­ing deci­sive action. But there were loud protests from the Labour par­ty and left-wing Lib­er­als, who accused him of impos­ing the army on local author­i­ties against their will, and intro­duc­ing troops into peace­ful and law-abid­ing districts.

What Churchill’s crit­ics could not see, Ted Mor­gan wrote, “was the num­ber of saved, and the num­ber of tragedies avert­ed. In their drunk­en fren­zy, the Llanel­li riot­ers had wrought more hav­oc and shed more blood and pro­duced more seri­ous injury than all the fifty thou­sand sol­diers all over the country.”

hqdefaultAfter the deaths at Llanel­li, Churchill was round­ly con­demned and the Man­ches­ter Guardian, which had praised him after Tony­pandy, now turned against him. Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Par­ty, accused Churchill and Prime Min­is­ter Asquith of “delib­er­ate­ly send­ing sol­diers to shoot and kill strik­ers.” That exag­ger­a­tion has endured for a cen­tu­ry; yet Churchill in August 1911 had told the House of Com­mons: “There can be no ques­tion of the mil­i­tary forces of the crown inter­ven­ing in a labour dispute.”

Why did they at Llanel­li? Defend­ing him­self in a hand­writ­ten let­ter to William Royle, organ­is­er of the Man­ches­ter Lib­er­al Par­ty, Churchill con­sid­ered both sides of the argument:

The progress of a demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­try is bound up with the main­te­nance of order. The work­ing class­es would be almost the only suf­fer­ers from an out­break of riot & a gen­er­al strike if it c[oul]d be effec­tive would fall upon them & their fam­i­lies with its fullest sever­i­ty. At the same time the wages now paid are too low and the rise in the cost of liv­ing (due main­ly to the increased gold sup­ply) makes it absolute­ly nec­es­sary that they sh[oul]d be raised. a I believe the Gov­ern­ment is now strong enough to secure an improve­ment in social con­di­tions with­out fail­ing in its pri­ma­ry duties.

 

 Old Men Remember

Among those inter­viewed by the BBC fifty-five years lat­er for their mem­o­ries of Tony­pandy was W.H. (Will) Main­war­ing, one of the youngest mil­i­tants in the South Wales coal­fields, who was sub­se­quent­ly co-author of a famous pam­phlet, The Min­ers’ Next Step. Over fifty years lat­er he still spoke with pride of his cham­pi­oning of the min­ers and his record as a protestor.

Of Churchill’s deci­sion to send troops into the Rhond­da in 1910 Main­war­ing said on camera:

We nev­er thought that Win­ston Churchill had exceed­ed his nat­ur­al respon­si­bil­i­ty as Home Sec­re­tary. The mil­i­tary that came into the area did not com­mit one sin­gle act that allows the slight­est resent­ment by the strik­ers. On the con­trary, we regard­ed the mil­i­tary as hav­ing come in the form of friends to mod­i­fy the oth­er­wise ruth­less atti­tude of the police forces.

Over a cen­tu­ry lat­er, when the actions of police forces are ques­tioned, when (in Amer­i­ca) the Nation­al Guard is some­times deployed dur­ing riotous protests in which local res­i­dents are the main vic­tims, Churchill’s expe­ri­ence is wor­thy of study, his mag­na­nim­i­ty wor­thy of reflection.

 

Sources:

BBC doc­u­men­tary: The Long Street: Road to Pandy Square (1965)

Paul Addi­son, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (Lon­don: Jonathan Cape, 1992), 250-52, and cor­re­spon­dence with the author, 2014.

Mar­tin Gilbert, Churchill’s Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy (Lon­don: British Acad­e­my, 1981), 96.

 Ran­dolph S. Churchill, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 2, Young States­man 1901-1914 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2007), 385-86.

Ted Mor­gan, Churchill: The Rise to Fail­ure 1874-1915 (Lon­don: Jonathan Cape, 1983), 328.

2 thoughts on “Churchill, Troops and Strikers (2)

  1. “Nation­al Guard” refers to Amer­i­can ter­mi­nol­o­gy; I have amend­ed the text to indi­cate. If in Britain reg­u­lar or T.A. troops have not been used to quell a strike in 100 years, might we con­clude the Llanel­li was the last time?

  2. We do not have a Nation­al Guard in the U.K. As far as I am aware in the past 100 years troops i.e.regular and /or T.A.(now Army Reserve) have only been used to main­tain essen­tial ser­vices e.g.firefighters.

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